Nick Pulley is founder and managing director of Selective Asia (www.selectiveasia.com), which specialises in tailor-made travel to South East Asia. Nick took a degree in Business and Geography after a promising rugby career was cut short by injury. He began travelling to South East Asia at the age of 17 and has now visited the region more than 25 times. He lives in Brighton with his wife Gabi.
Cheapflights: What do you do when you travel – any routine procedures?
Nick Pulley: My preferred approach is to do relatively little detailed research into my destination before leaving the UK. Of course I know where I’m going, when and (usually) why, but I like to leave as much as possible to discover once I’m on the ground. Many clients contact us having researched far too heavily, in my opinion. For example, they’ve already decided which restaurant they’ll eat lunch in on day seven! I can’t help but feel that they barely need to visit anymore – there are no surprises left.
Once on the ground I have to take plenty of notes, otherwise 11 hotels tend to blend into one by the end of my day. I also take a lot of pictures and video for the website and spend much of my evening angrily backing these up and updating various social media feeds… who said anything about a holiday!
CF: What is your travel pet peeve?
NP: Having to listen to the ‘I’ve been there’ brigade. There are pockets of travellers who apparently take pleasure in making sure that first-time visitors feel inferior, and that doesn’t sit right with me at all.
CF: What is your favourite kind of trip?
NP: I’m a cultural junkie and a pretty restless traveller. I love getting stuck into local cuisine (no matter how weird, trust me Gordon Ramsay’s got nothing on me) and delving into street markets and local homes – when invited, of course. I drive my wife mad with the incessant conversations I break into with anyone, from a beggar on the street to a restaurant owner.
CF: Best destination you have ever been to and why?
NP: It’s often the place I visited most recently, although that doesn’t always hold true – the Philippines was not a highlight of my life.
Burma is currently high on the list; its people are wonderful. Cambodia is a constant favourite, as I have close friends there, so am lucky enough to spend much of my time immersed in a side of the country few visitors ever get to witness. This is exactly the approach that makes travel wonderful for me. It’s the side of travelling that I wanted to pass on to others, and doing it myself really inspires and informs the elements I add to our holidays. Away from ‘my patch’, I love Belize for all my happy honeymoon memories, and Nepal is very special for its incredible vistas and calming manner.
CF: Where in the world offers the best value for money?
NP: It’s a very relative question. I mean, a five-star hotel can offer just as good value for money as a backpacker hostel. Right now I think Cambodia is incredibly well priced, although I suspect we’ll see a significant spike in prices there during the next 12-24 months.
CF: Where would you pay to stay? Is there anywhere you think offers great value and a great deal?
NP: Inspecting between 200 and 300 hotels each year, I get to see a lot of properties, of all varying standards. I’m generally happiest in mid-range hotels and resorts, where you get to engage with the staff and enjoy their company. Although the price of some five-star hotels may seem good value for a special treat, the astronomical costs once you’re staying there can sour the experience for me.
CF: What is the best airport you have flown from and is there a tip to make this airport experience great?
NP: ‘Great’ may be stretching it, but I do like Kuala Lumpur – the food hall is unbelievable, easily rivalling the best street food markets found across Asia.
CF: When you fly is there a tip you can share to make the experience a great one?
NP: My new iPad will help. Sorry! Due to my height – 6ft 6ins – I always pay for emergency exit seats when the service is available.
CF: As a travel specialist what is the most important piece of travel advice you can give?
NP: Less really is more. Don’t pack too much in and risk your holiday becoming something akin to an army training exercise. Be sure to spend enough time in each destination, otherwise the frustration on departing so soon will far outweigh the benefit of squeezing in that extra city or beach.
You probably won’t get the chance to work on your novel/thesis/business plan, either, so give yourself a break and leave that at home.
In addition, start your days early to see the best of a city and don’t be afraid to get involved with the street food, it’s unquestionably some of the best food in Asia. More often than not your meal is cooked from fresh directly in front of you meaning that hygiene is not a problem. You cannot beat sitting on a ‘toddlers stool’ at a Hanoi roadside, tucking into a bowl of steaming pho noodles and a Beer Saigon.
CF: At one point in your life, you will have to sit in the middle seat when you fly. If you have two people next to you, who do you most want to share a long haul with and whom would you least? And why.
NP: At my height, the middle seats are near impossible. If forced, though, I’d love to sit between a 1970s Keith Richards, and my mother’s father, who fought in Burma and whom I never met. And least… President George W Bush would be a likely candidate, and probably myself, returning from an inspection trip, typing frantically!
CF: If there was one travel nightmare trip, where would it be to and what would it involve?
NP: I’m a pretty upbeat traveller, no matter what the circumstances, but being removed from a train at gunpoint by Soviet soldiers on the Mongolian border was pretty rubbish. However, the next day I was a free man and free-wheeling on the back of a Buddhist monk’s motorbike down the side of a Mongolian hillside. It’s all swings and roundabouts! I think you have to accept that if you’re a determined adventurer.