Category Archives: Travel

Lombok – an island under the volcano

At first glance Indonesia, with its ethnic and religious tensions, is probably not the ideal destination for a relaxing, trouble-free holiday. For two weeks of peace and quiet surely there must be other places to go, or as my doctor put it as he syringed typhoid into my arm: “Have you ever considered Bournemouth?”

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Ocean Dunes and how to set up a golf course in Vietnam

Ocean Dunes is not what you’d call your average golf course. It’s a slice of green, undulating English fairway set amid battle scarred sand dunes on Vietnam’s dusty, parched southern coast.

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Vung Tau and the Russians

Yuri is a haunted man. His eyes have that wary look of a veteran who saw too much horror and who now suffers nightmares and insomnia in equal measure. His face twitches and he scratches nervously as he talks. For three years in the Soviet paratroops he was a hunter-killer in Afghanistan, a hit man dropped behind enemy lines to take out heavily armed convoys creeping along the roads of the Hindu Kush mountains. The mojaheddin could never catch him, and he always made it home.

Tonight, however, over sour vodka and shaschlyk, he admits the experience terrified him and that he wet himself on every jump he made. “Hell. Everytime wet through,” he says pointing to his crutch and laughing with a mouthful of borsht. After several hours of downing neat vodka, Yuri is also very drunk.

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Saddhus gather in their millions to bathe in the Ganges

When it comes to curious habits, Amar Bharti has perhaps one of the strangest. In 1970s he raised his right arm 90 degrees into the air and decades on it’s still up there. His fingers have long since withered through misuse and his knuckles are white with rot, while his nails have grown long, gnarled and twisted.

At 63 most men think of retirement, of taking up sedentary hobbies that fill their twilight years. Of DIY, pond fishing, even gardening. But not Bharti. Naked and smeared in wood ash, he coquettishly flicks back his long, white dreadlocks and takes another huge lungful of hash from his wooden chilum.

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Among the Montagnards and elephants of Vietnam’s Central Highlands

The ancient man in the long house high in the mountains above Dalat claimed he was 102 years old. He greeted me with both hands cupped and invited me into his house, shooing away chickens and stepping over indolent dogs. We then settled down to  drink the strong, sour rice wine, sucking through bamboo straws from an old gourd.

His home stood about 10 feet off the ground and was some 70 feet long, made of solid timber. The inside was dark with the only light shining through open shutters. The walls hung with an assortment of gourds, crossbows, flintlock guns and pictures of garish Vietnamese and Japanese landscapes ripped out of magazines.

Outside bare breasted women pounded rice or played with toddlers who stared wide eyed as I ambled into the village. The men toiled bent-backed in the fields nearby, while others hunted game illegally in the forest. It was a silent, peaceful scene. I felt relaxed here after hours of travelling  across the broken highland roads up from Nha Trang on the coast. First by a minibus so packed that passengers had to hang out of the doors, gripping on the side rails, and later by Minsk motorbike.

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