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Where's the best place you've ever stayed?
The first time I went to Japan, I stayed in the Buddhist Monk retreat of Koya-San, here I stayed in a working monastery and experienced Japanese simplicity at its best. Tatami mats, sliding painted doors, "invisible" service, a traditional Japanese bathhouse and a beautifully serene water garden; incredibly relaxing and a world away from the immense hustle and bustle of Tokyo. As well as this, I was able to explore the religious site freely taking in the ancient wooden temples, towering red tori demon gates and even a vast (and rather creepy) ancient graveyard. However, the best part of this stay has to be taking part in the morning fire services; watching the monks carry out their worship to the ringing of bells and the heavy waves of incense whilst fire pits crackled and roared.
What's your oddest travel moment?
I have had far too many of these, I'm a magnet for the weird and wonderful! Whether it's falling off a toboggan slide that goes down alongside the Great Wall of China, going to a disco night in Boston which recreates Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", finding a museum dedicated to local cats in Borneo, accidently walking into a few weddings in Japan, or finding a collection of preserved whale penises in Iceland; my travels are always surreal and memorable. The oddest moment though has to be in Shangri-La in China, where I was asked to sit on a yak whilst a man in traditional costume serenaded me in an operatic style! I still have no idea why!
Have you had a perfect travel moment?
I loved travelling around Bali on a motorbike on the run up to the Balinese New Year. Visiting local temples island-wide where locals were making huge, ornate parade floats of demons to then burn on the New Year to cast out negativity. The floats themselves were incredible and the locals loved showing me the temples and statues, how the Balinese worship and really took the time to explain more of their culture to me. I learnt so much and got to see some hidden gems on the island that I would never discovered myself otherwise. The parade itself was stunning; the streets of Ubud came alive with a chorus of bells, whistles, chants, songs, drums and cheers whilst the floats were spun around wildly before being burnt in a local graveyard to cast out the year's bad spirits and prevent them finding the Balinese again.
What are your suitcase essentials?
I honestly cannot imagine travelling without a compact SLR camera in my backpack as I'm always crouching, crawling or precariously balancing off something to get the best spur of the moment shots! As well as this, I always have a baseball cap and pair of aviators, to hide bad hair days and panda eyes when transfers, long flights or rail journeys, excursions or early mornings to catch a sunrise prevent me from having time to make myself look human!
Where's next on your wishlist?
I'm a huge Disney fan and am on (a rather sad) quest to visit every park worldwide; having been to Florida, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo's parks, California and Shanghai are all thats left! However, as I've never seen the West Coast, I want to fully travel California first. After starting with San Francisco and Yosetmite, I'd want to move down to Anaheim for its Ska music scene (and Disney of course), then explore Los Angeles, Hollywood and Beverly Hills for sun, sea, shopping and celebrity culture.
"Richard's in depth knowledge together with his personal travel experience made our booking easy, as did his enthusiasm and friendly manner."