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The Adventure.

My name is Rolf Schierbeek. I am Dutch citizen, a seasoned, spiced, and curried traveller; who likes Japanese gardens, Asian culture, historic cities and ... moving around Asia. My favourite transport methods are the bicycle, walking, motorbiking, and (steam-)trains; I have had great fun bicycling around old cities like Mandalay, Chiang Mai, and Angkor.

Apart from many bicycle rides in rather remote locations I have done a lot of motorbike riding on many different types of motorcycles, from a small Honda Wave to off-road dirt-bikes to large motorcycles.


I am interested in colonial history and have spent a considerable time in India; and I have also been to Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, the United States, France and a few other countries. I am also interested Buddhism and Hinduism, and for example like to study the reliefs in the temples of Angkor Wat.

I am always happy to go off the beaten path, for example Angkor Thom is great to explore on a mountain bike. Many paths exist in the jungle, some are well trodden, many are well hidden to the public. There are for example a few lakes in Angkor Thom that are visible on Google Earth, but quite hard to find.


Butterfly pond

Butterfly pond, which is the name I gave it, is just a 15 minute walk from the tourist road, but the entrance to the forest path has been expertly hidden, since the locals who know this stunning little lake do not want any other people having a picknick on the large grassy field. It is a little hidden paradise for the hundreds of butterflies who gorge themselves on the many flowers, and for some waterfowl which are scared off by your sudden appearance in this tranquil spot.


Trapeang Daun Mea lake

Daun Mea lake, (Trapeang Daun Mear) is the shallow large lake behind the Royal palace. It is surprisingly difficult to reach; as there are no roads there. One has to walk down small paths, up and down strange dirt walls lined with remains of stone fortifications, looking for spider webs and snakes on the path, and then suddenly, there appears a huge rectangular area in thedense forest. A peaceful, serene lake, surrounded by the quiet old trees of the Angkor jungle. Only bees and butterflies are dancing over the swampy lake, and some white water-birds in the distance.


Beng Thom drainage system to the moat (Run Ta Dev)

Beng Thom, a reservoir in the SW corner of Angkor Thom, was used to collect the wastewater of the ancient citadel. As there were probably tens of thousand inhabitants of the city, the wastewater was collected here and then dumped into the moat through these three outlets. This system is still functioning, though only for rain water, and not for human waste water anymore, and the outlets are still visible. The last few years the water and groundwater level around Angkor park has risen, and these three outlets have become almost totally submerged.


Lateral Adventures.

There are often historic sites off the beaten path; for example, Stonehenge is convenient to reach from London, but have you heard of Arbor Low, a large and impressive prehistoric stone circle in the Peak district? The huge stones have fallen flat on the ground, and have not been restored like at Stonehenge. And how about the Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick, situated on a hill near the Lake district, between some stunning mountain views.

Did you know there are about 1000 stone circles in Great Britain? In fact, "stone henge" is a very generic term, meaning "stone circle". Did you know some stone circles were used as a calendar? And even Japan has its own 5000-year-old stone observatory, the Kanayama Megaliths which is also a calendar, and shows the summer and winter solstice.

Now, Castlerigg, near the Lake district is quite a distance away from London, very much off the beaten path, so let us give another off the beaten path example, in Angkor Park.

For example the very busy Ta Prohm temple in Angkor, which has become popular because of the movie "Tomb Raider". It is relatively small and always crowded, so why not visit Preah Khan instead, which is much quieter, with many birds and trees, and much larger than Ta Prohm. It has a proper moat, unlike Ta Prohm, and the same kind of trees growing over the old crumbling temple walls. And if you walk all the way to the eastern side, you can have a view over the large Baray or lake, the Jayatataka Baray. This lake was dry for centuries, but has been reflooded in 2012; one can still scroll back in Google Earth to 2010 and see the dry lake.

"Preah Khan" means "sacred sword"; a replica of the ancient sacred sword is still kept in the royal palace in Phnom Penh. Preah Khan is a stunning temple, and just 15 minutes drive up from Angkor Thom. That seems to be too far for most visitors, who stick to the popular temples of the small circuit. After all, many people stay just one day in Siem Reap, and then the small circuit is probably all you have time for.

Some off-beat highlights are difficult to find. Some need a thorough reading of the guidebooks, or a lot of research. Most people don't have the time for it and choose to do the easy, standard route; but doing the research can be worth it. And isn't half of the fun of a holiday in the planning?


Discovering Myanmar.

Discovering Burma is a bit like walking into the Shire - entering a long-lost mythical area in middle-earth, created by a story-teller called Tolkien. I first visited Myanmar in 2009; and then all busses were small trucks of the second world war era. These old busses were patched up, fitted with new engines, and I was suddenly transported back 60 years. There was internet, but it was very slow. Mobile phones were there, but smartphones were not, and a SIM-card was very expensive.

In 2009 Myanmar was one of the most fascinating countries I ever saw, as most people who travel there can imagine. It was my impression that the international boycott had made Myanmar a very poor country, where ordinary people suffered, but the elite rulers prospered. I created the Myanmar website in 2010 because of a few reasons - the myths and misunderstandings being the most important ones. Misinformation about which currency to take (euro or dollars), how to travel, and how to arrange it, etcetera.

At first I was annoyed by the "Go now, before it is too late" encouragement in many blogs. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has made an official warning that it could be 30 years before Myanmar achieves the level of development of its neighbour Thailand; and in those 30 years Thailand will have moved ahead and will probably have high speed trains and whatnot. So it is not too late to visit Myanmar.

On the other hand, there is a lot of infrastructure improvement going on, for example in the last ten years Myanmar's cities and towns have changed a lot. The rapid development continues, for the benefit of the citizens of Myanmar. So maybe, the "Go now, before it is too late" argument is quite valid. And for us foreign visitors, isn't it nice to have better internet speed and good WIFI, and maybe in the future 24 hours of electricity?

Whenever I make a border crossing into Myanmar, strong memories of India come back to me. The colors, the smells, the houses, the people .... I have spent years in India, and Myanmar is a kind of "India Light". Myanmar does not resemble Thailand very much, except perhaps for the new big shopping malls that are lately appearing in some towns. But apart from that, the Burmese men wear Indian longyis, the food is often Indian curry and samosa, the feeling is India. The Burmese longyi or lunghi is a long skirt that most men wrap around them, in India it is only occasionally worn. So Myanmar is much more similar to India than to Thailand.

So, Myanmar is a kind of "India Light", without the throngs and dense population. But Myanmar is not just the friendly Shire with lots of happy people; there are also the armed forces that still rule the country from the background. And unfortunately, there are conflicts going on in many border states, like in the Northern Shan state, in Kachin state, and Rakhine state.

Myanmar is a country with many different ethnic groups: in the central area the Bamar (the majority), in the east the Shan, in the North the Kachin, the Karen in the South-east and so on. Burma was named after the Bamar population; who live in the central Irrawaddy valley of Myanmar.


Demographics of Myanmar, e.g. the Bamar, Shan, Karen and Kachin ethnic groups.

 

If you visit only Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay, you will miss the tribal aspect of Myanmar. Myanmar is a cultural destination. Inle is not just a lake; it is a tribal, cultural area.


In 2009 I made my first bicycle trip around Inle lake, which resulted, after a pedal fell off the bike, in a trip back to town on top of a farmers' cart. The next trip was more successful. Back home I crafted the bicycle map of Inle lake, which seems to have caught on because there are at least a dozen copies of it on the internet.


On the Shwesandaw pagoda, Bagan, when it was still climbable.

When I returned to Inle in 2011 the bike trip had become popular, and there were many bicycle rentals around town. A few years later the bicycle riders and groups of bicyclists following a tour guide were everywhere. Why is it so popular? Probably because it is easy, the mountain weather is cool, the terrain is mostly flat. Inle lake is quite a good place for a bicycle trip.

Bicycling around Inle lake has become really popular; and people from many countries have done it and blogged about it. My bicycle map has been copied many times and I am not very happy about that. Just copying images and even complete pages from other peoples' sites, without even asking, is an infringement of copyright.

But the good thing is, the rental shops in Nyaung Shwe make money, tourists stay a day longer and enjoy the countryside, and everyone benefits. What can be more fun and healthier than a good bicycle ride though a wonderful country? It is good and healthy eco-tourism, and both the locals, and your physical condition benefit!

Thaungtho
Good size Chinthe or leogryph guardian statue in Thaungtho pagoda, Inle.
A Chinthe is not a lion, but half lion, half dragon.


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All foto's copyright ©2019 R. Schierbeek, Netherlands.     mail: bytelife AT gmail.com