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'm 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'm also interested Buddhism and Hinduism, and for example like to study the reliefs in the temples of Angkor Wat.
I'm 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 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.
Daun Mea lake, (Daun Mear) is the shallow large lake behind the Royal palace. Though a quite large lake, 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 opening in the forest, and a large, shallow 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, 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, but the last few years almost totally under water. That is because the water and groundwater level around Angkor park has been increasing since about 2015.
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 are all down on the groud, 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? As a matter of fact, "stone henge" is a very generic term, meaning "stone circle". Did you know some stone circles were used as a calender? And even Japan has it's own 5000 year old stone observatory, the Kanayama Megaliths which is also a calender, 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's give another off the beaten path example, in Angkor Park.
For example the very busy Ta Phrohm 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, which is much more quiet, with many birds and trees, and much larger than Ta Phrohm. And it has a moat, and the same kind of trees growing over the old crumbling temple walls. "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?
Myanmar / Burma.
I first visited Myanmar in 2009; and it 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.
For example, the "Go now, before it is too late" encouragement. 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 going on, and in the last ten years Myanmar's cities and towns have changed a lot. The rapid development will continue, for the benefit of the citizens of Myanmar. And for us visitors, isn't it nice to have better internet speed and good wifi, and maybe in the future 24 hours of electricity?
Myanmar is actually 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. Though a few opposition groups still prefer to use "Burma"; my experience is that the majority of inhabitants prefer the name "Myanmar". Also, to call the country Burma would imply that minority groups are irrelevant. Burma was named after the Bamar population; who live in the central Irrawaddy valley of Myanmar.
In 2009 I made my first bicycle trip around Inle lake, which resulted, after a pedal fell off, 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.
When I returned to Inle in 2011 the bike trip had become really 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? Its good and healthy eco-tourism, and the locals, and your body-condition both benefit!
All foto's copyright ©2019 R. Schierbeek, Netherlands. mail: bytelife AT gmail.com