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Crowd control: the world’s least densely populated countries

Are those living in the world’s least densely populated countries happier than those living in more crowded ones? 

Finland was recently named the happiest country in the world. As with previous years, it is clear that developed, conflict-free nations with stable governments tend to rank higher in these indexes.

What’s interesting is that many of the world’s happiest countries also have relatively low population density. Finland, Norway, Iceland, CanadaNew Zealand and Australia all have fewer than 20 people per square kilometre (followed closely by Sweden with 22.12), and all appear in the top 10 happiest countries. Continue reading

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World firsts: exploring UNESCO’s original World Heritage sites

At last count, UNESCO’s World Heritage List included 1,073 locations across 167 countries or states. Here, we explore the 12 original World Heritage sites first listed in 1978.

The aim of UNESCO’s list is to identify, protect and preserve sites of cultural and natural heritage considered to be of exceptional value to humanity. These sites include a range of locations such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, east Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu in Peru. Continue reading

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17 interesting facts about Djibouti

From eerie landscapes to magnificent marine life, we take a look at the most interesting facts about Djibouti.

Before we explored Djibouti, I would have struggled to point to this tiny speck of a nation on a map. Situated in the Horn of Africa among some volatile neighbours, the country is unlikely to appear on many bucket lists – a shame given its wealth of beauty.

Djibouti is home to the otherworldly landscapes of Lac Abbé and Lac Assal, fascinating diving, magnificent marine life including whale sharks as well as a charming wildlife sanctuary. Continue reading

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Things to do in Djibouti City

We take a look at the best things to do in Djibouti City – the country’s sole metropolis.

Let’s face it: you don’t come to Djibouti, a tiny speck of a country in the Horn of Africa, to visit its city. You come to Djibouti to swim with the whale sharks, see the belching chimneys at Lac Abbé and frolic in the gin clear waters of Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa.

That said, if you have a few hours spare, wandering the capital is worth the time. As you will no doubt be told during your stay, Djibouti City is virtually crime-free given the heavy military presence and is therefore largely safe to explore on foot – which is exactly what we did. Continue reading

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22 interesting facts about Ethiopia

From violent volcanoes to luminous lakes, we take a look at the most interesting facts about Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s unique mix of fascinating history, deep-rooted identity, incredible natural wonders and rare wildlife makes its one of the most intriguing places on Earth.

The country is home to landscapes as diverse as deserts, volcanoes and highlands, architecture ranging from rock-hewn churches to medieval-style castles, and wildlife that includes rare species such as the gelada baboon, the walia ibex and the Ethiopian wolf. Continue reading

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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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World’s best countries for women 2017

The best countries for women in terms of gender equality have been announced by the World Economic Forum in the new edition of its annual Global Gender Gap report.

The 2017 report assesses 144 economies on how well they utilise the female workforce in their country based on economic, educational, health-based and political indicators. The report can be used as an objective analysis of women’s quality of life compared with male peers, and to thereby rank the world’s best countries for women in terms of gender equality. Continue reading

21 interesting facts about Mauritius

We share the most interesting facts about Mauritius, gathered on our month-long journey across the stunning country.

After trips to the Maldives, Fiji and French Polynesia, we wondered if Mauritius would live up to the established standard. The vision peddled in brochures is of course of great blue lagoons and powdery white beaches, but unlike the aforementioned places, Mauritius comprises one main island instead of a great swathe scattered across the ocean. Would true seclusion be hard to find? 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

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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

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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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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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

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How to find calm amid the chaos in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Colombo isn’t as frenetic as other Asian capitals, but it’s still a busy working city. Here are five ways to find calm amid the chaos at any time of day.

Home to nearly six million people, Colombo is the commercial capital and largest city of Sri Lanka. There is no metro or tram system so there’s no escape from the rumbling buses, tooting tuk-tuks and tinted cars that clog the wide boulevards.

In stark contrast to the rolling hills, tranquil tea plantations and picturesque beaches that define Sri Lanka, Colombo can feel like an invasive thorn in an otherwise placid landscape. Continue reading

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A long weekend in Norway: 7 things to do in Bergen

Seven fjords, seven hills and an old-world fishing wharf help make Bergen in Norway the perfect destination for a weekend getaway.

Bergen may be one of the rainiest cities in Europe but it’s also a vibrant cultural center with superb access to the western fjords. The city offers an excellent blend of nature and culture and, despite the damp, we loved it. Here’s what we suggest for a long weekend.  Continue reading

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23 interesting facts about Norway

From polar exploits to illustrious penguins, we take a look at the most interesting facts about Norway.

Norway may well be the best country in the world – it’s certainly one of our favourites. It seems to have everything going for it. Not only is it a beautiful country full of stunning wildlife, nature and the northern lights, it’s also home to one of the world’s most progressive and open societies.

Throw in an enthralling history full of vikings, conquest and exploration, and I’m sold. I would move there in a heartbeat if only it weren’t so expensive (and that Kia may have something to say about the cold).

So, in a nutshell, we love the country – which is why we keep going back again and again. With that in mind, we take a look at some of the most interesting facts about Norway that we’ve learnt on the road. Continue reading

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19 interesting facts about Cambodia

We first visited Cambodia in 2011 and it instantly became one of our favourite countries. Kia returned this year and fell in love all over again. This time, she took a Mekong River cruise and watched the country drift past from a different perspective. She also revisited the iconic sites of Angkor Wat and S21 prison, two destinations that highlight two deeply contrasting pasts: one of glory and opulence, the other of degradation and cruelty. Continue reading