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Bicycle diaries: a cycling tour of Myanmar

Our cycling tour of Myanmar provided the perfect insight into Burmese culture coupled with the kind of outdoor adventure we love.

Readers of this blog will be well aware that I prefer my adventures on two feet rather than two wheels. Given the choice, I will usually opt for hiking instead of biking. However, when we had the chance to spend two weeks cycling Myanmar with G Adventures I wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity.

The trip did come with a catch: as with most of my adventures, I would have my trusty partner in crime with me – but Kia could barely ride a bike! She only learned to ride at the age of 28. In the ensuing years, she practised only periodically and fell off frequently, bruising like a peach in the process.  Continue reading

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15 best books about Sri Lanka

We wrap up our series on the tiny tropical island by perusing the best books about Sri Lanka and the insights offered within their pages.

Before I visit a country I like to read a book or two about the destination to get a sense of the place and culture. For Sri Lanka, I chose Roma Tearne’s Brixton Beach. Tearne, a Sri Lankan born novelist living in Britain, provided the perfect introduction to our trip. Continue reading

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20 interesting facts about Sri Lanka

We learnt a host of interesting facts about Sri Lanka through our month-long trip through the country. Here, we share our favourites. 

Sri Lanka is a rich and fascinating country that seems to have everything a traveller could possibly desire. The country is one of the best safari destinations outside of Africa with an abundance of wildlife squeezed into its 26 national parks. There are verdant rainforests, misty hills amid fertile tea plantations and miles upon miles of dazzling beaches. You’ve got a perfect holiday destination squeezed into an island a quarter of the size of the UK!

What’s more, the country is affordable and full of delicious cuisine as well as intriguing history. The people have dealt with war, disaster and all the challenges of a developing south-Asian country – and they have done it with grace and humility. Despite the nation’s recent turmoil, the country and its people are moving quickly forward. Continue reading

Bentota river safari in Sri Lanka

A Bentota river safari promises all sorts of creepy things: crocodiles, snakes, bats and lizards. Here’s how we fared on ours.

I was sceptical about our skipper. Small and slight and in his mid teens, he barely uttered a word of welcome. Peter and I boarded the boat and set off on our Bentota river safari with nary an instruction.

We had some information from our hotel about the length and price of the tour (2.5 hours, 1,800 LKR / 12 USD per person), but beyond that, we had little idea of what we might see.

Nevertheless, we were pleased to be in Bentota. The coastal town in Sri Lanka’s Galle District lies 65km (40mi) south of Colombo and, paired with Trincomalee in the north, offers a good beach stop with which to bookend a trip. Continue reading

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10 things to do in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

We explore the best things to do in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka’s historic port city that is once again beginning to flourish.

Trincomalee, or Trinco as it’s more commonly known, in northeastern Sri Lanka is a perfect spot in which to while away a few days on the beach. We ended our Sri Lankan odyssey in nearby Uppuveli on a powdery stretch by Trinco Blu.

Like us, most tourists will bypass Trincomalee for the neighbouring beaches of Uppuveli and Nilaveli – and who can blame them? The coast here is golden and palm-fringed with a mellow ambience making for a perfect place to unwind before heading home. Continue reading

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8 controversial mountain names from around the world

Naming mountains is a thorny business. We take a look at some of the most controversial mountain names from around the world and explore just why they’ve inspired so much debate. 

As an avid hiker, climber and would-be mountaineer, I’ve long been fascinated with the mountains of the world and the history behind their names. 

The first real mountain I ever climbed was Ben Nevis in bonnie Scotland. One would be forgiven for wondering who Ben was and why he has a mountain named after him. In fact, ‘Ben Nevis’ is the Anglicized form of the Scottish Beinn Nibheis, which means ‘mountain by the water’. Continue reading

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The best national parks in Sri Lanka for…

We explore the best national parks in Sri Lanka, their finest features, and when and where to see the country’s most celebrated animals.

For a relatively small nation, Sri Lanka has an abundance of wildlife in its 26 national parks. Considering that the UK (which is nearly four times the size) has 15 national parks, this is a huge number for such a small nation. In addition to its parks, Sri Lanka has scores of nature reserves and sanctuaries. Continue reading

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World’s most powerful passport 2017

Travelling can be a bureaucratic nightmare for those on restricted passports. Here we look at the best passport to have in 2017 based on the freedom it provides.

Ten years ago, in my first job after graduation, I shared an office with a researcher called Munir who I nicknamed Dr2 because he not only had a PhD but was also qualified as a medical doctor. (I recognise it’s not the wittiest name in the world but it was the best I could do at the time.) Continue reading

Cycling Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital

We very nearly didn’t make it to Anuradhapura. Our schedule in Sri Lanka was pretty packed and even though we had a whole month in the country, our itinerary of Colombo, BentotaGalle, Yala, Udawalawe, Ella, Adam’s Peak, Sigiriya, Kandy and Trincomalee and  meant that we had no more than three days in each place.

It was by chance that I saw a tweet picturing Jetavanaramaya Dagoba in Anuradhapura along with a caption explaining that it was once the tallest building in world after the Egyptian pyramids. Given my part-time passion for architecture, there was no way I was visiting Sri Lanka without seeing this storied structure in Anuradhapura. Continue reading

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Paul Oakenfold’s Everest party: charity event or PR stunt?

DJ Paul Oakenfold just played a gig at Everest base camp. Was this an innovative way to raise money for charity, or a narcissistic PR stunt?

British DJ Paul Oakenfold, 53, made his name in the 1990s on the UK dance music scene. He has won two Grammys and is credited with sparking the Second Summer of Love in Ibiza in 1997, supposedly the biggest revolution in British youth culture since the original Summer of Love in 1967. Continue reading

Climbing Adam’s Peak: all 5,500 steps of it!

We set off on an overnight climb to Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain. Here’s how we fared.

I was already exhausted by Sri Lanka. So far, we’d had two men barge into our hotel room in Bentota, got stuck in a toilet in Tissa, been pinned to a wall on a train to Galle and battled flying cockroaches on the road to Udawalawe.

When we arrived to our guest house in Dalhousie – the gateway to Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka – all we wanted was somewhere to bed down ahead of our early morning climb. But, oh, what foolish dreams. Instead of being shown our room, we were taken aside and asked to pay for it under the table in exchange for a discount. We politely refused and after much discussion were finally allowed to check in. Continue reading

EARTH’S MOST REMOTE PLACES AND COMMUNITIES

The most extreme places on Earth

We explore the most extreme places on Earth. Crazy destinations where humans find ways to exist in harsh and hostile environments.

I’ve always been fascinated by tough environments and particularly by the explorers who have braved them. When researching the most remote places on Earth I came across several extreme environments that simply were not designed for human inhabitation or travel. However, we humans are a race of perseverance and often find ways to exist in these harsh and hostile lands. Here are just a few of the most extreme places on Earth. Continue reading

10 things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka

We take a look at the best things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second city and cultural capital.

History and culture are on tap in the lively city of Kandy. Known as Sri Lanka’s cultural capital, Kandy withstood the Portuguese and Dutch for three centuries and was the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom, which finally fell to the British in 1815.

The city is wedged among mist-laden hills that often leave the skies overcast. The breeze, however, usually parts the mist to reveal Sri Lanka’s famous second city, known for the great Kandy Esala Perahera festival. One of the oldest and grandest of all Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka, the event is held over 10 days leading up to the Nikini poya (full moon) at the end of the month of Esala (equivalent to the end of July and beginning of August). Continue reading

Sigiriya Rock Fortress: 7 tips for visiting

Sigiriya Rock Fortress is Sri Lanka’s most popular attraction. We show you how to avoid the queues, crowds and touts to make the most of your morning there.

It’s not often people say ‘visiting rock formations’ when asked what they like doing on holiday – a curious fact given that so many of us spend time and money doing exactly that, be it Cappadocia in Turkey, Yosemite in the US, Guatape in Colombia or indeed Machu Picchu which would be only half as dramatic without its rocky backdrop.

One of the world’s less known curiosities in this category is Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka, a gigantic column of rock rising 200m (660ft) from the forested plains below. Located in the approximate center of the country, Sigiriya is one cornerstone of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, the others being Anuradhapura to the north and Polonnaruwa to the east. Continue reading

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Happiest countries in the world 2017

The happiest countries in the world have been ranked in the latest World Happiness Report. Norway has snatched the title, jumping up from 4th last year and knocking Denmark into second place.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a global initiative for the United Nations, has just published this year’s World Happiness Report. The SDSN employs an international group of economists, neuroscientists and statisticians to survey citizens on their subjective wellbeing and produce a comprehensive annual list of the happiest countries in the world.

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Galle Fort in Sri Lanka: DIY walking tour

Galle Fort on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka is the unmissable destination of the region. It is easily and best explored on foot. Here’s how.

Built by the Portuguese, fortified by the Dutch, modified by the British and restored by the Sri Lankans after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle Fort marks out Galle as Sri Lanka’s most intriguing city.

The 36-hectare Galle Fort occupies a promontory surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean. It was built first in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch from 1649 onwards. When the British arrived at the end of the 18th century, they applied their own touch with the odd lighthouse here and a coat of arms there. Continue reading

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Colossal coasts: 10 largest islands in the world

We take a look at the largest islands in the world, from deserted Ellesmere Island in the Arctic Circle to metropolitan Honshu in Japan.

We’ve spent a fair amount of time on islands. Not only were we born and raised on one, but island destinations appear to be a reoccurring theme on our travels.

In 2014, we started Atlas & Boots with a six-month journey across the South Pacific via Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Hawaii. Our latest extended trip has seen us spend a month in Sri Lanka shortly followed by another in Mauritius. Continue reading

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Why we regret whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Our first mistake was yielding to the hype. Sri Lanka is said to be the world’s only country in which you can see the largest land mammal (the elephant) and the largest water mammal (the blue whale), so we made whale watching in Mirissa a priority.

Our second mistake was using a local recommendation instead of our Sri Lanka guidebook – and thus we found ourselves at Mirissa harbour at 7am being herded onto a two-storey boat with 80 other people.

We placed our shoes in the communal storage box and gingerly headed upstairs. We found two empty seats at the back and pulled on our life jackets, watching in dismay as more and more people filed onto the boat with giant lenses and selfie sticks in tow. Continue reading

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5 hiking trails around Ella, Sri Lanka

Some of the best scenery in Sri Lanka awaits you on the hiking trails around Ella in the Hill Country. 

Many people head to Sri Lanka for the beaches – and the country does have some of the finest in the world – but it was Sri Lanka’s Hill Country that really captured our imagination. Carpets of tea plantations and alpine forests emerge from creeping morning mists to reveal some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (if not the world). Continue reading

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Ella Rock: how to hike it yourself

A guide to hiking Ella Rock including detailed directions, a route map and a list of essential tips.

Ella in Sri Lanka is beautiful, they said. ‘The closest thing to an English country village’ and the perfect place to slow down, we’d read.

I dolefully thought of this when darting across the thundering traffic to dodge yet another taxi driver insisting on taking me somewhere I didn’t want to go. The main street, stacked with milkshake huts and charm-free cafes, is a loud and roiling stretch of conveniences set up for the tourist alone.

Only in leaving the village and literally heading for the hills will you see the Ella of the guidebooks: grand and expansive vistas that plummet and soar as far as the eye can fly. Nowhere are they more impressive than at the summit of Ella Rock, a dramatic peak approximately 5km from town. Hiking Ella Rock is fun, confusing, taxing, rewarding. Here’s how to hike it without the help of a guide. Continue reading