Having clocked hundreds of thousands of miles in the skies, Mark Vanhoenacker is convinced being a pilot is the best job in the world. 

“I like the connections airplanes can make. We can go see our landscapes and cultural heritage all across the world. We can hear languages and birds in the environments we evolved in.”

He has flown over deserts, mountains and oceans across the world, but still has that sense of awe when he looks out over the Earth below.

Here, he tells us what makes being a pilot so rewarding and shares his five top aerial views from the cockpit.

5. Mongolia

Aerial view of Mongolia, Asia

“I have never been to Mongolia, but I’ve flown over it a number of times – normally in the last few hours of a flight to Beijing – and it is just amazing. It’s these tawny-rolling hills; there’s often snow in the valleys, even in summer. You barely see a road… you just have this amazing landscape, and every time I fly over it, I think that has to be my next holiday.”

4. The stars

Milky Way, Stars, Space, Creative CommonsNorth America widefield via photopin (license)

“Looking up, instead of down, you see so many stars. We have this privileged view of the night sky. In the cockpit we keep the lights quite dim because otherwise we can’t see out, and so we have this view outside and it’s one of the best parts of the job.”

3. The clouds

Above the clouds, flying – Why being a pilot is the best job in the world

“I guess my third favourite sight is how clouds look over the ocean at night. I’ve spent a lot of time over the North Atlantic, and if there’s a full moon, the light’s bright enough to read a map by. I mean it’s incredibly bright, and the sea is this blue-black plate and above it there are these cumulous clouds, which are just floating along over the middle of the ocean. The moonlight is so bright the clouds will cast a shadow onto the ocean, even at night, and the clouds themselves will be light on one side and dark on the other.”

“They will probably never see land, no one will ever likely see them – except you if you look out of the window. Almost everyone else on the plane is sleeping, and there’s just these clouds floating over the sea and it’s just an incredible sight.”

2. Vancouver, Canada

The Rockies and Vancouver from an airplane, Canada

“Flying into Vancouver you fly over the Rockies, and then the coastal ranges that surround the city. You don’t realise when you are in Vancouver that it’s basically just a village compared to the scale of empty mountains that are towering around it on two or three sides. And of course you’re descending into Vancouver, so you see those mountains maybe more closely that you would, and that’s definitely an experience for passengers to enjoy. It’s a busy approach for us in the cockpit, but if you have a window seat, I can’t recommend it highly enough.”

1. Greenland

Greenland at dusk, aerial shot - best job in the world

“You fly over Greenland on flights from London to very warm places like Phoenix or LA. It’s an incredibly cold and mountainous and empty place. And it’s often getting dark there, because in the winter it’s dark in portions of it all the time, and you have this perpetual dusk, and the snow-capped peaks, the ice caps, the sea is off to the side of it – it’s absolutely amazing. So Greenland has to be number one.”

SkyfaringMark Vanhoenacker is a British Airways pilot and the author of Skyfaring, a new book on a journey with a pilot. 

Every September, thousands of people from over a hundred tribes come together in Goroka, Papua New Guinea, to celebrate their unique culture. In this traditional festival, called a sing-sing – the biggest of its kind in the world – there’s a mêlée of dancing, singing and a rainbow of colourful outfits on show.

Photographer Fabien Astre visited the festival last year and took these stunning pictures.

Speaking about his trip, he said: “Seeing all the different cultures from just one country is amazing. The people are friendly and happy to see foreigners being interested in their culture.”

Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre Tribes in the Goroka Show, Papua New Guinea – Copyright Fabien Astre

All images are copyright of Fabien Astre. For more of his photography, see fabienastre.com, or like him on Facebook

Kiki Deere, co-author of the Rough Guide to the Philippines, heads off the tourist trail to Batanes. This cluster of islands, located almost 150km off the northernmost tip of Luzon in the Philippines, sees just thirty or so foreign visitors a year.

“Batanes? Batanes? Up there?” was the reaction of most Filipinos when I told them I was catching a plane north to the remotest province of the country. This was coupled with a puzzled expression, followed by a long “Oooooooh”.

Only 190km south of Taiwan, the islands of Batanes are closer to the Taiwanese coast than to the Philippine mainland. The archipelago was created following a series of volcanic activities when Mount Iraya erupted around 325 BC – today a dormant volcano that stands 1517m above sea level.

The province comprises ten islands of which only three are inhabited: Batan Island, the largest in the group; peaceful Sabtang Island; and the less accessible Itbayat. Their isolation has resulted in a unique culture and distinct traditions; the language, cuisine and climate have little in common with the rest of the country.

A beach on the Batanes Islands, the Philippines, AsiaImage by Kiki Deere

Rolling hills, windswept massifs and sheer cliffs

Our little six-seater plane rocked back and forth as we struggled to land on wind-swept Batan Island, whose capital, Basco, is named after Governor José Basco y Vargas who brought the islands under the Spanish Crown in 1782.

Below us stretched verdant rolling hills, windswept massifs and sheer cliffs rising 70m above sea level. The topography of the islands varies dramatically from the mainland – with grazing cows, undulating hills and strong winds. I felt I could have easily been in Ireland, not in the tropical Philippine archipelago I had extensively travelled, with its powdery, white-sand beaches shaded by coconut trees.

“Today we will visit Marlboro County, and then on to Sabtang Island” my guide announced as soon as I’d settled into Fundación Pacita, the former home of artist Pacita Abad today a surprisingly upmarket hotel. His voice was calm and composed; he spoke in musical tones, rolling his “r” in a pleasant lilt.

Like Filipino, the Ivatan language is peppered with pidgin Spanish words. The Ivatan are the native inhabitants of these islands, and trace their roots back to Formosan (Taiwanese) immigrants as well as Spaniards who travelled here in the sixteenth century.

Coastal Batanes Islands, Philippines – the remotest islands in the countryImage by Kiki Deere

A testament to the trusting nature of the locals

We drove up and down the island’s many hills, the engine of our little car calling out as it climbed a slope, letting out a groaning sigh of relief as we reached the top and zoomed down the other side, only to grate again as we clambered up the next.

As we came over the brow of the first hill, there before us were green pastures being grazed by horses and bulls, with Mount Iraya and the roaring Pacific Ocean as backdrop.

Locals make a living by raising goats and cows, and plant root crops that are able to cope with the islands’ harsh environment, including yam, garlic, sweet potato and onion. Fish, livestock and root vegetables form the mainstay of the islands’ cuisine. During most of the year provisions are flown in or shipped over from the mainland, but during typhoon season ships and planes are often unable to reach the islands.

We continued south along the coastal road to the Honesty Café, an unmanned coffee shop selling t-shirts, beverages and snacks where customers drop payment in designated boxes, serving as a testament to the trusting nature of the island’s inhabitants.

A small Batanes town, PhilippinesImage by Kiki Deere

Life has changed little over the last few centuries

A rocky thirty-minute boat ride across the treacherous waters of the Balintang Channel took us to Sabtang Island, home to steep mountains and deep canyons where life has changed little over the last few centuries.

This peaceful island is peppered with Ivatan stone villages, and the picture-perfect town of Chavayan is home to some of the best-preserved traditional homes in the Philippines. Unlike in the rest of the country where nipa huts are a common sight, the houses in Batanes are made of limestone to withstand the destructive force of typhoons that so often strike the islands.

I strolled along the town’s streets, my guide encouraging me to occasionally pop my head into the stone houses, whose wooden floors are traditionally polished with banana leaves. Their cogon-thatched roofs are sturdily built, lasting up to two or three decades. Street names are chiselled in stone plaques.

At the Sabtang Weavers’ Association, women sold small artefacts and offered me homemade biscuits that they had lovingly prepared in their humble homes. Intrigued and surprised at the sight of a foreigner, they questioned me as to my provenance, proudly showing me the small trinkets they had painstakingly made.

Batanes woman, Philippines, AsiaImage by Kiki Deere

An elderly lady with a mustard yellow cardigan wore a rain cape called vakul, traditional Ivatan headgear made from stripped leaves of voyavoy palm to protect her from the strong sun and frequent rainstorms that so often hit the islands. Her coarse hands fingered a small hand-woven souvenir that she encouraged me to buy.

When I flew back to the province of Luzon a few days later, where thick jungles and bustling beach resorts justifiably attract their fair share of tourists, the far-flung islands of Batanes, with their thirty or so foreign visitors a year, suddenly seemed like a distant dream.

Explore more of the Philippines with the Rough Guide to the PhilippinesCompare flightsbook hostels or hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.  

Tourism in Myanmar is still in its infancy, yet this fascinating nation enthralls like no other in Southeast Asia. There’s no wonder why. With its glittering stupas, placid rivers, temple-studded plains and – above all – warm, welcoming people, this is a country that it’s hard to forget in a hurry.

We’ve just published our first ever guide to Myanmar, but we’re not the only ones captivated. Film-maker Ben McNamara recently toured Myanmar with Intrepid Travel and produced this beautiful, dreamily-shot film.

Myanmar – The Golden Land shows the country through Ben’s eyes: “Warm smiles, gentle greetings & beautiful sights.” It’s our pick of the week.

Myanmar – The Golden Land. from Ben McNamara on Vimeo.

Rwanda’s capital is often described as a city that sleeps, rather than one that doesn’t. Rwandans are, by nature, more reserved than Kenyans, or other Africans. Loud music isn’t tolerated after 8pm and bars tend to close early. Some may call it boring, but Kigali’s residents embrace the city’s quiet calm. Yet, the oldest part of Kigali defies this stereotype.

In the southwest corner of the city in the multi-cultural neighbourhood of Nyamirambo you’ll experience a history and a vibe difficult to find anywhere else. Home to a mixed population, including much of the city’s working class and Muslim population, as well as bars, boutiques and hair salons, the area is an interesting juxtaposition of cultures.

At Nyamirambo’s heart is the Women’s Centre (NWC). The group began in 2007, with 18 women who came together to support each other, discussing issues like health, family, education and unemployment. It has since expanded to include a sewing cooperative and provides practical training and skills for disadvantaged women.

Kigali, Rwanda, Africa

The NWC has also evolved to tap tourism as a revenue stream. They employ locals to lead tours, providing them with an income, while offering tourists an insider’s view of a proud neighbourhood that has repeatedly resisted redevelopment and modernization.

Different aspects of the area illustrate the diversity that makes Nyamirambo special, and the NWC tour weaves a trail from the spiritual soul of the historic Green Mosque to Nyamirambo’s creative hubs. These are a few of the highlights.

Morning at the milk bar

Milk bars are where Rwandans get their equivalent of a morning latte. Nyamirambo is home to more than fifty of the small shops filled with little more than a vat of fresh cow milk. Glasses of hot, steamed fresh milk are served straight up, with cocoa powder, honey or tea.

Recently, the government has promoted milk bars in a push to nourish more of the population, particularly those on a low income, encouraging a healthy start to the day. For many Rwandans, a fresh glass of milk and a banana, is breakfast.

Milk Bar, Kigali, RwandaImage by Amy Guttman

Made to measure

The streets of Nyamirambo are among the most colourful in the city, brightened by the sight of women in kitenge (waxed cotton) dresses, sarongs, and wrapped around their waist, babies slung around their backs.

Swarms of people gather around a platform in the center of Nyamirambo to bid on Levi’s jeans, River Island shirts, and other labels at the second-hand clothing auction, while at the fabric market, women sift through the vividly patterned kitenge, before taking their purchases to Rwandan, Senegalese and Congolese tailors, known for their fine dressmaking skills. From small kiosks, surrounded by spools of thread in every colour, they sew made-to-measure garments.

Women also sew next door to the NWC boutique where the tour begins, selling their hand-made childrens’ clothes, home accessories and handbags, all in a kaleidoscope of kitenge.

Sifting clothing, Nyamirambo, Kigali, Rwanda, AfricaImage by Amy Guttman

Nyamirambo’s spiritual side

The Green Mosque, nick-named for its green and white minarets, has been a fixture in Nyamirambo since the Muslim community first came to Rwanda as traders in the 1930s. Kigali’s Muslims set up shops in Nyamirambo, and continue their tradition as merchants today, opening their shops well past sunset, adding to the area’s nighttime buzz.

The oldest mosque in Kigali, the Green Mosque is a symbol of peace, with a history as a safe haven for many Rwandans during the genocide: Nyamirambo is said to have escaped some of the worst atrocities of the 90s, largely due to its Muslim population. Many opened their homes and mosques to shelter Tutsis. Their acts of righteousness, along with a loss of faith in Catholic and Protestant leaders, resulted in high conversion rates and Rwanda’s Muslim community has doubled since the genocide.

The rising stars

As lively as it is during daylight, Nyamirambo really heats up after dark. Muslim-owned shops, in typical Arabic tradition, are open late, and an underground music scene fuels Kigali’s best nightlife.

Hip hop and reggae are the most popular, with young, emerging artists, as well established Rwandan rappers like Lil G playing at recording studios, radio stations and bars. Choice Motel, open nightly to tourists and locals, is one of the top spots for live music.

NWC Cooking Mama, Kigali, RwandaImage by Amy Guttman

Eat like a local

Rounding off the NWC tour is a cooking lesson at a local woman’s home. After exploring the daily fresh produce market, where you can see women grinding cassava root with giant pestle and mortars, you’ll be taught to cook some traditional Rwandan cuisine. Irish potatoes – named because the original crop came from Europe – sugar cane, and a stew of green beans, tomatoes, and onions, make up lunch at the end of the morning.

Amy Stayed at the Hotel des Milles CollinesCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Travelling is about education: learning about the world, yourself and life in general. The lessons are endless no matter where you are in the world, so if you’ve ever been backpacking, you’ll know what we’re talking about. Here are fourteen things every backpacker learns on their first jaunt around the world:

1. You need less stuff than you think

You might leave home with three pairs of shoes and an XXL fanny pack, but after a few weeks away you’ll be permanently glued to your flip flops – and you’ll start carrying your money around in your pocket, just like everyone else on the planet. The best advice is to pack as little as possible; everything else can be picked up along the way.

2. Earplugs are a good investment

Bargain bunk beds and the warm embrace of a drunken sleep, surrounded by new friends from around the world. Ah, yes: snoozing in shared dorms is an essential part of the backpacking experience.

But wait… is somebody snoring already? Why didn’t Big Dave from Australia mention his sleep apnoea? And how are those two backpackers from the bar doing god-knows-what in a bunk that’s barely big enough for one person? Add in the nocturnal farters and pre-dawn plastic bag rustlers, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty rough night’s sleep. Pack earplugs, and be prepared to use them.

Dorm Room, hostel, Poland, Europe

3. There’ll always be someone who’s done more

Swum to a remote beach and survived on venomous snakes that you caught with your bare hands? Smoked weed with a yogi during a solar eclipse? Been to every hostel in every country on Earth? Awesome! But there will always be someone staying at your guesthouse who’s done it all too, and then some. The solution? Find your own path and do what makes you happy, rather than engaging in the un-winnable war of one-upmanship.

4. There are good people everywhere

Despite what TV news would have you believe, there are good people everywhere. Get yourself into a spot of bother pretty much anywhere in the world and if you’re polite and respectful, there will be some good soul willing to help you out.Woman with map

5. It’s okay to get lost

See point 4, above.

6. No one wants to hear it

Your guitar, that is. Or your ukulele. The whole reason the people go travelling is to experience something new, not to listen to someone muddling through a cover of Wonderwall after a few too many local beers.

East Sussex, Brighton, Pavilion Gardens, people relaxing and playing music

7. Not everything is online (yet)

There are still amazing places that don’t have a presence online. Smart backpackers learn not to limit themselves to the restaurants, hotels and restaurants they’ve seen getting good reviews on the web, as often it’s personal recommendations that lead to the best experiences.

8. Your body copes with a lot (but not everything)

The average backpacking trip puts the human body through a lot, including long flights, sleepless nights, litres of cheap beer and tasty, exotic seafood, which is not always prepared to the same squeaky-clean standards you’re used to back home. You’ll cope with most of this stuff pretty well but there are still limits, so expect at least a few of your ‘comfort breaks’ to be rather, well… uncomfortable.

Chile, Araucania Region, hiking on Volcan Villarrica

9. If it sounds too good to be true, it is

That five baht tuk-tuk ride around Bangkok sounds cheap, but will wind up with you getting dragged around gem shops that you never wanted to visit. Likewise, the ‘free’ walking tours offered in European capitals often end up with tourists being guilt tripped into tipping the guide, or paying for a longer tour. If you want a good experience, be prepared to pay for it.

10. Banks don’t like backpackers

What happens when you call your bank to let them know about your travel plans? That’s right, they wait until you’re having a good time thousands of miles from home and then put a block on your card, saying they suspect some kind of fraudulent activity (when really it’s just you, frantically trying to book a last-minute flight).

Worse still, if you really are a victim of fraud, they’ll cut the card off completely, and then helpfully offer to post a new one out to your home address – that’s right, on the other side of the planet.

USA, Florida, Orlando, US ATM machine

11. Cheap doesn’t feel cheap for long

A beach hut for $10 a night seems like great value at first, but you’ll soon come to expect low prices and moan when they edge even a few cents higher – completely forgetting that you’d pay ten times the amount for similar digs back home.

12. There isn’t much you can’t wash in the sink

Jeans, t-shirts, and even your entire backpack – when needs must, you’ll find room for almost everything in the bathroom sink. Drying times vary.

Man hanging clothes on washing line

13. You’re incredibly lucky

In some parts of the world it’s possible to survive on next to nothing and still be relatively rich. The fact that you can afford to jet away from your home country and experience new places and cultures (even if you are surviving on a diet of noodle soup and local-brand cigarettes) puts you among the luckiest people on Earth. Appreciate it, and make every second count.

14. You can never see it all

Which is why your first backpacking trip should never, ever be your last.

Take your first trip with the Rough Guide to the First-Time Around the WorldCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Rough Guides writer and photographer Kiki Deere shares with us some pictures of Peru from her latest research trip across the country.

“My research for the new edition of the Rough Guide to Peru took me to remote corners of the country, from the little explored Cotahuasi Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, to isolated llama-herding communities in the Andes.

In small mountainous villages life hasn’t changed in centuries and pre-Spanish traditions remain very much alive. I learned about the ancient Andean tradition of making pachamanca (Quechua for “earth oven” or “earth pot”). An oven is built of stones heated with wood fire; vegetables and meat are placed underground with banana leaves and grass, covered in a mound of soil and cooked for about an hour or so.

In the Andes, night temperatures hover around 0°C, while during the day the scorching sun beats down relentlessly. Life here is hard, based on subsistence agriculture and pastoralism. Yet, it was here I met some of the country’s most hospitable people, who greeted me with open arms.

With a rich heritage of elaborate textile designs and intricate weaving techniques, the peoples of the Andes don beautiful traditional dress that explode with colours, enthusiastically celebrate local fiestas and follow traditions that can be traced back centuries.”

Woman leading a llama along the streets of Cusco

Lady with Llama in Peru, Kiki Deere

Unwinding to the sound of music in Plazoleta San Blas, Cusco

Pictures of Peru, by Kiki Deere

Two women at a local fiesta in Chivay, Colca Valley

Celebration, Peru by Kiki Deere

An early evening stroll in Cabanaconde, Colca Canyon

Two ladies take an early evening Stroll in Cabanaconde, Colca Canyon - by Kiki Deere

A little girl high up in the Andes

Girl with Piglet, Peru, Kiki Deere

Two local guides in traditional dress in the Andes

Guides in the Andes, Peru, by Kiki Deere

A little girl with chapped cheeks in the Andes

Girl: People of Peru, by Kiki Deere

A woman dances at a local fiesta in Arequipa

Traditional dress at Local Fiesta in Peru, by Kiki Deere

Making pachamanca (baked meat and vegetables)

Making Pachamanca, Peru by Kiki Deere

Vegetable seller in Pisac market

Market Seller in Peru, by Kiki Deere

Mid-morning snack in the little town of Pisac, Sacred Valley

Mid-morning Snack, Pisac, Peru, by Kiki Deere

A woman sits outside a church in Puno, Lake Titicaca

The people of Peru: Old Peruvian lady, by Kiki Deere

Newspaper stand in front of some Inca stonework, Cusco

Newspaper Seller, Peru, by Kiki Deere

A woman looks pensive in the remote town of Cotahuasi, Cotahuasi Canyon

Old lady in Peru, by Kiki Deere

An arriero (mule driver) leading his mule through the Andes

Donkey Trekking in the Andes, Peru, by Kiki Deere

A woman sits on the steps of Puno Cathedral

The people of Peru: Old lady sits in the sun, Peru, by Kiki Deere

Wedding celebrations in the town of Chinchero, Sacred Valley

Wedding Celebrations in Peru, by Kiki Deere

Explore more of Peru with the Rough Guide to Peru. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Kris Griffiths takes a tour of the birthplace of reggae, following in the footsteps of Jamaica’s most famous son, Bob Marley, on what would have been his 70th birthday.

Reggae music was born in the downtrodden townships of this Caribbean island. It’s a genre that has managed to captivate most of the globe with its bouncing riddims and One-Love jubilation, thanks largely to its chief ambassador, Robert Nesta Marley.

Despite cancer stealing him at age 36 in 1981, he’s still very much part of Jamaica’s collective consciousness, and in the city he grew up in, he has almost attained the status of a prophet. Murals of his dreadlocked visage abound and his tunes can almost always be heard floating on the breeze.

For fans of Marley and the genre he helped globalise, one of the most fitting times to visit is ‘Reggae Month’ every February, when his birthday is celebrated with tribute shows and exhibitions. But Bob’s Kingston is alive all year round, for anyone from reggae pilgrims to more casual admirers just seeking some ‘positive vibrations’.

It all began here.

Bob Marley statue, Kingston, Jamaica

Growing up in Trenchtown

Although he was born in the village of Nine Mile in north Jamaica, Bob moved to Kingston’s Trenchtown as a young boy with his mother after his father died. It was in this impoverished neighbourhood his musical journey commenced. He learnt the guitar while listening to R&B from American radio stations with housemate Bunny Wailer, with whom he would later form eponymous group The Wailers.

The restored tenement block is now a National Heritage Site and fascinating cultural centre, where reggae musicians congregate to record and perform. A striking new statue of Bob has also been erected here to mark his 70th birthday.

Some tourists are deterred from visiting by a prejudice about local ‘ghetto’ culture, at odds with reality – visitors are welcomed warmly by locals promoting Bob’s peaceful message. Visiting also generates vital revenue for the still-deprived community that spawned him.

Bob Marley Murals, Kingston, Jamaica

Recording at Tuff Gong Studio

Located in downtown Kingston, Tuff Gong is the label Bob founded in 1965 (named after his nickname ‘The Gong’ and being a ‘Tuff’ cookie). Today, its HQ is not only one of the biggest studios in the Caribbean but one of the most famous in the world, attracting not just reggae luminaries like sons Damian and Ziggy but superstars of other genres from Kenny Chesney to Sinead O’Connor.

Housing vintage analogue equipment alongside newer digital technology, the studio allows intimate access to the spaces where Bob recorded hits like Redemption Song and Buffalo Soldier. The label went on to sell millions of records, while Bob’s posthumous best-of Legend became the biggest-selling reggae album of all time.

Tuff Gong, Kingston, Jamaica

Relaxing at home

Little did young Bob know, the home he would later buy a few miles uptown would become Kingston’s most-visited tourist site, the Bob Marley Museum.

The colonial-era clapboard house, where he lived for his final six years, is now a preserved shrine. Utensils in the kitchen date from his last days; his unpretentious bedroom left exactly as it was, his favourite guitar still by the bed; and poignant family photos hang on the walls. More dramatic are bullet-holes from the infamous 1976 assassination attempt, a grim reminder of the evil confronting Bob’s non-violent philosophy.

There are also museum spaces literally wallpapered with press clippings that exhibit his vast collection of Gold Records. And you can try Bob’s favourite drink, Irish Moss (made with seaweed extract), in the One Love Café, or a hearty vegetarian stew typifying the Rastafarian ‘Ital’ diet.

BobMarleyMuseum

Retreating to Strawberry Hill

Following the shooting, Bob often withdrew to a retreat nestled high in the Blue Mountains overlooking Kingston, which is as special a spot to visit today as it was 40 years ago. Now a boutique hotel, Strawberry Hill was then owned by producer Chris Blackwell, who’d signed Marley and found his songs an international audience. Subsequently many famous artists visited, including the Stones, Willie Nelson and Grace Jones – personal photos of whom still hang on its walls alongside various Marley platinum discs.

For those with the budget to stay here, high-end features include a negative-edge infinity pool offering vertiginous mountainside views down to the city. For the rest of us, a traditional afternoon tea will do just fine.

Strawberry Hill, Kingston, Jamaica

Performing at National Stadium

Jamaica’s Wembley, built during Bob’s teenage years, has for most its lifetime served as a temple for the sport he held dear – football – which he regularly played. Home of the national team, internationally-known as the ‘Reggae Boyz’, it backdropped a significant moment in Bob’s career.

In 1978 the Wailers headlined the massive ‘One Love Peace Concert’ here, Bob’s first homeland show since returning from self-imposed exile, at a time when Jamaica was riven by deadly political civil war. During the song Jammin’, however, peacemaker Bob called for the leaders of both warring parties to join him onstage and shake hands, in a plea for national unity. For that night at least, peace reigned on Kingston’s streets.

Three years later Bob would return to the stadium, for his funeral. A commemorative statue of him – one of several around the capital – still stands outside, wielding a guitar.

Kingston has celebrated his life every year since on his birthday, but for visitors that musical high is on offer here perennially. As his son Ziggy said recently, Bob is more alive today than ever.

Kris stayed at Spanish Court Hotel. For further info on visiting Kingston go to www.visitjamaica.comCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Wherever your itinerary takes you, travel in Myanmar (Burma) is sure to provide a wealth of new experiences – whether you’re air-kissing at your waiter in a city teahouse or witnessing your first nat ceremony. To mark the release of our first guide to the country, co-author Jo James shares fourteen of her essential things to do in Myanmar.

Breakfast in a Burmese teahouse

From Yangon’s traffic-choked streets to dusty village lanes, Myanmar’s teahouses are local institutions. Enthusiastic tea boys dodge between the tables, slopping tea into saucers and serving up deep-fried snacks. Patrons air kiss loudly to attract the staff’s attention, their eyes on the football match on TV and their minds on teashop gossip. Stop for a bowl of mohinga – the nation’s favourite noodle soup, or refuel with a char kway (a Chinese-style doughnut) dunked in a delicious cup of sweet, milky tea.

Float down the Irrawaddy

The Irrawaddy River curls south from foothills of the Himalayas, unfurling past Mandalay and Bagan’s temple-covered plain before spilling its silt-rich waters into the Andaman Sea. Myanmar’s most important waterway is plied by everything from luxury teak-decked steamers to ponderous government ferries and leaking speedboats. Climb aboard your vessel of choice and float downstream to see a slice of riverside life – and remember to keep an eye out for rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

A sailing boat on the Irrawaddy, Myanmar, Burma

Relive the Raj

From streets lined with peeling colonial-era buildings and afternoon tea at The Strand in Yangon, to ghostly locations from George Orwell’s novel Burmese Days in Katha, echoes of British Burma reverberate in a handful of places around Myanmar. Nowhere are these echoes louder than in Pyin Oo Lwin, a former hill station, where horse-drawn carriages trundle past mouldering teakwood mansions and a bell cast for George V’s Silver Jubilee still chimes from the town’s Purcell Tower.

Revive yourself with tealeaf salad

Enthusiastic tea drinkers, the Burmese are one of the few cultures to eat tea as well, in the form of lahpet thouq or tealeaf salad. Fried garlic and broad beans, chopped tomato and whole green chillies are added to piles of deep green, slightly pickled tealeaves, creating something like pesto with a strong caffeine kick – a popular pick-me-up for sleepy students and flagging sightseers alike.

Explore Buddhism’s quirky side

Myanmar’s Theravada Buddhism is shot through with a thick vein of mystery and magic, with enough offbeat sights and stories to revive the interest of the most jaded temple-goer. Climb to the Golden Rock, a precarious gold-crusted boulder held in place for centuries by a few strands of Buddha’s hair, meet alchemist monks searching for the secret to eternal life at Hpa-An’s crag-top pagoda and clamber through the insides of a vast concrete Buddha outside Mawlamyine.

Golden Rock, MyanmarImage by Jo James

Join a nat ceremony

Transvestite natkadaws ply a middle-aged lady with whisky as she gyrates to music from a traditional orchestra. Members of the audience tuck 1,000-kyat notes into her clothing to propitiate the nat who has possessed her. Although Myanmar’s native belief system – that the world is suffused by a collection of unruly nats who require frequent mollification with alcohol, music and money – contrasts sharply with Buddhism’s emphasis on restraint and quiet reflection, many Burmese people happily believe in both. Catch the country’s largest nat ceremony in Taungbyone each August, or head to Mount Popa, Myanmar’s most important centre of nat worship.

Take your time on a Burmese train

Journeys on Myanmar’s antiquated narrow-gauge rail network are often uncomfortable and comically bouncy, and timing is unpredictable in the extreme. However, in exchange for risking a bruised bum and a late arrival, train travellers are rewarded with a fantastic chance to interact with local people, from friendly fellow passengers and holidaying monks, to the poised ladies who sway down the aisle selling snacks from trays balanced precariously on their heads.

Woman on train, Myanmar, Burma

Try thanaka

Each morning Burmese women and children daub their cheeks with powdery yellow swipes of thanaka, a natural sunblock and cosmetic made from the ground bark of the wood apple tree, with its sandalwood-like fragrance. However you feel about its beautifying abilities – that tawny shade of yellow isn’t for everyone – freshly applied thanaka is wonderfully cooling, and makes your face smell great for hours.

Rock a longyi

Once you’ve sorted out your thanaka, the natural next step is to get yourself a longyi – a tube of fabric worn by men and women across Myanmar. The male version (a paso) is often nattily checked or striped, and tied with a knot in front, while the female version (a htamein) is more richly patterned, and tucked into a fold around the waist. Pick out your favourite design and take it to a tailor, who will sew it up for you and you’re all set – just ensure that it’s tied tightly enough to avoid any inadvertent flashing…

Nurture a jaggery addiction

Irregular, caramel-coloured lumps of jaggery are one of the great pleasures of a Burmese meal. Made from boiled toddy palm sap and jokingly called “Burmese chocolate”, jaggery is exceedingly addictive whether plain or flavoured with coconut shreds and sesame seeds. However unhappy it might make your dentist back home, cultivating a serious jaggery habit is certainly healthier than Myanmar’s other great tooth-rotting pastime – chewing kwoon-ya, lip-staining little parcels of betel nut, tobacco and slaked lime.

Jaggery, Burma, MyamarImage by Jo James

Get tipsy on toddy

All over Myanmar, you’ll see spindly bamboo ladders disappearing into spiky palmyra palm trees – a sure sign that a toddy tapper is at work nearby. The palm’s sweet, white sap ferments naturally into toddy, a cloudy, lightly alcoholic beverage also called palm wine or tan-ye. Myanmar’s only home-grown alcoholic drink (Mandalay Brewery’s “anti-aging” spirulina beer notwithstanding), toddy is only available from low-key village bars close to where it’s made, making it an unmistakable taste of the Burmese countryside.

Sample village life

Take to the hills in Shan State and trek along the now-classic Kalaw to Inle Lake route, or head north to explore the less-visited area around Hsipaw and Kyaukme. Whichever hike you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to stay overnight in Shan and Palaung villages along each trail – something that isn’t yet possible elsewhere in Myanmar – and to experience rural life first-hand, with roosters for alarm clocks and water buffalo for trail mates.

Country life, Myanmar, BurmaImage by Jo James

Go to market

Barefoot porters pad down crowded aisles shouldering crates of limes, stallholders lean against sacks of onions lazily smoking cheroots, while prospective buyers prod green mangoes and examine glistening fish. Go for a stroll through any messy morning market and you’ll discover something new, from the novel (Burmese herbal shampoo) and delicious (crispy bein moun pancakes smeared with jaggery syrup), to the malodorous (shapely piles of ngapi fish paste speared with smoking incense sticks).

Get wet during Thingyan

While in theory, Thingyan – the week-long Burmese New Year festival – is a time to solemnly reaffirm one’s Buddhist beliefs, to the outside observer it seems more like a raucous, countrywide water fight. As temperatures soar each April, everyday life grinds to a halt and children and teenagers take to the streets to soak each other and passers-by (foreigners are singled out with particular relish) with buckets and out-sized water pistols. Festivities reach fever pitch in Mandalay, where streets are lined with makeshift stages from which revellers hose down passing motorists to a booming soundtrack of local hits.

Rough Guide to Myanmar Burma cover

 

Explore more of Myanmar with the new Rough GuideCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Think of The Gambia and sun, sea and sand package holidays might spring to mind, but visitors are starting to explore beyond the beaches. Lynn Houghton tells us eight of the best ways to get off the beaten track.

The tiny West African country of The Gambia is dissected by its namesake, the River Gambia. Much of the landscape is dominated by the river and its tributaries, and beyond the coast you’ll find enormous swathes of lesser-explored mangrove forest, deserted beaches and ‘up country’ adventures. If you’re thinking of eschewing the popular Atlantic Coast beach resorts, here are eight ideas for experiencing a more authentic side of The Gambia, taking in the country’s natural beauty and biodiversity.

Discover the UNESCO-listed Wassu stone circles

About a five-hour drive from Banjul on the north bank of the River Gambia is the pre-historic sacred UNESCO site of the Wassu stone circles. The laterite stones, a rich deep mahogany colour, compare in age with Stonehenge in England, and are thought to have a religious purpose, marking burials here for 1500 years. The museum has some interesting information but folklore is much more exciting: talk to the Stone Man, the site’s erstwhile caretaker. He says you can see lights shining from behind the stones at night – a common occurrence according to the superstitious locals.

See foraging chimps at the Chimp Rehabilitation Centre

Swinging from the treetops and squabbling with the baboons, West African Chimps are relishing their environment at the Chimp Rehabilitation Centre in the River Gambia National Park. They roam free on the Baboon Islands in the middle of the river, while rare red colobus monkeys congregate on the mainland. The centre was started by Leslie Brewer-Marsden in 1979: the first chimps brought here were rescuées and mistreated pets, and there are now 107 completely wild chimpanzees that thrive on these three islands. From Thursday through Sunday, visitors can follow behind a feeding boat to see the chimps in their natural habitat as they come to the riverside to grab a meal.

Chimp on Island, River Gambia National Park, The Gambia, AfricaImage by Lynn Houghton

Explore lush mangroves in the Matasuku Forest

Centuries of legend surround the ancient Matasuku Forest, a nearly pristine area of mangrove covering 17.5 square kilometres along a tributary named Mandinka Bolong. From time immemorial, the forest was a no-go area and thought to be inhabited by demons and dragons. A Mali King, along with his troops, once managed to make the forest his stronghold but he was ousted by a local tribe; according to folklore, the king’s head, throne and crown are buried somewhere on the land. Today, things are more peaceful. The area has been developed into a sustainable tourism project, the Matasuku Cultural Forest, in partnership with the Gambian government and now includes lodges and a base camp with an arts and crafts market run by local Kembujeh villagers.

Spot rare birds at Baobolong Wetland Reserve

As the dawn mist clears and the morning sun starts to rise, there is possibly no better place in West Africa for birdlife than the Baobolong Nature Reserve. Over 500 species of birds are attracted to the River Gambia in all their feathered glory. Take a traditional boat from Tendaba Lodge, a mere seven kilometres away on the south side of the river, to spot rare African Fin Foot or Fish Eagles.

Dawn on Mandina Bolong Creek (Tributary), The Gambia, AfricaImage by Lynn Houghton

Float down the River Gambia

Going canoeing along one of the River Gambia’s creeks in a traditional fishing boat or dugout, called a pirogue, is wonderful way to cool off when temperatures soar. Rentals are available from Lamin Lodge, a wooden structure built on stilts over the water, or you can take a full-day trip in a larger motorised boat to explore Kunta Kinteh Island and enjoy a spot of fishing.

Visit traditional fishing villages

To experience local life on the coast, visit the vibrant, colourful coastal fishing market of Tanji in the Kombo region or travel further south to the more authentic fishing village of Gunjur. The market is at its most frenetic at the crack of dawn, when the traditional fishing boats come to shore with their catch. Though fishermen work at a feverish pace, women are equally busy hauling the fish from the boats into large baskets balanced on their heads. Take a wander along the shore and see other workers taking gutting and scaling the fish ready for sale; anyone can purchase a fresh seafood breakfast for a just few Dalasi.

Fishermen, Gunjur Village, Atlantic Coast, The GambiaImage by Lynn Houghton

Check out the street art scene

Art project Wide Open Walls has brought street artists from all over the world to adorn the walls of Galloya village with sophisticated graffiti art. Some of the work is representational, while some is wholly avant-garde, but all the murals are distinctive. The project is the brainchild of Lawrence Williams, and has even inspired the village children to take up making art. Lawrence and Gambian artist, Njogu, work as a pair and have named themselves the ‘Bush Dwellers’. Many street artists are publicity shy and prefer to be known by a name they choose for themselves that reflects their work; artistic duo Neil and Hadley from the UK are ‘Best Ever’, for example, while Brazilian artist Rimon Guimarães has named himself ‘RIM’.

…finally, for the adventurous

Fancy a quicker way of getting across the River Gambia than the vehicle and pedestrian ferry from Banjul, where a three-hour wait is common? Simply wander over to Terminal Road. Once there, young men carry patrons at full pelt on their shoulders down to the beach and into the water to then toss them into an enormous fishing boat. This crossing takes about half an hour and the process is repeated, in reverse, on the other side. The experience probably isn’t at the top of anyone’s health and safety list, but should be tried at least once.

The Gambia Experience offers a variety of travel options and flights to The Gambia including stays at Mandina River Lodge on a B&B basis. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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