La Carmina is a SATW-award-winning travel blogger and TV host who runs the leading alternative travel blog LaCarmina.com. She is the author of three books with Penguin Random House, and a journalist for publications such as Time, Architectural Digest, CNN and Business Insider. She has been to over 70 countries, including places like Easter Island, Egypt, Myanmar and India.
What are three of your favourite countries, and why?
Tokyo’s Gothic and alternative scene was vital in shaping who I am today. From a young age, I was inspired by Harajuku fashion and subcultures — which led to me starting my La Carmina blog in 2007. This led to adventures such as living in Tokyo and writing books, and guest hosting TV shows as a Japan insider (such as Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, a No Reservations promo, National Geographic Taboo, and more). I encourage everyone to visit Japan and explore the underground artistic culture, which is unlike anywhere else in the world.
Hong Kong is the motherland — my family hails from HK, and I’ve been visiting since I was a baby. I adore the energy of the city: the neon lights and world-class restaurants in Central, the eccentric fashion boutiques in Kowloon, the pop culture billboards and cute characters everywhere. One of my favourite memories was dancing in the streets of Mongkok with Henry Winkler, William Shatner, Terry Bradshaw and George Foreman — we were shooting a NBC travel TV show together!
It’s difficult for me to choose a third country, but Myanmar stands out to me among my travels to over 70 countries. My friend and I became friends with a group of Yangon hardcore punks — they wear Mohawks, studded fashion, piercings and tattoos. Yet, they put their hearts into running a local charity to help children and the homeless, especially in Rakhine State. Everyone we met was compassionate and generous, and I hope to return to see these friends.
What are three of your favourite travel moments, and why?
I love doing travel TV shoots in Japan with my “Pirate” business partner, Naomi Rubin. We’ve produced a number of hilarious travel programs throughout Japan, which are some of my favourite memories. For instance, we once had an extreme body modifications expert put a saline drip into someone’s forehead, creating a “bagelhead” bulge on their head that lasted for the night!
We’ve also shot at Tokyo fetish parties, cuddle cafes, maid cafes where the customer gets slapped. The list goes on. Naomi and I have worked on TV shows in other places as well. In Vancouver, we coordinated a “challenge” show where a German man got his lips sewn shut with needle and thread. In Hong Kong, we did a program with a local fortune teller who hit human effigies with her slipper to drive out bad fortune!
What are three of your worst travel moments, and why?
I, fortunately, haven’t experienced too many disasters in my years of travelling. I did end up in an Easter Island hospital, however, because I had a cut on my foot that wasn’t healing. The cut bothered me throughout my South America journey, which was unfortunate. When I was in Granada, Spain with my two filmmakers, we accidentally trapped ourselves between the front door and gate of our rental house. We waited for hours for someone to pick up the phone or find us there and missed our ferry to Morocco because of it. I also, unfortunately, experienced some racism on my travels — comments and attitudes based purely on my Asian ethnicity.
What are three of your best travel tips?
I recommend downloading Google offline maps for your destination in advance. This way, you can still use your phone to look up locations and figure out directions, even if you aren’t connected to the Internet. I’m sunscreen-obsessed, so I encourage travellers to always have SPF with them, and reapply often (mineral sunscreen powder is great for touch-ups). A collapsible, lightweight water bottle is also handy, as you can bring it everywhere with you and refill it to keep hydrated.
Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants?
I’ve stayed in many lovely hotels worldwide. Park Hotel Tokyo is a personal favourite, as each room is decorated floor-to-ceiling by a Japanese artist. Sleeping in one of these rooms feels like entering a lucid dream. As for restaurants, I love Miku and Minami (creative sushi) in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada.
Do you have any favourite cities?
I’ll always gladly return to Tokyo, Osaka, and Hong Kong. I used to live in NYC and LA and enjoy going back to see friends.
What are some of the worst places you’ve stayed?
I once stayed in a Mexican resort that claimed to be luxurious, but the rooms were filled with mosquitoes. I spent most of my time attempting to patch up holes in the walls and windows, and swatting them away!
What is another good travel story you haven’t mentioned so far?
I was floored by Easter Island, a destination that feels like being on another planet. Seeing the rows of moai (stone men statues) at daybreak felt like an encounter with aliens.