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Travel and Leisure -Vientiane-1

Travel and Leisure – Vivid Vientiane

STAY. The leafy avenues that spread back from the Mekong play host to Vientiane’s grande dame, the Settha Palace Hotel (6 Th. Pang Kham; 856-21/217-5812; setthapalace.com; doubles from US$140), which has been keeping guests in colonial splendor since the early 1930’s. The brand-new Ansara Hotel (Quai Fa Ngum, Ban Vat Chan Tha, Hom No 5; ansarahotel.com; 856-21/213-5148; doubles from US$90) is a worthy addition to the city’s boutique stays. Rooms are simple yet stylish, with in-room laptops and a free (non-alcoholic) mini-bar. We love the lush tropical garden at Lani Guesthouse (281 Th. Setthathirat, Ban Haysok; 856-21/215-639; lani-guesthouse. com; doubles from US$35), as well as the clean rooms, traditional Lao architecture and wallet-friendly rates. Away from the city center, the Green Park Boutique Hotel (248 Th. Khouvieng; 856-21/263- 0623; greenparkvientiane.com; doubles from US$125) draws guests with chic, wood-floored interiors and romantic private balconies. SHOP.Showcasing the work of Lao Coco, an association of home-grown artists and artisans, T’Shop Laï Gallery (Th. Wat Inpeng; 856-21/223-178; laococo. com) is a great place to pick up contemporary furniture and handicrafts by an emerging generation…

Travel and Leisure - Cham Island-1

Travel and Leisure – Hidden Cham

Guttural, beer-distorted Vietnamese pierces the late afternoon calm. Then a French tourist asks me: “Are those air rifles?” I squint into the sun at a group of men gesticulating frantically at us from across the paddy field and clock the glint of metal barrels. The locals, it turns out, are packing mild heat. Five minutes earlier, taking this shortcut seemed like a good idea. Our mission to explore Hon Lao—the largest of the eight-strong Cu Lao Cham archipelago 18 kilometers offshore from China Beach in southern Vietnam—on foot had been a fruitful one; an insight into a destination that remains untouched by mass tourism. After three hours hiking along the undulating pot-holed strip of tarmac that is the main highway on the island’s west coast, our sweat-drenched group is more than ready to shave a few minutes off the journey back to Bai Lang village and the boat waiting to whisk us back to the mainland. Bad move. We’re walking directly into the line of afternoon target practice. “You need to move a little bit quicker,” says Gianni Marcon, our…

TNT Mekong Bikes-5

TNT – You’ll love it, long time

My head is pounding, my legs are weak and my face is a lurid shade of red. It’s not the first time I’ve been in a sorry state while exploring the backwoods of the Mekong Delta. Usually, however, the malady only occurs when equally intoxicated Vietnamese gentlemen accompany me and there’s a clutch of discarded rice wine bottles lying beneath a Lilliputian plastic table. It isn’t the demon booze that ails me this time, though. It’s the fact that I’ve just pedalled 46km and the locals manning the rest stops in this, the most densely populated area of Vietnam, appear to have downed tools for the afternoon. I don’t blame them. The temperature is pushing 40 ̊C and the only other cyclists on the road are occasional groups of young children pottering leisurely home from school, the boys in spotless white shirts and the girls in traditional ao dai. Wobbly looking foreigners on long-distance bike rides are a bewildering and amusing anomaly here at the best of times, and especially so in the searing pre-monsoon heat. I exhausted the last…


Time Out – Drive of your life

Getting up is the easy part, it is going down that gets a bit tricky,’ warned Sayeed, the hotel concierge, as he handed me the keys to the tank-sized monster I was about to pilot into some of Arabia’s most dramatic scenery. I am what could politely be classed as ‘a remedial driver’, with a single battered Volkswagen Polo, and a string of insurance pay-outs to show for a decade behind the wheel. Therefore the prospect of steering the foreboding Toyota 4x through the Muscat traffic, and up and down the near perpendicular slate-covered tracks that wind their way through the Western Hajar mountain range, wasn’t doing my nerves a lot of good. The fact that I was about to attempt the trip unguided didn’t help either. Surprisingly it didn’t take all that long for my faith in my own manhood to be reaffirmed – it’s amazing what a raised cockpit and a means of transport with vehicular giganticism can do for a person’s confidence – and soon I was weaving blithely through the capital’s traffic and along the spectacular westbound highway…

Time Out Chariots (1)-1

Time Out – Rome of the Brave

It’s approaching 2pm at the Roman Hippodrome in the northern city of Jerash. In the rows of stone seats that line one side of the arena, the spectators languidly wipe sweat from their brows as they wait impatiently for the entertainment to commence. To the left of the pews, a lone trumpeter stands atop an arch: the fierce early afternoon sun casting him in an ethereal light as he heralds the entry of his fellow legionnaires. Seconds later, the tramp of marching feet and the rattle of swords, shields and armour marks the arrival of the VI Legion Ferrata – a 50-strong group of swarthy warriors who will spend the next 20 minutes or so demonstrating their aptitude for combat through a range of military manoeuvres and exhortations in Latin. Their appetite for agro whetted by the thuggish soldiers, the crowd are then presented with a gaggle of wretched gladiators whose fates they decree with a show of thumbs. Up signifies survival, a horizontal digit consigns them to a meeting with their maker. Its role as judge and virtual executioner…

Time Out Al Dar-2

Time Out – Splendid Isolation

It’s getting on for 6pm and the blazing sun is sinking languidly towards the horizon. Out on the water, a large mixed group of western expats looking for a bit of weekend rest and recuperation away from their base in Saudi Arabia, are perched on a floating platform telling jokes and taking in the final few rays of the day. Beside me, a long-haired gentle- man with a bandito moustache and a bandana grins enthusiastically, lights another roll-up cigarette, raises his glass and proposes a toast. ‘Welcome to Al Dar,’ he says as the lilting sound of reggae music pours out of the stereo and into the balmy evening air. It would be pushing the constraints of reality to liken Bahrain’s hippest new island resort to any commonly held perception of paradise. A tiny and somewhat scruffy speck of sand separated from one of the less attractive tracts of the mainland by a mile or so of sea, this is no Thailand. What it is, however, is a microcosm of what makes Bahrain such an ap- pealing place. Compact, friendly…