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The Word – The Beachhunter

The wind gusts in from the east as we veer off the main road and onto the bumpy sand track that fronts the tumbledown beach at Phuoc Hai. Although just a few kilometres north of the busy stretch of sand at Long Hai, this is a place where tourism is as alien a concept as road or queue etiquette is to the Saigonese. On a sunny day, the place would probably carry a quotient of rustic charm, but the bruised early August skies, gun-metal coloured waves and the flotsam and jetsam being buffeted against the abandoned fishing boats by the wind imbue the scene with unmistakable melancholia. Down by the ocean’s edge, a crew of sinewy guys are transporting heavy flagons of gasoline to a boat, which dances tantalisingly away from them as the surf crashes against the shore. The job looks as thankless as they come, but the men are in good spirits — their faces cracking into wide grins as we hone in on their labours. “People are so much friendlier out here,” says Khoa, our photographer, as…

Tatler – Royal Command

It may be one of VIetnam’s most beautiful cities, but miserable conditions are all too common in Hue. The country’s former imperial capital has a reputation for bad weather meaning that a mission to reach the resting place of Emperor Gia Long, the oldest of the royal tombs scattered erratically along the banks of the Perfume River, during the winter months is often shrouded in mystery as thick as the freezing cold mist that regularly envelops the city. Indeed, the thick cloying mud and the cavernous puddles that pockmark the road to the tomb are enough of a deterrent for some local guides to feign ignorance of its whereabouts when quizzed by overenthusiastic tourists. Such amnesia is common in a part of the world that has grown weary of dwelling upon its past. After decades of war and deprivation, the former colonies of IndoChina have each emerged, in very distinct ways, as prime tourist destinations. In Vietnam, there is a sense of lightning progress and blockbusting attractions, such as the limestone karst-studded wonderland of Halong Bay. In Cambodia, the darkness…

Tatler – High on Hanoi

For a haven in the heart oF one of the world’s noisiest cities, Hanoi Social Club is getting pretty loud. Customers surround the chunky wooden tables that dominate the downstairs portion of the venue. Fuelled by potent, treacly sweet Vietnamese coffee, their fingers pound at the keys of their laptops creating a surprisingly intense low level burr. Later this evening, Hanoi’s contingent of musicians will take centrestage at one of the Social Club’s regular open mic sessions, rambunctious affairs that play host to everything from ukulele virtuosos to tone-deaf tryers. For now, however, the gorgeous 1920s colonial villa in the heart of the city’s Old Quarter is given up to a MacBook- toting motley crew of bloggers, journalists, curators and other creative types – both foreign and Vietnamese. Fusing Indochinese charm with a vibe familiar to anyone who has spent any time in hipster enclaves such as Fitzroy in Melbourne or Williamsburg in Brooklyn New York, the Social Club is indicative of a shift that has seen Hanoi cement its reputation as Vietnam’s cultural hub. When it comes to bohemia,…

Spears – Why the Lion is King

A hundred years ago, when its skyline was bereft of towering chrome and glass skyscrapers and feats of contemporary architecture, Singapore was a wild place. Down by the river, coolies worked the island’s hectic trading port and reclined in shadowy gentlemen’s clubs for a tug on an opium pipe. The island’s interior, meanwhile, was an inhospitable place where rainforest thrived and stealthy Malayan tigers stalked the jungle floor. A century later, the city-state’s population of hungry tigers is still thriving, but they are not of the man-eating strain. Rather, these cats are the big beasts of the financial world and the Lion City is their current favourite stomping ground. Singapore this year retained its world title (first earned in 2011) as the country with the highest number of million- aires per capita. Meanwhile, a recent survey by The Daily The Lion City of Singapore has come a long way in the past century. Duncan Forgan provides a guide for the HNW visitor Telegraph found that three in ten bankers cited Singapore as their preferred place to live and work. With…

Edinburgh Evening News – Marseille, Arseille, The Life and Soul of France

HILDHOOD memories are never the best barome- ter when it comes to judg- ing a destination you haven’t visited since you were barely out of short trousers – several visits to France since my stripling days have since made this fundamental clear. Perhaps it was the endless car sickness-blighted journeys from Fife to the continent in the back seat of our family Ford Sierra or my less than endearing habit of getting into scrapes with other kids on innumerable “family friendly” camp sites, but either way my Gallic recollections were always tinged with a brattish brand of whiny melancholia, with one notable exception – I thought Marseille was the most exciting city in the world. All of this is strange. Marseille, for its many attributes, is not a city for kids. It is a grown-up place with grown-up obsessions like music, gastronomy and political activism, and grown-up problems such as street crime,drugs and a poverty gap which polarises it between wealthy enclaves to the south and gritty working class suburbs in the north. However, somewhere amid the grime and the…

Smile – Prison to Paradise

“You wouldn’t be grinning if you had been in there 40 years ago,” laughs Huong, our guide, as I emerge, blinking, from the tiny prison cell. She’s right. My stint in the clink on the island of Con Son lasted all of five minutes and I’m now on my way back to the palatial surroundings of the new luxury resort that has placed this grouping of lush tropical outcrops firmly on the international tourist map. It is hardly an onerous sentence. Once upon a time, however, this was a place that nobody wanted to come to and everyone wanted to leave. Only 36 years have elapsed since it completed its century-long tenure as one of the most notorious island prisons on the planet. Like Robben Island near Cape Town and Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, Con Dao was a name that struck fear in those who heard it as first the French colonists then the Americans and their client regime in Saigon, utilized its isolation to turn it into a fearsome cage for political opponents. Since reunification in 1975, the…

The Scotsman – A taste of the high life

With a roll-call of legendary characters and creatures that include dashing Jacobite warrior princes and elusive submerged prehistoric monsters, it is no surprise that the Highlands and Islands of Scotland are regarded as a hotbed of myth and folklore. However, in the not so distant past, the sad fact was that many visitors found that their appreciation of the area’s be- guiling blend of stunning landscapes and history was tempered by a far more off-putting perennial in the log of regional traditions – namely the curse of the Highland hotel. Now, while it is important to clarify that not all accommodation north of the Highland boundary was party to the horror, the steady stream of trauma- tised tourists returning from a break up north with tartan-tinged tales of dank and dark hovel-like rooms, inhospitable owners, and food fit only for a gulag, would tend to suggest that the curse was not confined to isolated outposts. Thankfully, there has been a huge sea change over the past 20 years or so with an influx of insightful entrepreneurs ei- ther replacing existing…

The Scotsman – A Different Angle

IF you had said thirty years ago that by 2006 Scotland would be one of Europe’s most vibrantly homosexual-friendly countries, you would probably have been looked at with the kind of incredulity normally reserved for the likes of David Icke. At that time, Scotland’s gay community, like most others in the UK with the exception perhaps of London, was still very much forced to live in the shadows – organising their own discos and evenings in dingy council halls and in their own homes without really being able to break free from the shackles imposed by long-stand- ing prejudice. Added to that, the regressive legislation of the time meant that sexual activity between males (consensual or not) was against the law and could still be punishable, absurd as it may now sound, with life imprisonment. Fast forward to the present, however, and this monochrome half-life has been superseded by a climate that is tolerant and welcoming and in possession of every- thing from effective LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) support networks to cultural events and clubs that celebrate sexual diversity…

The Scotsman – A Sporting Enthusiasm

WITH its riot of colors and atmosphere of evocative mellow beauty, it is no surprise that so many many wax poetic about autumn. And no region in Scotland is more deserving of sonnets inspired by the season’s unique quali-ties than Perthshire. Sitting astride the Highland Bound- ary Fault, the natural phenomena which fused the Highlands and Lowlands together many moons ago, Perthshire possesses a unique variety of terrain that has earned it the undisputed title of Scotland’s adventure capital. The range of activities on offer is mind-boggling. Rivers such as the Tay, the Earn and the Isla are often whispered about in quiet awe by anglers, golf- courses such as Blairgowrie, Crieff,Pitlochry and Murrayshall all present intriguing challenges in breathtaking surrounds, while walkers, mountain climbers and cyclists will all find plenty of routes – from lofty treks high among the peaks, to more sedate waymarked trails through forests and along river valleys – to keep themselves occupied. So far, so run of the mill you might think, but mainstream activities are just one side of Perthshire’s adventure coin. The region…

Real Travel – The other side of the Bay

The school of thought that the process of getting to a destination is almost as enriching as arriving there is one that I have always ascribed to. Family holidays to the south of France were memorable as much for the minutiae of ferry crossings and giant Gallic hypermarkets as they were for the weeks spent in gites across the Dordogne. Likewise, later odysseys across Europe by rail, or around India and Southeast Asia by any means possible (even if that included a suicidal speedboat down the Mekong River in Laos) were replete with cameos that have lodged themselves in the memory with a tenacity that belies their fleeting nature. The same romance is in short supply, however, as I stumble out of bed at 5am and groggily make my way through the near-deserted streets of Hanoi on a sticky July morning to meet my guide Guilhem. We are about to embark on a three-day exploration of one of the most beautiful parts of arguably the most beautiful seascape on the planet, the island of Cat Ba in Vietnam’s Halong Bay….