When travel and sport mix well, it can make provide the highlight of a trip. It isn’t always the case though, as I found out in South East Asia when my attempts to see any kind of spectator sport turned out to be a sport in itself.
Asia isn’t famous for being world leaders at sport, but it certainly has a reputation for being passionate about it. So naturally I was looking forward to experiencing this passion when I was planning my seven weeks in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
In reality, my quest for sport wasn’t as simple as expected.
I started my travels in China, where I met my brother who’d been studying there for six months. In Shanghai, there were posters of the Premier League everywhere, but no sign of any game to watch.
In Yangshuo, we made our own sporting experience. In the middle of the most amazing scenery, we spent time kayaking down the River Li and cycling through the hills. We may have only cycled a distance elite that cyclists would cover in an hour or two, but it was definitely the best way to see the area.
We thought we had a chance of seeing some sport in Hong Kong. We thought the Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong Cricket Club, and Happy Valley Race Course would bring us some luck, but the cricket club turned out to be a fancy name for a members-only club and there were no matches or race meetings scheduled for our stay.
By chance, we got our sport fix in Hong Kong the next day. We journeyed over to Lantau island, and got lost trying to find some food in a local village.
Instead we found a Dragon Boat Race competition in full swing. Three or four long boats race in the harbour, with a drummer on each boat keeping rhythm. Each boat was designed like a Dragon, and a team of ten or so rowers joined the drummer.
For a local competition there was a big crowd and obviously a lot riding on the competition. Unfortunately, we caught the end of the day’s racing so left the village hopeful that we would simply stumble across more local sports like this.
Our next stop was Vietnam, where we were sure of stumbling across some form of sport.
Apart from a few informal games of beach volleyball – which I quickly learned how terrible I am at – we were out of luck again.
As memorable as these days were, they still weren’t close to the idea of sport in Asia we had.
Maybe an excursion into Laos was our answer? The signs were promising as we rented mopeds around Luang Prabang and headed towards the local stadium. Once again though, the stadium was empty and there were no games that week.
By this stage, we were happy just to see some evidence of any sport like we had in Hong Kong.
So when we ventured into Cambodia and Thailand we did see some potential of the passion we wanted. The Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh and national stadium in Bangkok were a buzz of activity. Despite Phnom Penh never hosting the Olympics, the stadium hosts qualifying events for the games.
Just having these huge stadiums are signs that passion is there for sport. In fact, a week before we arrived in Bangkok, Liverpool FC played in the city on a pre-season tour.
Throughout our travels we became experts in avoiding major games or local sports – the closest we got was half an hour of a dragon boat competition.
Saying that, we managed a range of sports ourselves – from cycling, to kayaking, to riding mopeds badly.
As it happened, the closest we really got was the ‘sport’ of looking. If we weren’t in such beautiful countries, that might have been a problem.