Meet Chris Backe; a nomad who has dedicated his travels to discovering weird and offbeat destinations around the globe, and dedicated his blog to bringing us information about some truly weird, wonderful and epic locations.
Keen on exploring the world’s weirder side, Chris made the move to South Korea in 2008, where he began teaching English while using his base to discover obscure sites throughout Asia. He talks to us today about our one weird globe!
What do you love the most about travelling?
As an offbeat sort of traveller, I enjoy finding the sort of places that aren’t found in any guidebook or map. It’s a point of pride (or maybe ego?) to get there, just like how some folks love talking about the journey to get somewhere.
There’s also something to be said about seeing how different the world is seen through different eyes. Buddhist temples are different in every country, for example.
What inspired you to start travelling?
When I arrived in Korea, I had read quite a bit about the expat English teacher crowd in Seoul. The stereotypical teacher was Caucasian, male, a fairly heavy drinker, and barely travelled around the country except on special occasions.
That was a stereotype, of course, but upon arriving there were plenty of folks proving it to be true. Naturally, I had to go against the flow – from the very get-go I decided to aim for a new place, event, or festival every weekend.
You blog about weird, offbeat destinations; tell us about some of the weirdest places around the world.
There’s a whole category of these on my site, though I’ll caution some of them are ‘not safe for work’ (NSFW).
A few of the weirdest; the Namhae Treasure Island Garlic Land in South Korea (an entire museum dedicated to local garlic); Wat Mae Kaet Noi, the most gruesome Buddhist hell temple (NSFW), and the Modo Sculpture Park, complete with some rather erotic sculptures that have been retired along a beach.
You made the move to Seoul in 2008. What inspired South Korea?
To be honest, it was the first job offer! I signed a one-year contract to teach English, and like every expat ever, you say ‘I’ll just stay for a year then I’ll do something else. Now it’s 5 years later!
It gets harder to justify going back home the longer you’ve been abroad.
Tell us about some of the more offbeat destinations within the country?
Man, I was surprised. You think Korea, and for most people it doesn’t really register on their tourism radar. They think there’s no one big thing every tourist must see, but I digress…
Two places to check out in Seoul are in the same area – the BK Plastic Surgery Museum and the Simone Handbag Museum. Men, it’s not as scary as you think, and women, there’s centuries worth of history to be seen here.
If you’re up for a day trip, head to the Great Stone Face Sculpture Park, and yes that’s exactly how it translates into English. Each one weighs several tons at a minimum, and there are hundreds of famous or notorious people around. Make a game out of figuring out who they are! This is a pretty easy day trip from Seoul.
Also around Korea is the Gwangju Kimchi Town – love it or hate it, Korea makes hundreds of varieties of the fermented veggies, and this place aims to describe them all.
You’ve been jumping around Thailand for a year now; which offbeat attractions would you recommend within the country?
Wat Sam Pa Siew is really cute. It’s this Buddhist temple that’s hidden cartoon characters like Doraemon and Angry Birds all across the main building.
You’ll also see a classic statue… carrying an iPad. Up in Lamphun is a place that translates to the Village Agricultural Market, but we foreigners call it the Jungle Market.
How do you find these offbeat attractions?
That’s actually classified… Well, OK, just for you!!
Places end up being found in any number of ways. Sometimes we spot them on a local map. Sometimes it’s a Google search based on ‘weird [city name]’ or ‘weird [province name]’.
My favorite ones are the ones where a bit of sleuthing is involved to find them.
What’s the strangest food you’ve eaten abroad?
We’re definitely adventurers, my wife and I – but when it comes to food we’re honestly a little boring.
Since you asked… some bugs in Thailand… crunchy… and quickly washed down with beer… Not an experience I pondered too much – you know how sometimes you do things impulsively!
You’re a long term traveller – how do you afford to stay on the road?
This one’s an evolving sort of thing. On one level, my wife and I tend to travel on the cheaper side of things. I consult and teach people about self-publishing business, and I do some freelance writing and editing every so often.
My books and itineraries bring in some money as well.
One thing which you don’t like about travelling?
Around Thailand, it’s kind of a pain to actually get from point A to B.
On one level the bus system works pretty decent, all things considered. Then you get to a city where they have this huge bus schedule (3 meters tall by 7-8 meters long) and it’s out of date. No one bothers to update it.
Biggest cultural shock you have experienced while travelling?
Bangkok – the shock of seeing immaculate skyscrapers and 15 people at your beck-and-call along with beggars on the street just outside.
Three things you can’t travel without?
My technology (if I can lump a smartphone, a tablet, and/or a laptop into one? Pretty please?), a notebook and pen, and a small hand towel.
Whether the towel ends being used as emergency spill management, a sweat rag, or a blindfold to help me sleep, there’s always a use or three for it.
Which destinations are at the top of your bucket list?
I haven’t actually made a bucket list, to be honest… Antarctica would be fun, and there’s a ton of weird stuff in Europe that’s worth visiting.
Most practical piece of advice for those planning travel?
Pack half the clothes you think you’ll need.
Seriously – lay everything you think you’ll need and pack half. Put the other half back in your closet. You can get 2-3 days of wear out of shorts or jeans (maybe more if you don’t sweat too much!)
Every time we move somewhere new I’m giving away clothes because I have too many of them. While traveling, you’ll discover plenty of places to pick up clothes if you need them.
Why should people travel to weird and offbeat destinations?
Three great reasons:
- Because you want to tell an awesome story – getting offbeat means a bit more adventure and a unique story others won’t have.
- Because you want to see what few other tourists see, or go where few other tourists go.
- Places that see fewer tourists tend to have fewer scams, scammers, and inflated foreigner prices. It still happens, of course, just less often.
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Featured photo by Ricardo.