It’s Always Pleasant in Sri Lanka

It was March 2014 and exactly a month after I had booked flights to Sabah in Malaysia, I was already on a look out for the next adventure. Mid-year seems to be a good season to take time off from work for a while but most of the countries in Asia have very hot and dry weather or monsoon during that season. No doubt flights and accommodation can be cheaper during that time but I prefer to travel with the right kind of weather. In that way, my experiences will be more pleasant than soaking in perspiration or rain!

I had decided on Sri Lanka for end of August. Weather is fairly balanced in Sri Lanka. No extreme dry or wet season. Even if it’s the wet season, it rains for about an hour or two, and the sun shines again. Or perhaps more cloudy days than usual.

The first time I visited Sri Lanka was in October 2009. The 25-year civil war had ended just 5 months prior to my visit. Sri Lanka was in my travel bucket list for quite some time but it was way down the list because of the war. Until a friend of mine from India who had travelled to Sri Lanka several times for business reassured us that it was safe for tourists, war or no war…and he offered to travel along with us at that time.

When I arrived in Sri Lanka in 2009, I fell in love with the island immediately. Despite the war and tight security (army roadblocks every few kilometres), there is something uniquely wonderful about Sri Lanka – gentle and lovely people, laidback lifestyle, delicious but spicy foods, beautiful greenery landscape…and the beaches are just awesome! Don’t expect the Maldives kind of beach, but there’s something about coconut trees and strong breeze from the sea, you just go…aaahhhhh…relax. Chill. Have a beer.

We had visited the city Colombo, a pit stop at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, toured the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, and went on a coastal drive to the beaches in Galle. Fast forward to August 2014 – 5 years later – I returned to Sri Lanka for a different kind of visit which was to explore the UNESCO sites in the central province.

Mini cinema on the platform

Since we were going to spend more time in the central province, we decided to be based in Kandy for 3 nights, and go on excursions to these sites from Kandy. Upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, you could opt to hire a taxi direct to Kandy which is about 3 hours’ drive but we opted for a train journey instead. The number of travel hours by train is the same as driving but we had read internet reviews that the views on the train route were spectacular.

We took the airport taxi to Colombo Fort Railway Station and the fare was LKR2,900 (US$22). We bought the tickets online – Rajadhani Express – the route Colombo-Kandy Intercity runs daily for a price of LKR1,100 (US$8.45). The InterCity seats are available for booking every 2 weeks only but travellers will not be given an e-ticket. Instead you are required to print out a reference, validate the print-out at the railway station office and then you will be issued an actual ticket for your journey.

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The train was due to depart for Kandy at 3.35pm but we arrived at Colombo Fort about 3 hours early! Well, we factored in a couple of hours early in our schedule as the low-cost airlines which we flew into Sri Lanka sometimes have the reputation for delayed flights. We had a simple lunch of rice and curry at a café on the platform, and then after that, we just sat on a bench right in front of the TV screen to while away our time.

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The one thing I do notice about Sri Lankans is that they don’t bother foreigners at all, unlike their neighbours across the Palk Strait i.e. India. But after 7 visits to India, I’m already immuned to the stares and gawks, simply because I’m a foreigner. Only on a few occasions, I might be mistaken for a local Indian of North-East origin. Sri Lankans, however, may look at you because you’re a foreigner but they also turn away quickly to avoid embarrassment, I think. Or they just smile their pearly whites at you :-)

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So for the next 3 hours, my friend and I chatted with each other, people-watched and watched a Hindi movie played on the TV screen. After a while, perhaps due to boredom, I found myself actually following the story of the movie! Not that I understood Hindi (I might know a few words here and there) and unfortunately subtitles were in Sinhalese but it was like watching a silent movie :-) Our waiting area eventually became a mini cinema as that was the only TV screen on the platform or perhaps it was the actress, Aishwarya Rai, a popular Bollywood movie star, acted in that movie – all that attracted the crowd to the TV screen while trains came and gone.

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Which platform?

A word of advice to foreign travellers at Colombo Fort Railway Station: do obtain confirmation from the station master which platform to board the train. The platform number is not stated on the ticket and unfortunately, announcements are only spoken in Sinhalese. Even if the station master informs you of the platform number, it is also good to be observant when closer to the departure time as the train may actually depart from another platform! This is what happened to us: we were informed that the Colombo-Kandy Intercity train to depart from Platform 2 but we found out later it was actually Platform 3. We were observant to see “Rajadhani Express” displayed on the side of the train which rolled in at Platform 3, and luckily, we asked around to confirm, or else we would have missed our train!

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The train was comfortable and air conditioned, and the window was big enough for us to have a clear view of the scenery. Free wi-fi is available and you can order from the menu if you wish to have a meal on board.

The scenery was breathtaking – views of rice fields, coconut trees, villages, greenery absolutely everywhere! As the train reached closer to Kandy, the view changed to hills and mountains. I didn’t manage to take good pictures of the view because of the train movements but here are some pictures sourced from the internet.

Our accommodation was Kandy Guesthouse in Peradeniya, a village town about 8km outside of Kandy (15 minutes’ drive). We alighted at Peradeniya train station which is the station before Kandy and our host’s driver met us at the station, and off we went to our guesthouse in a tuk-tuk, with luggage and all!

Stay tuned for next few weeks on more posts on Sri Lanka!

Sardar Market in Jodhpur, Rajasthan

(This post is linked to Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Merchandise)

Back in Dec 2011, I was travelling in Rajasthan, India and stayed 3 nights in Jodhpur. I had spent some time walking around Sardar Market, a bazaar where locals come by to shop for food, shoes, fabric, accessories, second hand books, arts and crafts, you name it. I browsed through the shops, taking photos of the daily going-ons of the traders and customers, and bought a few second hand books (books by the late prolific writer Khuswant Singh, which are difficult to get in Malaysia).

Here are the womenfolk of Jodhpur selling their merchandise of bangles and accessories:

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Sardar Market is overlooked by the imposing Mehrangarh Fort, the former centre of Marwar and the largest princely state in Rajputana. The mighty Fort is huge and dominates the city.

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If you would like to read more about my adventures in Rajasthan, click Royal Rajasthan

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure!

Whether your own or someone else’s, literal or figurative, take us on a photographic adventure.

The good thing about living in Malaysia is that the various interesting places to travel in South-East Asia are within short distances – maximum 4 hours or so – and they are weekend getaways for us. A typical Malaysian would always check the next public holiday date (even better if it is a long weekend public holiday!) and start planning travels. In addition, there are a couple of low-cost airlines available within the region. As a result, we are spoiled for choices :-)

As for me, any travels that are longer than 4 hours is an adventure because that means, I would spend more than 5 days exploring the destination. My logical mind would rationalise this: why spend more time flying to a destination but only spend a few days at the destination?

The longest time I have ever been away was in May 2011 when I spent 2 weeks travelling in France. Let me take you on a photographic adventure of Paris and the French Riviera :-)

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In Pictures: Wat Pho, What An Amazing Temple

If one is awestruck by the grandeur of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, then the experience is also mind-blowing at Wat Pho.  Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok. It is also the birthplace of Thai traditional massage.  Located only 10 minutes walk from the Grand Palace, most visitors would visit Wat Pho as well, and is mainly to admire the Reclining Buddha.

The temple is open daily from 8.30am till 6.30pm and the entrance fee is THB100.

The Reclining Buddha is about 160 feet in length and is made of solid gold.

The feet of Buddha is inlaid with mother-of-pearls indicating 108 auspicious symbols (or characteristics) of Buddha. Why 108? The number refers to 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection.

Because the main highlight of Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha, most visitors particularly those on group tours do not spend more time to admire the other images of Buddha within the temple premises. Wat Pho is home to approximately 1,000 Buddha images!

If you have missed the other posts on Bangkok, click Grand Palace and Bangkok Buzz

 

Travel Theme: On The Edge of Sigiriya

(This post is linked to Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Edge)

Sigiriya is a massive rock of 600 feet high located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. The rock is also called the Lion Rock in Sinhala. King Kasyapa built his palace on top of the rock and he built the gateway to the palace in the form of a lion. Sadly, the entire site and the palace were abandoned after the king’s death.

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We could have continued to climb from the Lion Staircase all the way to the top but climbers were warned about wasps attack. Wasps attacked a couple of tourists before and they ended up in the hospital. Those who wished to continue to climb were given hooded jackets to protect themselves from the wasps but many turned back halfway because there were many wasps flying around.

So we were almost on the edge of Sigiriya but not quite :-) Here are the images of how huge the Lion Rock is and the steps leading up to the top.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

This week’s photo challenge Dialogue is to show “how photos, just like people, can communicate with each other”

The following images were taken during my trip to Bangkok in July.

The Grand Palace: The angle of the photo looks like the demon guard is communicating with the statue of the hermit doctor.

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Wat Arun: Literal meaning of a dialogue between two monks

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