Richelle Gamlam is a 25-year-old Seattle native turned world traveler, outdoor blogger, and serial China expat. She's the smiling face behind the travel blog Adventures Around Asia. It used to be a small "study abroad" blog but as the years passed, it grew into a website where she shares the things she's extremely passionate about - and one of them is traveling.
Living and studying in China has helped turn Richelle from a girl who was afraid to stay in a hostel to a woman who doesn’t bat an eye backpacking around Southeast Asia on her own. She loves sharing her experiences and crazy misadventures while exploring this other side of the world. Some of her hobbies include scuba diving, salsa dancing, and trying weird foods no one else will eat.
My goal is to show you that travel and life in Asia is more achievable than it may seem. Whether its moving to China, backpacking Cambodia, or learning to surf in the Philippines - you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.
1. How did you come up with your blog "Adventures Around Asia", and what fueled your passion for all things travel?
I actually started Adventures Around Asia as a study abroad blog, right before I left to begin studying abroad in Beijing and Xi'an! To be completely honest, I didn't give the name much thought from a niche or business perspective, since I planned for the blog to be personal. However, because of the name I have decided to limit my blog content to just Asia, which has actually worked really well for me!
As for my passion for travel, I think it started when I was really young. My family took a vacation to Disney World (which was a huge trip for us, coming from Seattle). However, the flight oversold their seats and my family opted to take a large number of miles to go the next morning. These miles were almost enough to get us to Europe, so my parents started planning a trip. It was through this experience that my parents realized that traveling in Europe isn't quite as expensive as many Americans think (especially before the Euro!).
Every two years or so, we'd go on a 2-week trip somewhere in Europe. We'd visit two countries, rent a car, stay in little bed and breakfasts, eat where the locals ate - and I loved it! This really sparked my love of travel and encouraged me to travel outside my comfort zone to places like China, South Korea, Egypt, Turkey and more before I'd even graduated college.
2. You were originally from Seattle - what made you choose to stay in China?
After studying abroad in China for 7 months, I struggled a bit returning to normal life back in the US. Within a few months, I was dying to go back, so I decided to teach English in China after I graduated college. I didn't expect to be in China for quite so long, but once you're there, it's hard to leave. I kept finding amazing opportunities. I got my Master's degree at the University of Nottingham, a British University with a campus in Ningbo. Then I was offered a job to work as a college counselor in Beijing. While I wasn't planning on staying in China, the position was pretty hard to turn down, and I ended up working there for two years!
3. If you were to recommend 3 Asian destinations that we should visit, what places would they be and why?
This is a really hard one for me, but if I had to choose I would say: all of Taiwan, Yunnan China, and Siquijor or Siargao in the Philippines.
Firstly, Taiwan is absolutely amazing. If you can do a 2-3 week trip traveling around the country, I would highly recommend it. You'll need to visit Taipei and Tainan, but you can also throw in some other amazing destinations. I especially loved Taroko Gorge and Lanyu (Orchid Island). Taiwan is my all-time favorite country and I definitely want to live there someday. Affordable prices, amazing food, easy transportation, kind people, night markets, bubble tea, beautiful temples, free national parks, hiking, surfing, diving... what's not to love?!
When it comes to China, I always tell people to get off the beaten path. While I'm very partial to Beijing, and I think it's a must-see, I also really recommend heading to Yunnan for a week. Hike Tiger Leaping Gorge and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, explore the tiny streets and shops in Lijiang and Dali, eat incredible food, enjoy fresh air with no smog. Yunnan is amazing!
Finally, I really love some of the lesser known islands in the Philippines. Siargao and Siquijor are my two favorites so far. Siquijor is actually famous for its witchcraft (?!) but there are plenty of other reasons to visit: beautiful beaches, friendly locals, waterfalls, spelunking, cliff jumping... you're bound to love it. If you're willing to get slightly more off the beaten path, I also love Siargao which is famous for surfing. As someone who's only been surfing a few times, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many other things there are to do: island hopping, lagoons with stingless jellyfish, snorkeling and diving, rock pools, mangroves, and more. The locals are so friendly. I was often told to pay later that week if I didn't have exact change. I was even invited to a mayor’s house during a local festival!
4. We've heard that you like trying weird foods no one else will eat, so... what's the weirdest food you've tried so far and did you end up loving it?
While I've tried some pretty weird foods in my day: codfish sperm, intestines, stomach, blood tofu, "thousand-year-old eggs", balut, stinky tofu, beef tendon, etc. The weirdest thing I've ever been asked to eat was a bull penis while having hot pot in Chongqing. I knew I had to try it, even though I was not a fan of how it looked. If anything, it was mainly for all of the inappropriate jokes I could make afterward. I bit off the tip (cue inappropriate joke) and gave the rest to my friend (more jokes). Let's just say I was not a fan.
5. What are some of the most interesting discoveries you've found while traveling in Asia?
My favorite new discovery is definitely the Kumano Kodo Iseji Pilgrimage Route in Mie Prefecture, Japan. My boyfriend and I spent two weeks hiking 170 km from Ise all the way to Kumano Hayatama Taisha, through forests, mountains, farms, coastline, and the occasional highway. We hiked on stone paths from the Edo Period and stayed in local ryokan guesthouses. I absolutely loved the hike and I can't wait to go back!