Another awfully big adventure
Best pals Ed Byrne and Dara Ó Briain head East and on to the hair-raising Road to Mandalay
COMEDIANS Dara Ó Briain and Ed Byrne are at it again – the comedy duo are hitting the road this week in a new threepart travel series.
No strangers to getting to grips with the world, this time around Dara and Ed’s journey takes them to south-east Asia as part of their new travelogue, which will premiere on RTÉ this week.
The comedians have been firm friends since appearing on RTÉ’s late-night comedy show The Panel and proved a hit with viewers on their previous travels.
In 2014, when Ed married his wife Claire, fellow comedian and Mock the Week presenter Dara was his best man. Likewise, Ed was best man at Dara’s wedding.
At the time Ed said: ‘I was much kinder to him because I didn’t do a funny speech as a groom.
‘He, as a groom, did a funny speech which I then had to follow, which I thought was very unfair of him. The best man should do the comedy.’
The series, which is set to air on Thursday on RTÉ, will see Ed and Dara travelling 3,000 miles from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, through Thailand and on to Myanmar as they forge their own epic route to the historic city of Mandalay.
Each of these countries is facing rapid changes as Malaysia’s economy continues to develop, Thailand struggles with ever-increasing numbers of tourists and Myanmar takes its first steps towards democracy and openness after 50 years of brutal military rule.
Along the way, Dara and Ed explore the culture and history of these countries and the ways in which they are responding to the challenges of the 21st century.
Viewers will be familiar with the comedy duo’s antics abroad. Having previously travelled along the Pan-American Highway two years ago recording their exploits in 2015 for Dara and Ed’s Great Big Adventure for RTÉ and BBC, the friends told of their horror of discovering a dead man.
Dara told of the shocking scenes that went on off-camera during filming of that particular TV series, which retraced an intrepid journey originally made in the 1940s by a trio of adventurers from Detroit known as The Three Damn Fools.
However, Ó Briain soon realised why they were constantly accompanied by armed guards.
He said: ‘The bit they didn’t mention in the press releases was this murdered guy we saw on the side of the road outside San Salvador.
‘We stopped at this coconut stall and there was this dead body being bundled into a body bag.
‘Not one of those zipped-up ones, but a big plastic sack which was put in the back of a pick-up truck.’
The image stuck with Ó Briain and was a constant reminder of the volatile environment they were in.
However, this series promises to be a less stressful one for the boys. Episode one sees Dara and Ed begin their journey in Malaysia. Arriving in downtown Kuala Lumpur, the pair are keen to see beyond the bright lights and towering skyscrapers of Malaysia’s economic boom and find out how the country’s diverse communities are holding on to their own traditions.
They begin by doing what the locals do on a Saturday afternoon and watch a beauty pageant – for chickens – before joining a mass cycle ride through the city.
Leaving Kuala Lumpur, they head up into the Genting Highlands to stay in the largest hotel in the world and watch the finals of the prestigious World Lion Dance Championships, before travelling onto one of the oldest jungles in the world, Taman Negara.
It’s here that Dara and Ed meet the Batek, a Malaysian indigenous tribe that is struggling to find its place in this rapidly modernising nation. Taking the ‘Jungle Train’ north, they visit Malaysia’s Islamic State Kota Bharu to try their hand at shadow puppetry and then finish in Georgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Episode two of the compelling new series begins in Thailand, where Dara and Ed fly into Phuket and experience an island that is sinking under the weight of booming tourism. They meet up with a local environmentalist campaigning to protect Phuket’s wildlife and help at a turtle conservation centre, returning two turtles to the sea.
Moving on to the mainland, Dara and Ed travel to the capital city of Bangkok, which recently became the most visited city in the world. They find out how the locals are reacting to the surge in foreign visitor numbers and discover how two Irish men cope with life in the city. Travelling out of Bangkok on a rice barge, the boys arrive in the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya and visit its ruins before Ed takes up Muay Thai boxing for a day.
Dara and Ed see some of the positive changes that tourism is bringing as they end their journey in the Golden Triangle at a sanctuary for elephants that have been rescued from Thailand’s logging industry. Here the income generated by a purpose-built, ecofriendly tourist resort is funding the welfare and future of the elephants and their handlers.
The finale will see Dara and Ed arrive in Myanmar at a time of great political change. After 50 years of brutal military rule, Myanmar recently held the first open elections that heralded a new era of democracy. They visit the house of Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the peaceful opposition to the military regime, and see first-hand how young people are finally able to freely express their support for her with tattoos and take part in the Buddhist Festival of Light.
‘A body was put into a plastic sack’
Funny business: Dara and Ed in a Malaysian comedy club (left) and (above) on their previous travels