Music On My Travels #3 – The ‘90s

Continuing the music that has embellished my travelling through the decades.

1990s Travel Highlights

Following the third and last of my inter-rail trips in 1992, I was finally to travel outside of Europe, firstly to Israel in ’93. That independent trip cemented my wanderlust gene firmly into my being.

We started in Jerusalem and took in Bethlehem, Masada and the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Acre, Beit She’an, Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea and Netanya. I experienced my first call to prayer, visited my first mosque, ate my first hummus, saw my first Roman ruins and aqueduct, breathed my first Arabian dust and was amused by my first camel.

Further trips followed to the likes of Egypt, Hong Kong, China, India and Indonesia, with the decade finishing wonderfully with an independent tour of Vietnam.

I bought my first house in 1990 and was able to blast out my favourite music by the likes of Oasis, Stone Roses, Suede, Smiths and The Charlatans. None of these however make my iconic travel tunes.

So which music brings back memories that get the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention?

God Save The Queen – The British & Commonwealth National Anthem

Queen Elizabeth II in 1997

Queen Elizabeth II in 1997

As national anthems go this is actually a bit of a damp squib in my opinion, certainly compared to its rousing peers from the likes of France and the USA. I far prefer the Sex Pistols version actually!

I always admire the English rugby players and fans conjuring every ounce of passion they have to sing it with gusto before international matches, but there really is no comparison with the Irish, Welsh, Kiwi, Aussie or French counterparts.

So why have I chosen the anthem amongst my memorable music?

During that 1997 trip to Indonesia we visited the Guning Mas Tea Plantation near Bogor on the island of  Java to learn how the favourite import to Britain is produced.

Guning Mas Tea Plantation, Java, Indonesia

Guning Mas Tea Plantation, Java, Indonesia

Whilst there we stumbled across a group of Indonesian school children on an outing with their teachers. Their excitement at meeting a pair of Englishmen was akin to the Queen herself turning up!

We were mobbed and asked to pose for photographs and sign autographs. One of the teachers then asked us to give an English lesson! Days of the week, months of the year, animal names, that sort of thing.

You will probably have guessed the final request by now. “Please can you sing the national anthem.”

Luckily I knew the words and tune and once I had reminded Hamish, the tuneless duo gave the best rendition we could muster. “Send her victorious, happy and glorious” we were particularly pleased with amongst the general dirge.

The result? Rapturous applause as if Michael Jackson had just performed! Truly priceless memories that return every time I here that familiar drum roll.

School Group, Guning Mas Tea Plantation, Java, Indonesia

School Group, Guning Mas Tea Plantation, Java, Indonesia

Macarena by Los Del Rio

Macarena by Los Del Rio

This was one of those hits that you either loved or that irritated the hell out of you!

It was a huge success in the mid ’90s and a real floor filler in nightclubs at the time. You will remember that this was one of those tunes that came with set dance moves.

These are the kind that an uncoordinated groover like me generally avoid. I can just about master YMCA but I far prefer freestyle to mask my stumbles. So why again have I chosen a song that would not ordinarily make a playlist of mine?

I visited Egypt in 1997 too and chose to do a small group tour with Explore. For two days we motored down the Nile on a small boat called a kimo.

Our Boat On The Nile, Egypt

Our Boat On The Nile, Egypt

The diminutive size of the boat meant we could moor up wherever we like, generally well away from the large ‘Death on the Nile’ style paddle steamers. We slept for two nights on board, abandoning our tiny cabins on the second night and sleeping under the stars on deck.

We really bonded as a group, swimming in the Nile and visiting superb sites such as Edfu and Kom Ombo.

On our last night we decided to have a fancy dress party, visiting a market to barter for cotton kaftans and Yasser Arafat style headwear. The beer flowed and dancing under those stars in a remote Nile setting alongside some corn fields is a fabulous memory once more.

Wilbur's Travels, Egypt

Cool In The Kaftan (Love & Peace Man!)

Inevitably Macarena popped up on the playlist and guided by some Aussie girls, I was able to give my finest ever rendition of those blinking dance moves!

The tune is now synonymous with that wonderful evening and the whole superb trip.

Take a look at the dance moves here.

Seasons In The Sun by Terry Jacks

Seasons In The Sun by Terry Jacks

Why on earth does this one hit wonder from 1974 make my list?

In 1996 my brother Ed and I visited Hong Kong, Guangzhou in China and Macau. It was the visit to our hotel karaoke bar that gets Terry’s finest bringing back fabulous (and hilarious) memories.

This karaoke bar was different however with zero Madonna or Tom Jones on offer. Each number was a Chinese operetta lasting over twenty-five minutes a throw.

All performers were couples who had dressed up in their finery especially for the occasion.

As they crooned and squealed on stage, they were accompanied by a backdrop of a large cinema screen portraying Mandarin folklore, clearly depicting the words that they were singing/murdering.

Pearl River, Guangzhou, ChinaPearl River, Guangzhou

After two of these amazing performances of unknown interminable ballads, I was amazed to hear my brother’s name read out for him to enter the stage.

We had downed a few beers and in his alcohol fuelled bravado, Ed had decided that the bar needed some English language infusion to puncture the Cantonese atmosphere.

The choices of Western song was extremely limited and came down to a choice of ‘King of the Road’ by Roger Miller, ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra or Terry’s finest. Ed of course chose the latter.

Well, my singing is flat at the best of times but Ed would surely have made those seasonal ‘worst ofs’ that they show during the X Factor auditions every year.

He destroyed it whilst wearing cut off denim shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt that showed off his colourful tattoos to the full. To say the immaculately dressed audience were gob smacked at the 3-minute assault on their senses is an under-statement.

I was naturally killing myself with laughter. Well worth the $5 singing fee!

Listen to the tune here.

Apocalypse Now Soundtrack

Apocalypse Now Soundtrack

What better accompaniment for a trip to Vietnam?

We started in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and ended in Hanoi, taking in the Mekong Delta Region, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue and Ha Long Bay along the way.

Reminders of the cruel, futile war between the Viet Cong and alliance between the US & Vietnamese government forces were all around. The American War Crimes Museum, the Chu Chi & Vinh Moc Tunnels, the no-man’s-land of the 38th Parallel (the official divide between North and South Vietnam) and Ho Chi’s Mausoleum in Hanoi.

I listened to the iconic soundtrack constantly during the trip as I read my illegal copy of the Lonely Planet that I had to bind in brown paper to avoid arrest.

The End by the Doors and Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner are especially representative of the trip and sure to flash me back over twenty years every time I hear them.

Watch the iconic (and destructive) Ride of the Valkyries scene here.

The 38th Parallel, VietnamThe 38th Parallel, Vietnam

So there you have my ’90s tunes that evoke fabulous travel memories. The first decade of the new millennium is coming soon.


  1. Great post. Very interesting. I think it’s cool we can hear songs that bring us right back to moments like this!

    1. And makes you feel that age again!

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