5 Locations perfect for a James Bond Chase Scene

I love James Bond movies. In fact one of the first movies I can remember seeing was a Bond movie. I was about five or six and Dad had taken me to the Drive-In (how times have changed) to see ET. Luckily for dad it was a double feature and the second movie screening was ‘For Your Eyes Only’. Dad said to me, “Look we can stay and watch this second movie but you cannot tell your Mum”, naturally I agreed. Needless to say I failed to hold my end of the bargain. Literally as soon as we walked in the door and Mum asked how the movie was I blurted out how amazing this guy was, what with cars going underwater and things blowing up and all the cool things that make a Bond movie great! Dad uttered something under his breath at his five year old son, Mum shot him the death glare and I am pretty sure Dad got in more trouble than Bond himself!

For me however, I was hooked. Not only did I love the crazy storylines, the amazing gadgets that he always seemed to have right at the exact time he needed them (like the underwater breathing thingy), but I always loved the exotic locations the movie was set in. I have often wondered if in some small way growing up watching these movies fuelled my love of travel to off the beaten track locations.

Dressed to thrill with my very own Bond Girl

Dressed to thrill with my very own Bond Girl

I can almost see it know, swaggering into some posh five star hotel in the middle of nowhere. Shady types looking me up and down and my very own ‘Smart Girl’ Natalie on my arm. As the receptionist looks at me over small reading glasses I greet him with “Smart, Dean Smart”. Or perhaps not.

So with the new James Bond film coming to later this year we have decided to look at five locations we have trailed to that would be perfect for a Bond chase scene.

1. Bagan, Myanmar

Lush green vegetation, dusty roads and thousands of crumbling temples, Bagan is the ideal location for Bond

Lush green vegetation, dusty roads and thousands of crumbling temples, Bagan is the ideal location for Bond

Bagan is quite possibly the perfect setting for a Bond chase scene. It has just about everything you need. Thousands of crumbling old temples scattered across the countryside, and plenty of overgrown dirt tracks to slide around on creating billowing clouds of red dust. Hopefully he would use a proper motorcycle and not the electric bikes we used as it would be a rather slow and unreliable chase – particularly if he went off road! There are vendors and tourist tout stalls to crash through around some of the bigger temples and the dramatic final struggle to take place atop one of the larger and most famous temples (except around sunset where the waves of tourists may quickly turn against him).

With the stunning red stone temples as a backdrop, Bagan is well suited to a chase scene. However Natalie's e-bike may not be Bond's best choice!

Natalie in Bond Girl pose, however we don’t think the e-bikes would be Bond’s first choice!

2. Bhaktapur, Nepal

A historic old town, Himalayan views and dusty pigeon filled streets, right up Bond's alley

A historic old town, Himalayan views and dusty pigeon filled streets, right up Bond’s alley

Situated around eight miles out of the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, the UNESCO listed historic town centre of Bhaktapur makes our list as a great location for a foot chase. The main squares have the exotic backdrops required with old temples and decaying palaces. Many of these squares are also filled with pigeons, and you almost could not script it any better. Just imagine the gasps of shock from tourists as the bad guy sprints across the square, hundreds of pigeons flapping wildly and quickly resettling (as they always seem to do in movies) just in time for Bond, in hot pursuit, to ruffle their feathers again and barge through the indignant tourists! Off the main squares are numerous side alleys full of street stalls for running into or tipping over, fabric salesmen (for getting caught up in) and crazy local motorcyclists to have to avoid. Exactly what you want in a Bond foot chase.

Temples, bells, and narrow streets, Bhaktapur has everything you need for an epic foot race

Temples, bells, and narrow streets, Bhaktapur has everything you need for an epic foot race

3. Trollstigen Pass, Norway

The Trollstigen Pass is one of the world’s most dramatic roads. With 11 narrow hairpin turns, and an increase in elevation of nearly 3000 feet, this six kilometre road would be perfect to test out just how good Bond’s Aston Martin really is. The road has few barriers, is surrounded by stunning Norwegian mountians, sheer drops and a number of large waterfalls. In fact many car commercials are filmed on this road and some new makes and models are tested on this road. Naturally Bond will force the bad guy into an error and his car is fly off the road at the top of the pass resulting in a tumbling, crashing mess of metal, glass and tyres, and the savvy Bond quip along the lines of ‘Sunday drivers”.

11 switch backs, an enormous waterfall and an Aston Martin, a match made in heaven

11 switch backs, an enormous waterfall and an Aston Martin, a match made in heaven

4. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia

What a location for a fight to the death

What a location for a fight to the death

From what I can remember, Bond has never been to Australia and surely it is only a matter of time until an evil mastermind from Australia wants to throw another super spy on the barbie! So what better way to announce his arrival than with an epic struggle on top of one of the most famous structures in the country. In fact it would work perfectly, dangling hundreds of feet above lanes of fast flowing traffic, plenty of beams of steel to fall from, grab onto and swing around, all with the famous Opera House in the background. It would work on the proviso officials don’t make Bond wear the blue overalls you have to wear on the Bridge Climb, but surely Bond would put in a better performance in Australia than Tom Cruise did in Mission Impossible!

We doubt Bond would have time to enjoy the view

We doubt Bond would have time to enjoy the view

5. Zermatt and the Matterhorn, Switzerland

A cable-car ride to a Villian's mountain lair. Switzerland has long been Bond's stomping ground

A cable-car ride to a Villian’s mountain lair. Switzerland has long been Bond’s stomping ground

Bond movies love Switzerland, probably because of the country’s wealth and secrecy concerning banking and the military, but also because of the incredible backdrops. So it is quite amazing that the country’s most famous mountain has never featured in a movie. The Klein Matterhorn cable car station at nearly 4000 metres above sea level looks exactly like the location of a bad guy’s lair. In fact the cable car to the top would be a fantastic location for a good old fashioned Bond fist fight. Wrestling on to of the cable car, surrounded by some of Switzerland’s highest mountain peaks and the mightily Matterhorn in the background, text book Bond. An icy end awaits the villain as Bond is victorious and the villain plummets down to the glaciers below, insert classic Bond one liner here….

An icy fate awaits Bond's enemy around Zermatt

An icy fate awaits Bond’s enemy around Zermatt

Naturally there could be dozens of amazing locations that would fit perfectly into a Bond movie. Do you have one? If so share your thoughts or better yet post a photo either here or on or Facebook page and let us know why you think it be a great Bond location.

– Smart, Dean Smart

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Chapter Nine: Treasures of Myanmar – The Road to Mandalay

One country that is on all the ‘Top Destinations of 2014’ lists and a country that is literally buzzing within traveller circles is Myanmar. Having only reopened to tourism about four years ago and with tourist numbers soaring, now is the time to visit. With that in mind, and wanting to visit Myanmar before tourism gets too commercial, it was one destination that had really excited us in the planning phase of this trip.

A few important things to note, firstly credit cards are not accepted almost anywhere in Myanmar, (with a very few exceptions) international ATM cards are only accepted by cash machines in a few places outside the capital of Yangon, (thankfully this is on the increase though), and entrances for historical and cultural sites must be paid in either local currency or US Dollars, and US Dollars must be pristine, almost as if they had just been printed. This certainly means you must have a good grip on your finances and adds another important dimension to trip planning throughout the country.

As Natalie had mentioned in her Hot Air Ballooning Blog, our first destination was the so called Jewel in the Tourism crown on Myanmar, Bagan. The Bagan Archaeological Zone consists of over 2,200 red brick stupas and temples scattered over the country side. Clive our balloon pilot had told us that originally there was an estimated 6,000 but over the centuries many had been destroyed, looted or damaged from earthquakes and invaders. Covering an area of 42 square kilometres for most of your explorations you can be excused for thinking you were the only people there. Most visitors head to Ananda, Sulamani, Shwesandaw and Dhammayangyi. However we liked the smaller complexes of temples. Bunched together these small red brick pagoda made you feel like Indiana Jones searching for buried treasure or uncovering a new site  for the first time. In fact the whole Bagan region felt like it belonged in some Hollywood adventure movie.

Some of Bagan's Pagoda soaring over the landscape

Some of Bagan’s Pagoda soaring over the landscape

Unlike the rest of Asia, the rickshaw has not really taken off in Myanmar, meaning the easiest way to explore Bagan was by something called an E-bike. Not quite a push bike and not quite a scooter, these bikes had pedals (which you only used if the bike ran out of juice) and ran on a small battery reaching an estimated top speed of about 15 kmh. Though not designed for it they are great for off roading and all throughout Bagan you could hear the hum of the electric bike followed by the rattle and shake of said bike being taken some-place it was not meant to go.

Natalie modelling our 'off road' E-bike

Natalie modelling our ‘off road’ E-bike

Each day in Bagan culminated in finding an elevated vantage point for sunset. The best time to view the temples is early morning and the two hours before sunset. As the sun dips in the sky the temples and pagoda light up a fiery red colour, a striking contrast to the green surrounding them and the brilliant blue skies. Everyone in Bagan has the same idea though, which means there is little hope to find a secluded temple top to watch the sun go down, but regardless watching the sun drop behind the hills silhouetting the many temples is one of Myanmar’s must do experiences.

One of our favourite temples in Bagan

One of our favourite temples in Bagan

Sunset over the temples

Sunset over the temples

We also made the half day journey out to visit Mount Popa. An extinct volcano with a monastery complex on top, Mt Popa was a great way to break up visiting all the temples around Bagan. There is a catch though, and that is the 777 steps you must walk up barefoot to the summit. Throughout Myanmar, whenever you visit a religious site it is shoes off, regardless of how hot, sandy dusty, muddy or covered in bird droppings that site is, tradition states you must remove your shoes. Needless to say our ‘Western Feet’ have at times protested and are looking forward to reaching Australia for some much needed love and attention!

From Bagan it was then off to Mandalay, one of Myanmar’s many former capital cities. Unlike Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Road to Mandalay’, we chose to take a boat. Public transport in Myanmar is not really set up for tourism but set up to cater for the locals. Most intercity transportation is either in rather uncomfortable pickup trucks where as many people as possible are rammed in tightly together or overnight coaches that depart and arrive at particularly inconvenient times, as one local said, ‘Myanmar people would never miss a day of work to travel intercity, they prefer to do it at night, oh, and the buses don’t overheat as much!’.

So the boat seemed to be our logical choice. An 11 hour journey, we were excited to see some of the rural life along the river. We were met by a stunning sunrise just after the boat departed but that was about as good as it got. Before we knew it the weather closed in and the majority of the day we were subjected to a huge down pour. As we approached Mandalay in the late afternoon it felt like the rain was getting worse, or perhaps it was because we knew we would soon be getting off. We trudged off the boat into the back of a pickup truck for the short drive to our chosen guesthouse, soaking wet we arrived, and despite the horrible weather we were surprisingly happy as it was the first real full day of rain we had experienced in months.

Mandalay is Myanmar’s second largest city and certainly had a big city feel after the relative quietness of Bagan. Almost dead flat it was easy to explore on push bike and were introduced to some of the country’s different road rules. Firstly they drive right hand drive cars on the right hand side of the road, not easy when you are overtaking, and secondly, Mandalay had hardly any traffic lights. Four way intersections were a free for all, you approach, look around and if you think you can go, you go, to be honest, even if you don’t think you can, you go! We visited a number of famous monasteries and temples, including the most famous, the Mahamuni Paya complex. Here males dab gold leaf onto a huge statue of Buddha giving it a lumpy look. Various religious sites or inner most sanctums are off limits to females, so Natalie dispatched me with numerous cameras and phones to snap the photos we have. We also visited the ‘Gold Pounders’ of Mandalay. These muscle bound locals smack small leather books filled with sheets of gold for up to six hours to produce wafer thin gold leaf for people to apply on various Buddha images and religious icons throughout the country. Certainly a hard way to make a living. Never have we seen so much gold everywhere as we have in Myanmar!

Monks applying gold leaf to the image of Buddha in Mandalay

Monks applying gold leaf to the image of Buddha in Mandalay

The Gold Pounders in action

The Gold Pounders in action

Our second day was spent visiting the various sites around outer Mandalay, including a famous monastery in the Amarapura district. Here the 1000 monks inhabiting the monastery all line up at 11:00 to receive their rice and fruit. The main walkway is chock full of tourists on either side and as the monks silently march in single file down to the dining hall all you can hear is the beeping and clicking of cameras. In fact many tourists were angrily barking at each other and muscling each other to get the best vantage point! While interesting Natalie and I could not help but feel sorry for the monks, it was almost like being in a Buddhist zoo, with the monks being put on show or paraded for the tourists to take their photos. While I enjoyed the experience of seeing the inner workings of a Monastery, next time I think I would avoid it.

We also visited the neighbourhood of Sagaing a lovely green hilly area dotted with numerous golden Stupa and the small ancient village of Inwa. We finished the day off with sunset over the famous U-Bein bridge, the longest teak wood bridge in the world and one of the symbols of Myanmar.

Natalie in the botanical gardens of Pyin Oo Lwin

Natalie in the botanic gardens of Pyin Oo Lwin

To break up our time in Mandalay we also spent a day out in the colonial village of Pyin Oo Lwin. Set up by the British as an escape from Mandalay’s stifling heat, it is now famous for arguably the best manicured botanic gardens in South East Asia. The gardens were beautiful, but the highlights were firstly seeing a huge motorcade of chanting monks and nuns driving down the main street ahead of a truck relocating a huge image of Buddha. People were singing, clapping and waving flags as the image trundled past. Secondly, the journey back to Mandalay was a real highlight. We jumped into a share taxi and headed out to an enormous military base. We drove past barracks and parade grounds, saw soldiers marching and doing martial arts and had a real feeling of should we be here? We arrived out to a small monastery attached to the base where an elderly monk came out and apologised for running late, did we mind waiting for him? Of course not.

After about half an hour he came out with two novice monks, both only about five or six years old. While the senior monk jumped in the front seat the two boys sat in the back with us. They were loads of fun, one we were told was very naughty, but they were as fascinated with us as we with them. This was particularly the case when the cameras came out, taking selfies on the iPhone they loved the fact they could see themselves. At one point as the taxi was flying down the hill the boys were making car noises and Natalie threw in the sound of screeching tyres and brakes and the boys thought this was hilarious.  Arriving back to Mandalay we said goodbye to our new friends and considered ourselves so lucky to have shared the taxi with them. This was a much more real experience than the touristy ‘zoo’ we had experienced the day before, sometimes when you travel you just happen to be in the right place at the right time.

Our taxi buddies posing for a selfie

Our taxi buddies posing for a selfie

Our final day in Mandalay was filled with a boat ride to the village of Mingun to see their various pagoda, including the ruins of what would have been the world’s largest pagoda, and a final run around Mandalay to visit a few last sites we wanted to see.

The stunning white pagoda in Mingun

The stunning white pagoda in Mingun

Myanmar is known as the ‘Golden Land’ and it is easy to see why. With stunning gold gilded pagoda dotting the landscape and some of the friendliest people anywhere in the world it truly is a special place and we were so glad we visited now before that mass influx of tourism and tourism money changes the cities but also the people. Our first half of our journey had been incredible and we had a feeling the second half was going to be just as amazing.

– Dean

 

Hot Air Ballooning Over Bagan – up, up and away!

When I spoke to Dean one day last summer he excitedly told me that one of his guests had been to Myanmar and had told him that a hot air balloon ride over the magical temples of Bagan was a must. That was it – we were doing it! They were not wrong. It is simply amazing and the best way to appreciate the scale of the area.

Fast forward to early February 2014 and we were busy working out dates and plans and Dean came up with an idea. If we could get up to Bagan on the 13th February he could take me hot air ballooning for Valentines Day. Whatever you make of Valentines Day (and we personally think it is all very commercial) this seemed like a great plan to me. Any excuse! I think I got the better end of the Valentines Day plan-all he got from me was a chocolate heart! To make the plan work we took our first two flights of the trip from Delhi to Yangon on the 12th February. We had then reserved seats on a flight to Bagan on the 13th February but had to get there in time to pay otherwise we’d lose our reservation. We made it and took the three short connecting flights to get to Bagan (you wait three months for a flight then five come along at once!). We had an hours lee-way to get from the airport to the ‘Balloons Over Bagan‘ office. They were holding our ‘seats’ but only until 8pm when their office closed. As the taxi screeched to a halt outside their offices, Dean ran in and paid and it was confirmed. Meticulous planning, a bit of trust and numerous phone calls set in stone one of the highlights of our trip, but talk about cutting it fine! Lots of you are thinking why didn’t you pay with credit card and save the stress? Cash still rules supreme here and so it wasn’t possible to use the plastic.

On the 14th February we rose bright and early and were taken down to the launch area for the ‘Balloons Over Bagan‘ balloons. As we got off our bus we were welcomed by Clive, our very cheerful pilot (I was still half asleep at this point after 48 hours of little sleep!) and I knew we were in safe hands. His sense of humour and enthusiasm made our excitement grow for what was coming next – this was going to be amazing! A cup of ‘good coffee’ (high praise from my coffee loving husband!) and heart shaped biscuits awaited us whilst preparations were made. There were five balloons going up from the same field but you would never have known it. We each had our own tea and coffee camp (with Oasis Overland style stools so I was at home!) and all landed in different places so it felt like we were the only ones flying. So well done. It was however really good to see the other balloons in the sky as it made for great photos!

Watching the preparations

Watching the preparations

This was Deans first time in a balloon. I had been lucky (probably the key word!) enough to go up in one on two separate occasions in Luxor, Egypt. I loved the flights but as our basket landed on its side on one flight, the landings made me apprehensive. There was never any chance of that today. The guys in Myanmar are in a different league of experience and I was amazed at how well they communicated with each other and their safety standards.

Waiting for the balloon to go up...

Waiting for the balloon to go up…

After a test balloon had been sent up to “see what conditions were like upstairs” we all got in our basket. The second balloon up, we pulled away and rose at the same time as the sun. From here Clive revealed his ‘office’ from the peace and tranquility of our basket.

Good Morning Bagan!

Good Morning Bagan!

Sunrise

Sunrise

We are up!

We are up!

Nothing can prepare you for the scale and magnitude of the temples of Bagan and a flight over them was a perfect start to both our time in Bagan but also Myanmar. We initially climbed before dropping down to get close to the temples. Clive told us a bit about some of the temples and gave us some information on which ones to visit which proved invaluable. We took lots of group photos in the basket and just watched the world fly by. It was way more peaceful ‘flying like a bird’ like this than in our paraglide!

Flying high with our flight buddies

With our flight buddies

Flying high

Flying high

After an hour our time was up. Clive was busy communicating with the ground crew (who were also very professional) and avoiding the ox’s in the neighbouring fields!

Shadows as we start to come in to land

Shadows as we start to come in to land

As we heard his call of ‘landing position’ we put our cameras down and braced ourselves. Well it was such a smooth touch down we barely knew we were down! The ground team had virtually caught the balloon!

Surrounded by temples and local life... what more could you ask for?!

Surrounded by temples and local life… what more could you ask for?!

As we all *cough cough* gracefully (fell) climbed out the basket refreshing towels and crucially a glass of pink champagne were waiting for us. There were also Valentines Day heart shaped cakes and I was really impressed at the effort the company made. On top of this were croissants and fresh fruit. I could have stayed in the field all day! As the team packed away we sipped (three!) glasses of champagne and swapped travel stores with our flying companions.

With Clive, champagne and cake!

With Clive, champagne and cake!

With the crew

With the crew

Cheers!

Cheers!

All too soon it was time to go back but even this was a fun ride. Balloons Over Bagan have a fleet of vintage buses and this fun bus drove us back to the door of our budget hotel!! We met a few people who were intrigued by the flight, but their budget didn’t stretch to it. It’s true that hot air ballooning is not the cheapest activity in the World, but as I say to Dean, in life you get what you pay for! Our mornings’ experience was worth every cent and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact Clive runs a Bristol based balloon company called Bailey Balloons which is a stones throw from where I live down south so I’m already plotting a flight back in the UK with him… Nothing however will match up to this one. Everything was perfect and it is and I’m sure will continue to be one of the highlights from our trip.

– Natalie