People on a plane

See Asia Differently sets up in Royston

by | Jan 29, 2022

Life for me has been all about two things travelling and telling stories, and for my family and I the last 10 years has been about just that.

We moved to Cambodia the day we found out that my wife was pregnant with our first, back in October 2009. Since then, our life has been quite a journey with so many incredible memories, lifelong friendships made and two extremely happy children. Asia offered us so much as a family to keep us all entertained and we thrived there. On the flip side it was not always plane sailing and we also faced lows and the many challenges of living and launching a new travel company in a developing country.

I will always leave a piece of me in Cambodia, it was the place that I always felt the most at home and where I could express myself the most. Moving back to the UK was always on the cards and planned so that the children could be educated here. However, with Covid making an appearance all of our finely made plans pretty much went out the window.

People standing on a Golden Bridge, Vietnam, Da Nang
Life in the early days with Jack, Mia and Eva
Now the roller coaster ride of life has brought us all to Royton. Where we plan to lay down some roots and where we look to breath new life into our independent family travel business ‘See Asia Differently’ and get back to where we were and beyond, with the help of our new neighbours.

Going back to the beginning we relocated to Cambodia with the aim of creating a single destination Cambodian travel company which seemed like an absolutely crazy idea back then. As at the time the average tourist spent only 3 days in total: seeing the temples of Angkor Wat before upping sticks and moving onto Vietnam or Thailand.

But there must be more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat right?
When I landed back in 2009 with the country being completely different to the way it is now, I rented a car and then hit the road to see what was out there. During my nearly 2 months on the road, it was soon clear that Cambodia had so much more to offer than just temples; it had beaches, wildlife, adventure, incredible food, wonderful people and so many hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

I remember back then before the roads were completed that a 2 hour journey took me almost 2 days.

People standing on a Golden Bridge, Vietnam, Da Nang
The road to Ban Lung (Cambodia) in 2009
Fast forward a couple of years we then added Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia to the mix. So, we now offer tailormade holidays and experiences to 6 of the most interesting South-East Asia countries. Not only this but we have diversified into school groups, weddings, and events. We can pretty much organise anything; you dream, and we can create it.

See Asia Differently’s philosophy is that we put ourselves in your shoes with your budget and interests and we will carefully craft a profoundly different holiday experience just for you, with our years of experience and living in Asia. Also travelling this way does not cost you more as with ‘See Asia Differently’ there is no middleman as unlike most travel companies you book and travel with the same company. This way we can get to know you and then match your personality and interests with a guide, making your holiday experience even more special.

People standing on a Golden Bridge, Vietnam, Da Nang
My favourite guide – I know I shouldn’t have favourites
We boast but we do have some of the best guides and staff in the world as we choose them first based on their personalities and love for life and then teach them how to guide. I remember right at the beginning when I was interviewing for our first ever staff member (called Synak), who by the way is still my right-hand man now and I couldn’t run the business without him. It’s not an interview process like over here and was more finding out about them as a person.

Question: What are your biggest dreams.
Answer: I want to wear a suit to work, I would like to see the sea and learn to swim, and I would also like to learn how to drive a car.

I replied well its 30 degrees most days, but you are more than welcome to wear a suit to work if you wish. (This is a Cambodian status thing, if you can afford to wear a suit you have made it).
The next day I offered him the job and said pack your bags we are going to the coast which at the time was a 2-day drive away. We taught him how to swim and you should have seen his face when he saw the sea for the first time in his life. Later, we taught him how to drive, so am please to say we fulfilled all of his promises.

I asked him again yesterday what he now wants, with his reply being; ‘I want tourists to come, so that I can show them this wonderful country’

People standing on a Golden Bridge, Vietnam, Da Nang
Synak’s wedding – He did have more hair when he started working for us.
It was always planned that we would return to the UK for our children’s schooling, which we did in the summer of 2019. In preparation we invested in a new website, signed up to a long-term office rental and set up systems where we could look after the sales from the UK and run all operations out of Asia.

Then Covid hit just before our 2019 season, and we have been trying to keep afloat ever since. The situation in Asia and many countries heavily reliant on tourism was completely dire. There was no contingency, many people don’t have savings and live hand to mouth. So just like the UK government we created our very own furlough scheme for our staff, paying them 25% of their full salaries out of our savings. It’s painful to write but £25,000 lighter and over 2 years later the travel industry is still on its knees; but just like Pandora’s box we still have HOPE.

My hope is that the people who have read this far can help us start a mini revival and help our family-owned independent travel company out of the black hole of the last 2 years. Without blowing our own trumpet we are bloody good at what we do, and our holidays have been featured in the New York Times and also the BBC travel show.

People standing on a Golden Bridge, Vietnam, Da Nang
Asia has some of the best settings of anywhere in the world
So if anyone has ever thought of visiting this part of the world that get in touch and make sure you travel with us. It would absolutely incredible if you could help us in our post Covid revival. We are just a normal family that arranges incredible holidays and experiences to Asia, and we would love it if you would experience them with us.

In order to springboard this I am available to talk with you personally about all things South-East Asia and what you would like to get out of a holiday so that I can then personalise an itinerary for your individual or family needs. So, please get in touch with us throughour contact form or directly to me using my email or phone: [email protected] / 07939206599

People standing on a Golden Bridge, Vietnam, Da Nang