Ed Byrne and Dara O Briain take in Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar for their new travel series, writes Jeananne Craig.
Following the success of Dara And Ed’s Great Big Adventure, the 2015 series in which the Irish duo drove from North to South America, Dara O Briain and Ed Byrne decided to tackle another epic trip.
This time around, the comedians teamed up to travel more than 3,000 miles from the economic powerhouse of Malaysia to the fledgling democracy of Myanmar — via Thailand’s beautiful but bursting-at-the-seams tourist hotspots — for Road To Mandalay.
The pair, who’ve been firm friends for years (and had best man duties at each other’s weddings), experienced their fair share of laughs and learning along the way, from a “dreadful” and incredibly awkward puppet show, to a turtle conservation centre in Phuket.
Fresh from their journey, and before it airs on RTÉ and BBC, here they share some of their most memorable moments — and reveal how they remained amicable when travelling at close quarters. “We’ve learnt to bicker at a low level the entire way through, and that tends to lance the boil that could turn into a proper fight,” admits O’Briain.
During the Malaysian leg of their journey, O’Briain and Byrne travelled to Kota Bharu, the capital of the state of Kelantan, to watch some special shadow puppetry based on famous Hindu epics.
The art form was banned in 1990 by the Islamic Party, but with restrictions since relaxed, the comedians got the opportunity to try their hand at the skill in front of a rather bemused audience.
Things went downhill before their performance even began, when the pair got set up behind the puppet screen.
“We were sitting down in a way that we just don’t do in this part of the world — where you have your legs coiled underneath you, in a non-spasm-inducing way — that was really uncomfortable,” says O’Briain, 45.
If that wasn’t awkward enough, they then attempted to recreate the classic Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch with their puppets.
“We properly died on stage; something I have been trying to avoid on television for 20 years. We genuinely bombed,” O’Briain recalls, cringing at the memory.
Byrne, also 45, adds: “The guy who taught us how to do it, the first thing I said to him afterwards was, ‘Did it make you long for the time when it was banned?’”
In Bangkok, O’Brian and Byrne watched Thailand’s national sport, Muay Thai (also known as Thai boxing), and visited a gym to try it out.
“Dara was more of what Bruce Lee called the ‘art of fighting without fighting’ — he is a black belt at that,” says Byrne.
“I’m more of the Clint Eastwood and he’s the Hilary Swank,” quips O’Briain, referring to the Oscar-winning 2004 film Million Dollar Baby.
“There was no need for me to do it. I am a 6ft 4ins man and no one picks fight with a 6ft 4in man anyway.”
Dubliner Byrne had done some martial arts in his youth, but wasn’t prepared for how strenuous this one was. “You block a kick with your shin,” he says. “Where we come from, that’s called getting kicked in the shin.”
In Thailand, the pair also looked at the positive and negative impact tourism can have, and the pressure it puts on nature and wildlife.
They visited a turtle conservation centre in Phuket, and also travelled to a camp in the Golden Triangle to meet elephants rescued from poor treatment in the country’s elephant tourism industry.
“Thailand is stunningly beautiful, but there is an element of cautionary tale about that level of tourism. They themselves are shutting areas off and putting a cap on the amount of people who can come in, because it’s insane,” says Wicklow-born O’Briain.
“It does mean that culturally it’s a bit like Temple Bar in Dublin, in that there is a part of the city where we shove all the tourists, and then we live our lives somewhere else.”
After extensive travels, the pair were looking forward to reaching their final destination, Mandalay in Myanmar. But according to O’Briain, this legendary city is “the most forgettable place”.
“It shut at 10 o’clock, we finished filming and there was nothing open - the whole city just closes down. Of all the places you have images in your head of — Timbuktu and Kathmandu, Casablanca is apparently very disappointing as well, Mandalay surprisingly; nothing!”
This meant the show’s wrap party was a rather tame affair.
“It consisted of five cans of beer and some packets of Pringles,” Byrne reveals.
As far as holidays are concerned, O’Briain and Byrne are poles apart.
“Dara prefers being in cities and I prefer a mountain or a lake,” says Byrne. “For me, it feels more of an adventure the further away from civilisation you get.”
Whereas for O’Briain, “there’s nothing I adore more than a city break”.
Next on the pair’s bucket list would be Scandinavia (although O’Briain worries it might not be “exotic enough” to get commissioned for TV). “It would be a good place to explore, as you have these great big cities and also these vast wide open spaces,” says Byrne.
Sounds like the best of both worlds for these amusing adventurers.
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