best passport to have

World’s most powerful passport 2018

Travelling can be a bureaucratic nightmare for those on restricted passports. Here we look at the best passport to have in 2018 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

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Dead heat: the hottest places on Earth

Having just returned from Dallol in Ethiopia, we’ve seen how hard it is to survive in one of the hottest places on Earth.

The hottest places on earth are in constant flux. They change from year to year and recording techniques – which are often challenged and disputed – change with them. Regardless, the same places tend to crop up again and again, many of them sharing similar characteristics. The hottest places on Earth are nearly always dry, barren, sunny and home to little or no vegetation. Continue reading

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The volcanic seven summits of the world

The volcanic seven summits may not be coveted with the same vigour as the seven summits or even the seven second summits, but the peaks still offer a worthy challenge.

We’ve just returned from Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Erta Ale may not be as lofty or as challenging as the following summits, but it did remind us why we stand in awe of volcanoes – active or not. Continue reading

best countries to visit in 2018: china

Are these really the best countries to visit in 2018?

Winter is coming and, with it, the customary slew of ‘Best Of’ and ‘Must Do’ lists summing up everything from the funniest one-liners on Twitter to the best countries to visit in 2018. Everyone’s at it, from The New York Times who are readying to publish their 52 Places, to industry stalwarts Lonely Planet who have just released their Best in Travel.

These peppy lists of perfect places do exactly what they’re supposed to: inspire intense wanderlust, but amid the desk-bound dreaming, it’s wise to ask if there’s a danger in genuflecting to the experts. Should we really gather these pearls of wisdom and place them in our bucket lists? Continue reading

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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! 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. Continue reading