Travel show host Juanita Ramayah was restless during an eight-hour journey on a bus in Myanmar. When the coach finally pulled over, she rushed to the toilet – an outhouse in the middle of the jungle.
“I was prepared for the worst,” she says with a serious face during our interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Curiously, that part of the story wasn’t the most dreadful thing about her travel.
“There were pigs on the side. They looked tame and I thought, ‘Where else can I touch a pig?’ ” she recalls.
And so the 24-year-old host confidently started walking towards the herd. But not before stepping into a patch of black “earth” which felt squishy. What she thought was black soil was actually porcine poop. Eeuw.
She recounts how she stood there, screaming her lungs out.
Juanita is one of the fresh faces on regional travel channel GOAsean. She’s bubbly and warm – traits that translate well on screen.
Next year, Juanita – who is of Chinese and Indian descent – will helm Go Travel Season 2 with Jonathan Putra, Megan Tan, Patricia Knudsen and Amelia Henderson. Dubbed a “one-stop guide on all things travel”, the travelogue introduces little-known destinations in South-East Asia.
Her time with the travel show has taken her to places such as Bali and Bangkok. Here, Juanita tells us more about her travel experiences and her thoughts on the industry.
How has the experience with GOAsean been?
It’s been great! I’d never travelled much before this. My holidays are usually with my family … one of those typical yearly things. Travelling as part of GOAsean is different. It’s hectic because we try to cover as much as possible in that location in a short amount of time, usually four or five days.
Would you rather travel for work or go on your own vacation?
I really can’t say which one I prefer because they are so different. On your personal travels, you get to plan your own itinerary and include what you want to see. When you go for work, everyone is planning it for you. It’s enjoyable because you’re seeing the best of the country as planned by someone else.
For example, you wouldn’t expect to wake up at 2.30am and go to the Bangkok Flower Market. But you make the most out of it.
Tell us something that people would not expect at all about the reality of being a travel show host.
You wouldn’t expect us to have only two hours of sleep. We have to sometimes wake up early to plan what we are going to wear, and do our hair and make-up. Also, you wouldn’t expect us to memorise different facts about certain destinations and places. It’s not a glamorous thing. But you really get to experience life.
What are some trends you have observed about the travel scene?
People don’t mind backpacking so much these days. And you do see more backpacker places offering quality options. In general, I think more people are travelling now because it’s much cheaper and more accessible. There are also many Asians travelling around the region now – Asians exploring Asia.
What are your favourite destinations?
I love the Philippines because the people are just so friendly. They talk to you as if they have known you for a thousand years! There’s also lots of good food and culture there. Thailand is also amazing. You can have your fix of food, beach and art there.
What’s your favourite online travel platform?
I like Airbnb. There are some really cool places listed on the site. If you’re into eco-travel, you’ll find some nice and cosy places that are environmentally friendly. Once I even saw these really nice treehouses in Thailand that you can stay at. But most times, I usually go there to check out the interior design (laughs).
What do you look for when you book a holiday?
I look for a comfortable place to stay, that is also convenient. I like to explore the places around the hotel. I really love to check out local experiences. Sometimes, you’ll find very interesting places around the hotel.
What’s the best way to immerse yourself in local experiences?
Read up before you go for your holiday. Research the locals’ customs – the do’s and don’ts. As similar as we are, we are really different in other ways. Your research will ensure that you won’t get such a big culture shock.
What are some items that you always pack for a vacation?
I always bring a clean pillowcase – I learnt that from my mum and her auntie friends (laughs). I also carry around my essential oils. And an item that reminds me of home. I get homesick during my travels sometimes.
Share some travel wisdom.
Pack only what you need and carry around a backpack. Make sure your bag is durable. Carry your shampoo and bath gel in those mini bottles. These will come in handy when you need a quick wash during your journey. If you’re on a budget, go to a 7-Eleven and you might find some decent sandwiches.
What has been your best travel experience so far?
Before I joined GOAsean, I travelled a lot with my family to volunteer. Once, we went to a girls’ home in Thailand. These girls’ families are poverty-stricken. The home saved them from being sold into prostitution and such. As sad as it sounds, such things are happening in certain parts of the world. It’s a reminder that if you’re blessed, you should share with others whatever you can.
Such volunteering trips give you a different kind of travel satisfaction. In this case, you go to a place and give back.
Complete the following sentences:
(a) When on a holiday, I must experience…
The food, the culture and the people.
(b) During my travels, I hate to…
Miss out on things. I hate it when I come back and someone else says there was more to see.
(c) I would hop on a plane in a heartbeat for a meal in…
The Philippines – for some sisig (sizzling pork). I love those spare parts of pork.