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Food from the heart of Java

Javanese cuisine_1

Imagine an island seven degrees south of the equator, blessed with rich volcanic soil, where broad coastal plains rise to the hills and a chain of mystical 3,000-metre peaks. An island roughly the size of Greece, of sprawling cities, endless rice fields, and raw, otherworldly landscapes where you might find boiling lakes and plumes of steam billowing from the earth. This island is known as Java, and it is a food-lover’s paradise. Read more

A hike on Dragon’s Back – and life after travel

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Running along a windswept ridge on the southeast arm of Hong Kong Island, Dragon’s Back might just be the most famous hiking trail in the territory. In recent years it has also become a major draw for tourists, especially since TIME magazine named it the ‘Best Urban Hike in Asia’ back in 2004. I had long known of its existence, but it took Bama’s third trip to Hong Kong, and a sudden spell of clear weather, for me to revisit the trail after a hiatus of six or seven years.

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Why I love Kathmandu

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This city of 2.5 million, sprawling haphazardly across a smog-filled valley, does not crop up on the usual lists of the world’s most desirable destinations. From above it is a jumble of brick and concrete boxes, a turn-off for the more cocooned traveller. But coming from India – Calcutta no less – gave us a more sympathetic view. Kathmandu would prove far gentler, less filthy, and a lot less miserable. Read more

Bhaktapur unbowed

Nyatapola pagoda, Bhaktapur

It is half past six when temple bells awaken us from our slumber. Each note is soft but clear, resonating with the prayers of the faithful, and tinging the winter air with hope. I glance over at the window, a sturdy wooden lattice encrusted with floral motifs, to find only darkness behind a film of moisture. The bells ring again, at languid, irregular intervals, while the darkness slowly yields to an ethereal mist and the pastel blue of a cloudless sky. Read more

Reflections on a month in India

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When I told family members of my plans to embark on this six-month Spice Odyssey, the country they were most concerned about was India. My mother warned me to brush my teeth only with bottled water and bought me a stash of anti-diarrheal pills to take daily, even if I didn’t have any stomach troubles. My grandfather pulled me aside and said I could trust the people of Malaysia and Indonesia, but Indians would surely cheat me. Read more

Nyaung Shwe: a photo essay

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The name Nyaung Shwe may not ring a bell, but if you are heading to one of Myanmar’s most well-known tourist destinations, there’s a very great likelihood that you will stay in this colourful, rambunctious place. Read more

Eating well in Myanmar

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Before embarking on a two-week jaunt around Myanmar last month, I knew virtually nothing about the food. It does not have the global standing of Thai or Vietnamese cuisine; the only anecdote I had heard was a negative review from my own father, who had once travelled there on business. What I found was in fact delicious (my father can be a fussy eater after all), and introduced me to some surprising flavours. Read more

The magnificence of Shwedagon Pagoda

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Mankind has long believed that building high allows us to connect with the divine. The Mayans created monumental stepped pyramids as temples to the gods. In medieval Europe, towns and cities competed to build the tallest cathedral, using dangerously thin stone walls pierced with stained glass windows. And in the kingdoms of Indochina and South Asia, towering stupas were erected as grand reliquaries of the Buddha. Read more

Yangon, Myanmar: first impressions

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Inside the spotless interior of Yangon’s international airport terminal, I begin to feel a pang of anxiety. Bama is just ahead of me in the queue for immigration. He leans against the counter, listening intently as the officer speaks for a longer time than usual. Is there a problem with our electronic tourist visas? Read more

For all the nutmeg in the world

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The islands lie half-forgotten, ten volcanic specks in the vast, tempestuous waters of the Banda Sea. And yet this tiny archipelago was so important its name was once writ large on maps of the East Indies. Until the 19th century, the coveted Banda Islands were the world’s only source of nutmeg and mace – spices that were prized for their medicinal value. Read more