Travel writer Ploy Mallikamas shares the journey of her life

Ploy Mallikamas

Ploy Mallikamas

If you ask a professional writer how to excel in their industry or seek out such advice from how-to-become-a-writer books, the advice you will most likely discover would be something along the lines of “just write” – as simple as that.

But committing your life to the job title of “writer” may require second thoughts, said travel writer Ploy Mallikamas.

“Anybody can write, as I was once told by a professional writer. But, to write for a living, in Thailand especially, you need a good deal of courage and a back-up plan before pledging your life for your passion instead of your pay cheque.”

And for a woman who turned her back on a position with a lucrative salary in the advertising world to become a full-time writer, the motivation behind her career U-turn is full of intrigue.

For those who are new to her work, her latest book, Tokyo Miyage (Tokyo Souvenir), a tale from her 40 days in one of the world’s busiest cities, may not appear as a guidebook. In fact, the attractive cover of the publication could easily mislead readers into thinking of it is a Japanese art design publication, and after skimming through a few chapters, some would suggest that it also belongs on the “memoir” shelf of a bookstore.

“If you walk into a bookstore, there are two types of books on travelling – one is the information-packed guidebook and the other is the diary-style travelogue. My books are in between. I write like I’m talking to a friend,” she said, adding that it may have something to do with her favourite book genre – children’s literature – which she enjoyed reading throughout her youth.

“I grew up in a family of bookworms. Every weekend, my parents would take us to the bookstore. So, I was the kind of girl who couldn’t care less about watching TV, but instead spent all day reading, mostly Japanese manga and children’s books, especially those written by Roald Dahl.”

As a dutiful daughter and student, Ploy revealed that at the age of 15, she passed the entrance examination to Thailand’s top university. At that time, she said, she was too young to think for herself as to what she really wanted to study or what exactly her dream was.

“It was a kind of play-it-safe situation as I was so young. But my life-changing moment came when I graduated. I didn’t become a politician or a civil servant as my degree suggested, but instead took a position at an indie music company, Bakery Music, on its teen-targeted magazine called Katch.”

This was also the first time she got to write small articles and become involved with printing production, although, she said, she had not yet felt the love of writing at that time.

Two years after her first job, Ploy pursued a career in advertising. With skill and hard work, Ploy succeeded in her new industry, gaining the highest title of Account Director.

“I spent almost eight years working in the client service department. But the higher the rank I achieved, the more I suffered. I visited the hospital regularly due to stress-related sicknesses. And when your job is called ‘client service’, it means you need to keep your patience in check and always do what ‘others’ want. Finally, I realised that I didn’t like the job I was doing, but I kept doing it because I was afraid to make a change. I was afraid to make the wrong decision,” she added.

“So to take my mind off the stress, I began taking a few trips and spending more time alone. That was when I first discovered my love of travelling.”

Shortly after her trip, Ploy was encouraged by a friend to write and submit her travel memoirs to Sudsupda magazine. After a few issues and some positive feedback from readers, Ploy’s passion for writing had begun to grow.

Her mother was then diagnosed with a brain-damaging disease, which lead her to make a big decision.

“Finally, I quit my long-time permanent job,” Ploy recalled, adding that some friends disagreed with her decision saying that she shouldn’t throw away her career. However, after years of suffering and, more importantly, wanting to have more time for her family, Ploy said to them she was sure she had made the right choice.

In the same year, Ploy married her long-time director boyfriend, citing the idea of marriage to put her mother’s mind at ease as a reason.

“I couldn’t have done it without him,” said Ploy of her husband. “When I asked him whether I should resign, he said, ‘Do it’, because he knew all along how I really felt about my job, especially when my mother got sick. He was fully supportive; kind of the ‘wind beneath my wings’,” she joked, laughing.

Towards the end of 2007, the collection of small pieces of writing she had submitted to different magazines was being reassembled to form her first travel book. Prior to its release, Ploy shared that once she told herself she wanted to make a living from writing, she began to start talking to different publishers until she found her perfect match.

“I talked to different companies but Wongklom has always been my top choice. They enjoy my work and allow me to share ideas in the whole process. What I want most is to work with artists I like,” she said, proudly presenting her work partner Chuanchom Boonmeekerdsup, whose acclaimed print art won an award at the national art contest.

“I love books and when it comes to my own, I tend to be very meticulous about their every detail,” she said. “I was lucky that not only my publisher, but the sponsors also trusted my ideas and writing style. Some sponsors would have preferred the book to be more commercially oriented, which I wouldn’t have been comfortable with.”

Travel writers, she explained, also need support from sponsors, which are mostly tour agencies or airlines, in the form of revenue from advertorials that appear inside the book. With her advertising background, Ploy used her unique writing style, neat artwork and uncommercial venue-knowledge which certain readers had been looking for, to convince her investors she has a target group.

“I have friends who live in Japan, and they introduced me to out-of-the-way places, which many of my readers find interesting,” she said. “So my books are mostly for young and adventurous tourists, who prefer something different, not the typical tour group stops.”

“I like the idea of unplanned or at least less planned trips. As I experienced myself, my least impressive trip was to France, where I planned my schedule perfectly in Thailand before I left. During the trip, when something didn’t go as planned, I got really upset. When I returned home, I realised that it hadn’t been a fun trip at all. At the end of the day, travelling should be about enjoying the outside world and relaxing,” she added.

Today, the 33-year-old writer says she is very happy with the job title that is printed on her name card. Although it is only a few years back that she first launched her book, the name Ploy Mallikamas has recently become synonymous with travel books for many Thai globetrotters. Her four outings are continuously reprinted.

Asked, as time rushed the interview to the end, whether she had given a second thought to turning back time and changing any particular moment, Ploy responded immediately.

“I am now happy that at least a few days a week, I can visit my parents without worrying how many leave days I have left. More importantly, thanks to different journeys that have shown me answers, I think I have found what I have been looking for all my life.”

“I think all people should take a trip, alone if possible, so they can learn to be with themselves, to listen to the voices inside them. I have learned through these years of travelling that I’ m such a weak and very homesick person. But still, I’ll keep travelling, as the more I do, the stronger I become.” Bangkok Post