There is a lot to do in Langkawi, beautiful beaches, amazing food, local markets, and some very touristy infrastructure that is still fun. We found time to do most of these, enjoy a dip in a local waterfall, drive around a lot, and witness some beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The one thing that still comes to memory first when I think of the trip is this 20-minute conversation with a 60-year-old British guy in a roadside Mexican Cafe, in Malaysia.
It is a small island and there are only a few main roads that you will end up driving on, many times over. I had spotted this roadside cafe a couple of times. It was nothing more than a shack with some plastic tables and chairs with mostly just some burritos and juice on the menu. The signboard was a crude hand-written one. We went for a dip to a local waterfall and discovered that this cafe was just across from the turn-off to the trail for the waterfall. There was every reason to stop for a bite. It was mostly empty with a few kids (the owner’s) playing a checkers-like game in a corner. At the only occupied table sad this guy in a cowboy hat with a locked bearing the Israeli flag. He was notable because of the glass of red wine in his hand.
I managed to strike a conversation, very unlike me, but he looked like a nomad but a well-dressed one. He claimed that he traveled around the world without spending a penny on food or lodging. He would stay in a tent, befriend cafe owners who would feed him, and use public facilities. He had been in Malaysia for three months and had been living at a next-door beach for two weeks. He had been to India and loved Hampi, which he believes was one of the best places to be until tourism spoilt it. The one thing he said that blew me away was that “Tourism is the worst thing that has happened to the world”. The local streets of Hampi that used to be lined with local artists were now dotted with commercial souvenir sellers. People travel to check the box in as many places as possible without experiencing the local culture. They leave behind a trail of garbage and commercial activity that changes the destination forever. This is what is driving so many countries to block away popular destinations and many cities discouraging tourists.
This is what drives me to pick offbeat destinations and not yet popular countries, ones I can see before tourism takes over. I have had some success with Jordan, Cambodia, Laos, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and even Iceland. Other places like Vietnam, Turkey, and Prague have been phenomenal to visit but hampered a bit by the crowds.