Scooter ride to the sky

July 8, 2012 at 9:18 am | Posted in Asia | Leave a comment
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“So, what will you do?” the Germans asked us.

We were basking in fleeting spots of sunlight, and feeling lazy after the home-cooked feast served by our hotel. The leaves and flowers around us glinted and dripped with raindrops and the clouds above threatened to shower again. I finished off the last of the sizzling hotplate of venison and lemongrass.

“I think we’ll rent a scooter. Hopefully it won’t rain.”

The Germans thought it was a great idea, but lamented the fact they didn’t have a license.

“Neither do we. But it’ll probably be ok.”

As we walked towards the main road in Sapa, we hoped our assumption was right. I didn’t want to be stuck wandering around town for the next four hours. The Germans chose to stay on the hotel terrace until it was time to leave for the overnight train back to Hanoi. I wondered if that wasn’t the smarter choice as we dodged tribeswomen, desperate for us to purchase an ethnic handicraft or three, and proprietors encouraging us to partake of the happy hour at their bars and restaurants.

The rental guy found us first.

“You want scooter?”

He gave us a key, two helmets and pointed us in the direction of the gas station. And that was it. No questions, no safety directives, no discussion of damage clauses. We were out of town in no time, without any idea where we were going.

It turned out to be the best thing we did in Sapa.

I spotted a brown tourist sign that sent us off up a steep route away from the hordes of backpackers and trailing tribeswomen trekking through the muddy rice terraces. To our right was the rock face, plants growing all over in the crevices and water dripping constantly, sometimes gushing down onto the road. To our left was an open expanse, a valley sweeping out and splitting into many more the further we travelled.

We saw a strange farm on the hillside across from us, piles of plastic laid out in neat squares. We passed a woman carrying vegetables in baskets hanging from a pole across her shoulder. With her conical hat she was a perfect postcard image. We spotted a gleaming line on the rock face far ahead where the road twisted around. The closer we got, the bigger it became and as we passed that torrential waterfall, several more appeared during the next ten minutes’ ride.

The road continued climbing and the clouds got closer. Driving alongside misty puffs, we felt the cold damp of water droplets in the air. Hills across the valley played hide and seek in the patches of white. We felt chilled, but didn’t stop.

Then suddenly, we were above it. The sun shone in my eyes. The road curved round and the whole world opened up to us. Tarmac snakes and stone worms wriggled through a furrowed blanket of deep green. A single reflective strand threaded its way through a deep channel. A few toy-block buildings were scattered in the expanse. I felt ecstatic. I gasped. I couldn’t help it.

At that highest point, where the bend of the road was unprotected by any barrier, I felt like I could have walked straight off into the sky.

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Northern Vietnam

October 30, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Posted in Asia, culture, heritage sites, outdoors | Leave a comment
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video courtesy of Jonathan

Cruising Halong

August 21, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Posted in Asia, heritage sites, outdoors | 1 Comment
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Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’m experimenting with adding slideshows. Unfortunately there aren’t many good options for wordpress.

Thailand in 11

March 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Posted in Asia, culture, heritage sites, miscellaneous, outdoors | Leave a comment
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I was lucky enough to spend the 2011 Chinese New Year in Thailand (thank you David and Kathy) with some good company. So here’s the top 11, in no particular order, of my experiences.

1. Playing with, washing and feeding young tigers at the Tiger Temple, Kanchanaburi.

2. Riding bareback and washing an elephant in the river at Maha Muang Singh, Kanchanaburi.

3. Eating delicious, fresh Thai food everyday.

4. Enjoying the facilities at our luxurious hotel in Bangkok.

5. Meeting (my name-sake doppelganger) Rosanna Bird.

6. Scootering around and exploring Koh Panghan.

7. Riding a long-tail boat through residential canals in Bangkok.

8. Swinging through the trees near Bangkok with Flight of the Gibbon.

9. Seeing old, broken buddhas amidst the ruins in Ayutthaya…

10. …and comparing them to more well-kept buddhas.

11. Relaxing island style – beach, massage and a fresh daily catch.

Macau: a day from Hong Kong

September 4, 2010 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Asia, heritage sites | Leave a comment
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Handed back by Portugal in 1999, Macau’s the most recent addition to China’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ approach. From Hong Kong it’s easy enough to make a day trip and, like Hong Kong, it’s bursting with people and buildings, all fighting for space (this is, after all, the most densely populated place in the world).

But unlike Hong Kong, there’s a more exotic feel to it. Perhaps it’s the theatrical-looking casinos or the European architecture.

Maybe it’s the crowded tourist streets, with signs in Chinese and Portuguese, selling tasty snacks and tourist tat.

Possibly it’s the general feeling of decadence mixed with decay; Catholic ruins, rusting balconies and peeling paint.

Understandable in such a humid climate, but for me also a visual metaphor of the widening gap between the rich and the poor (higher apparently than mainland China due to the influx of cheap imported labour). Whilst the economy continues to grow and tourist numbers increase (the profits of which already make up 50% of the country’s GDP), this is something that is easily forgotten whilst strolling through the streets of Macau and chomping Portuguese egg tarts.

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