travel tips

Travel tips with chef and culinary master Arnold Myint – including why this French fairytale city tops the romance of Paris

The Nashville native clocks more than 50,000 miles a month as a celebrity chef, TV personality, and culinary instructor – here’s his top travel tips

Myint is best known as the chef and restaurateur behind Nashville’s popular Thai spot International Market & Restaurant. Image: Star Chefs

Arnold Myint wears many hats – and sometimes a wig. He’s best known as the chef and restaurateur behind Nashville’s popular Thai spot International Market & Restaurant, though his culinary career has also taken turns through various Jean Georges Vongerichten restaurants in New York City and Bravo’s Top Chef, back in 2010. Then there’s his alter ego, Suzy Wong, a domestic diva and event planner who was crowned Miss Gay America in 2017.

Myint is Nashville-born and-raised. He spent the majority of his childhood climbing on top of rice bags at his parents’ establishment, which was similarly part-Thai restaurant and part-specialty grocer.

In the summertime, they’d travel to their homeland in Thailand. From the age of 13 into his mid-20s, he toured as a professional ice skater. Now his restaurant is across the street from his parents’ original business, which was open for 44 years under the same International Market & Restaurant name.

Myint clocks more than 50,000 miles a month as a celebrity chef, TV personality, and culinary instructor; he also travels as his drag persona, emceeing events in Los Angeles, New York and other cities. He’s especially passionate about activism-oriented projects with the ACLU of Tennessee, the Nashville Launch Pad (a shelter for displaced queer youth) and the Nashville Food Project, which feeds Nashvillians in need.

When he’s not on the road, Myint lives alone in Nashville, though that may soon change, as he’s expecting a baby by surrogate this fall. Here are his travel tips.

Luxury flying means flexibility, not first class

My favourite way to fly is on Singapore Airlines’ A380 suites, which are like mini-apartments in the sky and nicer than my house.

My daily domestic reality, however, is Southwest Airlines. I fly from Nashville to LA about every other week and appreciate the no-fee flexibility Southwest offers when it comes to flight changes and cancellations (you can make changes up to 10 minutes before your scheduled departure).

Since I have A-list priority business status, I’m the first to hop on and grab my aisle seat at the front, and I’m one of the first off the plane, which is great because I hate lines.

Any airport gate can become a personal spa with one small accessory

I always pack a tennis ball in my carry-on and use it as my massage ball when I get to the gate or during a long layover. When I’m at airports, I put the ball against a wall and roll my back and shoulders against it. It immediately relieves tension.

When I’m in my hotel room, I lie on the floor and roll out my quads and then turn over and roll out my glutes. It releases all the stress from my travel day.

This is the best island in Thailand

Koh Samet is unfairly off-radar for even the most elite travellers. It’s a small, non-commercialised spot, an island where you arrive by water taxi because there’s no airport. It’s about a 30-minute boat ride from Rayong city, which is a 3.5 hours drive southeast of Bangkok.

A boat in the bay between Ko Samet Island and the mainland

The island is completely walkable with its fine white powder sand, azure water and local living – paradise perfection. I stay at my cousin’s hotel, Rainbow Sky, which sounds fancier than it is, but it’s a humble island, and all I need is the beautiful untouched beach. I find shade under a palm tree, enjoy the scenery and drink a local beer. It’s not a place for luxury hotels.

For meals, I eat like the locals at casual corner shacks. Considering I can speak perfect Thai but can’t read it, I depend on the hospitality of the vendors to pull me in. They’ll basically cook anything I want. My favourites are spicy seafood salad (yum talay) and spicy basil stir-fry (pad krapow), always with a fried egg.

If you find a great taxi driver, don’t let them go

I was in Lisbon with my sister and mother, and we asked the taxi driver who’d driven us from the airport if we could hire him for the week. His fee was reasonable, so we kept him for the duration of our trip.

He ended up doubling as a local tour guide. Basically, he picked us up in the morning with a small plan of what he wanted to show us, and I would interject with my wish list – which would include some sort of performance, a landmark, a gallery or an off-the-beaten-path eatery. He filled in all the blanks. It was probably the most memorable experience I’ve ever had.

The most romantic city in France is not Paris

Being in Annecy is like living in a fairy tale, with its postcard-perfect city centre. The surrounding landscape puts me into a French fantasy where time stands still.

Annecy, Rhone-Alpes, France

I shop at the street markets for inspiration to plan my dinner. It might be farm-fresh cheese, seasonal produce such as radishes with fresh butter and fresh fish including swordfish. I was forced to speak French, drink home-made apple brandy and eat raclette fondue. The men were a dream as well.