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15 best books about Myanmar

We wrap up our series on this extraordinary country by browsing through the best books about Myanmar and the insights offered within their pages.

Before I visit a country, I like to read a book or two about the destination to get a sense of the place and culture. For Myanmar, it had to be George Orwell’s Burmese Days, a dark and fascinating insight into British colonial Burma and the disgust Orwell felt towards the system he was a part of.  Continue reading

World’s most stunning big wall climbs

It was five years ago that I first came across a big wall climber. A tiny speck on the side of a gigantic granite wall, the climber was bivvying in Yosemite National Park, the Holy Land of big wall climbing.

I couldn’t comprehend how someone could sleep tacked onto the side of a wall, suspended thousands of feet above the ground, sometimes in treacherous weather conditions. Continue reading

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22 interesting facts about Myanmar

We reflect on the interesting facts about Myanmar we learnt during our cycling tour through the country.

As a tourist destination, Myanmar may be young, but it is rich in history and culture. After decades under oppressive military rule, the country is finally opening up. Tourist numbers are beginning to swell, exiles are returning from the wild and a wave of uncensored media is increasingly available to a newly optimistic population. Continue reading

Cycling Burma

Cycling Bagan: highlights and route map

We spent our final day in Myanmar cycling around Bagan, the world’s largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins. 

After cycling over 250km (155mi) across Myanmar including a 83km (52mi) slog up to Mount Popa, the final day of our cycling tour of Myanmar – a mere 25km (15mi) around the temples of Bagan – was going to a be cinch.

Despite the short distances, the Burmese sun was shining strongly and with it came the vaporous Burmese heat. Thankfully, with over 2,000 Buddhist structures spread across 104 sq km (40 sq mi) there was regular relief in the cool and airy stone temples. Continue reading

A break from Buddhism on Inle Lake, Myanmar

The variety of things to do on Inle Lake provides a different look at life in Myanmar.

Burma without Buddhism would be like Rome without religion: a land shorn of identity, bereaved of its most vivid colours. There’s no question that Buddhism with its extraordinary monuments and monasteries makes the country what it is: spiritual, mystical and all those other adjectives western writers apply to eastern exoticism.

Burma, now known as Myanmar, is the East of the brochures: of mists rising on tranquil lakes and berobed monks in echoing chambers. Myanmar does not disappoint. But, much like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, it can wear out all but the most avid temple goers. With this in mind, I was pleased to have a day on Inle Lake with plenty of variety. There were stupas and monasteries (naturally), but also extraordinary locals that provided a tiny slice of life on the lake. Continue reading

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The bizarre Shwe U Min Natural Cave Pagoda, Myanmar

We visited Shwe U Min Natural Cave Pagoda of Pindaya, one of the most bizarre experiences of our trip to Myanmar

After a long, hot morning in the saddle, our group of nine cyclists arrived in the town of Pindaya. We’d covered around 40km (25mi) through Myanmar’s Shan State and were looking forward to some respite from the intense sun. I knew nothing of the Shwe U Min Natural Cave Pagoda but the idea of descending below ground and escaping the devilish heat sounded very appealing. Continue reading

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Hiking to Yazakyi Monastery in Myanmar

We hiked to Yazakyi Monastery above the Burmese village of Pindaya and found a picturesque settlement straight from the pages of National Geographic.

On my last visit to London, I asked my niece to grab a tenner from my wallet for the pizza fund. (We have a family of eight siblings and 21 nieces and nephews, so ordering pizza requires a basic level of crowdfunding.)

She rifled through my wallet, first pulling out some US dollars, then my tattered entrance card to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, then the business card of a tourism official in Malawi. She smiled cheekily and said, “Ada marayreh?”.

The Bengali phrase – which loosely translates to ‘flouncing about’ or ‘gallivanting’ – is usually used pejoratively by prim auntie-jis to chide young women for venturing outside and being seen in ‘improper’ situations (e.g. walking with a boy, entering a cinema, going on holiday). Continue reading

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Idyll worship: Mount Popa’s monastery on a volcano

We visit Taung Kalat, the surreal Buddhist monastery on Myanmar’s Mount Popa.

Mount Popa may as well have been Mount Doom. It loomed on our cycle itinerary, taunting me with defeat. As a newbie cyclist (and certainly the weakest in our group), I found the prospect of cycling 83km (52mi) uphill under the baking Burmese sun more than a little daunting.

Thankfully, our support vehicle was always close by, offering both solace (“I’m here if you need me”) and seduction (“you can quit right now if you want”). The latter proved too much and soon I relented, swapping two wheels for four while the group struggled on. Continue reading

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.

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Bicycle diaries: a cycling tour of Myanmar

Our cycling tour of Myanmar provided the perfect insight into Burmese culture coupled with the kind of outdoor adventure we love.

Readers of this blog will be well aware that I prefer my adventures on two feet rather than two wheels. Given the choice, I will usually opt for hiking instead of biking. However, when we had the chance to spend two weeks cycling Myanmar with G Adventures I wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity.

The trip did come with a catch: as with most of my adventures, I would have my trusty partner in crime with me – but Kia could barely ride a bike! She only learned to ride at the age of 28. In the ensuing years, she practised only periodically and fell off frequently, bruising like a peach in the process.  Continue reading

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15 best books about Sri Lanka

We wrap up our series on the tiny tropical island by perusing the best books about Sri Lanka and the insights offered within their pages.

Before I visit a country I like to read a book or two about the destination to get a sense of the place and culture. For Sri Lanka, I chose Roma Tearne’s Brixton Beach. Tearne, a Sri Lankan born novelist living in Britain, provided the perfect introduction to our trip. Continue reading

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20 interesting facts about Sri Lanka

We learnt a host of interesting facts about Sri Lanka through our month-long trip through the country. Here, we share our favourites. 

Sri Lanka is a rich and fascinating country that seems to have everything a traveller could possibly desire. The country is one of the best safari destinations outside of Africa with an abundance of wildlife squeezed into its 26 national parks. There are verdant rainforests, misty hills amid fertile tea plantations and miles upon miles of dazzling beaches. You’ve got a perfect holiday destination squeezed into an island a quarter of the size of the UK!

What’s more, the country is affordable and full of delicious cuisine as well as intriguing history. The people have dealt with war, disaster and all the challenges of a developing south-Asian country – and they have done it with grace and humility. Despite the nation’s recent turmoil, the country and its people are moving quickly forward. 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

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10 things to do in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

We explore the best things to do in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka’s historic port city that is once again beginning to flourish.

Trincomalee, or Trinco as it’s more commonly known, in northeastern Sri Lanka is a perfect spot in which to while away a few days on the beach. We ended our Sri Lankan odyssey in nearby Uppuveli on a powdery stretch by Trinco Blu.

Like us, most tourists will bypass Trincomalee for the neighbouring beaches of Uppuveli and Nilaveli – and who can blame them? The coast here is golden and palm-fringed with a mellow ambience making for a perfect place to unwind before heading home. Continue reading

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8 controversial mountain names from around the world

Naming mountains is a thorny business. We take a look at some of the most controversial mountain names from around the world and explore just why they’ve inspired so much debate. 

As an avid hiker, climber and would-be mountaineer, I’ve long been fascinated with the mountains of the world and the history behind their names. 

The first real mountain I ever climbed was Ben Nevis in bonnie Scotland. One would be forgiven for wondering who Ben was and why he has a mountain named after him. In fact, ‘Ben Nevis’ is the Anglicized form of the Scottish Beinn Nibheis, which means ‘mountain by the water’. Continue reading

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The best national parks in Sri Lanka for…

We explore the best national parks in Sri Lanka, their finest features, and when and where to see the country’s most celebrated animals.

For a relatively small nation, Sri Lanka has an abundance of wildlife in its 26 national parks. Considering that the UK (which is nearly four times the size) has 15 national parks, this is a huge number for such a small nation. In addition to its parks, Sri Lanka has scores of nature reserves and sanctuaries. Continue reading

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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

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Paul Oakenfold’s Everest party: charity event or PR stunt?

DJ Paul Oakenfold just played a gig at Everest base camp. Was this an innovative way to raise money for charity, or a narcissistic PR stunt?

British DJ Paul Oakenfold, 53, made his name in the 1990s on the UK dance music scene. He has won two Grammys and is credited with sparking the Second Summer of Love in Ibiza in 1997, supposedly the biggest revolution in British youth culture since the original Summer of Love in 1967. Continue reading