Real Travel

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….

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…

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…