Off The Beaten Path Interviews

An inside look at Earth’s explorers

Chris Backe blogs about travel and life at Chris in South Korea and Chris in Thailand. He’s been published numerous times across Korea, including Groove Magazine, 10 Magazine, Busan Haps, The East (based in England), and visitseoul.net. He’s talked travel with Lisa Kelley on Arirang and talked tech on TBS’s eFM radio stations. When not writing or photographing, or traveling, he enjoys swing dancing and singing.

Meet Chris Backe

Chris Backe in Korea

Chris in Korea

What inspired you to travel to Asia for the first time?

The need to try something new – I was teaching computer classes and delivering newspapers (!!!). I learned of an opportunity to teach English in South Korea – something I really had never considered before! I sent off my resume and photo to a recruiter, and got a call the very next day. From there, it was just a matter of time to get the visa worked out.

What made you fall in love with South Korea?

Well, it’s really easy to get around the country. You have trains, buses, and of course cars and motorcycles if that’s your thing.  A 300 km/h train gets you from one corner to the other in less than three hours, and virtually every corner of the country can be visited over the course of a weekend. Combine that with a language that was designed to be easy to learn, and you find you’re as independent as you want to be (seriously, hangeul requires three hours and a couple of coffees to get the concept – and if I can get it anyone can).

Chris Backe in Bongamsa

Bongamsa, South Korea

What about Thailand? What is the thing you enjoy most about it? Give us an example.

For starters, Thailand is hooooottt. There’s yet to be a day that wasn’t at least 25 degrees C. at some point. Korea’s tourism organization rightfully claims ‘four distinct seasons’ – a thing the expats in Korea deride, until they travel elsewhere in Asia and realize not every country can claim that!

My favorite thing? Thailand has a nice compromise of ‘cheap’ and ‘comfortable’ – it’s not as cheap as, say, Laos or Cambodia, but finding a Western-style throne and hot-water shower doesn’t require as much planning or research as it would in either of those countries. Places like first-world Korea, that’s not a question – in fact, most rooms you’re likely to stay in have 42″ flat-screen TV’s, and some even some jacuzzis inside!

Chris Backe on the  Bugaksan walking trail

On the Bugaksan walking trail, South Korea

You speak Korean and have written a book on the language. Describe your experience learning it. What is the best language learning tip you can share with our readers?

Yep, Korean Made Easy covers everything you’ll actually need (or want) to know during your time in the country. Learning the language requires applying your knowledge – it’s not just about memorizing vocabulary, but using it on a daily basis. Whether you’re a teacher, businessperson, or a soldier that gets off-base, you won’t be short of opportunities to use Korean…

Also, one thing that confuses beginners: each syllable is constructed. At least one consonant, and at least one vowel. Just looking at it, it’s hard to tell what’s what. Once you’ve broken it down into the individual letters, things come together a bit easier.

Chris Backe in Bigeum-do

Bigeum-do, South Korea

When not traveling, taking photos or writing, you’re singing and swing dancing. Have you been able to adapt those secondary passions to a life of Asian travel?

A little. There’s an expat choir based in Bangkok , and we had a concert a few months ago; I also performed with another expat choir based in Seoul. I haven’t had the time to enjoy swing dancing as much as I’d like, mainly because most weekends when there are dances are weekends I’m traveling.

Any exciting travel plans on the horizon?

I just got back from a week in Laos, including a few days around Vientiane and Luang Prabang. These are less off-the-beaten-path, relatively speaking, and comes as a welcome break from six-plus months of traveling around Thailand. What I’m most excited about next is Chiang Mai – my wife and I are moving there in late September to begin exploring even more of what Thailand has to offer.

Chris Backe in Lopburi Thailand

Chris Backe in Thailand (Lopburi to be precise)