SIGIRIYA ROCKS

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Ok, imagine this: It's thirty degrees and about 80% humidity; my hair has turned into some kind of curly mess and my hat is struggling to fight against it and stay on my head; and are were still wearing the clothes we boarded our flight in, about 36 hours earlier.

To say we debated whether to climb Sigiriya was an understatement. But figuring we couldn't look much worse we decided to give it a go - after all - we weren't likely to be back anytime soon.

And it was absolutely worth it. 

After the Dambulla Caves, we had a bit of lunch, opting to head to Sigiriya late afternoon when it was a little cooler and started the climb under some ominous looking clouds. I was secretly praying for some rain to cool the day down until I started the walk and reckoned that climbing on slippery stone might have tipped the climb into the 'terrifying' category. The day kept switching between blue skies and rain clouds so it made for an atmospheric climb. 

It's not actually as bad as you think when you're looking at it from the bottom - though there are a few sections where you are literally (and I mean literally, not figuratively!) climbing steps that are mounted to the side of the rock face, with nothing below you but a huge and terrifying drop. Not for those with vertigo! 

That said, I was behind an 80year old woman for the scariest part, who was doing it in her bare feet and without much effort. I *may* have waited until she was in front of me for the final climb, because frankly, any excuse would have done by that point. But we made it to the top eventually, and dug into our emergency stash of Lemon Puff biscuits as reward. 

The history part: the site was an ancient fortress built on top of a volcanic plug which has since fallen away, making it appear from nowhere. The stories that surround the site are pretty cool - a Game of Thrones style saga set in ancient Sri Lankan times when an unruly bastard son (to use GoT language!) threw his King-father in jail where he eventually starved to death, and sent the rightful heir to the throne (his high blooded brother) to India, turning the plateau of Sigiriya into his home. 

I can see why it was a good pick for a fortress - you can see for miles around from the summit and would have easily spotted an enemy approach. And it did help him prepare for attack when his brother finally returned from India with an army to help him claim his title. Only the poor bastard brother defending his kingdom didn't have the most reliable elephant, and it panicked a bit when it saw what was approaching leaving his defending army confused, thinking their King was retreating they all backed off and left him completely exposed and elephant-less. Fearing his brother would claim the crown and kill him, he threw himself upon his own sword instead.

Bad luck eh, you think after all that effort he'd have sorted a decent elephant. 

The top is spectacular though, with three-sixty degree views, and assuming the weather is ok - you can see for miles. But make sure you leave enough time to get down as those steps are just as steep on the way down and it can be pretty crowded. Just find yourself an old lady to fall in line behind and you should be fine... 

The need to know: it costs about $30 for the entry ticket, and takes about 2-3 hours in total (depending on how fast or slow you want to go. We took about three hours but spent quite a bit of time at the top). Take some water. And biscuits. 

The guidebooks talk about hawkers and guides hassling you at the entrance but we didn't encounter any issues, and just strolled on past. 

Getting there: I have no idea! We had a driver (which I will do a separate post on) travelling in from Dambulla which was about half an hour away. Worth asking your guest house to hotel as there were a few buses and tuk tuks hanging around - but couldn't tell you what they cost. 

Annoyingly my camera battery had died, and the charger was in my luggage so I had to use my iPhone - but it was better than nothing - but not the best quality given the constantly changing light! 

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Posted on May 5, 2014 .

DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLES

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We arrived in Sri Lanka with no bags. 

Not the best way to start a holiday, but the start of ours nonetheless (and about twenty others who were stood alongside us at the carousel). We had made it in one piece, despite a mad dash through Dubai airport, but our bags were still sat in the Middle East having not made the transfer.

After a promised delivery of our luggage to the hotel hotel early the next day, we headed outside to meet our driver and started on the four hour drive to Dambulla, stopping for some much needed supplies on the way. Arriving late at night on Friday, having left on Thursday evening UK time - we didn't really understand how special the Kandalama really is - shrouded in darkness, and along a very very very bumpy dirt road, we were too travel-beaten to notice much more than our welcome drinks before sloping off to bed. But the next morning, we decided that not having our holiday clothes wasn't going to stop us and made the quick drive into Dambulla to visit the cave temples.

High up on the hill, there are five temples all built into the side of the mountain, in ancient caves which still stand as a place of prayer today. The inside of each cave features a series of Buddha shrines with over 150 statues in total, and each room features paintings across the cave walls - some of which are said to have been originally painted in the 3rd century BC... which is pretty incredible... though I'm certain that as a World Heritage Site, someone touches them up every now and then! 

It's also a place for monkeys. Hundreds of them, some that eat ice creams, some that loiter around, and others that will nick whatever you don't have strapped to your body - be warned!

Well worth a visit, though go early as it does get busy - and in the midday heat it can be a bit savage getting up the hill!  

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SORRY I'VE BEEN QUIET

 

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I'm in Sri Lanka at the moment and decided not to bring much tech with me other than my camera and my phone, so keeping all the posts until I'm home next week.  

I can't wait to blog about my trip when I'm back in the UK though - if you follow me on Instagram you'll know I had my birthday out here, and I've been on an elephant safari - as well as some beach fun - so lots to share!

Posted on April 25, 2014 .

SHANGHAI PROPAGANDA MUSEUM

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I realise these posts are totally out of sync going from China to Sri Lanka to Hong Kong. But I had totally forgotten about the Shanghai Propaganda Museum and it came up in conversation with someone today and I thought I should tell you all too!

I implore you to go.

If you're in Shanghai for even a few days, find this place.

It's not that easy to uncover - it's hidden in the basement of a block of flats in the French Quarter and we walked past it a few times before we realised where it was (you have to seek it out) - and even when you get there it seems a bit sketchy. It's not like any museum I've been to before. It's literally the basement of a building with worn and torn posters held up with drawing pins. But it's fantastic. 

The picture above is the only one I have as they are pretty strict about not allowing photography - I think to encourage people to see for themselves. It's the only remaining collection of propaganda material left in Shanghai - the rest was stripped down and burned by the government in the 1970's - and it's a fascinating look at Chinese history.

From Chairman Mao's rule and the founding of the People's Republic through to the Cultural Revolution in the 1970's - it's an interesting look under the covers of how these events were portrayed in a country closed from the rest of the world. I was a bit ignorant to what had gone on, and the POV of the Chinese and found this to be the most interesting thing I learned about during the entire trip. And yes, I bought the book (and a postcard!) from the shop. I bet you will too! 

You'll find it here... (remember, it looks like a giant block of flats - just find the right building and head on in!)

English address Basement, Bldg B, 868 Huashan Lu, near Zhenning Lu, Xuhui district

Chinese address 徐汇区华山路868号B号楼,近镇宁路

Posted on April 15, 2014 .

SHENZHEN TO HONG KONG

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We took the boat to Hong Kong. Well, we flew from Hefei to Shenzhen, bolted from one side of the city to the other on the underground and missed the ferry by 30 seconds.

It was one of the most frustrating moments of the entire trip - we thought we'd missed it because our flight was slow to taxi, and had managed our disappointment - only to just make it, buy our tickets and figure our way through the streaming crowds of visitors jostling around at the gate. Over the moon we waited in the line, discussing what we'd do with the newly regained two hours we'd have in Hong Kong. Only to get to the front and be told that the boat had just gone. 

Some heated words *may* have been exchanged, but then we found a spot in the departure hall, propped up the iPad on our cases, and watched an episode of Elementary. All you need is Sherlock to sort out a bad mood. 

It doesn't seem like many people take the ferry - there were some American visitors popping over for an evening, most seemed to work at factories or tech companies in Shenzhen, and a few Chinese - but that was it.  And it was great - we left just as golden hour was hitting. 

It's quite a cool way to come into the city - you amble along a fairly scenic route with little pockets of industrial seascapes, and then out of nowhere this glistening mecca peeps out from behind the hillside. And suddenly you're pulling up underneath fifty-story neon high-rises and all you want to do is run for some dim sum. 

That said, the windows were boggin (or filthy as one might say if they're not Scottish) so the photo's didn't quite work out.... but I took a few anyway and thought I may as well pop them up.

More on our few days in Hong Kong coming soon. 

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Posted on April 7, 2014 .