Tag Archives: cat ba

Western-Thai Dating: A Driver’s Guide

21 Jun

One of the most consistently entertaining aspects of the courting ritual indulged in by ageing Western men and much younger South-East Asian women is the inaugural motorbike outing.

Now, as any fule who has spent time in South-East Asia kno, these ladies can handle a bike. Dirt roads in the monsoon? No problemo. Hairpins? They shit ’em. Big city traffic, eight vehicles across three “lanes”? Easy as…

So quite how they feel riding pillion — and sidesaddle, at that — to some absolute muppet, one can only imagine. Continue reading

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Madam, Your Husband…

4 Jun motorbike cylinder with frangipani flower.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]motorbike cylinder with frangipani flower.“Madam,” said the chap on the scooter, eyeing the motorbike erratically parked some distance from the wrong hire shop (and, indeed, the pavement) with a sort of bemused, yet ineffably polite contempt, “Your husband has asked me to come and find you…”

Now, I guess this sort of “women drivers, pshaw!” shtick happens all the time to married women. And, much though it offends my feminist sensibilities to admit it, I am, sadly, pretty much your stereotypical woman driver, with absolutely zero sense of direction to boot.

However… Continue reading

Round Halong Bay by Junk

2 Jun

Junk moored on beach of Monkey Island, near Halong Bay, Vietnam

Our junk moored on the beach at Monkey Island, near Halong Bay, Vietnam.

Halong Bay, North Vietnam, is one of the most dramatic seascapes the planet has to offer. Five hundred million years in the making, twenty million in the shaping, and still evolving before your eyes, it’s a rare chance to see geology in action.

Pillars of limestone, once the supports of vast underground caves, spike surreally out of nowhere. Fissured cliffs slide vertiginously into the jade green sea. Magical vistas of pyramid hills appear fleetingly between rocky gateways, flawless beaches peek through low archways, dark, low, caves lead through to marine valleys carved by underground rivers over millions of years, while brand new islets, ominous overhangs and decaying rock bridges indicate the shape of landscapes yet to come.

Seen from the deck of a classic junk? Amazing. By night, with sheet lightning flashing between surrealist outcrops, fengkong karsts shedding pyramidal shadows over smooth, dark water, as you lie on the basketwork roof of a gently-swaying junk watching the storm through the rigging? Words begin to fail. Continue reading

The Red Queen

30 May

The Red Queen from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Shot in Vietnam, most likely.

It’s the weekend on Cat Ba island, not to mention the Vietnamese summer, which means there’s a vibe on the beach I can best characterize as Spring Break meets Butlins meets the coach tour from hell.

I am watching a stream of cheerleaders doing their schtick to Avril Lavigne on our tranquil beach as hogs roast in the background and thinking, of all things, how much we English and the Vietnamese have in common.

There’s the tendency to invade neighbouring nations and pretend they were part of us in the first place. There’s the general talent-show lack of irony (think child rappers in sequined suits that up the viewing ante from disturbing to frankly traumatic), coupled with a fervent belief in the national sense of humour.

There’s the utter bloody rudeness, surreally combined with an eye-gouging sensitivity to courtesy (or respec’) from others. And getting on a bus in Hanoi involves the kind of vigorous elbow action that would put the London rush hour to shame.

But, my god, when it comes to tourist scams, these guys sooooo totally kick our flaccid Western arse. Continue reading

Easy Riders

30 May

Junk off the northern coast of Cat Ba island, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Journey's end: Cat Ba island, Halong Bay, Vietnam

We’ve been exploring Cat Ba island, which splatters like a Rorschach blot off the northern coast of Vietnam, trailing 300-odd islets in its wake.

It’s an implausible landscape to Western eyes: classic limestone karst territory, where tectonic pressures coupled with groundwater erosion carve surrealist sculptures out of the land, and the monsoon climate clothes them in forests of deepest green.

Yesterday, we hired bikes to explore the island, winding south coast to north coast, then looping around the west coast. And it’s a moot point whether Z, having been driven by his dad, will ever get on a motorbike with me again. Continue reading