Author: The Flaneur

Australian writer. Travel writing, opinion editorials, short stories, poetry.

Sri Lanka for beginners – 2

I woke up to the call to prayer from the local mosque. It was nice to hear something familiar in this city of unknowns. We headed up to have breakfast in the dining area- it’s all lovely and open plan, with panoramic views of a blue-skied Kandy. One thing I’ve noticed about Kandy is the amount of potted plants on each residence here, each windowsill and ledge. The plants spill out of the pot and reach up to the sun; orchids and bougainvillea and crepe myrtle. Such stunning bursts of colour really add a welcoming warmth to the town.

Breakfast was a delicious selection of tropical fruits; rambutan, papaya, pineapple, sugar banana. We also had scrambled eggs, rice (laced with coconut) and chutney. The meal was wholesome and delicious.

The sounds of Kandy wafted up to us as we sat on the balcony. A school marching band was parading through the streets practicing for their next sports meet. A crackly megaphone was blasting  pop songs. An anvil hitting metal, a dog barking. The overwhelming cacophony of horns blaring in the traffic. A military helicopter carrying none other than the President of Sri Lanka. It was nice to sit mountainside away from the noise.

We left Kandy and drove towards a tea factory, but not without stopping at the local supermarket first. I always love going to supermarkets in other countries, there are  minute differences in the way things operate. There was a jewelry section, a pungent fish section, a weighing station for fruit and aisles and aisles of packaged goods. We grabbed some bags of chips and left.

The tea factory smelled of woodfire. We were served a cup of tea each before entering and my goodness, the tea was light, clear, unsweetened amber and I loved it. The tea factory seemed rustic, as if the processing machines had been running since the 1940s. We were shown the difference between two camellia varieties and how they create different teas, and how to categorise the leaves into different grades- Best, Below Best and … something starting with P. I was very impressed. Did you know that there’s a machine invented in Japan that can categorise tea leaves by colour? Remarkable!

We made our way to Gampola, the town were we were to catch the train. Our host at the bed and breakfast was telling us how Gampola was his hometown and he was very proud to have us visit there. It’s small and sits in the shadow of a mountain. I probably would have walked right past the train station had I not been shown it. The station is has all the original train paraphernalia which still in use. The switch room still has a thousand levers for all the different train lines, and there’s a scale of the watermarks left by different floods since the 1930s.

The blue train came, picked us up, and jolted onwards.

We were given first class tickets, which Snidely and I were a little bit disappointed by at first. We wanted the authentic, original Sri Lankan train ride through the mountains, and instead we got a sealed capsule of foreigners, all pressing up against the window for the perfect snapshot of the tea country. After a while, however, we were happy to have comfy seats and air conditioning, so we can’t complain.

The train jerked it’s way up the mountains and through little communities on the way. We passed through tunnels and over bridges and gained speed on on the flats. I had to use sports mode on my camera to make sure the photos weren’t just a blur of green. Once you emerge from the congestion, the mountains open up to reveal terraces of tea plantations. The landscape soars and the tips of trees become shrouded in mist.

The wind picks up and clouds race the train.

We pulled into Haputale, then traveled a short distance down the mountain to a little community called Beragala. I watched rains smear from the clouds from the window. All the townsfolk had knitted beanies.

At our accommodation, we settled in, then gorged ourselves on Ceylonese Fried Rice and a hundred types of curry- all so flavoursome, all so delicious.

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Iffa House, Galle, Sri Lanka

Iffa House is a quaint, boutique bed and breakfast. Although the room and bathroom weren’t particularly spacious, the accommodation itself was fantastic. Right in Galle Fort, the B&B is close to the rampart for a stroll to the famous Lighthouse, and a cross-street away from Pedlar Street, with it’s many restaurants, cafes and shoppes. The accommodation is new, clean with cozy communal areas. For me, what made this place great was it’s staff. The service team were good humoured, attentive, welcoming and warm. We were offered a Western style breakfast, or a Sri Lanka breakfast each morning. What a spread! We had the Sri Lankan breakfast and loved it. Also, the beds are so soft, it was like sleeping on a cloud.

 

 

Disclaimer: This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.

 

 

Sri Lanka for beginners – 1

We were supposed to land in Colombo at 11am, but were delayed for some reason, perhaps crosswinds, or maybe air traffic control coming out of Bangkok. Either way, we were slightly late to meet our driver. I desperately needed to use the bathroom and happily used the squat toilet- the very first I’ve used with a flush!

Immigration was easy enough and we stood patiently in line as a family of Russians barged through, with a small child and a green plastic bag of clothes. We paid for our visa online, so as we waited to be processed we made small talk with the Immigration officer, who had a warm smile and taught us that ‘Ayobowan’ means a lot of things, generally in the ballpark of a greeting. Snidely made nice with a woman in our row on the plane and she came up to him desperately seeking help. She spoke only Thai with not a skerrick of English, and she was trying to call for a taxi through a man who only spoke Sinhalese. I don’t know how he managed to get to the bottom of it, but through some patchy translation app and wild hand gestures, Snidely figured it out and managed to help the lady.

The drive from Colombo to Kandy is long and windy. We passed villages along the way; a strip of storefronts became peppered with derelict building projects which thinned out onto stalls covered in king coconuts and finally the landscape opened up to reveal rice paddies. Sri Lanka is so green. The humidity encourages all the plants to grow and grow and they become overgrown and muddy as the palm fronds along the main road collect dust.

The traffic is ordered chaos. Buses screech to a halt, pick up one or two saronged people  and start with a cough and a splutter of diesel. Cars navigate this at a reasonable speed and always remain in a state of overtaking, so that when they get a clear shot, they speed up and swerve in front. Add tuktuks to the mix, bleeping and coming up on the inside, you get all the threads necessary for a braid, decorating the countryside.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant that put on Western pop songs, just for us. Their menu boasted submarines and steak and fries, but we were mostly interested in trying some Sri Lankan cuisine. We had rice and curry, dhal, eggplant, potatoes, an array of delicious sides and fresh rice, and prayed that we would not get sick. Although the saying goes that hunger makes the best sauce, I disagree- Sri Lankan chicken curry is pretty good too.

Our driver recommended a few stops on the way to our hotel in Kandy. Snidely and I were yearning for a unique and authentic experience that shows ‘the real Sri Lanka’, but I guess all tourists are after that as well. We chose not to ride the elephants, or smell the herbs and spices factory, or see the silk factory. We elected to wander Kandy so onward we went.

Kandy is loud. Kandy is a mess of everflowing cars and trucks and tuktuks and this is the single most intimidating thing about Kandy. The street vendors are particularly intimidating too. Like hungry hyenas they encircle and follow you, with a handful of fridge magnets or popcorn.

The streets are a mixture of dusty shopfronts, secret alleyways and colonial architecture. There’s not a lot to lure a tourist, and yet foreigners are called and waved inside (for a toaster or a wedding photography package or something?).

We agreed to a cultural dance in the evening. Only an hour of sitting in a hall that was filled with seats and busloads of us. The performers showcased dances from the local surrounds, some representing demons, others representing peacocks. The program outlined that many of these dances were traditionally performed at festivals or in rural settings. Bright, colourful acrobatics, the tinkle of ankle rings, shells and the twang of drums. We skipped the firedancing, however. We didn’t want to watch a spectacle put on just for us.

Our driver took us to see the Buddha’s Tooth Relic. This Buddhist temple sits beside the lake and is much more peaceful in the cool of the evening without the blare of traffic. We followed pilgrims through decorated tunnels, around pagodas of incense and up the stairs to the relic. There’s a half hour wait on the queue to see the casket that holds the relic (noone can see the relic itself, or as legend goes, the alleged relic). Monks from overseas stood in line, pilgrims sat all in white on the floor and prayed, others brought in jasmine and lotus blossoms as tribute. There was a lot of hustle and bustle to see the casket through three doors, so we chose to pay our respects and move on.

The bed and breakfast we stayed in was lovely. Out of the city, up on a hill, we had a panoramic view of the city lights. After such a long day, we collapsed. A beautiful hot shower and a soft mattress sent me right to sleep.

The Local, Bangkok, Thailand

I can’t tell you how much I love The Local. I came here on my first trip to Bangkok over 4 years ago, and still now, the food is breathtaking. The food is royal-style, as if made for the royal family. It’s rich and multi-layered, it’s textural and the spices run deep.

The fried fish is an absolute show-stopper with aromatic herbs and spices and a dry heat that makes you reach for the accompanying salad of cucumber to quell the burn. The Rama V Tom Yum is clear and a real whack of flavour with whole prawns and lemongrass- you have to try this as your entree. It’ll cure whatever ailment you didn’t know you had.

The larb gai and larb moo is lighter than what they serve on the street, but the flavour still packs a punch. The atmosphere is cool; it’s a two storey house and gallery with private dining rooms, so appreciate walking through on the way to your table. Lastly, the service is fantastic. Over the years, our group has made friends with some of the waitstaff- they are so accommodating, and lovely. The Local is the perfect Thai cuisine experience.

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Disclaimer: This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.

Somerset Liang Court, Fort Canning, Singapore

Somerset Liang Court is nice apartment-style accommodation. Three of us managed to get a room that sleeps four (maybe 5 on the sofa bed) and of course we had ample space; living room, en suite in the master bedroom and a large kitchen area with washer and dryer. It was great for our week-long stay in Singapore.

Location-wise, it’s perfect. Walking distance to Clarke Quay and minutes to the MRT which will take you anywhere (it’s on the same line as Chinatown and other relevant touristy places).

We had a bit of a weird check-in, however. Although we had paid upfront, (and we had confirmation from out travel agent that accounts were settled,) the receptionist refused to give us any confirmation that our payment had been received by the hotel, claiming she was ‘unable’ to. We also had not been explained that there’s a button on the wall beside the bathroom lights which controls the hot water heater, so my mother had some cold showers until we figured out that the switch must be turned on and stay on, and that the housekeeping may have been switching them off during the day. We also had a complete fuse outage one evening, as the hot water generator needed replacing and short circuited out the whole flat. Service staff were prompt in addressing this, however.

With water damage on the bathroom door and an old hot water system, we left under the impression that we got a good room rate because there are things about the hotel that need updating and renovating.  Also, it turns out the promised views of the nightly Marina Bay lightshow is not a guarantee as it depends which direction your room is facing. We were satisfied with our stay, actually, perhaps a little disappointed.

 

 

 

Disclaimer: S This review was also posted by me on TripAdvisor. This blog has no affiliation with TripAdvisor. I just share my experiences to spread the love to fellow travelers.