A fresh look for new times at Old Compass Travel

Tangled up in Hanoi
© Mark Bowyer

Back in 2016, we opened The Old Compass Cafe in Ho Chi Minh City. We wanted to have a welcoming home for Rusty Compass, our independent travel guides. The cafe quickly became a place where we connected with like-minded Saigon locals and travellers.

Soon after opening, we began hosting cultural events with authors, musicians, artists, journalists and others. Cultural events became central to The Old Compass Cafe, as they are today.

Then in 2017, Old Compass Travel came to life, offering walking tours of history and culture to curious travellers in the city. 

We launched a single page travel website to promote our new Saigon walks. Old Compass Travel Saigon was born.

Our Saigon tours have been a great success. We’ve met thousands of guests from around the world who want to take a deeper dive into the evolution of the city we call home.

Duong and Nhi Old Compass Travel
Duong and Nhi lead the way in Saigon © Mark Bowyer

We’ve also encountered a good many writers, artists, architects, business leaders, diplomats and politicians – we’ve been doing lots of learning too.

That was all before COVID struck and shut us down for a couple of years. 

I spent the COVID years stranded in Sydney – my hometown. It was a fortunate thing, though I hadn’t lived in Sydney properly for almost 30 years.

Getting to know Sydney all over again during border closures © Mark Bowyer

I decided to put my enforced Sydney sojourn to good use, exploring the city, its history and my local neighbourhood.

Coming out of COVID, we decided we should expand our small group walks to include Sydney.  I’d already done a lot of the groundwork. Getting to know Sydney again turned out to be incredibly rewarding.

Sydney is quite shy about its history. We seem to prefer to focus on beaches, sports and our stunning harbour. The stories of the city mostly go untold to visitors.

Sydney’s stories are amazing – and mostly go untold

After decades working in Vietnam, where history has been so central to my interest in tourism, Sydney’s reticence about history seems strange.

The city is bursting with drama. But most international travellers come away from a visit with little or no  sense of our past. I have also been shocked by how little I knew about Sydney despite growing up here and studying Australian history at university.

Curating our Sydney walks around some of Sydney’s stories has been a joy and a profound learning experience.

Earlier this year we collaborated with Sydney author and historian Ian Hoskins and the National Trust on a series of walks – Bennelong Point to Barangaroo. It was a great success. We look forward to future collaboration with other authors and local experts.

All of our businesses spring from a love of travel that connects with history and place. It’s the idea that has underpinned my three decades in travel in Asia. It’s the inspiration for what we do at Rusty Compass and The Old Compass Cafe too. 

And now, we have expanded Old Compass Travel a little. And we have this new website.

Hoi An doors
Vietnam by the Book is our tour based around 3 books © Mark Bowyer

Our commitment to being small and specialised remains unchanged.

In 2024, we’re offering longer tours too. Vietnam by the Book is our 16 day journey through Vietnam, built around three books.

In September 2024, we’ll also operate our first Australian book-focused tour. The Fatal Shore – a tour of Australia’s convict past, will be loosely framed around Robert Hughes’ groundbreaking 1986 work. It’s an amazing read and a great source of travel inspiration. 

The Fatal Shore underwrote my first travels to Tasmania in 2020. The tour will also explore Sydney, The Hawkesbury, The Blue Mountains, and the NSW coast.

Tasmania is an extraordinary experience of beauty, depth and deeply unsettling history. © Mark Bowyer

We’re very excited about all that lies ahead. 

We’ve launched this new website to make it easier to navigate and explore what we do. It’ll keep developing during the coming months.

We’d love to meet you in Sydney, Saigon or both on a walk, or on one of our longer tours. 

Thanks for checking in with us!

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