A Travellerspoint blog

March 2019

Sri Lanka - Colombo to Ella

Tea for Two

sunny 33 °C

Waking up on our first morning in Sri Lanka to a child practicing, “You are my sunshine,” on a pipe flute before school, must signal another glorious day.
We arrived the day before, after several entrepreneurial attempts by ‘official’ baggage staff to get tips for merely finding our carousel; pulling up at Crystal Ville.
Heck- it’s a gobsmacking place. The gates slid open to reveal a manicured lawn and pillars everywhere. Rooms the size of football pitches and a pool made of dreams.
But the highest accolade goes to the chef. They had laid knives and forks on several tables for us to choose from- dining room, kitchen, balcony. We had a personal chef which cost the princely sum of $5 NZ. HIs food was amazing. Unadulterated pleasure of which we would need the use of the pool to remove our newly acquired surplus. But wow his food had us melting with satisfaction. Definitely staying here another night.

Train ride to Kandy

We managed to get hold of two 2nd class tickets. Gold dust apparently. Due to my OCD, we arrived way to early (under the recommendation of staff at our house) and had to wait at the station for an hour. It was hot. Very hot and my bladder was constantly filling up. The toilets in Colombo Fort Station are not for the faint hearted. I had to breath out of my mouth it was so bad. As there was a strike, the trains were also running uncharacteristically late. With help from a lovely local, we clambered aboard and found our two seats- comfortable and with a window that slid upwards to allow air flow.
The ride was clackity and it was really interesting seeing how the housing and land use changed as we travelled. Houses, literally ran-shackled sheds, lined the track until out of the city limits where fields emerged. Towns came and went, but tuk-tuks were always present.
The train started to climb toward Kandy, in and around mountain sides and tunnels. We admired the views as we peered from cliff edges and between trees. Doors were left open and you could stand and watch the view- holding on to the door handle was crucial as the train lurched and spat.


Arrival was equally frantic as Colombo- being harassed for a tuk tuk, and if you said no, continually questioned about what you would do the next day and what price you had paid to get here? And then our tuk tuk driver, not for the first time, got lost on his way to our accomodation.... bottle of whiskey perched in his drink bottle compartment.... hopefully filled with water!


Vicky took us for a tuk tuk tour of the surroundings the next day. We chugged to the highest point to see Kandy and the lake, a very large Buddha that generated a huge amount of local pride, stopped for fruit at his older friend’s fruit stall and strolled the botanical gardens before lunch. The botanical garden was excellent; a wonderful orchid house and monkeys and fruit bats. What more do you need?
In the afternoon we visited the spice gardens, who’s resident “Dr” was really interesting. So cool to see all your favourite spices growing and also seeing what else they are used for- medicinally.
A quick pop into a smaller tea factory took us back to waaaaaay before we were even born with original machinery clanking and cranking- for real! It was like stepping back into the industrial revolution.


Sigiriya Rock Fortress was our next day. After 3 hours in an AC car the heat exploded when we got out to collect tickets. It was reassuring that there was an armed guard there. A cheeky monkey ran toward a youngish couple carrying a plastic bag and just grabbed it off them. Always check the surrounding trees before showing your food.

A UNESCO site, half way like Rome and Machu Picchu looked really amazing from the start. Foundations of archaeological digs either side of a grand arrival driveway way led to the rock.
Climbing it was quite an adrenaline fuelled experience. Spiral stair cases literally clung on to the edge of the cliff face, walk ways veined around the ledge followed by more stairs. “Lion’s” feet introduced us to the final set of stairs to the top. What views and so many questions to ask. How did they get all the bricks to the top? Amazing ancient buildings and even bathing pools perched high as the wind poked the sky. Views of lakes and forest and mountains. Simply stunning. I just hoped they didn’t forget the milk once they got to the top! This was well worth the shaking, trembling vertigo.

We did not get train tickets to Nurawa Eliya so hired the same driver. A beautiful journey, especially once away from the city and into the countryside. Valleys formed, roads started to wind, then bend and corkscrew until the mountain we had just climbed then became the floor of another valley for us to travel along. Lush sides of tea leaves and plantations were growing everywhere.


Pickers with the bright blue back buckets filtered through the rows to takes the best tips. More tea factories emerged, modern in comparison to yesterday’s cousins, had new machinery and viewing platforms to teach you how tea is manufactured.

And then Nurawa Eliya. First glimpses of colonial arrivals; Scots who named their plantation Inverness, or English who founded Sussex College- aptly nick-named Little England for many of the buildings and quaint parks, but probably more for the crap weather compared to everywhere else. Strangely, we found the latter to be an attractive quality.

Tea pickers all competed for attention and asked if we wanted to take their photos…..at a price of course. Some we did and some we didn’t. Still, lovely to see the birth of my constantly bottomless cup of tea.

Nurawa Eliya

We stayed at Perera HomeStay which was next to the Pedro Tea Factory. Constance was our host, a lovely man who really wanted to please. We walked to Lover’s Leap Waterfall through the plantations. This was a truly beautiful walk with lush tea bushes and women, closely supervised by a male and a couple of dogs. I was curious as to whether he was guarding the women and providing safety or if it was the tea he was more interested in- the latter I am sure. The sunset was rather stunning and in entering the shadows of the twilight forest, on the edge of the cliff we noticed a group of men loitering. After reading the signs about avoiding such things, we swiftly turned around and walked back. It was not so much Lover’s Leap.

The next morning we walked to Single Tree Hill. Again, through the tea plantations we stomped upwards. Tea pickers were having their break in the shadows of the plants. Chewing on “Beetle” a legal leaf chewed to produce a hallucinogenic high, over awareness and, if unlucky mouth cancer- but the most attractive is the blood red stain inside the whole mouth of the chewer- a bit like they’ve been caught eating chunks of raw meat.
We declined.
They offered us tea.
We declined.
They offered us photos. We declined, for later.
On the way back down, after bumping into this random guy right at the top, where there had been absolutely no one around - very mysterious, we noticed the tea pickers had dispersed back into the plantation so when the first lady asked if I wanted a photo, I said yes. Suddenly two more appeared and insisted on being in the photo. I handed over two notes, the only two small enough, to the three women- not impressed. What a commotion.
The whole valley resonated with screeches and wails that dominoed with every picker on the way down. Who knows what they said, but it was bit awkward!


As we arrived down a vey steep driveway to Royal Vantage, we noticed the top of a half completed building. Fingers of reinforced concrete pillars reached up to nowhere. This was our home for the next few days. In fact, we loved it here. Our balcony over looked the railway, the valley and Ella Rock.
We walked up Little Adam’s Peak that afternoon. Meandering through the town, we asked a policeman for a map- he pointed to one. We tried to ask where we were in relation to the map. He did not understand. Fhi went into the bus shelter, come police station, to show the officer, only to find a policeman under the counter trying to sleep. Who had the greatest shock?
Little Adam’s Peak was breathtaking. A must for anyone visiting Ella. It’s not a rock climb but it is a bit of a work out- the views you're rewarded with after is well worth it.
The next day we intended to walked to a local waterfall. We set off in between trains, along the track and then found the walk way after about 30 minutes. Being at the end of the dry season, means there is not a lot of water; the rock looked a bit lost without it’s partner. A bit despondent, we continued walking to the next station and could here the train’s whistle from afar. Spur of the moment, we jumped on the train to see the views we'd missed out on the day before when we couldn't get tickets. Not may people get the the train to Haputare so it was lovely to experience the mountain top town with hardly any tourists. It was a hustling town that appeared to be a mix of Tamil, Muslim and Hindi. Refreshing as we did not get harassd for tuk-tuks or anything. And the journey there was picture postcard.


We braved the local 998 bus to Rewana waterfall on the following day. Never have I been on a bus ride where the driver plays chicken with a truck driver whilst hanging on the edge of a cliff- nor have I been on a bus, where passengers opposite me were praying all the way down. A little disconcerting to say the least.

Rewana falls were staggering. A three tiered water fall cascaded from the clouds to the droves of tourists taking selfies. We had a refreshing dip here- not ice cold as I thought, but refreshing. We both sat behind the fall, in what many locals say is Sita’s cave.
After we walked to 9 arch bridge , unbeknown to us, a train slid across for the iconic picture- and then hosed it with rain. Nothing like a cuppa in this situation.


Posted by PhilFhi travels 23:41 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Spicy Bangkok to Chilled Chiang Mai

A tale of two cities- you'll want to visit

overcast 34 °C
View Thailand Bound on PhilFhi travels's travel map.

The first thing we found out was that the name ‘Thailand’ depicts it’s history. Having never been colonised- unlike all the other surrounding countries, Thailand was originally a part of Siam with many tribal groups. After WW2 a border was put in place that “wrapped” these tribes up under one name - Thai= free (not been taken over) so “freeland”.


Our first stop was The Raweekanlaya hotel in Samsen Road near Ramma V111 bridge- a little boutique oasis of calm in the chaos of Bangkok. Located out of the hub of the old city, this area really depicted typical day to day life in Bangkok. A watch repair man worked out of a tiny metal stand, ladies with their sewing machines did repairs on the street and of course many many street food sellers with all kinds of things that we had no idea what they were. Things were a little tainted though as my belly had contracted a reaction to something and I didn’t really want to be too far from a toilet!

Thewet market is a fantastic local’s market close to the local ferry terminal. It sells much live produce, from fish, terrapins and frogs to other meats, as well as vegetables and herbs. It was certainly an attack on the senses with all kinds of fish and insects writhing around in bowls.

It took a while to find, but we managed to locate and get a table at Steve’s Cafe right on the rivers edge - pretty popular and a wonderful river breeze in the early evening. By our budget, it was a little on the top end but not outrageous. But the best thing was the walk there and back down tiny side streets opening up onto an unexpected temple - Wat Devaraj. People selling their food from their garages, wares or sitting with a beer in each others houses - a real taste of everyday life.

Wat Aran

Being immersed in so many temples in Cambodia gave us slight “temple fever”. On arrival we were welcomed by the sheer volume of mosaic tiles, bells and steep steps glistening in the sunlight- a contrast to what we had seen before. There was obviously a bit of a thing for all things symmetrical here- reflective, rotational and transformative- a primary maths teacher’s dream.


This was easy to roam around as we had arrived before 9.00am and it was still quite quiet. We enjoyed peering into the temples and around the grounds- just as beautiful as the actual temple. Lines and corridors creating new angles. Using door frames as picture frames is just as important here as in Cambodia.


Royal Palace

We loved it here, make sure you are early- the crowds were large and snaked all around the grounds within and the heat was pretty intense. It is breathtakingly beautiful though. Golden statues, glittering buildings, pillars, influences of Europe; a fusion of east meeting west in many architectural structures. We were lucky to see the changing of the guard.




Wat Pho Reclining Buddha

The grounds are very peaceful. It is easy to enjoy the grounds, and little hideaways and alley ways to explore. It is a little busy going into see the Reclining Buddha at around 50m long and wrapped in gold leaf- pretty impressive.

Our “Tuk Tuk evening Bangkok and food tour”

was great fun. From our hotel it was a heck of an adventure to get to the meeting point - a ferry ride and then walk across Chaya Praya River, through the local park with all the locals boxing, running and working out! Our itinerary was:

Local market and tried some pork balls
See into houses of locals
Wat Prayoon - new to being on the world heritage list
Thipsamai - Pad Thai. This is the birth place of pad thai- endorsed by the king- it was amazing watching the chefs with their skills of wrapping the noodles in a delicate basket of egg on an open fire sending sparks everywhere.
Reclining Budha (enjoyed even more at night time- as it was lovely and quiet in the grounds)
Flower market
Desert of mango sticky rice

We had breakfast at a local (one dish) place- noodle soup- yummy. The lady was so smiley which really made our day start in a happy way - and for $2 a head this was the best food we had yet. Packed with flavour.

We travelled to Pak Kret (market) by ferry to stop 30. Bicycle tuk-tuks are the main form of transport and the area is certainly back to basics! We ventured through the market- they’re so big here in Thailand. The market had most things- from clothing to frogs, gutted and skinned. It was not for the squeamish.




The ferry jetty had endless boil ups of fish destined for dinner table. That evening we had a bbq fish backed in salt crust from a local street food vendor- absolutely yum!

Chiang Mai

We arrived at the POR hotel - a great spot- very quiet road just outside city walls (water moat) which meant an easy walk, tuk-tuk or taxi in to town.

After we had chilled a for bit we went for Korean BBQ where we didn’t have a clue as to what we were doing. Great fun and really tasty. Not sure what we were eating but all good!

The “cultural Lanna region people and heritage centre” was quite interesting, giving us a bit of a back ground into the local people and culture.

Saturday night market was massive! 1 km long with side streets. Fhi and I had an amazing massage too.

Waiting for the washing, Fhi used the time productively to wax my back!

Thai cooking class: Thai and Akha Cooking Class in Chiang Mai
We were picked up in the Songtaew (Red Pick Up Truck Taxi)


Eating ants and their eggs and pig's balls!
This course was amazing; great cook, Nita, who was also our guide through the village before hand. She led us through a local market and guided us into eating what we would not normally buy. Pork scratchings with beetle dip, pigs balls (very tender I have to say), Century eggs, ants (live) and their eggs. We tried all the chillies and after getting the ingredients travelled to the kitchens for our cooking course.
She was so talented, as there was a hotpot of nationalities all cooking different things. The people also made this tour awesome as we all connected quickly.
We made, pad thai, tom yum, massaman chicken, chicken with basil, spring rolls, mango salad and sticky rice with mango. Absolutely yum!

The tears from an elephant is not because it is crying but that’s its sweat gland. Kanta elephant section is a place where the elephants who have had hard lives come to get treated well. There is no riding allowed. We fed them snacks and washed and bathed them in the local stream. What an opportunity to get close with these magical and highly intelligent creatures.


Of course the cooking course and elephant experience was amazing, but we both probably enjoyed the opportunity of sitting and eating, and people watching from the local eateries. Typically serving only one dish, the food left your mouth buzzing with flavours and memories of some lovely people.

And we also found a great local gym….. to make sure that we’re not piling on the pounds too much with all this eating! Thailand over… next stop Sri Lanka

Posted by PhilFhi travels 05:38 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Return to Sing

Views from a different angle

sunny 35 °C
View Return to Sing & Thailand Bound on PhilFhi travels's travel map.

What a great way to see Singapore. Anyone would love the chance to get on a scooter and just....go...
Singapore is so well set up for this and venturing out with great friends was even more special.
And you can't have a day like this without a Singapore Sling at the end!


Posted by PhilFhi travels 02:05 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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