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Real Travel – Resurfacing Sri Lanka

The trip began, as it so often does, with indecision. This time, however, the confusion was not marked by an internal debate over whether to pack one pair of shorts over another, but a far more pressing and fundamental dilemma. Should I really be going to Sri Lanka at a time when the country’s 26-year-long civil war was playing out its final act in a bloody crescendo of violence? There are plenty of compelling arguments for steering well clear of many nations. Apartheid walls. Human rights abuses. Silvio Berlusconi. The world is a pretty messed up place alright. The application of an unflinching ethos to your travel plans would not get you much further than your own doorstep, however. So it was with curiosity, fascination, and not to mention a little trepidation, that I resolved to stick with my long-held intention to explore the giant green teardrop that rolls off the right side of India’s nose. South Asia has been a source of eternal fascination for me since my dilettante backpacking days. I first visited India in 2001 on a…

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Real Travel – Into the Cardamoms

There is no shortage of seductive sounds in Cambodia. The soft tinkle of prater bells outside a temple, the sizzle of meat as it barbeque on a streetside stall or the splash of icy-cold Angkor beer as it pours into a frozen glass at the end of another day in this remarkable Southeast Asian country. The list of transcendent aural experiences to be found here is almost as mind-blowing as a first glimpse of Angkor Wat at sunrise. As I rush along a bumpy track in the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains on a bike, however, it is the encroaching tone of water touching down on water that is sending my heart aflutter. Pouring over glistening lichen-covered rocks into a picture-perfect pool, the waterfall would look alluring in any circumstance. The fact that I have spent the past six hours perched on a saddle with the dimensions of a small garden trowel makes the prospect of a cooling dip seem almost unbearably exciting. I dismount, make my way to the water’s edge and dispense with my horrible sweaty clothing. I’m…

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National Geographic – An Arabian Adventure

Astonished shrieks wake me from my post-lunch reverie. Posited on giant cushions, my belly full with grilled fish and my system rocked towards slumber by the gentle motion of the dhow (boat), the urgent excitement seems surreal and slightly hysterical. Reluctantly, I rouse myself and make my way to the side of the boat, arrowing along the coastline towards the Straits of Hormuz, to investigate the source of the fuss. Judging by the ecstatic looks of my companions and the frantic motioning towards starboard by boatmen Omar and Abdullah, it seems we’ve company. The school of dolphins appears to be racing us. Throwing their streamlined silver- blue bodies flamboyantly out of the turquoise ocean alongside us, they just have the edge on our bulkier motorised dhow. “Very beautiful,” says Omar. “They don’t come out every time, sometimes they are being lazy. But there’s usually a good chance something like this will happen. It’s what many of our customers come here for.” Fantastical sights like these are not uncommon in this neck of the Arabian Peninsula. Located in the far north…

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IQ – Barack’s Barmy Army

It was practically impossible not to get unilateralism that left a legacy of war, torture caught up in both the inexorable momentum of Obama’s campaign and the thrilling finale on November 4th when he swept aside the challenge of John McCain – winning 365 electoral votes to his adversary’s 173. This was a victory that caused palpitations around the world. The scenes of jubilation that greeted Obama’s triumph may have been most intense in the US itself, but the rest of the globe was hardly a detached and non-partisan observer either. How could it be? The American public may have borne the full brunt of the Bush administration’s disastrous domestic policies, but the rest of us could only look on with sustained dismay and frustration as its neo-conservative agenda triggered a tidal wave of unilateralism that left a legacy of war, torture and environmental destruction in its tunner-visioned wake. Even the greyest of Democrat technocrats would have made a welcome departure from Bush and his band of rogues. The fact that the lame-duck incumbent’s successor is young, charismatic and as…

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IQ – Funk Soul Brothers

The dawn of 1968 was a dark time for Marvin Gaye. Over the previous six years, Gaye’s inexorable rise from struggling singer and bit-part session drummer on tracks by bigger Motown guns such as Martha and the Vandellas and The Miracles to the undisputed prince of soul had been exponential with the steamrolling forward momentum of his record company. Hits such as ‘Can I Get A Witness’, ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ and ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ had cemented his status as Motown’s premier solo artist, while a string of duets with Mary Wells, Kim Weston and, most notably, Tammi Terrell did little harm to his image as an effortlessly smooth and charming ladies’ man. His union with Terrell was one of the most potent partnerships in pop during 1967. Although rumours of an affair between the married singers were always denied, their recordings crackle with an intensity that suggests that only heroic restraint prevented them from being lovers. On the evening of October 14 at a homecoming ball in Hampton, Virginia, however, tragedy struck. Terrell, who…

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IQ – The One and Dhoni

They came not under the cover of night, but in the full glare of the March sun. Waving banners and burning effigies of their former hero, a baying mob laid siege to the under-construction house of Indian cricket’s fallen poster-boy Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the north-eastern city of Ranchi. Things had looked pretty rosy for India, and for Dhoni in particular, during the run up to the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean. Consecutive 3-1 ODI series victories against the West Indies and Sri Lanka marked by the comeback of former captain Sourav Ganguly and the return of Sachin Tendulkar to his impe- rious best had propagated a wave of optimism among supporters on the subcontinent. Central to this overriding sense of imminent glory was the presence in the team of Dhoni. The swashbuckling, motorcycle riding, pin-up boy had already proven himself as one of the most devastating impact players in the world game courtesy of knocks like his record-breaking 183 not out against Sri Lanka in 2005 – an incredible innings that was amassed in just 145 balls…

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Golf World – Good Morning Vietnam

Golf’s phenomenal global reach has seen the game pitch up in some pretty interesting places over the last two centuries. From putting surfaces perched on precipitous Himalayan hillsides to fairways tended by giraffe on South African game reserves, the sport has spread far and wide from its ancestral birthplace on windswept real estate next to choppy Scottish seas. Such is the scope of the boom that you half suspect that the next man that walks on the moon will be there to conduct a feasibility study for a new championship course. Despite this hegemony, however, there are still destinations that don’t feel like an immediate fit on first glance. Vietnam is one of them. Like many people, my formative knowledge of the south-east Asian country was based upon Hollywood war movies and tragic history lessons. Of course, the country has long since moved on from the horrors it was subjected to in the 1960s and ’70s and these days its thirst for tourists is as virulent as any in the region. Extensive construction of golf courses is a major part of…

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Golf World – Land of the Orangutan

The possession of a good nickname may not be aprerequisite for golfing immortality, but it certainly helps to build up an aura. Jack Nicklaus, of course, was known as ‘The Golden Bear’ during his three decade-long prowl for championships, and most other greats have had a catchy label foisted upon them at some time or another. Arnold Palmer was ‘The King’, Ben Hogan variously ‘The Hawk’ and ‘The Ice Man’, while Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods has been wiping the floor over rivals such as Phil ‘Lefty’ Mickelson and Ernie ‘The Big Easy’ Els. Unlike these luminaries I have never previously had an alter-ego during a long and not very illustrious career – apart, perhaps, from when the name ‘Psycho’ stuck after a particularly unedifying temper tantrum in a pot- bunker at North Berwick’s 16th hole. So I was more than a little suspicious when my playing partner Phua started calling me ‘Sultan’ midway through our round at the fabulous course at the Royal Brunei Golf and Country Club. I hadn’t been playing badly, but neither had my shotmaking been good enough…

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Fah Thai – Welcome to the Jungle

The river appears without warning as we race through the jungle and emerge in a sandy meadow of swaying golden grass. Carving its way lazily through the foliage with the mid-afternoon sun sprinkling diamonds of light over its surface, the water would look seductive in any circumstance. The fact that I have spent the last six hours negotiating the network of bumpy tracks that penetrate the Cardamom Mountains on a bike makes the idea of a soothing dip seem even more alluring. My legs are bearing up, but my battered haunches are in dire need of some attention after a day on a saddle with the dimensions of a small garden trowel. As I prepare to envelop my aching muscles in the water’s cool embrace, my reverie is disturbed by my guide Lee: “You can’t swim there,” he shouts. “Too many crocodiles.” Sinister undercurrents are never far from the idyllic surface in this part of the world. Nestled next to the Thailand border, the region is one of the last remaining wilderness areas in mainland South-East Asia – the Cardamoms…

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Epicure – When three is not a crowd

A terrible scream punctures the still tropical night. The sound is all the more jarring given its context. We are on our second night of a boat expedition around one of Southeast Asia’s last frontiers, the Philippine province of Palawan, and so far the trip has been as harmonious as one of Brian Wilson’s finest moments. Not anymore. As I approach the source of the noise, it get even more worrying. The tiny shack glows a satanic shade of red and I see foreboding shapes making frenzied movements within. Steeling myself with an additional shot of Tanduay rum, I make my way through the door and come face to face with my discordant nemesis. It is one of the group’s female members who is gleefully murdering Can’t Buy Me Love at what is possibly the most remote karaoke bar in the Philippines. The rest of our collective and the crew sing erratically in drunken support. Closer inspection of the songbook reveals plenty of hoary old chestnuts by the likes of Bread and America but nothing by The Pogues or The…