Places with photo galleries in Asia
The train ride from Pyin U Lwin to charming Hsipaw is considered one of the great train journeys by train buffs, not just in Myanmar but in the world. The line was constructed by the British in the beginning of the nineteenth century and is cutting its way through jungle, climbing up steep hills and crossing the deep gorge of Gokteik on what was at the time an engineering masterpiece. It's an amazing journey and quite an anxiety-inducing experience to slowly crawl over the stick construction knowing that it's more than a hundred years old and probably has not received the best maintenance.
Yangon is rundown. It looks like it was built centuries ago (it was, during mid 1800s by the British) and then left to decay (it was). The once pastel-coloured houses are covered in mold, streets are riddled in potholes, and there are loose hanging wires everywhere. Yangon is soaked in grit and feels very exotic - even for Asia-harden travellers. The traffic is another... hmm, interesting thing in Yangon. You can either take a ride with a tricycle rickshaws, a slow and uncomfortable, but cheap, way to get around, or join the dense crowds on the public buses. Some of these buses are pre WWII and in shocking condition, but nevertheless a miracle since they still run. Newer second-hand buses have been imported from Japan, meaning passengers have to get in and out from the traffic side, since driving in Myanmar is on right side (and left in Japan). Beside getting use to the odd things in Myanmar, Yangon has several interesting sights where the impressive Shwedagon pagoda, of course, tops the list.
The Boudhanath Stupa is one of the largest Buddhist stupas (shrines) in the world. This ancient stupa is found in Kathmandu city centre, where it is surrounded by small shops and street vendors. To enjoy its view, you must go through a small side street where it will suddenly appear, towering before you, among many small temples with distinctive Buddhist prayer wheels. You can even walk on it, while watching the numerous visiting Buddhist monks. There really isn't any good restaurant here, but it is recommended to find one of the restaurants that have a roof terrace, so you can sit and have lunch overlooking the enormous stupa.
Just outside of Kathmandu city centre is Pashupatinath, where Hindu cremations take place along the river. Pashupatinath is composed of a large area with a lot of temples and so-called holy men in orange robes who sit and meditate. You can take pictures of the latter - but only against payment. As a tourist, it is more appropriate to be on the opposite side of the river and observe the cremation from a distance. For Westerners, it may be an overwhelming experience to see the locals burn their fellow man in public, but even stranger is to see people swim in the same river the ashes and the body remains are dumped in.
Sagarmatha National Park is on the Natural World Heritage List and covers an area of approximately 1,150 km² in the Himalayan mountains. The park's mountains have heights ranging from 2,800 to 8,840 m (Mount Everest peak), and it is this area you trek through if, for example, you go to Mount Everest Base Camp. You get nothing less than a breathtaking moment when, after many hours of hard trekking - typically from the town of Namche Bazaar, you spot the first sight of the Everest mountain range and Mount Everest itself. The best time to trek in this area is in October, when you will have the best chances of fine weather and sunshine.
Nowhere on Earth can you experience such a spectacle as the Mass Games in North Korea. Synchronized mass gymnastics and choreographed military parades performed by tens of thousands of NK's best youth, all accompanied with card flicking propaganda inside the world's biggest stadium, Rungnado. A mind-blowing show that only Kim Jong-Il could pull off (though we doubt he himself found it interesting). The shows are held annually and normally in August or September. Foreigners are welcome (through a booked tour).
A visit to Pyongyang is more a trip back in time than anything else. The broad streets are vacuumed of everything besides political manifests. The few shops that exist do not advertise, the bright blue traffic directors (strangely all makeup-wearing young females) look like something from a children's book, and all the women fancy haircuts from the 50s. Even the subway (which by the way is the deepest in the world, going 120 m underground) looks like a toy model. It is a wicked mix of drab Soviet-style buildings and grand monuments, which are all dedicated to their dear, dead, leader Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il. This fascinating city is built on ideology and fully cleansed from all capitalism - and where else on the planet do such places exist? Welcome to people's paradise!
At the summit of this mountain peak is a rock with a huge "footprint" in it. The legend goes that it was Adam's when he was kicked out of heaven. Others believe it belongs to Buddha or Shiva, but in any case it's a major sacred site that many, old and young, visit at least once in their lifetime. It's a 7 km (normally about 3-4 hours) ascent on stairs with several fellow pilgrims. Many choose to do it at night, so they can experience the famous sunrise from the summit. Though the sunrise is nice and anticipated after a very cold night, the shadow the mountain casts in the early morning light is even more spectacular and so is the view over a good chunk of Sri Lanka. It's a magnificent experience, especially on Poya (holy) days, where the number of pilgrims can exceed 20,000 and extend the journey by several hours.
If you come directly from India, you will find Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, refreshingly small, orderly and friendly. For others, Colombo can seem dirty, worn-down and confusing - but still friendly. The city is spread out over 15 zones, each with their own characteristics, but without an actual centre. Grand colonial buildings stand among empty lots and fenced off drab residential houses. The few shiny modern office buildings often look misplaced in the sea of concrete and corrugated iron, and no street is too exclusive for wandering sacred cows. When seeing the ocean down at Galle Face, you ask yourself why this perfect sea side location isn't more embraced. But this just means you need to work a bit harder to appreciate what Colombo has to offer. The best way to explore the city is probably randomly. Let fate (or a mad rickshaw driver) take you through parts of the city you otherwise would have missed if you had focused on the few sights the city holds.
Once a year, the war god Kataragama, son of Shiva, is celebrated in the streets of Colombo. Hindu devotees honour him and pray for his healing and blessing through a rough day of sacrifices. Some worshippers are pierced through their mouthes and tongues and hung by huge hooks pierced through the skin of their backs, while others, also tongue pierced, roll all the way to the temple. Everyone can participate as the audience is getting blessed by the self-sacrificed disciples. A hand on the head and some holy dust in the hair and Kataragama's strong power might be transferred. It's a holy madness that only Hindus can make sense of and a not-to-be-missed experience.