Road Warrior – Wall Street Journal

Nicholas Simon is the Thailand-based founder of Indochina Productions, which facilitates film and television shoots across Southeast Asia. The 45-year-old Wisconsin native, who has been living in the region off and on for 20 years, talks about how to find the best noodle shops, sitting next to chickens on a flight in Cambodia and which carrier offers the best selection of Asian cinema.

How often do you fly?

About three or four times a month in Southeast Asia. My wife and I own a farm in Massachusetts, so every few months we’re back in the U.S., and I usually stop in Los Angeles, New York or London on the way.

Where do you go most in the region?

For the last six months, it’s mostly been Vietnam. Before that, I was visiting the Philippines regularly. More recently, it’s been Bangladesh, which is new for me.

What’s your favorite airport?

For transit and efficiency, it has to be Hong Kong. But for service, I prefer Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. It’s very easy to get VIP escort there, which makes going in and out of the country a dream.

Preferred carrier?

Cathay Pacific’s 0293.HK +0.73% routes serve me the best and their service is impeccable. Their lounges have become my home away from home.

Who has the best in-flight entertainment?

Cathay’s system has the best selection of Asian cinema.

What airline has the best food?

Singapore [Airlines] or Emirates. I’m not a vegetarian, but I usually get vegetarian meals because they’re not so heavy and seem to be prepared with a bit more care.

What’s your standard carry-on setup?

I usually carry a two-bag kit. One is filled with scripts, Moleskine MSK.MI -0.45% notebooks and heavy paperbacks—I’m still old-school like that.

The other carries my computer, universal adapters and my Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphones. They’re not noise-canceling, but they have incredible sound and they’re so comfortable that I wear them even if they’re not plugged in just to create my own sense of interior space.

How do you cope with layovers or delays?

I’m willing to pay a premium for direct flights, but if I get stuck with a long layover, I always go into town to grab a bite. Ask a ticket taker or a security guy where to find a good noodle shop. They’ll send you somewhere much more authentic than the tourist information desk.

Other travels tips?

As soon as I arrive, I always put a local SIM card in my iPhone and I swap the SIM with my regular number into a simple Nokia NOK1V.HE -1.51% burner. That way I don’t get nailed with data charges, but people can still reach me on my regular number.

Packing strategies?

I always take a moment to remind myself what weather I’m flying into. Being based in Southeast Asia—and before that Los Angeles—it is easy to forget what harsh weather exists in other places.

Which city has the best taxis?

If I’m traveling light, I love jumping right onto a motorbike taxi when I arrive in Phnom Penh or Saigon. It’s often a little dusty, but it takes about half the time in traffic and it makes me feel young again.

Favorite hotel in Asia?

I like the five-star hotels that have a sense of history and don’t feel like an interchangeable part of a big chain. I’m partial to Raffles in Cambodia.

Preferred luggage?

Vintage Zero Halliburton cases. They’re not the lightest, but they’re indestructible.

What do you like best about the frequent travel required by your work?

You notice change a lot more when you go in and out of a place rather than live there continuously. It’s been wild to witness the transformation of Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh over the past 20 years.

Worst travel experience?

The most harrowing was a flight I took in Cambodia back in the 1990s on Kampuchea Airlines, which no longer exists. I flew to this place in the north in an AN24 turbo prop plane. It only had a few real seats near the front and the rest were plastic chairs set up on the floor, surrounded by bags of rice and crates of chickens. The pilots were Russian for some reason. I was glad to get back on the ground.

What do you do to accommodate—or impress—industry figures?

When we’re looking after Americans, it’s especially easy to blow their minds. Whether it’s amazing hotels, night life, spas or services, it’s affordable to put together a special VIP experience, which brings back some of the glamour of travel. That’s a distinct advantage of this region.

Edited from an interview by Patrick Brzeski