Where the experts holiday: Selina Siak Chin Yoke, novelist

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Acclaimed Malaysian Chinese novelist, Selina Siak Chin Yoke, whose writing is influenced by her travel research across South East Asia and exploration into her Malaysian heritage – which prompted a change in career and new outlook on life – shares her experiences with Just About Travel readers


What do you like to do on holiday?
It actually depends on whether it’s a winter break or a summer holiday and what’s happening at the time. Generally though, I combine sports with laziness and doing nothing.
Coming from the tropics, I love the sun! Sun rays bring me instant happiness; my idea of bliss is lying somewhere hot, reading and daydreaming, with lots of swimming and a bit of wind-surfing in between. But I also enjoy cross-country skiing. On a winter break, I get up late and ski for two to three hours, get back to the cottage and sit in the sauna, or get dry and then go for a leisurely swim. Regardless of which season it is, I love eating and always have enormous meals to rejuvenate!

Where did you last go?
I visited Turkey for the first time – a fishing village near Bodrum. It was lovely: lots of sun, sea and great food. It was very peaceful, too, until the night before we were due to leave, when the coup happened in Istanbul!


Do you know where you’re going this year?
We’re spending 10 days at a resort in Cascais, on the Estoril coast in Portugal, where I’m indulging in my favourite activities – reading in the sun, swimming and eating – in between bouts of writing. Alas, with my new book coming out, I do have to work, which is why I’m talking to Just About Travel!

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?

When I last visited South Africa, the friend I stayed with took me camping in the bush. It was daring of her to suggest camping – because I’m known to like my fluffy towels! This was camping like you would not know it, though. We filled her SUV just for the two of us, complete with proper camp beds that had side pockets for our torches and kindles! We had our own fridge, of course, as well as trestle tables and chairs for lounging around in. I thought this was the height of luxury until I saw how other South Africans did their camping! They brought special camping vans which unravelled to provide full wrap-around terraces (I swear).
What was wonderful about being in the bush was the tranquillity. Its stillness was like nowhere else I’ve been to. In the mornings as we sat in our chairs animals (the tame ones like ostriches, not lions) would just stroll up – it was bliss.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?

There are quite a few, but the country which comes most to mind is New Zealand. It looks simply breathtaking, with such varied scenery. And I think experiencing the beat of a Maori dance in person would be quite extraordinary!

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
By my own country I assume you mean Malaysia. The Malay phrase for going home is ‘balik kampung’, which translates as ‘going back to the village’, and I would suggest visitors go to a traditional Malay kampung or village. If you can arrange a home-stay inside a wooden house raised on stilts and shaded by swaying coconut palm trees, even better. That way, you’ll enjoy Malay hospitality and experience their traditional graciousness and kindness.

How do you plan your holiday?
On the spur of the moment! I’m always amazed when they happen!

How often do you go away?
I generally go away three to four times a year, often on book-related trips. In the past this has been for research in Malaysia and Singapore but now I’m going to the US, too, to meet with book groups and on speaking engagements.

Who do you travel with?
I take business trips alone. For holidays I travel with my partner and sometimes with friends.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
I actually don’t know. Malaysia is at a crossroads politically: where its tourism is in 10 years will depend to some extent on where the country goes from here. This August 31, Malaysia will celebrate 60 years of independence. I hope that it pulls away from the brink of religious fundamentalism and begins to really celebrate its diversity rather than just paying this lip service. The experience visitors enjoy could be even deeper and richer.


When the Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke is publisher by Amazon Crossing (£8.99)


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