Travel Notes from Laos

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Visiting Laos is a bit like going to Vietnam 20 years ago before that country's "Open Door" policy showed that Communist countries can extract Capitalist dollars just by offering a few decadent luxuries to overseas travellers. Laos still relatively less developed, in terms of tourism. But the scenery between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is stunning and the people are very...

Work for free to free the bears

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The old moon bear is not for sharing. A cracked open coconut has been tossed into his enclosure and he is alternating chews with muffled growls as the younger bears sidle up .   If they get too close, the cute bundle of fur turns into a snarling flurry of fangs and claws.  This is no teddy bear. But the youngsters...

Glasgow’s hidden gems

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It’s 3.30 on a fairly typical Glasgow Spring afternoon, and I am standing in horizontal freezing rain in the midst of a fake Neolithic stone circle. Behind me, a 20-storey apartment block – which is actually older than the stone circle – is being nibbled into non-existence by a giant drill. “Look,” says Dr Kenneth Brophy (above) of Glasgow University’s...

Scenes of the crimes

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By Jimmy Thomson The elegant woman along the counter had seen better days and worse nights, judging by her sad eyes and “step away” glances. Another lost soul at the Gumbo Pot. “Tourist?” Her question was delivered with a smile but arrived like a threat. I...

Vietnam caves get under your skin

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I seem to have a thing about going underground in Vietnam.  If it’s not the Vietcong tunnels at Cu Chi it’s the escape tunnel from the Reunification (formerly Presidential) Palace in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I even get a thrill going through the new road tunnel under the Saigon River, wondering if there was much slapping of foreheads when...

Stop the bus: Confessions of a tour guide

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"Stop the bus!" The only time you usually get to say that on an organised tour is at a time of disaster: Someone's been left behind, last night's dinner turns out to have been as suspicious as it was delicious, or you're on the wrong bus completely. Unless, of course, you are running the...

Night and day in Luang Prabang

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Wandering around the streets of Luang Prabang in northern Laos, trying out some new settings on my newish Nikon, I came across this.  Two European backpackers escape the heat of their hotel rooms and make the most of the wi-fi (which is everywhere in this ancient city).  The light from their laptop screens meant I could use natural light...