Interview with Tim Bewer, Founder and Director of Isan Explorer

Originally from Wisconsin in the USA, Tim has lived full-time in Khon Kaen, Thailand since 2007. After a short stint as a legislative assistant, he gave up the 9-5 to become a travel writer-photographer and has since written or co-written over two dozen guidebooks for Lonely Planet and other publishers covering destinations as diverse as Sierra Leone, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Minnesota, Mexico, Ecuador, and Thailand. His photography is represented by Getty Images. His newest venture is the boutique tour company Isan Explorer, which does slow travel tours exclusively in the seldom-visited Isan (northeast) region of Thailand.

Tim Bewer - Isan Explorer

What is it that you do exactly?

Isan Explorer is a very small company, so I do a little of everything. But mainly I handle the tourism side of things while my wife covers the business end. So, I create and promote the tours and I’m the one who answers all inquiries about our tours. Also, we make a lot of custom changes to our tours based on the guests’ particular interests, so I fine-tune the itineraries before each tour.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I love putting together new tours. It’s not just the opportunity to get out and do a whole lot of on-the-road research. Crafting a good itinerary is much more complicated than I’m sure most people realize, but I genuinely enjoy the challenge. Meeting our guests is also a lot of fun because most travelers who visit Isan are interesting people.

What would you say are the 3 best places you’ve ever stayed?

To make things easy on myself, I’m going to stick to the three best places I’ve stayed in Thailand, but even if my list was global the Eastern & Oriental Express train would top it. Spectacular in all aspects.

About the only thing that beats traveling along the Mekong is traveling on the Mekong. I had the privilege to do so on the Mekong Explorer, a lovely wooden ship. The scenery from the sun deck is sublime, and it’s a very relaxed and communal trip since there are just 16 cabins.

The River View Guest House, on the edge of Chinatown, is my favorite place to stay in Bangkok. The rooms are nothing special, but wow… what a view.

What’s been your most memorable dining experience to date?

My dinner one night at some run-of-the-mill restaurant in Palmyra, Syria included a bowl of lentil soup that was absolutely amazing. Over several more weeks traveling around the Middle East I ordered it every time I could, and though it was always delicious, I never had another bowl even come close to that first one. Even after 20-odd years, I still crave that soup.

Have you rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, either through your work or your travels?

I’ve run into a few actors, artists and business tycoons over the years – contrary to what I expected, most were friendly and seemed down to earth. The movie Oka! was being made while I was in Central African Republic and I hung out with Kris Marshall for a bit. He spent all our time together asking about my travels and travel writing in general, which was lucky for me because it meant I didn’t need to disclose that I had never heard of him. Later I watched the movie and it turns out he’s really a good actor.

What currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?

I’ll be making lots of small trips around Asia in the first half of this year, mostly work related, but come fall I’m hoping there’s enough free time for an extended getaway to Morocco.

Thank you for taking part in our interview, Tim. I returned to Morocco for the first time in over 20 years just a few months ago. I’m sure you’ll have a great time there. And best of luck with the continued success of Isan Explorer.

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