150 reasons to celebrate at Travel Writers Radio

This week Travel Writers Radio celebrates its 150th episode.   In a little over three years the show has amassed about 1000 interviews and more than 800 of them are now available to download at https:/soundcloud.com/travelwritersradio.

Travel Writers Radio is produced and presented by the Professional Association of Lifestyle and Travel Writers (PALAT) Travel Writers Radio is a weekly program covering the “flavours” of travel – food, beverages, wellness and lifestyle – plus all forms of travel and tourism experiences whether for business or leisure.  Travel and tourism is a vital economic activity for many countries and we are Australia’s only prime-time radio program covering the business events/MICE sector.  Importantly, we interview the people making a difference in our industry, people who love their jobs and happily share their stories, their interesting destinations or the serendipity of simply wandering the world.

Heard every Wednesday drive time ( from 5 pm to 7pm ) on J-AIR 87.8FM radio in Melbourne, Travel Writers Radio also broadcasts live via the Internet at http://www.j-air.com.au. We have iOS and Android smartphone apps and we have a podcast facility, now hosted on our own SoundCloud site – https:/soundcloud.com/travelwritersradio

As a PALAT member we invite you to contribute editorial content to the show. If you are a member of the travel industry we welcome your story suggestions on topics you believe would be of interest to our audience. Just email us – info@travelwritersradio.com.

PALAT members are professional journalists, authors, photographers, videographers and broadcasters – all storytellers working across a range of media from print to online.  If you fit one of these categories, or are studying a recognised tertiary degree course in any of these disciplines we welcome your inquiry about membership. We currently have members across Australasia, USA, and Europe. We’re a small but growing organisation with local experience and a global perspective of the benefits of travel to broaden the mind and enlighten both reporter and listener.


Featured post

Walking Saigon

“You want cheap ride Saigon River”, is what the Rickshaw man is shouting, although it takes me a few minutes to work it out properly, his lack of front teeth and his very fractured English make him a tad hard to understand.  But I do get it in the end.  In fact cheap rides to the Saigon River seem like the special of the morning because it was what I am constantly being offered on my early morning walk through the streets, towards (yes – you guessed it) the Saigon River.

It is overcast, a bit misty, already quite warm, even at six thirty on a Monday morning, but not yet oppressive, that will, no doubt, come later.  I thought I might, just might, beat the Rickshaw boys by being out this early.  I really thought that I might escape the constant barrage of offers, suggestions and questions about where I am from; but no, silly me, of course they are there out and about touting for business as good self-employed workers should, they were clearly taught, as I was, that “the early bird catches the worm.”Mind you, this worm has not been caught, well not yet anyway, because walking is the thing and the actual destination does not matter.  

The square near the Ben Tanh Market
Traffic in the square near the Ben Tanh Market

I do not know about you but I like watching cities wake up, they are all different, and they all rub the sleep out of their eyes in their own special way.  Saigon sort of drifts into consciousness, it does not explode at a frantic pace like New York; it does not stretch, yawn and belch like Cairo and it certainly does burst into life with the very British bustle of London.  Saigon wakens slowly, sluggishly a little bit like the Saigon River that drifts slowly past but with a purpose and with a lot of people moving about.

The big event of the morning appears to be breakfast on the street, everywhere there are locals partaking of Tea, Coffee; both the hot and the iced versions or some other concoction that looks suspiciously like beer but I am sure is not, whilst squatted on small stools, or just on their heels Asian style (how do they do that by the way, and seem so comfortable); or sitting in doorways or even just standing around.  The drinks are very personal with each person having their own little pot or cafetiere in which they brew their own drink.  Then they serve themselves in their own cup, mug or glass; so they are not served as in a Melbourne coffee shop and it is much more like a home brew.  The food is a bun of some sort stuffed with a variety of fillings – or fruit.  It is all consumed at an unhurried pace before the business of the day begins.

As I walk things sprung to life all around me, lottery ticket sellers are everywhere, spruiking their wares at the workers, cigarette and postcard sellers are out and about pushing their products, working men head to work in an unhurried but purposeful way, while a few “working girls” (out late) hurry home, maybe they have to get ready to work their day job.  The traffic increases as I approach the river, the noise level also, as the car horns start up their almost endless cacophony, a noise level that will last all day.

Just step out - don't blink - just go
Just step out – don’t blink – just go

The traffic around the river is getting busy, cars, bikes, rickshaws, pushbikes and even hand pushed barrows all compete for space along the main road and I need to cross through it all to get to my (self-imposed) destination, the river.  So with total confidence I step off to cross the street, a Rickshaw Man (the one with no teeth) immediately jumps out between me and the traffic, to protect me (completely unneeded) is what he wants me to think but more to impress me is what I guess.

 Just a word about Rickshaw Man; he has been following me now for the 30 plus minutes that I have been walking and a single word springs to my mind: “sequencing”!  Matthew Reilly in his first book “The Contest” used the word “sequencing” to explain how the strange collection of creatures who were all involved in the contest could follow one another before the battle officially began.  They could not touch one another but they could follow; he called if “sequencing”.  It adequately describes Rickshaw Mans behaviour.

River reached I walk along the waterfront heading away from my hotel for 10 more minutes then I will turn and walk across town going home via a different route.  He is still sequencing me, his efforts to get me on board increase and they are becoming tiresome and wearying.  As I turn for home I reach into my Billy Connelly book of quotations and use his (and my) favourite expression for “Go Away!”  The two word expression, of which the second word is “off”, has the desired effect, he understands it, mutters something in Vietnamese, I suspect not dissimilar to what I have just said and goes; but we are fated to meet later in the morning; but that indeed is another story.

Slow moving traffic on the river
Slow moving traffic on the river

Through the increasing traffic and increasing numbers of people I walk, at a leisurely pace back to my hotel, the Sheraton Saigon, when I finally arrive the girl on the door greets my like a long lost friend, “enjoy your walk sir” is her question; “most of it” is my answer, “ but Rickshaw Man was a bit of a pain”.  She does not get it, of course, and just smiles sweetly and welcomes me into the blissful cool and relative quiet of the hotel lobby.

Walking Saigon first thing in the morning is great fun, quite educational and a good way to start to your day, just try to stay away from Rickshaw Man!   If that fails then perhaps put my Billy Connelly vocabulary, or your own personal equivalent of it to work first off; it might not be PC but it will get you some peace, for a while!

So its over to you – Tell us about waking up in your favourite city – and your experience – just reply here with a contact and we will get back to you or send us an SMS to 0479 355 566 – and we just may call and talk to you on the Travel Writers Show

IFWTWA Australasia launches Travel Writers radio show

ifwtwaAUST-smlsqThe International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), a global network of journalists who cover the hospitality and lifestyle fields, today launched the Travel Writers radio show, an initiative of IFWTWA’s Australasia division.
The program will be heard on Melbourne’s newest FM station J-AIR and via the Internet to a mobile and a global audience (www.j-air.com.au).  J-AIR is a community-based broadcaster with a narrowcast commercial FM licence to transmit for 10 km around Caulfield to a potential audience of almost one million people.  J-AIR has been broadcasting via the Internet for 18 months, but its FM signal is expected to be live later this month at 87.8 FM. The Travel Writers radio show airs Wednesdays at 1pm (AEST), hosted by industry veterans, Graeme Kemlo and Peter Watson.
Announcing the move, IFWTWA Australasia chair, Graeme Kemlo, said the program covering both leisure and business travel topics as well as culinary and wine tourism.
“It is designed to entertain, inform and inspire”.  It features IFWTWA members from across its global membership base reporting the latest travel news, interviews, travel tips, reviews of destinations, food, wine and unique experiences for travellers around the world, or around the corner in Australia’s cities and regions.
“We have a wonderful network of experienced travellers who cover the globe in words and pictures and will provide first-hand accounts of their adventures.  It will be a collaborative effort co-ordinated from Melbourne with reporting by members across Australia, South East Asia, the South Pacific, United States, Canada and Europe,” Graeme said.
“The ‘wireless’, as we once described it, is a wonderful medium that allows a listener to dream of exotic locations and aspirational experiences.  So, alongside the expertise of our writers in food, wine and travel – many have their own columns, travel apps, books, websites and blogs – we’ll supplement their radio reportage with information and images posted to the IFWTWA website (www.ifwtwa.org) and the blog – foodwinetraveltips,” he said.
Peter Watson, who spent many years as a senior executive in the Australian travel industry, said the program was also designed to lift the veil on the industry for travel consumers and would cover topics such as: should you book everything on the Net; how far out should you buy an air ticket/ hotel/cruise; how (not) to get an upgrade; travel health; the best travel technology; how to identify and avoid travel scams; should you believe online hotel reviews; and how to choose from the myriad of travel money options.

Here’s a link to the podcast of the first episode –

– Graeme Kemlo

Garuda Golden Chefs

The Garuda Mystery Box
The Garuda Mystery Box

Have you ever eaten, or more correctly sampled, nine separate two course meals,  prepared by some of our best chefs, over nine hours.  I can tell you its both a challenge, tasting so much great food, over an extended period; and an genuine educational experience, one that gives you a small insight into the behind the scenes action in the kitchens of some of our finest restaurants and the skill of our top chefs.

It was just a couple of weeks ago that I did just that, when I rocked up to the Comcater offices in South Melbourne early on a Monday morning.  Comcater, who are major sponsors of the prestigious Golden Plate Awards had provided their stunning kitchen complex as the venue to host the Garuda Indonesia – Chef of the Year cook off for the 2013 awards and I was one of the judges.

Nine chefs had qualified for the cook off, three from each of the regions (Ballarat-Daylesford; Greater Bendigo and Geelong-Otway) in which the awards are contested.  First each chef received a nomination from the two judges who judged their restaurant during the course of the competition, and then all those nominees received further consideration from the full judging panel.

Each chef arrived at the venue aware of the challenge ahead, which was the Garuda Mystery Box, but of course without any idea of the contents of that ‘mystery’ box.  Everyone had 45 minutes prep time and a further 45 minutes cooking time to prepare an entree and main course that was then judged and scored by our panel of four judges; which was lead by industry legend Rita Erlich.

Salmon on Pumpkin and Ginger Puree
Salmon on Pumpkin and Ginger Puree

Chef Richard Mee from Mercato (Daylesford) started us off with an entree of duck and a main course of salmon, and he turned out to be the odd man out for the day as everyone else went the other way.  Over the course of the next nine hours we watched as chefs chopped and diced, carved and sliced, blended and pureed, roasted and sous-vied; and then delivered nine delicious meals to our judges table.

Two plates for each course was the order of the day, so consistency (between the two) was important and the variety of colours, styles, tastes and textures was amazing.  After our fourth or was it fifth main course of duck, a line from an episode of that immortal show ‘Fawlty Towers’ popped unprompted into my brain, I confess that it stayed there for the rest of the day.

The episode is called Gourmet Night and the line offered by one of the guests after (as usual) everything has gone wrong is:-”so it’s just the duck then Fawlty”? to which Basil replies “yes Major but duck done three extremely different ways”!  You may recall that on offer that night was duck with cherries, duck with orange and duck surprise; which prompted this question: “and pray what is duck surprise Fawlty”? – and this response: “that’s duck without orange or cherries Major”!

Well none of our ducks had cherries though a couple did have orange, but all of our chefs delivered plenty of surprises in their wide and varied presentation of both the duck and the salmon.

Duck Anyone
Duck Anyone

We judges had our work cut out for us picking our regional winners from which would emerge our overall champion, who will be crowned the Garuda Indonesia – Golden Plate Awards – Chef of the Year.  Who is it – you will just have to wait until November 11th when the announcement is made and the prize presented at a gala evening in Geelong.

Spanish chef woos with swinging sausages and traditional Paella


Head chef of one of Melbourne’s newest Spanish restaurants, Bohemian, has 30 swinging sausages, he tells me proudly .. all hanging behind the lavish floor to ceiling curtain in his restaurant.

Josep Espunga Solans has only been in Australia 18 months – moving here to open Eddie Muto’s new restaurant in South Wharf from New York, and he has that sparkle when he talks about the sausage he creates from scratch, and that cheeky smile only a Spanish chef can possess.

Having never visited Australian shores before moving here, he’s now well settled into life here, riding his bike to and from work and enjoying the diverse culinary experiences Melbourne offers.

He is impressed with the Spanish cuisine already in the city and it inspires him he tells me, but he wants to do things a bit differently – and he loves to make things on site too – the sausages of course and then there’s goat’s cheese and ice-cream, all made from scratch.

It’s this approach which has Spanish visitors and those wanting an authentic Spanish experience coming back – oh and maybe the pop-up bar and flamingo dancers too.

The area has a laneway feel to it, despite being along the Yarra River – and with multiple restaurants it’s definitely catching the eye of local foodies.

Whether it’s a three-hatted restaurant or the best of cheap eats – you’ll find it all here along with every kind of cuisine you could imagine, reflecting the city’s diverse cultural influence from Japanese to street Thai food.

Josep’s own cultural influence growing up in a small town north of Catalonia at the base of the Pyrenees, where his parents owned their own restaurant, plays a part in his food too and his mother is still his harshest critic.

“She kept checking the kitchen to see if the pots were clean” he tells me of her last visit.

She’s a tough critic when it comes to his dishes, but his signature Paella is a winner.

It’s all in the stock, he says.

“If a Paella is yellow, it’s because they use food colourings. I only use stock from real fresh food – whether it’s from fresh local seafood from the markets or chicken bones. So the paella is the colour of the food you use to create the stock.”

His mother was less impressed with his suckling pig served with fresh carrot ice-cream – again made from freshly squeezed carrot juice on site.

“She likes traditional dishes, roast goes with roast vegetables for her.”

But for Josep, just like the entertainment he brings it to the restaurant, it’s all about the overall experience.

“I want people to be able to try something they couldn’t or wouldn’t make at home, to give them a real dining experience.”

It’s certainly hitting a nerve with his repeat customers who he plans to continue to surprise – maybe next time it’ll be a dish using one of his swinging sausages.


Have you hugged your driver today?

Kimo Kay
Kimo receives a hug and a Certificate of Appreciation from IFWTWA Hawaii Conference Co-Chair, Maralyn Hill in Maui

OK, hands up. ..who has jumped out of the taxi, limo, minibus, or full-blown coach and given the driver a bear hug, a high-five, an air kiss?

Well I can attest that it hasn’t happened to me in Australia…oh wait, there were a couple of occasions when I was best not to be behind the wheel and I gave the driver a thankyou hug – but that’s compulsory when you’re married to her, isn’t it?

Anyway it happens in Hawaii, in the spirit of Aloha. And you would be staggered what secrets you can glean when you’re on hugging terms with your chauffeur.  Take Kimo Kay, for example, the affable Group Sales and Services Manager for native Hawaiian family business Akina Aloha Tours.  He volunteered to drive a minibus, rather than a desk, when the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association conferenced in Maui recently.

Kimo knows Maui, like a London Cabbie knows how to shortcut a Monopoly board. He is variously historian, linguist, raconteur and cultural adviser.

Having picked us up from Lumeria, a magnificent retreat set in a century-old estate in the northern foothills of Maui’s Mt Haleakala, Kimo steers us towards the west coast through Makawao (beginning of the forest). He also explains this is the old ranching capital, home of Hawaii’s famous Paniolo cowboy. We note to return when there’s more time, but what’s not in the guide book is how good the cream puffs are at T Komoda bakery.

Why is this critical?

Kimo explains that when Hawaiians travel inter-island, tradition dictates they take some food from home and they return with food from other islands.  So when he visits the Ohana (the relos) on Oahu he takes Krispy Kreme Donuts because the only Hawaiian outlet is on Maui near Kahului airport. (Please explain why its airport code is OGG when everyone heads for KKD?).

You could win a bet on Kimo’s next gem – Haleakala is taller than Everest. When measured from its base 19,680 feet under the ocean, and with 10,023 feet above the sea, it beats the landlocked Himalayas by over 650 feet. Sorry about the old school measurements, but Kimo’s an old school kinda guy: polite (never blew the horn in anger), courteous (patiently explaining whether Hawaii should be pronounced with a V or a W), and helpful (when you order water: kai is saltwater, wai is fresh) but “wai wai means wealthy”.  And that was as close to a political comment as you’ll hear from Kimo, except he did proudly inform us (and Mr Assange) that Wiki is Hawaiian for quick.

So a big man-hug for Kimo. He’s the reason you should abandon the rental car in favour of the experience of Akina Aloha who have been doing this for 85 years – in 1928 Akina started taking local children to school in a mule-powered banana wagon…aah, so maybe that’s why America has the yellow school bus 😉

Graeme Kemlo

Dear Ketut, loved Bali, could have passed on the airport


There seem to be a few camps when it comes to Bali – those dedicated tourists who go year after year for a cheap and cheerful holiday basking in the Indonesia sun; those who have been once and vow never to go back; or those who simply would never set foot on its shores.

Then there are the likes of me, who loved the weather, along with its humidity, the food, the resorts and the landscape –but not enough to make it an annual event.

I’d heard a few stories from friends before leaving, two in particular about hiring a motorbike and being pulled over and fined on the spot – having their wallets emptied.  Another couple had their passport taken from them and were separated with no explanation, only to be released some time later.

I guess as a virgin to this Indonesian island these are things you need to hear, but it’s equally important (if not more so) to know the details about entering and leaving the country.

Firstly let me say this.  Our resort, the Laguna Resort and Spa at Nusa Dua, was everything I could have ever imagined and more.  It looks exactly as the photos depict on the website.  The pools, food and climate could not have been better, and the service was exceptional.  Although make sure you get your head around the currency before you get there and don’t blindly order a cocktail thinking it’ll be about A$10 only to find you paid A$35 – I did wonder why when serving it the waiter said “Here’s your ‘special special’ drink Madame.”  Needless to say my husband gave me a new nickname during our stay – ‘special special’.

Before going to Bali, you need to make sure your vaccinations are up to date.  As my doctor said – sure there are those that say it’s being pedantic, but if they’re prepared to risk contracting Hepatitis A from the water or rabies or measles – then that’s a risk which is up to them.  I choose to be precautionary.

You need US$25 each to enter the country and Rp 150,000 each to depart.

Once you get to the airport and walk through to get your bags, porters will take your bag from you and start walking towards customs with it, often saying ‘customs’ and nothing else. This simply means they will take your bags to the conveyor belt to go through customs and follow you expecting a small payment.  If you don’t have small notes, or want to pay for this service, you need to get to your bag first and firmly but politely inform them that you’ll take your own bag.   This often needs to be repeated three or four times.

If your travel agent has arranged a transfer to your resort, they are often from a local tourism venture trying to sell you experiences along the way and they will try and lock you into it right then and there. Should you want some time to consider your options – make that clear.  The commute will likely involve your car being  bomb checked too.

The alternative to a tourism venture/driver, is to get a taxi, but make sure you get a fixed price up front, or ensure they turn the meter on so no bargaining can be had at the end.

Even in the most exclusive tourist resort destinations, if you walk along the beachfront, you will be approached by hawkers.  Even when riding a bike.   With the average Balinese earning little more than $5 a day and working often 12 hour days, it’s not surprising they are trying to earn a living this way, and the same person will ask you to buy the same thing from them every time you pass.

If you do want to purchase a tourism experience, bracelet or scarf from those who walk up and down the beaches – be prepared to barter.  They expect it, and in fact in some cases, it’s said to be considered polite to barter.

In your resort, typically the water in the bathroom is free, otherwise you pay.  Be prepared to pay up to A$10 a bottle in the resorts.  It’s best to find a local supermarket and stock up there.   In Nusa Dua it’s only a short bicycle ride and you can hire bikes at the resort for less than $10 an hour which is also a great chance to do some local sight seeing and see the local markets.

For drinks, it’s best to go to happy hour to avoid the ‘special special’ experience and stick to the local beer and cocktails.   Cocktails from the resorts are exceptionally good, and very reasonable and in Nusa Dua you can walk from resort to resort along a beautifully lit boulevard and visit any bar along the way – we loved the frozen Margarita’s at the Tapas Bar at Melia Bali, and the Chess Club at Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Resort, where you could get a carafe of good quality Rose for about A$20.

Cornerstone at Laguna Resort and Spa had exceptional Indonesia cuisine – I couldn’t go past the Bakso, chicken meatball soup with glass noodles and fresh celery leaves or try the Indonesian Chicken Curry with sambal, shrimp crackers and crispy shallot flakes; or Bakhmi Goreng with seafood from Jimbaran, vegetable acar, red chilli and spicy sambal.

This was one of the most affordable restaurants we found in the resort area of Nusa Dua, probably because it is back a little from the beachfront, but you dine al fresco in what has a roof top feel, and it was by far the best food we experienced.

So all in all you did well Ketut, and at least I’ll be well prepared next time I enter your shores.

Sensational Springvale

Peking Duck, roasted pork and crackling, Kung Pao chicken, fish balls, deep fried quail or Vietnamese noodle soup, you name it, I love Asian food.

Any foodie will tell you there are several ‘Chinatown’ hot spots in Melbourne – but few places top the culturally diverse suburb of Springvale on the south eastern side.

Driving through the main shopping precinct can be a bit daunting, with each sign appearing to replicate the next, but there’s a secret weapon which will help you navigate these bustling streets – tour guide Tammie Yong.

When she’s not jet-setting around the world as a long haul flight attendant, or caring for her three children, Tammie takes tours as part of the Greater Dandenong Council’s Sensational Springvale tour.

Arriving in Australia at the age of three after her family escaped war-torn Vietnam, Tammie spent 20 years living in Springvale – and her love of the food, and the people behind the delis, restaurants, markets and tea shops are what bring her back.

Her passion is infectious and we’re soon part of the bustling atmosphere – scouring AKK supermarket which is laden with fresh Asian greens such as bok choy, gai Ian, watercress and chrysanthemum leaves, along with delicacies of fresh quail eggs, pickled lotus roots and dried shitake mushroom.

Next stop is Golden Lake Cakes and Roast where roasted duck (with heads still in tact) adorn the window, swinging alongside roast chickens and sides of succulent bbq pork with perfect crackling.

The bubble tea took us by surprise – a sweet tea beverage created in Taiwan in the 80s.  Popular flavours include lychee, peach, pineapple, banana, coconut and kiwi.  We were treated to apple and green tea with tapioca balls – a refreshing sweet combination perfectly balanced by the tapioca.

To top it off is a visit to Tan Lac Vien restaurant, a fusion of Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, where we feasted on pipis and Chinese donut, spring rolls, calamari and deep fried quail with Chinese tea.

Back out on the streets of Springvale, laden with Asian gourmet food treats, I turn to Tammie and express my delight at the places we’ve visited – but she’s not surprised “everyone is taken by what they see” she says “some people make plans to come back the next day .. or for some it might be a few weeks – but they do come back because of the diversity and quality of the food – it’s simply the best.”

She’s not wrong there.

Top tips from travel guru

There aren’t many people who can claim to have 50 years in the industry – and are still going – but talk to John Crook and he’s as passionate now as he was when he led a small film crew on the front line during the Vietnam war.

As a war correspondent interviewing Australian servicemen, it was the tropics which particularly took his interest, in Saigon, and later on location in the rubber plantations of Nuit Dat and Vung Tau, and he was determined to use that experience to help open the doors of travel; not just to these war torn regions, but also to other nations and within Australian.

So, with the same gusto that got him through the front line – he went on to pioneer travel television presenting A Crook Affair, one of the longest running live talk shows in the country on the then TEN network, and host John Crook’s Down Under Show again on TEN .. taking out two logie awards in the process.

Radio also played a key role in his career and is a medium he is still actively involved in today – producing a prolific amount of daily radio programs on travel, food and wine including content for a national series under the banner of Around the Word Radio Travel Show.

John stays closer to home these days, although as a self confessed Francophile he can be tempted to travel abroad – and top of his list is not just Western Europe, but South Africa, Denmark, and the United States.

So what are the practical tips from someone who has rubbed shoulders with the likes of the Pope and Ronald Reagan for those wanting longevity in the industry?

Keep it simple John says:

  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep
  • Keep alcohol usage to a minimum
  • Send resultant clippings to hosts
  • Be on time to avoid unnecessary delays to the schedule
  • If running behind time telephone ahead so your hosts know where you are and ETA.

John remains an active member of IFWTWA Australasia (and is the longest serving member of the Association) frequently taking up its many opportunities to explore Victoria and beyond, and encourages anyone who is serious about a career in travel writing to do the same.

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