5 tips for your first cycle tour

I had never considered seeing the world by cycle. As a Londoner, I equated cycling with traffic-clogged lanes and smoke-choked roundabouts. After a recent ride, however, I came to see that cycling offers a unique view of the world.

First, there’s the freedom. Nearly every environment is accessible by bike, from parched desert and rugged steppe to luscious jungle and cityscape. Cycling allows you to explore remote corners that just can’t be seen by car.

Second, there’s the element of reality. Cycling brings you literally closer to a land and its people, offering authentic sights and smells without a sanitising filter of glass.

Read the rest of this post on the G Adventures blog.

Asian girl, English boy: what we learned from DNA testing

Ahead of our trip to Asia this year, we turned to 23andMe for some home truths about our roots.

I never felt exotic growing up. I was one of eight Bangladeshi children in a street full of Bangladeshi residents in an area full of Bangladeshi immigrants.

In my home borough of Tower Hamlets, Bangladeshis account for almost one third of the population – considerably larger than the proportion across London (3%) or England (<1%). In fact, Tower Hamlets has the largest Bangladeshi population in the whole of England.

As an adult, I went to work at places like Accenture (where I met zero Bangladeshis) and Penguin Random House (where I met zero Bangladeshis) before packing it all in to travel the world (where I met zero Bangladeshis). Suddenly, I found that people were exceedingly interested in my roots. Suddenly, being Bangladeshi was a point of curiosity, a topic of conversation. Continue reading

Bentota river safari in Sri Lanka

A Bentota river safari promises all sorts of creepy things: crocodiles, snakes, bats and lizards. Here’s how we fared on ours.

I was sceptical about our skipper. Small and slight and in his mid teens, he barely uttered a word of welcome. Peter and I boarded the boat and set off on our Bentota river safari with nary an instruction.

We had some information from our hotel about the length and price of the tour (2.5 hours, 1,800 LKR / 12 USD per person), but beyond that, we had little idea of what we might see.

Nevertheless, we were pleased to be in Bentota. The coastal town in Sri Lanka’s Galle District lies 65km (40mi) south of Colombo and, paired with Trincomalee in the north, offers a good beach stop with which to bookend a trip. Continue reading

best passport to have

World’s most powerful passport 2017

Travelling can be a bureaucratic nightmare for those on restricted passports. Here we look at the best passport to have in 2017 based on the freedom it provides.

Ten years ago, in my first job after graduation, I shared an office with a researcher called Munir who I nicknamed Dr2 because he not only had a PhD but was also qualified as a medical doctor. (I recognise it’s not the wittiest name in the world but it was the best I could do at the time.) Continue reading

Cycling Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital

We very nearly didn’t make it to Anuradhapura. Our schedule in Sri Lanka was pretty packed and even though we had a whole month in the country, our itinerary of Colombo, BentotaGalle, Yala, Udawalawe, Ella, Adam’s Peak, Sigiriya, Kandy and Trincomalee and  meant that we had no more than three days in each place.

It was by chance that I saw a tweet picturing Jetavanaramaya Dagoba in Anuradhapura along with a caption explaining that it was once the tallest building in world after the Egyptian pyramids. Given my part-time passion for architecture, there was no way I was visiting Sri Lanka without seeing this storied structure in Anuradhapura. Continue reading

Climbing Adam’s Peak: all 5,500 steps of it!

We set off on an overnight climb to Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain. Here’s how we fared.

I was already exhausted by Sri Lanka. So far, we’d had two men barge into our hotel room in Bentota, got stuck in a toilet in Tissa, been pinned to a wall on a train to Galle and battled flying cockroaches on the road to Udawalawe.

When we arrived to our guest house in Dalhousie – the gateway to Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka – all we wanted was somewhere to bed down ahead of our early morning climb. But, oh, what foolish dreams. Instead of being shown our room, we were taken aside and asked to pay for it under the table in exchange for a discount. We politely refused and after much discussion were finally allowed to check in. Continue reading

Is travel just another form of consumerism?

When I was 10 years old, my father had his first heart attack. As a result, I became an ardent non smoker. When I was 13, I saw a pair of cows get slaughtered in Bangladesh. As a result, I became a vegetarian.

Over the ensuing two decades, I, the non-smoking vegetarian, developed a keen awareness of the fine line between conscientious environmentalism and smug arseholery. (Note: the latter pontificates on how you should live your life, the former does not.)

There are numerous beliefs and pursuits, like vegetarianism and non smoking, that can inspire excess levels of smugness. Prominent among them is travel. Continue reading

whale watching in Mirissa

Why we regret whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Our first mistake was yielding to the hype. Sri Lanka is said to be the world’s only country in which you can see the largest land mammal (the elephant) and the largest water mammal (the blue whale), so we made whale watching in Mirissa a priority.

Our second mistake was using a local recommendation instead of our Sri Lanka guidebook – and thus we found ourselves at Mirissa harbour at 7am being herded onto a two-storey boat with 80 other people.

We placed our shoes in the communal storage box and gingerly headed upstairs. We found two empty seats at the back and pulled on our life jackets, watching in dismay as more and more people filed onto the boat with giant lenses and selfie sticks in tow. Continue reading

how to hike to ella rock

Ella Rock: how to hike it yourself

A guide to hiking Ella Rock including detailed directions, a route map and a list of essential tips.

Ella in Sri Lanka is beautiful, they said. ‘The closest thing to an English country village’ and the perfect place to slow down, we’d read.

I dolefully thought of this when darting across the thundering traffic to dodge yet another taxi driver insisting on taking me somewhere I didn’t want to go. The main street, stacked with milkshake huts and charm-free cafes, is a loud and roiling stretch of conveniences set up for the tourist alone.

Only in leaving the village and literally heading for the hills will you see the Ella of the guidebooks: grand and expansive vistas that plummet and soar as far as the eye can fly. Nowhere are they more impressive than at the summit of Ella Rock, a dramatic peak approximately 5km from town. Hiking Ella Rock is fun, confusing, taxing, rewarding. Here’s how to hike it without the help of a guide. Continue reading

Elephant safari at Udawalawe National Park

I wasn’t enamoured with the prospect of camping at Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka. I’d had a particularly challenging run-in with a cockroach (a flying cockroach) at a hotel down the road and wasn’t quite ready for more.

As usual, Peter employed all his rugged country charm to convince me that ‘it’s safer in a tent’ because ‘there’s an airlock so nothing can get in’. So, despite the fact that I was done with camping, I agreed to do it once more at Udawalawe National Park. Continue reading

leopard at yala national park

Spotting leopards at Yala National Park: 10 practical tips

We’ve been generally lucky in terms of travel ephemera. In the Norwegian Arctic, we saw incredible displays of the northern lights. In Tonga, we swam with whales on the very last day of the season and in the Galápagos, we snorkelled with penguins. Despite this, I kept my expectations low for our leopard safari at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka.

It was raining heavily and our guide, a Sri Lankan Scotsman named Damian, warned us that leopards tend to retreat to caves when it’s wet. In addition, fellow tourists had been out on two safaris the day before with no luck in sight.

Continue reading

The world is not getting better

Life for humans may be improving but what about everything else that shares our planet?

In trying times, social media users tend to share think pieces, charts and graphics proving that humanity has never had it so good.

These graphics focus on the growth of lovely things like basic education, literacy, democracy and vaccination, and the decline of awful things like extreme poverty and child mortality.

The charts are often accompanied by pithy captions like “awesome proof that humanity hasn’t actually botched it.” Continue reading

Is it time for tourism caps?

As world population grows, so too will mass tourism. Will capping visitor numbers help or hinder? We take a look below.

In June this year, approximately 30,000 Icelanders flocked to France to support their team in Euro 2016. What’s remarkable is that the exodus accounted for almost 10% of Iceland’s entire population.

Iceland is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with only 330,000 residents spread across its vast expanse of land. With this in mind, it’s worrying to learn that an estimated 1.6 million tourists visited the country this year, far outstripping the number of residents and demonstrating a 20% increase on 2015 numbers. Continue reading

Visiting Kon Tiki, the raft that crossed an ocean

In 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific Ocean on Kon Tiki, a rudimentary raft made of balsa wood. We took a trip to see the legendary vessel.

“Your mother and father will be very grieved when they hear of your death,” Thor Heyerdahl was told as he prepared to cross the Pacific by raft.

The raft’s dimensions were wrong, it was so small it would founder at sea, the balsa logs would break under strain or become waterlogged a quarter distance into sea, gales and hurricanes would wash the crew overboard, and salt water would slough the skin right off their legs – there was no end to the warnings. Continue reading

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Does the outdoors really have a diversity problem?

My younger sister watches the Arctic reindeer roam around on my screen. She smiles as one nips at a basketful of grain. Then, she double takes.

“Wait. Is that you?” she asks.
“Yeah. Of course.”
“You look like a farm girl!” she says in a tone somewhere between amusement and disdain. “Where’s your long coat?”
“I was in the Arctic,” I say. “I wasn’t going to wear a floaty coat from Zara.”

She tosses aside the phone, mystified as to why I’d choose comfort over style 350km north of the Arctic Circle.
Continue reading

arctic reindeer tromso

Feeding Arctic reindeer in Tromso

I’m not an animal lover. I mean, yes, I’m vegetarian and, yes, I had one of those dinky green badges from Blue Peter when I was young, but this was due more to general environmentalism than a love for animals.

I’m wary of dogs, indifferent to cats, and have been known to ask how often people trim their kittens (answer: never). With this in mind, you’ll understand why I was unsure about our Arctic reindeer trip in Tromso. There was no snow on the ground so sledding was off the cards and we weren’t even sure if the reindeer would make it down from the mountains in time for our visit (two weeks before the official start of the season).

Nevertheless, we had a day spare and decided to spend it at Tromso Arctic Reindeer, 16km from the centre of town. Continue reading

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Chasing the northern lights in Tromso

We travelled 350km north of the Arctic Circle to chase the elusive northern lights in Tromso. Here’s what happened.

I pulled the duvet up over my head and huddled against the headboard.

“I don’t want to go out,” I said, the words hot and sulky beneath the cover.

Peter pulled the duvet off the bed. “Come on, we’ve got to go.”

I sighed a weary sigh and dragged myself up. It’s true: I didn’t want to go out. We were in the Arctic Circle for God’s sake! It was six in the evening and freezing outside! And dark! And freezing! Continue reading

Things my mother said: the gift of bilingualism

Last year, a friend of mine discovered that my parents never learned English despite moving to England in 1969.

He raised a brow in askance. “But you speak it so well,” he said, a cheeky smile tugging at the corner of his mouth as he lampooned those who had oh-so-magnanimously paid me the same compliment in the past.

He, a British-born Asian like me, knew there was no reason for me not to speak English well. After all, I was born, raised and educated in England.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be snarky about the compliment. After all, English is my second language despite the fact that I write, think and dream in it (and only it). Continue reading

Phnom Penned: 10 great books about Cambodia

Cambodia’s literary canon is comparatively threadbare. There are no old masters like Salman Rushdie or Haruki Murakami nor contemporary voices like Khaled Hosseini or Mohsin Hamid – a fact of little wonder when one considers what happened in the country between 1975 and 1979.

In that short period, nearly all of Cambodia’s artists, writers, and musicians were systematically killed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime as part of its radical attempt to engineer a classless peasant society. The culling delivered a devastating blow to the county’s artistic heritage – one that still reverberates 40 years later.

In lieu of grand swathes of literary fiction, the reader can turn to an alternative set of books about Cambodia. Start with our list of 10, as shared on the G Adventures blog.

North Sentinel Island: a timeline of the world’s most isolated tribe

On a map, North Sentinel Island looks like any other idyllic spot in the Indian Ocean. Fringed with beaches and crystal cobalt waters, it lies in the Andaman archipelago of the Bay of Bengal.

North Sentinel Island, however, is unlike any other. It has been described as ‘the hardest place in the world to visit’, ‘the world’s most dangerous island’ and home to ‘the most isolated tribe in the world’.

These sensational labels can’t be qualified conclusively, but they do hold some truth. For an estimated 60,000 years, North Sentinel Island has been home to a fiercely independent tribe that has violently rejected contact with the outside world.