SpiceRoads Blog

Rider of the month – Megan Hassett

Posted on: February 21st, 2017 by Sujittra

Tell us about your earliest experiences as a cyclist…

For as long as I can remember I have always cycled. Pictures of me riding date back to me are still in nappies! But I’d say my first vivid memories are of when I was a teenager. I grew up on a cattle farm in rural NSW/Australia that while not exactly remote far enough away from anything to need either a car OR a bicycle! I’ve always been naturally active and inquisitive about exploring and the world in general. In being active I gravitated towards the bicycle. I think, reflecting back, it would have given me as a child a sense of freedom to go further than what I could have on foot. I enjoyed the independence of being able to visit friends on neighboring properties at an age when I couldn’t drive. I even started cycling to high school, 27 km, a few times.

Tell us what you most enjoy about cycle touring and why you like to see the world by bicycle?

Oh my goodness seriously! Is there any better way to see the world other than on a bike? I didn’t think so either. When exploring another country on a bicycle I feel like I’m featuring in a live stream documentary that is unraveling before my very eyes. While walking offers a similar sensation the bicycle takes one further and allows a deeper up close and personal experience with a new culture. I honestly feel like I have been naturally injected with adrenaline while exploring the new lay of the land by bike saying hello in a new language (albeit a butchered attempt) to all my thousands of new local friends in between marveling at new vistas that sweat up an appetite to eat the local cuisine and enjoy double the quantity than those on a bus would need or deserve. Cycling connects the individual with nature combined with a human element. It also better connects the traveler with another culture and bonds the companionship of the pack also riding in the peloton. Often the greater the challenge the richer the reward in many senses. Overall the best of us cyclists become bored with our daily routes at home and crave, well I do, new roads to explore.

How many cycle tours have you been on with SpiceRoads and which has been your favorite?

Two. I enjoyed Sri Lanka the most. It was the perfect mix of cycling, cultural experiences along the way, incredible lush beauty, boutique hotels, beyond surplus sumptuous local cuisine and on site massages!

Where would you like to cycle next?

I’d be quite keen for Italy. Think pizza and pasta carbloading washed down with quality wine and coffee. The ideal cycling diet. That and the scenery. “WOW FACTOR” scenery is a must as well and Italy, especially the alps, would deliver with the pizza!

In your opinion, what is the benefit of travelling by bicycle?

*Stress reduction.

*Natural endorphin.

*Platform for thinking/creativity – my best lesson plans (I’m currently teaching) are planned when I’m out cycling.

*Health and healthy appetite.

*Associating with authentic people. I rarely find that cyclists are pre madonna type individuals!

 

A Circus that is ‘Same Same But Different’

Posted on: February 7th, 2017 by Sujittra
Posted in: Cambodia

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A popular expression in Asia is “Same Same But Different,” and this perfectly describes Phare, the Cambodian Circus show in Siem Reap. It is held in a big top, but there are no animals performing, marking it different from your traditional circus. It is similar to Cirque de Soleil in the acrobatics performed, but the difference is all the performers are young people from the streets, orphanages and struggling families of Cambodia.

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The shows rotate often and the one I saw, “Same Same But Different,” explores the different habits and ways between Cambodians and western tourists. In the different situations portrayed, there are funny encounters and opposing perspectives, but in every situation they find understanding and connect at a human level. The performers are incredibly talented and one very impressive moment is when two of the artists play tourists stuck in a monsoon, dance out of the mud and are lifted into the air by rigging and they fly in a beautiful sequence of aerial acrobatics.

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All of the shows use theater, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories; historical, folk and modern. The performers are graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA), an NGO school and professional arts training center in Battambang, Cambodia.

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PPSA was founded in 1994 by nine young Cambodian men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. At the camp they took drawing classes and found art to be a powerful tool for healing. When they returned home they began offering free drawing classes to street children. Soon they opened a school, eventually offering formal education and professional arts training in the areas of visual arts (illustration, painting, graphic design, and animation), theater, music, dance, and circus. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the vocational arts training programs. All programs are offered for free.

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In 2013, with the aim of financial self-sufficiency, PPSA created Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE) to create meaningful employment opportunities for Cambodian artist, create financially sustainable social businesses that provide a reliable income streams for Phare Ponleu Selpak and to revitalise the arts sector in Cambodia.

Phare, the Cambodian Circus opened in February 2013 and there now nightly professional shows under a 330-person big top, 365 days a year with 75% of profiting PPSA. The shows do sell out so be sure to book in advance.

Riders on our Angkor Family Explorer tour experience the big top and we also offer the option of participating in a workshop with the circus before the show. For any of our riders in Siem Reap we are happy to arrange tickets and transport to and from the show

ANZAC Ride to Remembrance

Posted on: January 30th, 2017 by Sujittra
Posted in: Thailand

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Join us at the global commemoration of ANZAC Day in Thailand at the Hellfire Pass Memorial in Kanchanaburi. Learn how the harrowing events during World War II created bonds that have endured through the decades.

Every 25th of April, Australia and New Zealand observe ANZAC Day. Although it started as a marking of the first military action by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in World War I, this day has become a day of remembrance honouring all who have served in their armed forces.

 

The origins of ANZAC Day

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ANZAC forces joined the Allies for the campaign at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. This would be the first major international military involvement of Australia and New Zealand since they became federated nations, dominions of the United Kingdom but semi-autonomous states. Although this was by no means a successful campaign, the two countries honoured the sacrifices of their soldiers with services and memorials.

Through the generations, as Australia and New Zealand forces were involved in other military and peacekeeping actions, ANZAC Day expanded observance to recognise not just those who fell in WWI, but all who served. And as the ANZACs fought alongside, assisted, and protected other nations, ANZAC Day is commemorated in ceremonies around the world, including in Thailand.

 

Why Thailand joined in the commemorations

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ANZAC Day took on a greater significance in Thailand because of World War II. Tens of thousands of POWs and conscripted civilian labourers toiled and were tortured during the building of the Thai-Burma Railway by the Japanese Army. In Kanchanaburi, Hellfire Pass (apparently named as such because it looked like Hell to the POWs forced to work through the nights) saw thousands of Allied POWs tormented to death building this section of the railway. Many are buried at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery along the River Kwai. The Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum, maintained by the Australian and Thai governments, continues to honour their memories and educate visitors on this dark chapter in history. Both locations are now part of ANZAC Day ceremonies in Thailand.

 

The ANZAC Ride to Remembrance in Kanchanaburi

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SpiceRoads invites you to join the commemorations with our annual ANZAC Ride to Remembrance trip. The beginning of our trip will give you glimpses of how the past and present have become intertwined here. Impressive caverns and waterfalls lead to farmland and fishing villages. Khmer ruins give way to teak plantations. Overlooking the Death Railway, Kra Sae Cave, once a POW campsite, is now a Buddhist shrine.

Then, on the 25th, we join visitors from all around the world, including veterans and diplomats from all the Allied nations involved, in attending the 5 am Dawn Service at the Hellfire Pass Memorial and then the Memorial Wreath Laying Service at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery to pay our respect to those who served and sacrificed.

If you are interested in joining or want to learn more, please visit http://www.spiceroads.com/tours/anzac.

For more information about the Thai-Burma Railway and Hellfire Pass:

Bhutan: The Switzerland of Asia

Posted on: December 20th, 2016 by Sujittra
Posted in: Bhutan

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From the arrival flight into Bhutan past the peak of Mount Everest, to the adrenaline filled landing at Paro nestled in a deep valley, the journey to the kingdom of the Thunder Dragon was an adventure in itself.  As I disembarked the small plane with our group, my first impression was the incredible landscape.  Soaring mountains in every direction and noticeably the dense fauna, which grew right to the top of all but the highest peaks; a climate feature of the latitude counteracting the altitude.  The architecture caught my eye next, as all buildings from the large airport to the smallest hut followed the same design principles.  Not least was the welcoming people, as we were met with the traditional welcome gift of a white silk scarf by our guide team, themselves wearing smart but practical traditional clothing called a ‘Go.’

dsc_4752Bhutan, a country of only 700,000 people, seemed at first glance like a tiny self contained world, with rugged terrain and unusual distinctive culture, but for all this cultural and natural content, one was also reminded of the tiny country of Switzerland, itself a landlocked mountainous nation. Even the architecture had some practical similarities.  Our accommodations for the first night were an old Dzong (Fortress), and as we settled down that evening to a hearty meal of curried paneer and red rice, conservation at the table made it clear that the altitude, at 2400 m, was affecting some of the group.

Our Bhutanese adventure began with a hike up to the famous Tiger’s Nest, a monastery perched on a cliffside at 3100 m.  Its holy walls had held off invaders for hundreds of years, with only the occasional fire to mar its long history.  Stood on the monastery balcony, with the reverberating sounds of throat-signing monks all around, butter lamps burning close by and the view of the mountains below, I could already sense the spiritual element of this trip would be a strong feature.

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This SpiceRoads tour was to be one of our Epic rides, an expedition crossing the Bhutanese Himalayas from West to East, before passing into India.  Following a deal with the Indian government to widen roads across the country, many of the winding mountain ways were under repair, only serving to increase the difficulty of this tour, which would see the group climbing over 20,000metres and crossing 11 high passes in two short weeks.

Having set up our Trek mountain bikes the day before, the riding itself began gently. A rolling countryside road gradually gaining incline until we began climbing to our first pass at Dochula.  At the very top, 108 chortens have been erected as a reminder of the 108 Bhutanese who died during a bloody border conflict with an Indian minority group.  From the pass we could see the Bhutanese Himalayas laid out in front of us, sweeping northwards and gaining altitude until snow covered the highest peaks.  The climb was rewarded with a long descent into Punaka, where we stayed for the night in a mystical cloud filled valley of rice paddies.  The air late at night was so clean and clear that every light in the valley shone as if it was in the same room.

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Our journey continued East over the next two days with a challenging 46 km climb to one of the highest passes of the journey, laden with colourful prayer flags at 3400 m.  From Wangdu we traveled onward via Trongsa to the center of the country and beautiful Bhumthang, and Jakar a tiny town with a rich history.  In Bhumthang whilst visiting Dzongs and eating Bhutanese Yak pizza, we stayed at the famous Swiss Guest House, as guests of Fritz Maurer, a Swiss national who had answered an advert for a cheese maker from university and never returned.  Now the founder of the guesthouse, cheese factory and brewery and well into his 70’s.  Having introduced the milk cow to the Bhutanese bloodlines; he rubs shoulders with royalty, whilst never having lost the common touch.  Fritz regaled us with his tales over breakfast, of having been the first person to own a bicycle in Bhutan, and giving up his bed for a visiting US senator who got stuck in the valley when the snows set in.

Rested and recouped, our group took to two wheels again to ride over the pass to the next valley, where a relatively luxurious camp had been arranged.  From now we had entered the East of Bhutan, and accommodation would be scarce, or of such poor quality that camping would often be the best option.  As we rode from the Tang Valley, to Ura to Sengor, camping all the way, we crossed passes and camped at over 3100 m, adjusting to the gaining altitude whilst sitting round the bonfire at night.  The final pass would be the highest in Bhutan.  Thumshingla pass at 3798 m tested even the strongest climbers in the group.

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The ride from Sengor to Mongar has been described as the greatest one day ride in the world.  A 60 km downhill with barely a single vehicle, which travels from silent Alpine forest and cool dry climate, past waterfalls, and birds, until different species of gibbons appear hooting in the thick humid air, and dense jungle with its cacophony of insects.  With a short climb to our lunch spot laid out in the warm sub tropical sun.  From here we still had several passes to climb, but the feeling was definitely changing to a general winding down, and despite the tough journey, that feeling was met with some sadness by most.

No-one however, had expected the incredible views that we were afforded in these last few days. From the mountain top hotel at Trashigang to our campsite in the Monastery at Wamrong, serenaded by the monks deep melancholic instruments we were treated to a heavenly sunset which seemed to change every minute but always to a new an more incredible scene.  Around us it seemed that the mountains changed from jungle to alpine depending on the direction they were facing or the micro climates in their valleys.  The terrain became more and more varied as we approached the border and Samdrup Jonkar.

Our crossing to India was as hectic and different as could be.  We passed form the quiet empty streets of Bhutan, to dense population, traffic and animals wandering in the hustle and bustle.  It was a taste of India, for a two hour ride which framed the peace and serenity of our spiritual trial that was Bhutan.

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Persia’s Ancient Wonders Now

Posted on: December 6th, 2016 by Sally Hoare
Posted in: Iran

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Modern day Iran boasts ancient and amazing sights influenced by centuries of Persian culture and history. Such a simple term, ‘Persia’, is a far reaching and wondrous melange of ethnicities, environments, and events that developed into the delights to be discovered so near to the Cradle of Civilisation, where we all came from in one way or another.

 

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Shiraz is thought to be over 4,000 years old. What is definite is its role in Persian culture – it is home to renowned and beloved gardens, wine, education, and poets, inspiring artists throughout the ages.

 

Imam (Shah) Mosque, Isfahan, Iran

Eram Garden, one of the UNESCO Persian gardens, dates to the 12th or 13th century. Cypress trees are a feature, including one that apparently is almost 3,000 years old. Visitors now can see the results of the centuries – cultivating not just the plant life, but also the integrated architecture and art. It is now under the care of Shiraz University, open to both botanists and the public.

 

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Tombs of Sa’di and Hafez: These two poets, who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries, have influenced scholars, writers, and lay people alike to this day. Their tombs have been maintained and visited by those who want to contemplate their writings in its tranquil gardens and serene marble mausoleums.

 

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Zand Complex is an area of Shiraz featuring the Arg of Karim Khan, an 18th century citadel and fortress, and Vakil Mosque and bazaar. The mosque is an excellent example of the art of its time, and the night prayer hall features a minbar, or pulpit, carved out of a single piece of green marble.

 

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Persepolis, once the richest city on earth, was founded by Darius I in 518 BCE. This capital of the Achaemenid Empire was built on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, with an impressive palace complex adorned in gold and silver, ivory, and precious stones. Considered one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.

Eqlid is close to the Zagros mountains and is one of the highest Iranian cities at 2250 metres. Considered the border between the mountains and the desert, it offers views of snow-covered peaks almost year-round.

 

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Photo by destinationiran

Abarkouh is a desert city known for its ancient ice houses and windcatchers and for being home to the second oldest tree in the world, a 4,000-year-old cypress. Depending on the legend, it was either planted by Zoroaster or by Japheth, Noah’s third son.

 

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Zein-o-Din Caravanserai is one of 999 travellers’ inns on the Silk Road built during the reign of Shah Abbas I. Dating back to the 16th century, it is one of two caravanserais built with circular towers at the corners of a square surrounding a courtyard with a pool.

 

Disused old building interior at the foot of the hill with Towers of Silence in Yazd, Iran.

Disused old building interior at the foot of the hill with Towers of Silence in Yazd, Iran.

Yazd, one of ancient Persia’s oldest cities and one of the largest made almost fully out of adobe, dates back over 5,000 years. A major Zoroastrian centre, it’s home to the famous Tower of Silence where the dead were left to be picked clean by vultures as well as the Fire Temple where a fire has been going since 470 AD.

 

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Isfahan, a former capital of Persia and now Iran’s third largest city. Among its tree-lined boulevards, picturesque bridges, verdant gardens, and historic bazaars, visitors can appreciate how the reign of Shah Abbas I optimised urban planning to highlight its architecture and art such beauties as the UNESCO-listed Naqsh-e Jahan Square and Royal Mosque.

 

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Photo by irantraveltours

Kashan was an important centre for high quality textiles, pottery, and tiles from the 12th and the 14th centuries. It’s importance as a trade centre can be seen in the architectural wonder of its main bazaar complex, teeming with shops, inns, and restaurants and featuring an amazing light well. Beyond the hustle and bustle of business is another UNESCO Persian garden, Fin.

 

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Photo by howtoiran

Iran’s capital city, Tehran, is where antiquity and modernity meet. The National Museum houses a priceless collection of artefacts, chronicling life, great and small, from pre-history to more recent times. Golestan Palace began as a citadel in the 16th century, became the seat of the capital in the Qajar era, and was rebuilt to its current form as a palace in the 19th century. This complex of intricate marble carvings, brilliant mirror works, and exceptional design was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.

Everywhere you travel in the region, it’s very likely that you’ll uncover more enchantments, from quaint farms and villages to vast world heritage sites, that hopefully will deepen your appreciation of this singular yet expansive culture. These destinations have survived so much through so the millennia and should continue to charm and be cherished. Don’t you think it’s time you joined in?

To find out more about these sites and about what else you can discover:

http://www.untoldiran.com/

http://www.farschto.ir/en/

http://www.irantourismcenter.com/

http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ir

https://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/cities/cities.html