Another aw­fully big ad­ven­ture

Best pals Ed Byrne and Dara Ó Bri­ain head East and on to the hair-rais­ing Road to Man­dalay

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - By Seán Dunne Dara & Ed’s Road to Man­dalay airs on Thurs­days at 10.15pm on RTÉ One

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

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