Stranger in a Strange Land

Born in Indonesia, Adhiyanto Goen later spent 13 years going to school and then living in Beijing, before embarking on a life of travel as a hospitality professional

Adhiyanto Goen, or Adhi, as everyone knows him, is the Bangkok-based Director of Public Relations for Avani Hotels & Resorts. I first met Adhi over a decade ago when I was working as an editor for True Run Media in Beijing (publishers of that's Beijing, I was overseeing a new title called Urbane). He was employed in the marketing communications department at the InterContinental Beijing Financial Street, and I distinctly recall going to visit him for lunch, and then driving my Chinese-made Vespa-imitation scooter all the way back to the office along slippery icy roads (not the best transport choice I ever made). Over the years our paths have continued to cross, including when I recently stayed at the FCC Angkor by Avani – a charming colonial property in central Siem Reap. I caught up with Adhi to ask him about the thing that first drew us together: travel, and what it means to be a stranger in a strange land.

Tell me about your childhood, where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Jakarta, but I also grew up in Beijing. I moved there by myself in 1998, that was during the economic crisis and the Indonesia political turning point. The condition was so chaotic that my family considered moving to China. That plan didn’t happen, but I was already there by then. So my mother asked me to continue my studies and so I did my high school and university all in Beijing. I stayed for 13 years.

Do you remember your first family holiday?

I believe we went to Guangzhou and then Guilin in China. It was my first trip with the whole family, and I remember it being very cold with a boat cruise along the river.

What led to your career in the hospitality industry?

I would say pure chance and luck. I believe I met Elena [Damjanoska] at an event, and she was working for True Run too! She had mentioned a work opportunity had opened up at InterContinental Beijing, and I asked her for a contact person that I could apply to. She helped me connect, and I guess the rest is history. But my one go-to memory of hospitality is when I was a young kid: We were staying in a hotel, and came down for breakfast, and it was busy, bustling. I can smell the food, the energy, everything is just moving yet I remember a chef was still paying attention to me even when I was just little and asked if I wanted to eat anything. I said congee, so he prepared it for me.

What was your first role, and what challenges did you face?

My first official job was at that InterContinental actually, where we first met. It was quite daunting, I had never worked for a luxury hotel before, and I was supposed to have a manager to lead me that never came. So I had to teach myself pretty much and navigate the industry, but I was lucky to have great leaders that have guided my career.

Tell me a bit more about your career, where have you been?

My longest-serving time would be in China, mainly Beijing before I joined the Impact Asia PR agency, then I started to travel between Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. After being in China for so long, when the opportunity came for a career in Malaysia, I jumped without hesitation. After that, I moved back to Indonesia and actually got my first job as an Indonesian in Bali (despite being born there, I had never actually worked in Indonesia). After over 5 years of island life, I missed the city, and so I grabbed the chance when it came to move to Bangkok, which has been my dream place to work in.

What have you most enjoyed about being in Bangkok?

The people are friendly, it is really easy to get around, and the food on offer is excellent. Plus the city is always evolving. And if I get sick of the town, I can take a break at the beach or it used to be a short hop to Laos or Cambodia or Vietnam.

What has been your favorite holiday so far?

That would have to be Portugal, definitely! I booked a last-minute trip to Portugal in 2018, and it was in December, which was a bizarre time to visit. Everyone asked questions like, “Are you ok?” and “Why are you going there during winter?”. I’m actually not that fond of crowds, so I tend to travel to a place when most tourists don’t. I went from Lisbon to Coimbra, then to Porto, Evora and Monsaraz. It was the most traveling I’d ever done on my own, and I loved it. I would go back in a heartbeat.

What do you most like about visiting a new destination?

That unknownness, when I am not familiar with the place, people, or perhaps even the language. Do I go left or right? Is this the right neighborhood? In essence that feeling of exploration, of taking my time, walking the streets, sitting in a café and taking the right photo occasion with my camera. There will always be a moment that makes me empty my mind when I see amazing scenery, or smile when I discover something new.

Name three new dishes you've tried and loved

Peking Duck actually made in Beijing, I’ve tried so much Peking duck outside Beijing, but it never tastes the same.

Kuala Lumpur-style Sotong (squid with salted egg). It may be unhealthy but it’s my favourite to-go food!

Cambodia’s famous beef lok lak. I have been addicted to this since I first tried it: perfectly cooked beef, with a simple leaf-wrap. It’s just amazing.

For you personally, what is the true meaning of travel?

You leave something behind, and you bring something back.