musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

I’ve never met Karen Coates, but we’ve travelled some of the same highways, rivers, and dusty back roads of Southeast Asia. Her journeys, however, have taken her into more countries, and much deeper into those places, than even my offbeat excursions have done.


In her new book, This Way More Better, published by Things Asian Press, Coates has compiled travel articles and essays about her many Asian travels. As she says in the book’s introduction: “This book spans a dozen years through megacities and muddy jungles, happy times, sad times, times of love and death. It encompasses twelve years of growth within me, as a person and as a journalist.”

Indeed, this book is not all happy tales and funny stories. Some of experiences she writes about are certainly grim and depressing. But there are also plenty of sweet and inspiring tales too. As a journalist, Coates’s work took her to countries such as East Timor, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and India. Using Thailand as her home base, she ventures many times to some of the same destinations, befriending locals along the way. One engaging person we meet in This Way More Better is Shu, a young Hmong girl living in Sapa, Vietnam. By the end of this book, Shu has grown from a precocious 10-year-old who speaks English and sells souvenirs to tourists into a confident young woman running her own business and taking care of her own child.

 ©2013 Jerry Redfern

It’s these life-affirming personal encounters with locals that Coates meets that make this book so memorable. Coates’s vivid, descriptive prose is sharp throughout, each page immersing the reader into the specific locale she is describing. Another asset is the accompanying photographs by her travel companion and husband, Jerry Redfern. These striking photos are the perfect complement for Coates’s warm words.

I’ll borrow another passage from her introduction to sum up what is so special about this book:

“Each story in this collection has taught me something — other others, about the world, about myself. In this collection, my aim is not to preach the lessons I have gleaned or tell you what you should know. Instead, I hope to present these stories in such a way that you might find your own meaning in each encounter. Books often offer a vacation from life. I hope, instead, this book takes you traveling.”

Indeed, it does just that, and more.

For more examples of Karen’s great writing, along with Jerry’s fantastic photos, check out her food blog:


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