travellers' checks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

Nobody did it better

Next year will see international centenary celebrations of the birth of James Bond creator Ian Fleming - beginning with Britain's Royal Mail issuing commemorative postage stamps in January, and highlighted by a new Bond novel written by Sebastian Faulks (Birdsong). The centenary this year of the birth of his older brother, Peter Fleming, however, has passed all but unnoticed.

Arguably the first modern travel writer, Fleming was a forerunner to the likes of Bill Bryson, Tim Moore et al. 'Until he came on the scene,' wrote Fleming's biographer, Duff Hart-Davis, in 1974, 'travel and travel books had been treated with excessive reverence and solemnity; but then, with a single, sustained burst of self-mockery, Brazilian Adventure blew the whole genre sky high. Readers - and reviewers - could scarcely believe a travel book could be so funny.'

Following its publication in 1933, Fleming travelled the length and breadth of China and recorded his travels in two peerless volumes (available from local bookshops), One's Company (1934) and News From Tartary (1936).

His uncannily critical eye for human behaviour recorded travellers from foreign missions on the Yangtze River ('The faces of all of them bore those traces of nervous exhaustion which are the hallmark of the holidaymaker on his way home') to commuters on the New York subway ('The bodies of the strap-hangers sway like strands of seaweed at slack water. You begin to wonder whether they are alive, and, if so, why?').

Humorous and honestly self-deprecating, Fleming refrained, unlike many modern travel writers, from embellishing his adventures for the reader's sake. For, as he pointed out, 'Truth is a perishable commodity; considerable care must be exercised in shipping it across the world.'

Close encounters

The Victoria Sapa Resort (above), at the former French hill station of Sapa in northwestern Vietnam, is running a five-night package, Between Luxury and Authenticity, for travellers looking for more than signature spa treatments and a locally inspired cocktail. The authenticity aspect involves 'the unique experience of meeting ethnic minorities at their weekly Can Cau market' and a trip to a Hmong village for an overnight stay. Luxury follows with two nights at the resort, although there are opportunities for further interaction with the locals through village visits (minorities in the region include Ha Nhi, Giay, Red Hmong, Flower Hmong and Red Dao). The other two nights are spent aboard the private Victoria Express train, which the resort runs on a 380km line from Hanoi. The package, which includes various meals and excursions, is priced at US$581 per person (flights not included) based on two people sharing (the single supplement is US$167) and will be available until next September. For further details on this and several other packages, visit

Deal of the week

If you can get away by November 28, Farrington American Express Travel's package to Bangkok offers two nights at the D'Ma Pavilion Hotel ( for HK$1,790, including breakfast and round-trip, economyclass flights with Thai Airways. Also available is the the Metropolitan ( for HK$2,450, which comes with breakfast and an upgrade to a Met room (above), which the hotel claims to be the largest standard room in the city. If both these are full, the Holiday Inn has standard rooms (without breakfast) for HK$1,990.

Travel insurance is included but you'll have to make your own way to and from the airport. For further details, call Farrington American Express Travel on 3121 3000 (Hong Kong) or 3121 3900 (Kowloon), or e-mail, quoting Package ID: L2007FSP0223.