Simon Reeve continues his epic journey. In the last episode of the series, he samples local delicacies in Laos and meets high achieving children in Taiwan.
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The Tropic of Cancer marks the northern border of the tropics,
the most beautiful, brilliant, and blighted region of the world.
I've already travelled around the equator
and the southern border of the tropics, but following the Tropic of Cancer
has been my toughest journey yet.
This tropic cuts through Central America, the Caribbean,
North Africa, India,
and on through Asia to finish in Hawaii.
It's 23,000 miles across deserts, rivers, and mountains.
Along the way I've encountered extraordinary people,
simmering conflicts and some of the most stunning landscapes on our planet.
On this final leg, I'm forced to detour off the Tropic,
through Southeast Asia, before I cross the Pacific Ocean.
I travel through Laos, the land of a million elephants.
Hello, Mum. Ooh...
In Vietnam I uncover shocking cruelty to animals.
Unbelievable. Look at this!
And in Taiwan, I meet the luckiest children in the tropics...
..before I finally reach Hawaii
and discover the Pacific paradise with a dirty secret.
My journey started deep in the tropical jungle of Southeast Asia,
on the mighty Mekong River in Laos.
I shouldn't really be here, because the Tropic of Cancer actually passes
through the very far south of China,
but unfortunately the Chinese government
has effectively prevented us from entering the country.
But although I couldn't go to China,
you'd be forgiven for thinking that China had come to Laos.
As its economy and population booms,
Chinese traders are spilling over into the rest of Asia.
I'll tell you what, we're on the edge of the empire here.
I was hugely disappointed China hadn't let us in,
but instead I started my journey just to the south of the People's Republic,
and south of the Tropic,
in a remote jungle border area between three countries.
We've come a little way up the river
to the point where the three countries meet,
so Burma over there, Thailand, and Laos.
This is the very centre of the Golden Triangle.
It's a notorious region
that's always been associated with drug production, but that is about to change.
The Golden Triangle has long been a lawless area,
home to bandits and drug gangs.
But that hasn't deterred a Chinese firm
from carving a new entertainment centre out of the forest.
Well, this is just about the last thing I expected to find in the Golden Triangle.
This flash new casino, along with a luxury hotel resort, only opened
a few weeks before I arrived.
It's cost developers around £80 million, and they haven't finished.
Han, you're going to look after me.
-What a stupid thing to say!
-That's OK, that's OK.
Of course you're not going to look after me!
My host in the casino was Mr Han.
At 29, he's one of the bosses of this entire development.
I'm going to win.
-You're going to win?
-Yes, with you.
Your confidence is such that you look at me and you say,
"I am going to win."
Hey, let's put in 2,000!
The Lao government has a stake in the new resort,
and Mr Han was keen to stress this isn't a Chinese invasion.
Three thousand, goddamit!
So the government of Laos is keen to have you here,
it's keen for you to be occupying a hefty chunk of Lao land,
but clearly they want to be a bit careful about Lao people coming here
-and gambling away...
-You should change the word.
Not "occupy". We just come here to invest.
-Occupy... It's a fair point - it's the wrong word, isn't it?
You're not a colony here, are you?
-We're not a colony.
Your corporation will make money
and the government of Laos will make money as well.
We both win.
But who loses? The gamblers, probably, don't they?
MR HAN: You lose it. You are losing now.
Oh, we lose all.
-We lost, we lost.
But the casino is just a small part of a plan
to build an entertainment city here, a Las Vegas in the jungle,
and there's a multibillion-pound Chinese plan to industrialise northern Laos.
Mr Han showed me where his new entertainment city will be.
-So what we can see here...
-That's hotel, that is market.
-Market and casino.
-It's just the very, very beginning.
So how far down does your land go?
Hundred square kilometres.
A hundred square kilometres?!
Not just one phone,
two mobile phones... What's that? That's a mobile phone.
One for each hand, so you can do business on both hands at the same time.
I have four sim cards, four numbers.
So tell us, in ten, 15 years' time,
how many people will be coming to visit this place?
Minimum, 200,000 peoples.
200,000 people. PHONE RINGS
Could that possibly be your phone again?
As China's economy grows,
its businessmen are pumping vast amounts of money into projects like this.
Within a few years, there should be eight or nine hotels here.
The huge new entertainment complex going up right in front of my eyes
is designed to attract tourists and high-rolling gamblers from across Asia.
You're going to need helicopter pads and things like that as well, aren't you?
Yeah, next month, will come.
-We already booked helicopter.
-The helicopter is on the way?
Agusta, from Italy. SIMON LAUGHS
We're on the edge of the jungle here, you're going to construct this city...
-Of course, another phone call coming in.
Listen to that ring! What is that?
"Yeah, we need ten helicopters, we'll need our own private airport,
"we need at least three or four Boeing 747s."
It probably bloody is, as well!
-What was that about?
We are going to buy more cars coming here, for the road constructions.
That really was about buying, creating something?
Yes, around one million US dollars -
a big order from China.
China will soon be the biggest investor in Laos,
and already tens of thousands of Chinese have settled here.
The giant neighbour to the north is expanding beyond its borders.
It's really quite amazing to see the extent of China's influence here,
but I think we're going to see that a lot on this journey,
because for at least half of our trip
we're going to be skirting along the edge of the empire.
My route will take me south of China,
travelling parallel to the Tropic of Cancer, across Laos.
Hilly and forested, Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia.
It's also known as "the land of a million elephants".
I'd arranged to meet Sebastien Duffillot, who set up ElefantAsia,
a charity that works to save the elephants of Laos.
-Hello, Simon. Sabai dee.
-Sabai dee. Sebastien?
-Lovely to see you.
-Good to see you.
There's one crucial element missing.
They are kept grazing around, so I think we might even hear their bells,
-a common sound.
Oh, my goodness.
Oh, and there's baby coming. Baby's grown up.
This is Mr Noi Pek, one of the main elephant owners in Vienkio. Sabai dee.
The village of Vienkio is home to around a dozen elephants and owners,
who train their animals to work logging trees deep in the jungle.
-So what's... This is Mum?
-This is Mum.
Hello, Mum. Ooh...
They're just gobsmackingly amazing creatures.
I mean, how could you ever get tired of looking at and being around these...
extraor...? I mean, look at this.
But baby elephants are now a rarity here.
The elephant population of Laos is disappearing.
But here, in the land of a million elephants, are there any figures
for how many elephants there are in the wild in the country now?
There... Supposedly there are about 700 to 1,000 wild elephants,
and there are about 500 domesticated elephants,
and there is only one to two births recorded every year,
against about ten deaths,
so that's a very...concerning ratio, and we have to get...
-A collapsing population, then?
Sebastien explained that domesticated, working elephants are pushed so hard
they don't have time to mate,
let alone have the two years' maternity leave needed for an elephant pregnancy.
Wild elephants are in even greater danger,
as their forests are destroyed by development, roads, and logging.
Did you say 600 kilos?
This is the destruction of the tropics, really, isn't it?
It's the deforestation of the tropical region,
whether it's by elephants pulling one or two trees or whether it's by
an army of men and bulldozers clearing thousands of trees per day.
It's part of this process, but I think that it cannot be compared
to the damage caused by industrial logging.
I mean, elephants are used to find one or two logs that are very precious,
far away in the forest, and bring them back to a short track.
So I'm not supportive of logging in any ways,
but if only elephants were used, like in the past,
the forest would have the time to reproduce.
The villagers know that working in the forest
takes a heavy toll on their elephants.
These are back for a rest after three months' hard labour in the logging camps.
Mr Noi Pek has arranged a ceremony to welcome his elephants home.
Can I ask you, Mr Noi Pek, what's the significance of this...
of this ceremony for you?
IN TRANSLATION: This ceremony is called a baci.
It's a tradition that we do it every year for the elephants,
to bring them happiness.
We like to ask the elephants to forgive us for working them so hard,
because sometimes we have to hit them.
They're often injured in the forest, and exhausted by the heavy work.
Sebastien is committed to saving the elephant population.
He thinks their best hope is to improve the health
of the domesticated working herd.
So, Vatsana, you...
Vatsana's a vet working for Seb's charity
who treats injured elephants from her mobile clinic.
That is an elephant-sized syringe, isn't it?
With so few elephants left, each and every one needs protecting.
How would she have got this injury, Sebastien?
It's the harness that they are using
to pull the logs, the friction of the...
Ooh, she's not happy about this. What are they putting into it there?
Putting Betadine into it, just to disinfect the wound,
and then take all the pus away and...
Eugh. Do you really want to be doing this job in your flip-flops,
with giant elephants around?
Seb has started paying owners to allow their working elephants to breed,
giving elephants maternity leave.
But that's not the only answer.
We have to find economic solutions,
mainly in providing a new job in ecotourism to these pregnant females,
who can be kept at elephant sanctuaries or elephant...camps
and make an income just by transporting tourists,
or just being photographed.
Laos faces the same challenge as many countries in the tropics -
how to develop without destroying wildlife and the environment.
But, at least for now, huge areas of the country are still largely unspoilt,
and the best way to enjoy the gorgeous scenery is by river.
So we're going to take this boat down the Mekong River here,
to the ancient city of Luang Prabang.
For the first time on my entire journey,
I'd been forced off the Tropic of Cancer, thanks to the Chinese government.
But things could have been worse.
It's a real shame that the Chinese authorities
didn't want us to travel through China,
but if we'd gone there, then we wouldn't have had a chance to see this.
And anyway, China's neighbours have been much more welcoming.
So this is Luang Prabang.
It's very romantic, twinkling away there.
We need to find a place to dock the boat,
get our bags off and find somewhere to stay,
and then tomorrow we can explore.
The city of Luang Prabang
is home to more than 30 temples and monasteries.
At dawn, monks parade through the streets,
collecting their daily food from well-wishers.
But when I arranged to meet
a Lao celebrity chef for breakfast in the local market,
I suspected I wouldn't be getting bacon and eggs. Not in Laos.
-Hello. Hello, hello, hello. Sabai dee.
Shall we have a wander through the market and see what there is?
Laos is a forested country
and people eat what crawls and scampers in the woods.
Joy Ngeuamboupha specialises in turning forest foods into delicious meals.
What on earth is that?
-This one, the river crab.
This dry meat, that's deer.
-That's deer, is it?
-What is this?
-You can see the hairs on it, look.
-What is that?!
-Er, this a...mouse.
-It's a mouse?
-Or a rat?
Now, come on, that doesn't look very appetising, does it?
-Well, let's have this one, then.
Why I'm saying that, I don't know, but...
the needs of television dictate.
So what's in here?
Oh, my God. That's maggots.
In Laos, we eat everything.
Quite right, too. Nothing goes to waste.
Except cockroach, we don't eat cockroach.
Classic cheffery going on here, look at this.
OK, that's it. Done.
Bit milky and...taste nuts.
-They are sort of crunchy.
Slightly creamy. Creamy inside, yeah.
It's actually really good.
After a starter of creamy grubs, the main course was barbecued squirrel.
Or so I was told.
I'll have a bit of leg.
-Bit of leg?
-Well, the meat looks just like...
..chicken or something.
-You need to eat with the rice.
-It's not too bad.
-You need to eat with the rice.
-But it tastes a little bit...
it's a very strong, gamey flavour, a bit like deer or something,
something like that.
So why do people eat such a wide variety of unusual meats?
The smell is still quite ratty.
In your house they call it rat?
Now, hang on a second, Joy, is this squirrel or rat?
I trust you, Joy. I think we have to draw the line somewhere.
So let's see what the locals think of this.
No, no interest.
Leaving Luang Prabang, we headed east,
aiming for mountains on the border with Vietnam.
40 years ago, this would have been one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
The scenery here is breathtaking.
It looks very peaceful as well, but Laos is actually
the most heavily bombed country in history,
and our route east across the mountains is going to take us
into the most intensively bombed part of the whole country.
During the Vietnam War, the US Air Force dropped more bombs on Laos per person
than in any other conflict.
They dropped more bombs here than on Germany during the Second World War,
the equivalent of three tonnes for every man, woman and child.
Initially, they were targeting the Ho Chi Minh trail,
the supply route used by Communist forces fighting America, which ran through Laos.
Wow, it's huge.
I stopped for the night in a hill village
in one of the most heavily bombed regions.
The Pansads are farmers.
Four generations live here together.
Everyone around here suffered during the Vietnam War.
Mr Pansad lost three brothers.
-Do I drink it all?
But the conflict isn't just a tragedy in the past.
Decades after the war ended, people are still being killed by American bombs
scattered across Laos.
Does it feel weird to be living in an area where bombs could...
appear in the ground at any moment?
IN TRANSLATION: I've often found bombs when I'm digging in the garden.
You found an unexploded bomb in... just in the garden by the house?
Yes. Once I found a huge one right under our house.
That's a bit concerning, isn't it?
So all this veg...
came from the garden just at the back of the house
where Mum found a bomb in the ground,
and where there may be more.
(This feels pretty comfortable.
(I'm still not sure how well I'm going to be able to sleep
(knowing that there's bombs in the ground everywhere around us.)
I slept OK, actually...
apart from the bloody cockerels crowing all through the night.
It's a complete myth that they just crow at dawn.
The legacy of the Vietnam War is everywhere in this part of Laos.
The remnants of the conflict have become part of everyday life.
So they've actually incorporated
bits of a...of a bomb into the structure of this building.
There's one here, another here, another here, another there,
another one...another one down there.
My understanding is that these are cluster bomb containers,
so these would have been dropped from an American plane,
and as they got close to the ground,
this unit would have opened up and...
dozens...scores of little cluster bomblets would have dropped out.
The bomblets would have been scattered over this entire area.
And now, look, they're using it as a building material.
Millions of the bombs dropped here failed to explode on impact
and still sit in the ground, killing and injuring hundreds every year.
John McFarlane is an ex-Canadian Army officer
working for the Mines Advisory Group,
a UK charity dedicated to clearing the land.
John was taking me to a foundry
where locals bring bombs to sell for scrap metal.
Please stop, stop. There's something here
-I'd like to look at.
-What is it?
Can you stay here?
It's a bombie.
It's how they mark them, they'll just... So that probably fell off a truck.
Are you saying there's a cluster bomb just somewhere out here?
Just right underneath that rock. That's a BLU-26 cluster bomb.
Been uncovered from the... probably water washing away and eroding the ground,
and then it's rolled it down to here.
So presumably somebody from the foundry
-has seen it here and they've put some stones around it just to mark it up?
You can see the flutes.
Oh, my God, you can see it under there.
So how dangerous is the cluster bomb that's under there?
That, in its original state,
would have a lethal radius of about 30 metres.
In this state, I wouldn't want to uncover it now.
-And then this is the foundry over here?
-Yes, this is...
John arranged for a disposal team to destroy this bomb later.
His charity has already dealt with thousands of dangerous bombs
that locals brought to this foundry.
..Bunches of hand grenades.
These have been made safe.
Cluster bomb, cluster bomb,
cluster bomb... Unbelievable.
I think we've found 24,000
unsafe items or explosive items in this foundry.
Millions of bombs still litter the countryside,
and children are among their many victims.
Locals will be finding bombs in the ground here for decades to come.
You're talking about tens... probably tens of millions
of these bombs, little bomblets...
-..dropped on this country.
On this country, yeah.
This is the most heavily impacted country I've worked in.
For the size of the country, it's...unimaginable.
It's such a small country and it's had so many bombs dropped on it.
With the US and Britain still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan,
I found it sobering to see the aftermath of this war,
still affecting people 35 years after it ended.
We're leaving Laos now
and we're heading to the border crossing with Vietnam.
We're in a little bit of a hurry
because it's now nearly three o'clock and the border closes at 5pm.
But despite the endless twisty road through the hills,
we made it - just in time.
All right, well, we've got to the border post.
I always find this bit a little bit unnerving,
the no-man's-land between two countries.
We made it through the Laos checkpoint
to meet our new Vietnamese guide on the other side.
-Aaah, it's you! Simon. Hello.
-Hello, nice to meet you.
Lovely to meet you. Thank you for coming all the way out here.
It took us another day of hard driving from the border
to reach Vietnam's capital, Hanoi.
The Communist red star still flies over Hanoi
but, walking through the city, it soon became clear the Vietnamese
are embracing private enterprise with relish.
You can just stand on the street here and be endlessly entertained by...
what comes past carried on people's shoulders or on scooters.
But it's not only small traders here.
The government is claiming Vietnam will be a leading world economy by 2020.
Vietnam seems to be following the same path as supposedly Communist China,
which has tolerated the rise of a business elite,
who are allowed to make money as long as they steer clear of politics.
Everybody's always carrying and shunting things around here.
Business, business, business! It's the new Hanoi.
And few things bring home the way Vietnam has changed in the last ten years
more than the latest expensive craze that's sweeping the nation.
What's the last thing I would expect to be doing in Communist Vietnam?
Thu's taking me to play golf.
Why is the last thing you expect?
This is Communist Vietnam!
What is the connection between the Communists and golfing?
You couldn't find two things
that were further apart ideologically, surely?
Golf and Communism.
But you see, I think,
that Fidel Castro play golf in Cuba, and Cuba do have golf courses.
Scores of courses are being built all over the country,
attracting tourists and Vietnam's wealthy new middle class.
Look at this!
There's even a Ho Chi Minh golf trail,
a grouping of courses named after the former Communist leader.
Uncle Ho must be turning in his grave.
You do understand, I have never played golf, OK?
And you've got about 15 minutes to teach me.
What is the tuition fee?
Oh, come on, you're such a businesswoman, look at you.
Business, business, business!
Xin chao. Xin chao.
Can I drive?
Er...I drive, I know the way.
I knew you were going to say that. OK!
What about the caddies? Do they just sort of...hop on the side?
This is the proletariat.
-Where's the first hole?
-Here's the first hole.
Oh, for God's sake, we didn't need to drive here!
I'm impressed. You've laid down the challenge here. That was very good.
-Take your time.
-OK, so basically all I have to do
is just swing it and hit this,
and let's see how well I can do.
OK, that's embarrassing. The ground's...
Give you another try.
-I'm very sorry about that.
Good. Not too bad.
That's pathetic, isn't it?
God, she's going to come and fill it in.
Oh, the shame of it. Come on, then.
I've got my little blue thing.
But my ball went that way.
I know, I will drive you here, and then you walk.
-Not too bad.
-Oh, balls! Oh, that's bad.
-What do you mean? It just hit the...
It just bounced off the red machinery.
-Do it again, no worry, do it again.
Average income here is still just two or three pounds a day,
putting golf beyond the reach of all but the business elite.
And do you know how much it costs to join this course?
It's 18,000 US to be a member.
It's 18,000 dollars?
Dollars, for 25 years, I think.
That's a lot of money in any country.
What's wrong with that?
There's nothing wrong with it, it's just interesting that it's changing.
You know? The old way of doing things, the old way of life in Vietnam
is changing dramatically.
When did you buy the membership of your golf course? When it opened?
Two years ago. When it wasn't open.
When it wasn't even open?
Such a businesswoman.
But...with a first investment,
you don't know when will it be ready for you to play.
You know what that is? That's capitalism.
Oh, balls! I'm destroying the bloody pitch here.
These are great places for business, aren't they? You can just imagine...
..the new Vietnamese business elite coming out here,
doing their deals.
Cam on. Cam on, cam on.
Are you going to carry that for me? Yeah, it's very heavy.
Definitely need somebody to carry that.
Although Vietnam's opening up to the world
and tourists are flocking here, it's still a country that can surprise and shock.
I'd been told about one ancient practice
that sounded completely barbaric.
Just driving along, we've just spotted some signs for bear farms
along a main road.
Now, apparently, these are farms where bears are kept
and they're actually milked for their bile,
which has, apparently, medicinal properties.
Bile is a bitter secretion found in the gall bladder
that's used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Captive bears are regularly drugged and then a long needle is used
to repeatedly pierce their abdomen and extract the bile.
Look, there's another sign here. I mean, they're not trying to hide it.
It clearly shows a bear.
My God, we can see cages in there, I can see more bears inside.
This is a notorious area for bear farm.
For example, on both sides... on this road
for the next three or four kilometres, there's a lot of these bear farm.
Tuan Bendixsen is the Vietnamese director
of a rescue charity called Animals Asia.
He's fighting to free the more than 4,000 bears still held captive in Vietnam.
Whoa, she's trying to close the doors.
Can we come in?
Right, let's have a look, come on, look.
-Are we allowed to just do this?
Look, come on, we're...
Unbelievable, look at this.
Oh, my God, look.
WOMAN SPEAKS IN VIETNAMESE
How many bears here?
three, four, five, six,
seven bears here.
Bears are often kept for years in cages like this or smaller.
It's still legal to keep a bear in Vietnam,
but it's now supposed to be illegal to harvest its bile.
Why is she keeping them here?
THEY SPEAK IN VIETNAMESE
Yeah, she said she... she keep them for conservation.
-She keeps them for conservation?
WOMAN SPEAKS IN VIETNAMESE
So what's she saying to us now?
She said she want us to get out, to get out of her house.
When Tuan and Animals Asia can persuade the police to help them,
they raid the farms, rescue the bears,
and take them to this new bear sanctuary just outside Hanoi.
Where's this one come from?
Oh, this is a bear from central Hue
we rescued about a week and a half ago.
He was kept in a very dark cage for about 13 years,
in the back of a kitchen, if you believe it or not.
-His name is Misa.
Misa, yeah. M-I-S-A, Misa.
OK. Let's see what's happened to Misa.
How does Misa's condition compare to other bears
that you've had brought in?
They're all a little different, but Misa apparently was captured
as a small cub, about 20 kilos, and in the process of capturing him
they whacked him across the face with a wooden plank,
and his face is very deformed and all his teeth are very rotten,
and most of his teeth will probably have to be removed today.
During 13 years of captivity,
Misa, it became clear, had been through hell.
After he'd been tranquillised,
he was moved into the operating theatre for a check-up.
My goodness, look at you.
He's just a really flabby bear.
He's had a really bad diet for his entire life.
You can see, when I press him there, it's like...touching a water bed.
He's just... He's just blubber, really, isn't he?
So this is the first time you've seen inside his mouth, I think.
take on the condition of his mouth at the moment?
You can see this canine is completely fractured off.
-You can see his pulp cavity in there.
So that's like having a tooth with all the nerves exposed
and a route for infection to go in,
so it'd be definitely a source of chronic pain for him,
and we don't know how long that's been like that, but probably years.
I've been with AA for three years, and this is the worst mouth I've seen.
Can you describe to us...
Can you show us how they would extract the bile from... from the bear?
Once they locate the gall bladder, they use a very long,
ten-inch needle, about that long,
and they will try and puncture through the skin.
They have to go puncture through the liver as well to find the gall bladder.
Once they've found it,
they'll attach the end of a syringe with a pump and they'll pump it out.
That's quite mind-boggling, isn't it?
After years in a dark cell, it'll be difficult for Misa
to adjust to life back in the wild.
He'll need a lifetime of love and care in this purpose-built compound.
You've got quite a lot of space here, actually, haven't you?
Well, we have 12 hectares of land,
which is in this very beautiful valley that you see here.
It is a beautiful sanctuary, but the real hope for Tuan and Animals Asia
is that they'll be able to rehabilitate and free many of the bears.
And then look at this, this is what hopefully awaits them
as the final stage, for some of them, before they're released...
-..Back in the wild.
-..back into the wild.
The next day, Thu and I headed to a port near Hanoi.
I wanted to get a boat along the coast east towards the city of Mong Cai,
on the border with China.
Made it, with only 13 minutes to spare.
I'd had enough of cars and bumpy roads.
And anyway, the fastest way to get there was by high-speed catamaran.
Look at this view!
We were leaving for the Chinese border from Ha Long Bay,
a famous tourist destination in Vietnam.
Alas, on board there's not going to be anywhere for us to sit.
I want to see the number.
Bloody hell, it's packed in here.
So we're heading off. We head to the east, for the Chinese border.
The journey took us through one of the most spectacular regions
of the tropics.
Thousands of limestone formations called karsts
that stretch all the way from southern China.
Not that the boat crew were keen for me to see the sights.
They won't let us come up, unfortunately, but you can see the amazing view...
You'll have to see it... We'll have to... I'll have to see it later!
Ha Long means Falling Dragon in Vietnamese
and, according to one legend, these outcrops are jewels
dropped by dragons to protect Vietnam from China in the north.
Although they're neighbours,
the two countries have had an often fraught relationship over the centuries.
China occupied Vietnam for 1,000 years
and they were still fighting as recently as 1979.
OK, so I think we've arrived.
But I didn't see much evidence of conflict, or even tension,
here in the border city of Mong Cai.
It's known as a Special Enterprise Zone,
a place where locals from both sides of the border can trade freely.
Look at this.
Looks like somebody's bought some trees. I presume they're going...
going up towards China.
Politicians from both countries are still disagreeing over territory and resources,
but perhaps trade really can break down barriers between the two nations.
The relationship between these two countries has changed so dramatically.
Just a couple of decades ago they were at war.
Tens of thousands died in fighting between the two countries, and now...
it's all about the hustle and bustle of trade and making some money.
In recent years, border restrictions
have been relaxed, allowing daily visitors to flow back and forth.
The two countries now trade goods worth more than 20 billion a year,
although, from what I could see, it all looked a little one-sided.
It's quite a sight, actually.
They must have been queuing up on the other side of the border
just waiting for the border to open at seven o'clock.
It's now a couple of minutes past...
..and China comes across.
So far, things seem to be working in China's favour.
Vietnam's importing three times as much as it sells to China.
So, look, this is one lady heading from Vietnam towards China.
The flow is very definitely this way, hundreds of people coming from China.
THEY SPEAK IN VIETNAMESE
Can we ask where she's going to?
"I'm going to China."
And how much are you going to sell your bread rolls for?
It, er, 30 renminbi, which means her profit is about three pounds.
Three pounds? So she's hoping to make about three quid today.
Well, good luck with selling your rolls.
Well, this is as far as I can get in my journey across Vietnam
and as close as I can get to China.
From here, I need to get back on the Tropic of Cancer,
so I'm heading to the island of Taiwan.
It's nearly 1,000 miles from Vietnam to Taiwan,
just off the coast of mainland China.
From Taipei, the capital, I'll head south to find out
what life's like on this part of the Tropic of Cancer.
So we're looking for a woman called Cindy.
That'll be the lady smiling and waving at us.
-Hello, Cindy. Hello. Simon.
-Nice to meet you.
And look, our Tropic of Cancer sign.
Not very artistic! SIMON LAUGHS
Taiwan is like nowhere else on the Tropic of Cancer.
People here are richer and freer than almost anywhere in the entire tropics,
the poorest region of the world.
The Taiwanese earn at least ten times more than people
in any of the last five countries I've visited.
I mean, what's bizarre about the world,
seven o'clock yesterday morning,
we were on the border between Vietnam and China,
watching people trading bread rolls across the border,
and now we arrive here in Taipei.
Tell us where you've brought us to, Cindy.
Well, this is the most popular shopping area of Taipei.
It's a commercial area called Chung-hsiao Fu-hsing.
-It all looks a bit expensive.
Taiwan is the success story of the tropics.
After the Second World War it was one of the poorer countries in Asia,
but now it's got a super-hi-tech economy.
Taiwanese firms make 90% of the world's laptops,
enabling little Taiwan to punch well above its weight.
Even though it's so small, only 23 million people,
it's got one of the biggest luxury markets in the world.
It's number five in the world.
I mean, this is a rich, modern, wealthy, well-run, ordered country, isn't it?
Yes, there's a lot of hi-tech industry wealth.
-And that's made people rich.
So, most countries in the tropics don't have much of a train network,
and if they do you find yourself chugging along the country at a fairly slow speed,
but not here.
To reach the Tropic of Cancer,
Cindy and I were heading south by train from Taipei to the city of Chiayi.
-We're number five.
We're in this one.
Being Taiwan, it's one of the most hi-tech trains in the world,
modelled on the Japanese bullet train system
and run with computer-controlled precision.
-Do you want the window?
-No, no, I'm fine.
The train network cost the Taiwanese a fortune,
but it was, without doubt, the most comfortable
and relaxing method of transport I'd taken anywhere on my tropical journeys.
Cindy, we're absolutely racing along here.
I reckon we're doing at least 1,000 miles an hour now.
A slight exaggeration.
It's 300 kilometres per hour.
Despite all its hi-tech industry and super-fast trains,
Taiwan exists in a strange diplomatic limbo.
It's not considered a real country.
Officially, it's part of China, but it has its own democratic government.
In spite of its confusing status, it's a success.
What is it about Taiwan or the Taiwanese that makes this place different
to almost all the other countries and places in the tropics?
What's your take on that?
I would say probably the most important difference is it has the rule of law,
and also, I think, just the drive in the people.
And maybe some of that is Chinese culture.
There's a huge motivation for people to do well.
-Chinese work ethic, then?
The city of Chiayi lies right on the Tropic of Cancer,
and they've marked the line in a very special way.
Just tell us what it says here.
-"Tropic of Cancer Elementary School".
A Tropic of Cancer school!
This is very exciting. I don't know why I'm so excited about this.
We've seen Tropic monuments in other countries,
but no other country has gone to the trouble
of actually marking the line with a school.
Taiwan's economic success
has been built on one of the finest education systems on the planet.
It's ranked first in the world for maths teaching
and second in the world for science.
So, not only do they have a Tropic of Cancer school,
they have a Tropic of Cancer lesson as well!
At the start of each lesson,
even at primary school, children bow to their teachers.
They are motivated and encouraged to be competitive.
-TEACHER: Ni hao.
-CHILDREN: Ni hao.
And then it was my turn to take questions from the nine-year-old geniuses.
I was a little apprehensive.
I'm very worried they're going to ask incredibly complicated ones
about the obliquity of the ellipse or something...
or the tectonic plate movement.
That girl there's got a question.
Well, I'd say one of the main problems facing countries on the Tropic of Cancer
is climate change.
There's huge problems with poverty,
with corrupt governments, and with conflicts as well.
And it's amazing, fascinating, to come here to Taiwan
and see a country that doesn't suffer from most of those problems,
a country that's almost unique in the tropics.
Xie xie. Thank you for the question. Xie xie.
One of the many things that strikes me about the children in this school
is that these children, growing up in Taiwan,
will live longer, be better educated, be wealthier and healthier
than in almost any other country in the tropics.
These are the lucky ones.
So, we're back close to the Tropic of Cancer now.
We're gonna follow the line across Taiwan.
Two-thirds of the island is mountainous, so we're heading up into the hills.
In Taiwan, it's easy to forget you're in the tropics.
The island's still vulnerable to a ferocious tropical weather system.
We're heading into an area
which was really quite severely damaged by a typhoon a couple of months ago.
This little island in the Pacific lies right in the path of typhoons
that blow up every year and lash Asia with violent and destructive winds.
Oh, look at this.
There's a big hole in the road there.
Oh, my God, look at that.
So here, the typhoon's shifted boulders the size of houses.
The islanders nicknamed the storm that did this damage the Devil Typhoon.
It was the worst in 50 years.
The Taiwanese are quick to repair,
but it still left some roads across the island completely blocked.
This is about as far as I can go, travelling across Taiwan.
From here, I need to hop across the Pacific
and follow the Tropic of Cancer to Hawaii.
But it's a bit more than a hop.
From Taiwan, it's 5,000 miles to Hawaii,
the most remote island chain in the world.
Isolated out in the middle of the Pacific,
these volcanic islands are my final stop on my journey around the Tropic of Cancer.
Hawaii's the only American state that's inside the tropics.
It's a tourist Mecca, one of the most gorgeous places I've been to on this trip
and a real tropical paradise.
So, we're just leaving the airport, and I've met up with Sam here - Sam Gon.
Doctor, I think, Sam Gon.
Sam's a conservationist
and he was taking me to see some of Hawaii's beautiful and unique wildlife.
Where are we going now?
We're headed to the Keauhou Bird Conservation Centre.
I thought I'd be peering through binoculars at distant birds,
but in this sanctuary the birds have to be kept close and under protection.
They're some of the rarest creatures on the planet.
Richard Switzer is a Brit leading a team of conservationists and biologists
trying to protect rare species and persuade them to breed.
Ah, these are nene. These were once the world's most endangered duck or goose.
These are, in fact, wild birds
who perhaps were raised as goslings here initially,
and they're now flying wild, but they do come back here to breed.
-Wow! So a real success story?
But the successes are few in number.
Hawaii's bird population is crashing.
Some of them exist now just as pictures in the centre's mural,
and the rest are under threat.
So this one is extinct, this one extinct in my lifetime.
-Extinct up the top there.
Still with us.
This one extinct just recently.
Is that the reality, that about half of the Hawaiian birds are extinct now?
Are extinct, and all the ones that remain are rare or endangered.
And it's not just birds.
Hawaii has become the extinction capital of the world.
In Hawaii, because of the small size,
we've been able to catalogue all of the plants, all of the birds,
many of the invertebrates, and so we can see
when they're missing or when they're declining,
and then when they disappear.
The situation is now so serious, the only option for conservationists
is to capture the few surviving birds in the wild
and protect them here in the sanctuary.
So, these are called Hawaiian crows. What's special about these?
Firstly, the species is extinct in the wild. So...
The last birds were seen in 2002.
-They're extinct in the wild?
How many have you got here?
Here we've got 52. As a programme we've got 67, and that's it.
That's the entire global population, and that makes them
pretty much the most critically endangered bird in human care
probably anywhere on the planet, so...
That is absolutely extraordinary.
And what a responsibility as well, though. You're the sort of steward for a species.
Well, if a chick is hatching,
then we'll stay up overnight and make sure it hatches OK,
because if it needs assistance, we've got to be there.
Is that what it's come to, then?
I mean, really protecting these endangered creatures
one by one, egg by egg?
Absolutely, yeah. Every egg is sacred, precious.
Do you know what this place is?
This place is an ark.
This is really our last chance
of saving some of these incredibly rare tropical species.
And what's really sad is that this place and other places like it
throughout the tropics are the future of conservation.
Isn't it sad that it's come to that?
So this is a real treat at the end of our journey -
a chance to get up in the air and get a bird's-eye view of the islands.
The trip was nearly over...
..and the chopper offered me a final glimpse of tropical paradise.
But this is a paradise
in which dozens of species have vanished within my lifetime.
The culprits include climate change, pollution
and newly introduced species which native animals and plants can't compete with.
God, this is beautiful.
The main problem here, of course, is us.
We're directly responsible
for almost all of the environmental catastrophes I've seen
during my journeys around the tropics.
But surely Hawaiians should be able to manage and protect their environment.
After all, this is part of the richest nation on Earth,
and these are young islands, where new land is forming in front of my eyes.
And now we can see the lava flowing straight into the sea,
straight into the water.
It's the most extraordinary sight.
Hot lava hitting cold water, it turns immediately to steam
and the plumes are rising up into the sky.
It's an absolutely breathtaking sight.
I travelled with Sam to the remote Kamilo Beach
on the southern shore of Hawaii's Big Island.
Bloody hell, blown sideways, though!
Anyway, we're here.
He's just dropped us off...
At Kamilo Beach.
..in what feels a bit like the middle of nowhere.
This beach is a long way from the nearest town,
and from here the vast ocean stretches away thousands of miles
before you hit land...
-Look at this.
-What the hell...?
..yet it's becoming a candidate for the dirtiest beach in the world.
-Something's been cut from...
-This is some sort of plastic container.
It's been drifting and sun-bleached.
-It's come from the sea?
-What looks like pristine sea.
Look, it's a plastic helmet. An old...
-Shoe, slipper, plastic bottles.
Very little of this comes from Hawaii.
This plastic comes from all over the world.
The fact that it's on this remote island brought home to me like never before
just how polluted our planet really is.
-Look at this.
-And this is after a clean-up.
The first time that I came to this beach, the debris problem was so bad
you couldn't even see the rocks along most of this beach.
It was covered in just... tons of plastic.
Plastic doesn't degrade,
it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
On the surface, over 50% of...
of what we're walking on is actually little bits of decomposing plastic.
I mean, these are tiny, Sam.
Pink, blue, green, orange.
But there's white bits here that could be plastic, they might be sand.
I mean, this plastic is becoming the beach.
The beach is becoming plastic.
And look, it's not just on the surface, either.
It would be one thing if it were.
But the deeper you go, the more plastic you get.
It's the smallest issue, the smallest problem
I think I've seen on my journey around the Tropic,
and yet it's the biggest one as well.
The fact we're soiling our nest.
As fast as the beach is cleaned,
it fills up again with a seemingly endless supply of rubbish.
It really is devastating,
not just because this crap is here on these beaches,
but because of what this signifies
and where this has come from.
It's coming from the great Pacific Ocean.
There is now this garbage dump floating around in the middle of the sea,
in the largest ocean on Earth,
and sending this kind of trash to every island in the Pacific.
We're in the US, we're in the world's richest country.
If this can't be stopped here...
..what chance is there for the rest of the countries in the tropics
or other countries around the world, for that matter?
It was a troubling end to my journey.
I'd travelled for more than six months
through an extraordinary region of the world.
I'd visited 18 countries, seen amazing wildlife...
..and met some wonderful people.
But more than anything, the journey had made me realise
we're running out of time to protect life on this beautiful planet.
So, this is it - my final walk, the end of the journey.
Come all the way round the planet.
Mexico's in that direction.
That's where I started the journey many, many months ago.
Well, I've seen so much during my travels through the tropics.
So much poverty, so much suffering, but also so much beauty as well,
so much to cherish, so much to protect.
It really is the most incredible region of the world.
I'm in love with the tropics, and I can only hope... that one day I'll return.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Simon Reeve continues his epic journey around the world following the tropic of Cancer, the northern border of the tropics region.
The last leg of Simon's journey begins in the jungles of Southeast Asia and ends in the tropical paradise of Hawaii.
Prevented from following the tropic through China by the Chinese government, Simon instead discovers the increasing Chinese influences in neighbouring Laos and Vietnam. And in Laos, he samples some local delicacies: roast squirrel (or is it rat?) and caterpillars. In Vietnam, he discovers cruelly caged moon bears, farmed for their bile, which is used in traditional medicines.
Next stop is Taiwan, and in the Tropic of Cancer primary school he meets some of the world's highest achieving children.
The journey around the world ends in Hawaii, a tropical paradise blighted by environmental problems, including some of the dirtiest beaches on the planet.
After travelling around the tropic of Capricorn and the Equator, this series completes Simon's trilogy of journeys exploring the amazing tropics region with his toughest, longest, most ambitious challenge yet.