Almost 10 months and nary an entry!
So much has happened, and I thought I’d do a quick update, since the year is coming to a close:
- We completed our home renovations and moved in last April
- Our home was featured in the November issue of Manja magazine
- I went to Krabi twice — once in April and recently in December
- I officially became a statistic on the NEA website — not that it was a good thing. I got dengue in September and it was horrible. HORRIBLE
- Faz and I have been married for 2 years, Alhamdulillah!
- We went to Japan to celebrate our second wedding anniversary, and we both LOVED JAPAN LIKE CRAZY
- I picked up swimming and am damn proud to be able to swim now, considering the fact that I had a phobia of water
There’ve been some months that I was incredibly busy, but I think I’ve mostly kind of fallen into this comfortable routine of going to work everyday and then coming home and doing some chores or watch some TV with Faz before we go to bed. On some evenings, we’d go swim at the public pool.
Before Faz recently started doing office hours, he was doing shift work — and sometimes if he’d be home when I returned home from work, we’d cook and have dinner together. But then he started doing office hours and found it too tiring to cook, so we don’t cook as often any more. In fact I can’t remember the last time we cooked — must’ve been 2-3 months ago!
On weekends I’d have my swimming lessons, after which Faz and I will visit my parents. Sundays are my rest days — I’ll normally want to stay home, unless I have some compelling reason to go out.
Somehow, blogging just never makes it to the to-do list. Although it seems like a gargantuan task now, I do actually want to blog about our reno and trips before I forget all the details.
I was in Hong Kong for 3 nights over the CNY holidays. It was intended to be a short getaway from Singapore….
….BUT I ENDED UP WISHING I HAD STAYED PUT IN SINGAPORE.
I did NOT enjoy Hong Kong, and I don’t think I’ll be returning, ever. At first we thought HK would be a ghost town during CNY — much like Singapore — but a bit of research revealed that most shops/attractions would still be open, which cemented our travel plans.
However, what it didn’t tell us was how much MORE crowded it was going to be in already crowded HK during this period. We discovered there were hordes and hordes of mainland Chinese tourists who apparently love to vacation there over the CNY holidays.
I can’t tell you how many times I was pushed, bumped into, stepped on and elbowed. The extent of it became one of the major reasons why I didn’t enjoy HK. How could I, when I spent half the time pissed! Let’s not even talk about saying sorry — not one of them had the decency to at least offer me an apologetic look.
We went to Disneyland on our second day, and boy, if you think Singaporeans are kiasu, these people are a million times more kiasu. Queues for attractions were, needless to say, atrocious everywhere in HK at the time, but the kiasu-ism was especially ugly to see in a “happy” place like Disneyland. Once they reached the head of the queue and the gates were opened, they were SPRINTING to secure a seat like vicious predators going after their prey. Get a grip — it’s just a bloody teacup ride!
Also, the concept of personal space is non-existent in their culture, so queuing in front of a mainland Chinese means having them breathe down the back of your neck — which is gross and really annoying. Aside from having to experience uncivilised behaviour, almost everything else went wrong for me this trip as well:
- Didn’t get to take the tram up to The Peak because of the ridiculous queue. Paid the equivalent of SGD 60 for a cab ride up that lasted less than 10 minutes. The fare was split 5-ways but it still doesn’t change the fact that it was expensive for a single cab ride.
- Didn’t get to take the cable car to the Big Buddha, again because of the queue.
- Didn’t get to eat a single halal dim sum or anything that comes under the umbrella of Hong Kong cuisine because oddly, all the non-halal restaurants were open, and all the halal authentic HK restaurants were closed. The irony! I was told the hotel we were staying at, Panda Hotel, has a halal cafe — but in reality all they had was a measly one halal line at the buffet — serving nasi lemak. Yes, I went all the way to HK to have NASI LEMAK. And Turkish food. And Indian food. All other cuisines BUT HK cuisine. This was probably also one of the most upsetting things because I was really looking forward to having authentic HK dim sum.
- I was on the fence about going to Disneyland because I’m not really into these things, but I ended up going, for a lack of a better thing to do. Instead of showing me a good time, Disney decided they’d ruin possibly my one and only time in Disneyland and in HK by scheduling the Sleeping Beauty Castle for maintenance. The fireworks display above the castle at the end of the night was supposed to be somewhat a highlight, but this was how it looked like that night:
What it could’ve looked like:
- I wasn’t looking to buy branded goods either, which are supposedly cheaper in HK because they don’t charge VAT — so shopping was not that exciting.
- Perhaps the most painful thing to swallow was that all this disappointment carried a hefty price tag of about $1,350 — flights and hotel were more expensive because of the CNY holiday. As if that’s not bad enough, I returned with an inflamed ankle from all the walking. My feet were throbbing like it grew a heart of its own. Seriously, I don’t think my SIL is human — when everyone else felt like dying she was still all bright-eyed and cheery and like, “OK where should we go next?”
I went with my sisters- and niece-in-law, and I’d say the only positive thing that came out of it was their company and the bonding. That’s seriously the ONLY thing that is preventing me from hitting my head on the wall.
This was also my first brush with retribution for not listening to my husband. Faz had voiced out that perhaps it wasn’t a good time to go on holiday because we have the house renovation to finance, but I was stubborn. It didn’t take much, but he relented, choosing to see the good that the trip will do me — how it’ll be a good break for me, and that I’ll get to bond with the women in his family. As usual he was his considerate self, and I — well, I was just being selfish. And I got served.
You could say it was a case of bad timing — and I agree — but I still don’t think I’d return. Even without the crowd, there’s really not much that would be of interest to me in HK. It’s just like another Singapore, only more Chinese.
Well, at least that’s another country struck off the map.
No other pics because buat sakit hati.
Ah, the final leg of our holiday.
Istanbul was made our last stop in anticipation of the shopping that could be done there — we had a meagre 15kg baggage allowance on the earlier domestic flights, you see. But in the end we surprised ourselves by not buying much at all. This, in spite of the legendary Grand Bazaar that houses more than 4,000 shops!
Firstly, the cost of things weren’t that much different from Singapore, making for an expensive shopping spree. Secondly, there wasn’t actually much to buy, unless you’re talking carpets and souvenirs for everyone and their mom.
I only bought a few pieces of clothing, some jewelry, natural handmade soaps, fridge magnets, a pretty iznik tile notebook — and of course Turkish delights and baklava! The sweets were quite heavy but they unfortunately had to be painfully hand-carried to ensure the boxes didn’t get smashed. My 30kg international flight baggage allowance was sadly and grossly underutilised!
While Istanbul wasn’t quite the shopping haven for me, it was still a tremendous delight. Whilst popular attractions like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace and the Basilica Cistern were marvellous, surprisingly I found even greater enjoyment doing the simplest of things — walking. Strolling the streets of Istanbul, taking in its sights, sounds and smells.
It didn’t start out this way though. One of the first things Faz did upon reaching our hotel in Istanbul…..was to watch Scam City Istanbul! On one hand, it’s good to be aware of the different scams operating there (some examples: carpet scams, shoeshine scams, nightclub scams), but the downside was that it made us feel MEGA PARANOID.
We felt like mice stepping out of the comforts of our sewer for the first time to explore the big city, hoping not to get squashed. It didn’t help that we arrived back in Istanbul on a Sunday — it was so crowded! We got stopped every few metres by peddlers peddling Istanbul guide books, maps, toys and imitation perfumes. We were on real high alert.
It took me a trip to the Grand Bazaar the next day to snap out of it. I had been really looking forward to visiting one of the oldest covered markets in history, but when we reached it, I wasn’t strolling through it leisurely taking in the details of the market like I had imagined. Faz was pulling on my hand and we were walking fast, trying not to look interested so that shopkeepers wouldn’t approach us (therefore reducing our chances of getting scammed?). It was ridiculous because I was interested, and we didn’t stop to enter any shop for at least the first 10 minutes!
Of course you still have to be on guard — someone actually attempted to pick Faz’s pocket while we were in a crowded tram! But lucky for us he was one lousy ass pickpocket because Faz actually felt his hand! Without looking at the guy, Faz immediately turned his body away, putting the guy’s hand in a knot — and he had no choice but to wriggle it miserably out of the pocket. Fotunately there was nothing in there in the first place. Faz didn’t confront him, well, because 1) he didn’t actually get away with anything and 2) he wanted to avoid the possibility of an altercation.
Anyway my point is just do your best to be aware of your belongings and surroundings, avoid dodgy people, avoid following people to places and you’ll be fine, InsyaAllah. No need to be excessively paranoid like we were!
I enjoyed Istanbul SO, SO much after I got over Scam City Istanbul.
I loved people-watching. People from all walks of life seemed to converge there, and it was a challenge to tell the different nationalities apart. Some ladies would have fair skin and light hair, and just when I thought they were Caucasian, they’d start conversing in Turkish. Or just when I thought they were Turkish, they started speaking in some other language.
We found the Turks to be so strikingly beautiful that Faz and I felt like ugly ducklings there. We’d be so sillily over the moon when shopkeepers ask, “Are you Turkish? You look Turkish” although we knew it was probably a ploy to get us to buy from them — we read about this tactic of theirs online. The women, whether in hijab or not, were so fashionable and elegant!
One of our simple indulgences in Istanbul was having balik ekmek on the pier next to the Galata Bridge at Eminonu. Balik ekmek means fish sandwich, and really that was all it was: a simple grilled fish sandwich. But believe me, as simple as it was, it tasted SO good! I think it’s worthy to note that I’m not even a big fish-eater, but we came to eat here twice while we were in Istanbul.
The sandwiches were only available in the evenings — I assume they spend their mornings fishing. Eating here felt somewhat like an authentic Turkish experience because even the locals and their families patronised these stalls. I loved the ambience. It was quite laidback despite the hustle and bustle of the harbour because you get to just sit there, enjoy your sandwich and watch the world go by — with the sound of the water and the sight of flying seagulls against the monumental old city as the backdrop to boot.
I also loved taking a walk down Istiklal Avenue, a pedestrian street in Taksim — the heart of modern Istanbul. It was there that we finally saw some familiar brands like Starbucks, H&M, Topshop and Adidas — we didn’t see any of these in the old city. There were bookstores, cafes, restaurants and pubs with live music there as well.
As evening came, Istiklal became more alive, with some pretty talented buskers performing their music. I’d describe Istiklal as sort of a cool place where people would gather to wind down after work. The buildings were old and weathered European-style buildings, but the shops were trendy and the place was bustling. It was a rather nice contrast.
It was quite easy to get around in Istanbul, as long as you don’t take a cab — you could either get ripped off or the traffic could kill you. We had printed the rail network map beforehand, and all we did when we got there was to purchase an Istanbulkart (our EZlink equivalent) from a newsstand, usually nearby the station. An Istanbulkart can be used by multiple people as long as you have enough value in it. It’s all pretty straightforward. If not, there’s always the station officer, or the tourism police you can approach for help.
We also found out that the Turks (or maybe just this one Turk) have a mean sense of humour.
Faz and I we were in a park having a lovely time people-watching and munching on our stall-bought corn when a homeless-looking man with a dirty brown bucket and a sinister smile approached us — obviously up to no good. Faz had seen him first. He nudged me urgently and got up to flee — but I, unfortunately, didn’t react fast enough and was by then in direct line of fire.
I could only helplessly imagine what was in that dirty bucket. Pee? Faeces? Filthy drain water? Man, the smell was surely going to be excruciating! The scene that unfolded next seemed to begin playing in slow-mo. The man stopped a few steps away from me and raised the bucket. As he tipped it and gave it a strong jerk to send its contents flying towards me, I shielded my head with my arms — it was the only defence I had left.
A couple of seconds passed, and then in the distance — laughter. I opened my eyes only to see the man looking at me wide-eyed, slightly curling his lips to form a rather psychotic smile, and passers-by laughing at us — HARD. Apparently there was nothing in the bucket and it was all a prank! Without time to waste the man then proceeded to terrorise other people in the park, and looking at their reactions, they couldn’t have been worse than mine!
We turned around to check for cameras in case it was some kind of a gag show, but there were none to be seen. Only an insane homeless man with a bucket and a mean sense of humour — which to be fair, made Faz and I laugh like crazies too. We got punk’d in Istanbul!
The Blue Mosque
All in all an awesome 4 days in Istanbul and 10 days in Turkey! Planning the trip definitely wasn’t easy because of the logistics of travelling on our own in a big and unfamiliar country. Also there were so many things to see and do, which made it all the more difficult to choose! We wanted to maximise our time there so we decided the best option was to take domestic flights to the different areas in Turkey. We didn’t want to waste time getting lost, so we had our hotels arrange our airport transfers. With the exception of Istanbul which was easy to navigate, we had booked day tours in Cappadocia and Oludeniz, so we were still going to places and doing things we wanted without worrying about how to get there.
Best of all, Faz enjoyed the itinerary I had planned! Granted, he is an easygoing person by nature, but the worrywart that I am couldn’t help but be a little worried that he would find things like museums and stuff boring. But he didn’t, so it was a relief!
I think planning trips on our own is definitely the way to go for us because I like to be in total control of the choice of hotel, food, pace, places to go and things to do. But I think I do want to experience a tour at least once….just to see what it’s like. Hmm, what would be a good country to follow a tour?
It’s only been 3 months since my Turkey trip, but believe me when I say it feels like 6 months — at least. I’ve been so exhausted planning a work event, and now that it’s finally over I say I deserve a quick getaway.
Maybe I’ll try a do-nothing getaway this time. 4D3N in Krabi, perhaps?
We spent the next 3 nights in Oludeniz, a beautiful pebble beach in the southwest of Turkey flanked by the Babadag mountains — and is one of the most popular paragliding spots in the world.
Paragliding in Oludeniz
Ever since I saw a photo of a paraglider flying above Oludeniz, my heart was set that that was exactly what I was going to do if I ever made it to Turkey. Well, I made it there, so I went! It was breathtaking. It was the closest I’ll ever feel to being a bird flying — at 6,000 feet, no less!
The scariest moment for me was being up on the mountain seeing other people before me run off the edge of the cliff. That was the moment I started asking myself: SERIOUSLY, ARE YOU REALLY DOING THIS?! I said a little prayer to ask that I reach the ground again safely in one piece and before I knew it I, too, was running off the cliff. It was surreal being so high up with my feet simply dangling in the air but the initial shock quickly passed as I became fixated on how beautiful everything was from up above.
Midway during the flight, my pilot asked if I wanted to do some acrobatics. My inner adrenaline junkie told him yes but I almost wished I hadn’t because we did some spins which made me feel so dizzy I felt like throwing up. I was so relieved when our little performance was over! Nevertheless, it was quite the experience!
Having said all that, my experience was actually tarnished a little by my pilot. I don’t know if he’s just naturally unpleasant or if he got up on the wrong side of the bed that day but he was barking at people from the time we met at their office, and was also on occasion rude to me. I was upset but didn’t want to kick up a fuss (which might result in me not being able to paraglide altogether) so I pushed it aside at the time. But thinking about it now makes me feel quite peeved. I mean, we spent thousands to holiday in Turkey and do all these activities — why does he feel that it’s ok to let people down?!
Faz on the other hand had such an awesome pilot from the same company and enjoyed his paragliding experience to bits. Glad that at least one of us enjoyed the experience thoroughly!
Upon landing (and landing was a bit rough — it had quite an impact on my ankles), we were brought back to the office to have a look at the photo and video footage our pilots had taken, and basically got ripped off paying for them, even after playing the honeymoon card (technically there was some truth to that — it was our second honeymoon). I wish we would’ve bargained some more but we had a boat waiting to take us island hopping. We ended up paying something like SGD60+ per CD when I think we could’ve gotten them at perhaps the ranges of SGD40+. But we did feel better about it later on after coming back from Turkey because we discovered that the footage Faz had taken on our own GoPro was overexposed. Damn, I knew we should’ve gotten that LCD BacPac!
Well, better to have expensive footage than none at all….right? =/
Oludeniz boat trip
Our boat was a double-decker with water slides which by default sounds fun — if you can swim. Here’s a “fun” fact about me: I can’t. So there was no way I was going to slide into OPEN FREAKING SEA! The boat took us to about 6 different spots/islands and we’d spend about 30mins to an hour at each spot. In between, we spent most of our time on the lower deck because we didn’t want to fight the sunbathers for space, and plus I wasn’t looking to get a tan. Closing in on 30 real soon, I’m so not looking to speed up the ageing process! All in all it was a relaxing trip, despite the harsh sun. The waters were so unbelievably blue!
Back at the Oludeniz beach after the boat trip, we contemplated whether to walk or take the public bus back to our hotel. I suggested walking so that we could see more of Oludeniz, and insisted with 200% confidence that it wouldn’t be that long of a walk. It turned out that my memory of how long the journey from our hotel to the beach took when the paragliding company fetched us that morning was MAJORLY skewed.
We ended up walking for a little over an hour — and before you exclaim “Yek eleh one hour jer”, let me add that it was over an hour of PURE UPHILL CLIMBING. Everytime Faz would ask in frustration “Bila nak sampai ni?!“, I’d say “Lagi sikit jer” but that always wasn’t the case. You should have seen him sulking and trudging along angrily. Man, he was pissed.
I thought I’d try to be positive by asking him to treat it as training for Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka — to which he responded: “Screw Adam’s Peak!“. That didn’t work, so I tried another method — to motivate him by bruising his ego a little, telling him not to be weak. That actually went down worse.
I started to feel bad, and was hoping we could hail a cab or take a bus from the next bus stop but there were none in sight! In fact the next bus stop turned out to be the one near our hotel!
It was no easy feat, I’ll admit. I felt bad for “forcing” him into walking, but secretly I was kinda pleased that we got a good workout after all that bread we had in Cappadocia.
Day trip to Pamukkale + Hierapolis
On another day, we signed up for day trip out to Pamukkale, a place with beautiful white terraced travertine hot springs. We almost didn’t make it there because we didn’t know how to fit it into our itinerary, but I’m glad we managed to. Pamukkale is a natural phenomenon — a mountain of white amidst the greens and browns. The white looks like snow from afar, only it isn’t. They’re actually terraces formed by calcium carbonate mineral deposits left by flowing hot spring water over the years.
The day trip to Pamukkale was packaged together with a visit to an ancient Greek city called “Hierapolis”. We didn’t know much about Hierapolis, where it was exactly and quite honestly we didn’t even know if we were going to appreciate the ruins, but the trip gave us a chance to find out.
It turned out Pamukkale was within walking distance of Hierapolis (it did actually seem like Pamukkale was within Hierapolis but I’m not sure if it would be accurate to say so), and a ticket gives you access to both attractions. The ruins in Hierapolis were alright, though I would think Ephesus would’ve been a better choice (more impressive) if you had time to visit just one site. But Ephesus was out of the way for us.
All in all I enjoyed the activities we did and the gorgeous views of Oludeniz but truth be told I had mixed feelings about the vibe it exuded. For some reason Oludeniz is very popular with British tourists and over the years I suppose the place had been moulded to cater to them, making the place less Turkish in its ways and more of a British tourist trap. I had read about this Little Britain in Oludeniz prior, but still decided to go mainly for the activities which led us out of town most of the time anyway, so luckily there was no love lost.
However, Oludeniz was the only place in Turkey that we went in which we felt some uncertainty about the “halalness” of our food. Generally all meat in Turkey is halal because majority of the Turkish are muslims, despite it being a secular state. But walking in Hisaronu town we saw a lot of pork in the menus — nevermind that the other meat sold were halal. We had to recce Hisaronu town quite a bit before we found a restaurant that didn’t serve pork.
Alcohol is a separate matter. Muslims in Turkey (not all, but more so in Istanbul and along the Aegean Coast) seem to prescribe to a different belief about alcohol. Some believe it’s permissible, some believe it’s permissible as long as you don’t get drunk, and some just don’t care. In fact, almost all the restaurants we went to in Turkey sold alcohol. We’d still patronise them, but avoided those selling pork and alcohol because that proved to be a bit too much for our sensibilities.
Anyway, since we’d seen so much pork in Hisaronu, we felt doubtful if our hotel food was halal. So Faz went to ask the nearest staff he could find, which happened to be the bartenders, and they were offended! Genuine or feigned, I don’t know but they were like: What do you mean halal? Of course the food is halal! We’re Muslims! And then they happily started singing “Thola’al badru alaina min thaaniyyatil wada’….”
The juxtaposition of the scene was hilarious. I hope they weren’t high.
Of course, no trip to Turkey would be complete without visiting the legendary Istanbul — and that’s what I’ll be writing about in my next post!
So Faz and I returned home safely (albeit a couple kgs heavier) from Turkey last month, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT THERE! Our 10-day trip was quite the adventure — I think I had way more fun in these 10 days than I’ve had in years put together!
I’d always wanted to visit Turkey for some reason. I wanted so much for Turkey to be THE honeymoon destination that even though we opted for Sri Lanka instead due to some circumstances, I regarded the latter as sort of a pre-honeymoon. I realised later what a silly concept that was because it didn’t quite work that way. One, because Sri Lanka was just as awesome. Two, the feeling you get going for a vacation as freshly minted husband and wife as compared to going 6 months later is just going to be different — period. So I suppose I’ll consider Turkey our second honeymoon!
Some of the trip’s highlights were staying in a cave hotel and riding in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, paragliding and island-hopping in Oludeniz, and soaking up city life in Istanbul where the population is a whopping 14 million!
Because I don’t subscribe to “saving the best for last” when it comes to my holidays, Goreme in Cappadocia was made our first stop. And indeed it became my favourite part of the trip. It took us 4 airports to get there, but the gruelling journey was well worth it. It almost felt like I was on another planet because our time there was filled with nothing but unique experiences, which apart from staying in a cave and hot air ballooning included marvelling at the unusual volcanic rock formations (known as fairy chimneys) unique to Cappadocia, trekking into picturesque valleys and exploring an ancient underground city — things that don’t exist in the part of the world we come from.
The temperature during the day in Goreme was in the low 20’s deg C. I personally consider that to be cold, but with the sun out, it was quite alright — perfect for being out and about. It only felt cold when the wind blew, which was kind of a strange experience for someone who’s never been to a cold place before. Nights on the other hand, were freezing. Temperatures went below 10 deg C. Our cave room didn’t really make for a warm respite, but at least there was no wind in there and that’s probably already half the battle won.
The air was also especially dry throughout our stay in Goreme. The walls of my nose got so dry that part of it cracked and bled. Fortunately it was just a mild discomfort that didn’t get in the way of things.
And so that concludes our out-of-this-world experience in Cappadocia!
Next I’ll be writing about our time in Oludeniz! :)
Prior to the wedding, we definitely raised a couple of eyebrows when we said we were going to Sri Lanka for our honeymoon. I guess it’s not really a conventional holiday destination (much less a honeymoon destination) and understandably so, due to the 25-year Sinhalese-Tamil civil war that just ended in 2009. 25 years is a long time away from tourism, so I suppose people didn’t know much about Sri Lanka apart from all the bad press. But the war had ended, and it was time to rediscover Sri Lanka.
Now that I’ve been there, I’ve come up of a list of 8 things you (may or) may not know about Sri Lanka. They’re mostly my first-time impressions of the country, but I’ve snuck in some facts as well. We were only there for a week and quite honestly haven’t as much as scratched the surface so not all of the below may be accurate — but hey, first impressions count for something right?
- Being so close to India, I wondered how similar things were going to be in Sri Lanka. To the untrained eye, the people probably look the same. To the untrained palate, the food probably tastes the same. So where do the differences begin?
I haven’t been to India but I once had an Indian colleague who told us quite frankly that India still has a long way to go in terms of how women are perceived. I really do want to visit India one day because I love Indian food and culture, and I truly believe that not all Indian men are sex maniacs or male chauvinist pigs, but at the moment I’m finding it hard to get past the sex crimes that’ve recently been making headlines.Well, it turns out that Sri Lanka and India are worlds apart — and even Indians who visit Sri Lanka are attesting to this (read about their accounts here and here). Not just in terms of safety (which I’ll be elaborating about in the next point), but in other aspects as well.
- Speaking as a female traveller, Sri Lanka felt safe — or at least the places we went to were. I did not feel at all feel threatened by the men there — not in the major city of Colombo, and not in the small town of Hatton. They did not stare inappropriately, or do anything that made me feel uncomfortable.
- Sri Lanka’s population is largely made up of Sinhalese (mostly Buddhist), followed by the Tamils (mostly Hindu), the Moors (Muslims — descendants of Arab traders who settled in Sri Lanka). A sizeable minority of Sinhalese and Tamils are Christian.
- The places we visited were impressively clean! Of course there is going to be rubbish, but there was little to be seen. No beggars on the streets, either.
- Sri Lankans I had the pleasure of communicating with were mild-mannered, respectful and polite.
- There are many national parks in Sri Lanka where you can find leopards, elephants, barking deer, birds, and other wildlife. If Africa’s a tad too far, consider Sri Lanka — it’s touted as one of the best safari destinations outside of Africa.
- I was nervously getting ready to having to haggle over tuk-tuk fare in Colombo, but it turns out the tuk-tuks there are metered. Hurray!
- I did not see a single person smoking in Sri Lanka, which was FANTASTIC because I have low tolerance for cigarette smoke, and an even lower tolerance for inconsiderate scums (can you tell how much I hate them?) who like to smoke along the pathways and in public areas, without any glimmer of remorse poisoning everyone’s lungs with deadly second-hand smoke.
Seriously I could write an entire book about how much I hate these people and I don’t care if you’re offended because if you are, it only means one thing: you know you’ve been inconsiderate. Seriously, of what consequence is the bruised ego of one inconsiderate smoker versus the act of putting many others at risk of disease?!
I especially abhor it when I see parents smoking around their young children.
In Sri Lanka smoking and consuming alcohol in public places are punishable by law. I’m not sure what the parameters for ‘public places’ are, but I sure didn’t come across anyone smoking during our entire week-long trip. Great job Sri Lanka! Sorry to end off the list with a bit of angst, but I tend to be very….impassioned about these things.
So there you go. Now you know a wee bit more about Sri Lanka!
After Lunuganga, we headed for Galle Fort, which was about an hour away. But first, we had to have lunch because we were FAMISHED.
For some reason we got really excited at the prospect of having pizza when we saw a Pizza Hut outlet. I don’t remember if it was because we were hungry and Pizza Hut was the first restaurant we saw, or if it was because we were subconsciously craving simple food, after having had gourmet meals for the past week.
We were tickled when we saw they had a localised item on the menu called “Birizza” — which is essentially a fusion of biryani and pizza. It sounded quite interesting, so we ordered one to try.
And so with our tanks refuelled, we explored Galle Fort. Here’s a bit of its history:
Sri Lanka is an island that has changed hands several times in history. They were once ruled by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and then the British, before achieving independence in 1948. Everyone wanted a piece of the tear-shaped island because of its strategic location for trade. It had the business of Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Malays, Indians and Chinese in its seaports back in the day.
Galle Fort was originally built by the Portuguese 426 years ago, and the Dutch and British subsequently added their own fortifications. These centuries-old fortifications later stood the test of nature, when the devastating 2004 tsunami hit Sri Lanka. There was little damage within the fort walls, but tragically the tsunami claimed many lives outside of those walls and in other coastal perimeters.
Today, within the well-preserved Dutch architecture of Galle Fort, you’ll find residences, a functioning High Court and Magistrate Court, religious sites like a mosque, Buddhist temple and churches, cool cafes, hip boutiques, jewellery shops, book stores, hotels and other businesses. Galle Fort very much reminded me of our Haji Lane/Arab Street in Singapore.
We had our last breakfast in Temple Tree Resort & Spa before heading for our last stop in Sri Lanka — Colombo.
All in all a good-ish stay in Temple Tree. Service definitely has room for improvement, but nothing to kick up a fuss about. We really enjoyed our room — the decor, and the view and sounds of the Indian Ocean were spectacular.
The hotel only has 9 rooms — coupled with the fact that some of the rooms were undergoing maintenance, we literally felt like were the only guests there. Once we did see another Caucasian lady, but that was it. I suppose the lack of people around could make the hotel seem a little lifeless, but we personally had no problems with it because we were a honeymooning couple — we needed exclusivity and privacy!
In Colombo we spent our last night at a business-cum-leisure hotel called Renuka Hotel.
We didn’t see the need to get a fancy hotel in Colombo because the main agenda here was to shop for souvenirs and get a taste of the Colombo city while we were at it. Pressed for time, after settling ourselves in we had lunch and went straight to it — we didn’t even stop to take pictures of the city (which I kinda regret now).
The next morning we had a couple of hours before our flight back to Singapore in the afternoon, so after having the hotel’s South Indian breakfast, we snuck in yet another trip to Odel, and then to Paradise Road:
Sri Lanka sounded great from research, and it definitely lived up to my expectations! In fact, I’m thinking of taking a trip back next year to do all the things we didn’t get to do while we were on our honeymoon.
On our next trip, we will:
- Conquer Adam’s Peak. Adam’s Peak is a 2,243-metre tall mountain, which is a shared religious site for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike. There is a footprint at the peak, which is believed by the Buddhists to be Buddha’s footprint, by the Hindus to be Lord Shiva’s, and by the Muslims and Christians to be Adam’s when he was exiled from Eden. Adam’s Peak has been on my bucket list ever since I saw the most magnificent sunrise from the peak on the Sri Lanka episode of “Departures”.
- Go dolphin- and whale-watching in Mirissa. Boats will take you out to sea from the Mirissa Harbour. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see out in the wild a school of dolphins upclose or witness a grand display of whale tail flips!
- Go on a safari in one of Sri Lanka’s many national parks.
- Visit the ancient cityof Sigiriya in Dambulla, another UNESCO world heritage site which contains a 180m-tall rock fortress, and a palace complex. You get another panoramic view of the surroundings from the top.
- Visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage to get upclose and personal with elephants.
Oh what an adventure it’ll be! But before that, we’ll be going for a second honeymoon to Turkey this May! Mega excited!
Up to this day I wonder what difference it would’ve made if we had made Ceylon Tea Trails in Hatton our last stop because the views, the service, the food — everything — was pretty darned hard to top.
The reason we decided to go there at the beginning of our trip was because:
- After a hectic week leading up to the wedding, we needed a damn good retreat
- After reading the reviews, I didn’t think we could’ve waited for it to be at the end of the trip
- We didn’t want to lug souvenirs we’d be buying from Colombo all over Sri Lanka if we went to Colombo first
Whatever it is, our trip still turned out amazing so it’s all good!
In the second leg of our honeymoon we travelled to Induruwa, a quieter coastal area just a few minutes south of Bentota, its more popular and bustling neighbour. The initial plan was to stay in Bentota, but I didn’t find any hotels there on Tripadvisor that I fancied. But Induruwa turned out to be a pretty good decision because it felt more private.
For two nights we stayed in the Temple Tree Resort & Spa, a beachfront hotel that offered uninterrupted views of the Indian Ocean and had a humongous tub in every room which would take ages to fill — but was definitely worth the wait. More than enough space to splash around!
The first night we were there we did a rejuvenating ayurvedic body massage to prep us for the next two days of sightseeing. By the time it ended we were famished and Pali, our driver, recommended us a good seafood place called Amal Villas. It was amusing to see they had “Singapore Chilli Crab” on the menu, and for fun we ordered it just to see if it would taste the same. It tasted NOTHING like our Singapore chilli crab! It was more like a sweet and sour dish — but still fortunately quite tasty.
We ended up eating quite a bit because we’d invited Pali to have dinner with us, but he was too shy and only ate a bit before leaving us to ourselves. But it was nice to get to chat with him for a while and find out more about Sri Lanka through a local’s eyes.
Our second day in Induruwa saw us visiting Lunuganga, the country home of the late Geoffrey Bawa, a renowned Sri Lankan architect.
As he (Bawa) went on to become Sri Lanka’s and one of Asia’s most prolific and influential architects, the garden at the Lunuganga estate remained his first muse and experimental laboratory for new ideas. He continued to change and experiment with its spaces and structures throughout his life until his final illness in 1998. Left to the Lunuganga Trust on his demise in 2003, the gardens are now open to the public and the buildings on the estate are run as a country house hotel.
In my search for accommodation during the honeymoon, I remember stumbling across a hotel called The Villa Bentota and being wowed because it had such a distinct and unique style. I later discovered it was designed by an architect named Geoffrey Bawa, who had designed a whole repertoire of hotels both in Sri Lanka and internationally. In Sri Lanka, these hotels were the Heritance Kandalama in Dambulla, the Jetwing Lighthouse in Galle, and the Tintagel and Number 11 Colombo Residence in Colombo, just to name a few.
After having designed so many hotels, Lunuganga was interesting to see because Bawa built it for himself, so in a sense it was a true reflection of his personal tastes. He spent his lifetime experimenting with the space — I don’t know about you but I was very curious to see how a place that took 40 years to build up looked like.
Getting there saw us getting lost, stopping several times to ask the locals for directions. We later learnt that every single detail about the 23-hectare Lunuganga was deliberate. It was inaccessible because Bawa had intended it — he treasured his privacy very much.
We finally arrived at this huge iron gate with nothing but an old bronze bell as form of communication which seemed to lead into a forest, no buildings in sight. Did we arrive at the right place? Surely this couldn’t be the main entrance? We rang the bell and waited. Five minutes passed. I thought maybe the place was closed and had begun to feel a little disappointed, but lo and behold suddenly a young man came running from the inside to let us in. Trip not wasted afterall!
Going into the premises we realised why it took the man five minutes — it was a bit of a walk in but I didn’t mind. I was already enjoying Lunuganga and its many visual stimulants: giant trees hundreds of years old, flora of different species — and when we finally got to the houses, they were old and rustic on the outside but bursting with character on the inside.
We weren’t allowed inside these houses, which now serve as hotel rooms, but they had windows for us to peer through. In terms of accommodation, Lunuganga is probably not the place for you if you cannot live without all the mod cons. There are no swimming pools, no TVs, and probably no wi-fi. What you do get, but which is priceless these days, is a sense of immense serenity and still-standing time.
As a layperson I’d say Lunuganga is an amalgamation of traditional and modern, eclectically peppered with all of Bawa’s favourite things, making a style that is uniquely his.
Lunuganga was beautiful and I enjoyed it tremendously. I wasn’t sure at first if Faz would appreciate this sort of attraction — I still probably enjoyed it more than him — but thank god he turned out to be quite an easygoing travelling companion!
Coming up in my next post — our visit to Galle Fort, a 426-year-old historical monument and UNESCO world heritage site that was originally built by the Portugese but was subsequently taken over by the Dutch and then the British, and then to Colombo for a taste of Sri Lankan city life!
After we came back from our honeymoon I think I was probably more excited to write about our amazing time in Sri Lanka than our wedding. Of course I enjoyed our wedding tremendously but to wind down after the pains of wedding planning and to be travelling for the first time as husband and wife was even better!
Being the more detailed and analytical half, I had automatically (and quite delightfully) put myself in charge of the research and itinerary. Each time I sat down and researched the things to see and do in Sri Lanka, I would come out of it more and more excited because there were just so many!
But we only had a week, so we had to choose. After much deliberation, we decided on the Southwest region of Sri Lanka. These were the places we ended up going in our trip:
Our first stop was Ceylon Tea Trails. Tea is an integral part of Sri Lanka’s economy (they’re one of the world’s largest exporters of tea) so seeing the tea plantations was a definite must for us. There were many other hotels amidst the plantations, but based on research, Ceylon Tea Trails in Hatton seemed to offer the best experience, and was thus intended to be the highlight of our trip.
We arrived at Bandaranayake Airport, Colombo at 1:40 am Sri Lanka time, 10 long hours away from our noon check-in at Ceylon Tea Trails. At the airport we were lucky to have chanced upon a tour agency from which we secured a driver and transport for our entire trip — something we’d left to chance because we didn’t have time to look for one before leaving for Sri Lanka. We told them we wanted to experience Sri Lanka’s famed scenic train rides, so they suggested taking the train from Kandy to Hatton, and that our driver, Pali, would meet us there.
Had we not chanced upon them, we would’ve taken a longer and less scenic route….and probably would’ve gotten lost along the way!
So off we went to Kandy Railway station. We arrived at 5 am, but our train was scheduled to arrive only at 9 am. With time to kill, we went about exploring sleepy Kandy city. We walked along the Kandy Lake, saw the famed Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple (also known as Temple of the Tooth), and experienced Kandy in its bustling Monday morning peak hour rush.
Wanting a more “authentic” Sri Lankan train experience, we bought 2nd class tickets. I imagine 3rd class would’ve been more interesting, but we felt we weren’t “seasoned” enough. Onboard the train, it was a real challenge to stay awake because we hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours since we woke up at noon on departure day!
Somewhere in the middle of our 2.5-hour journey, I got paranoid thinking we might’ve have taken the wrong train, or missed our stop. Prior to boarding, we had tried to check how many stops away Hatton was, but nobody seemed sure of what we were asking, or perhaps how to answer. I think in Sri Lanka generally most people can speak English, but the level of proficiency probably differs with the area. In Colombo I found they were very proficient, but not so in Kandy. It actually looked like we were the only foreigners in Kandy up until the arrival of the train — that’s when we finally saw other foreigners boarding.
We tried our luck again on the train, zeroing in on a young Sri Lankan chap sitting opposite us who looked like he might know English. A quick check with him put my worries at ease — we were on the right track!
Ceylon Tea Trails, Hatton
It took us 14 long hours in total (including our 4-hour flight from Singapore to Colombo) to get to Ceylon Tea Trails but once we did, all manners of lethargy vanished — all because of this AMAZING sight:
Having been on the road for so long, we took the first day to rest and just stayed within the bungalow premises, marvelling at the scenery. We learnt that no keys were issued for our room unless requested — this was to make guests feel like they were at home. We were a bit apprehensive about the concept but went along with it, and was later after our stay grateful to find that nothing went missing.
Probably the first to die in cold weather, I was afraid it was going to be cold up in the mountains but it was in fact a cool and relaxing low to mid 20’s deg C during the day, which was just perfect. At night temperatures dropped further — no fans or air-conditioning needed — but nothing thick comfy blankets and lots of cuddles couldn’t solve!
Because Singapore is about 3 hours ahead of Sri Lanka, we found ourselves waking up ridiculously early in Sri Lanka — as early as 5am, which meant we had more time to do stuff and was probably the reason time seemed to go by slower.
On the morning of Day 2 we arranged to go for the Tea Experience, which is a tour of one of the tea factories in the area. The tour takes you on the journey from tea leaf to tea cup — basically showing you how tea is grown, plucked, processed, packed, auctioned and sold. It’s really quite amazing how much work goes into a simple cup of tea! It was somewhat a reminder of how we shouldn’t take even the seemingly simple things in life for granted.
We were glad we went for the Tea Experience early in our stay because through it we had a newfound appreciation for tea, and were able to better appreciate the tea served to us every mealtime — swirling the tea in our mouths a little longer before swallowing — adding to our entire Tea Trails experience.
Because at Ceylon Tea Trails you can have your meals pretty much wherever you want, we chose to have our lunch this time at Castlereagh bungalow, another Tea Trails bungalow located across the reservoir from Summerville. We had the option to get there either via tuk-tuk or boat, and without a heartbeat we chose the latter! We’d been marvelling at the view of the reservoir and the mountains beyond it ever since we got here, so deciding to take a boat across was a no-brainer, really.
One of the activities guests can do at Ceylon Tea Trails is to explore the other bungalows. They’re all preserved colonial bungalows, but each and every one of them has a different interior and character. Guests sometimes plan their stay such that they get to stay in each one of the four bungalows. You could also take a hike/bike up into the tea trails but it rained after lunch and into the evening, so we could do none of those. Instead we ended up taking an extremely satisfying nap in the cool weather, awaking only to have our evening tea and scones by the reservoir.
It again rained in the afternoon, and I was starting to feel a little anxious because this was the last day we could go trekking into the tea trails before leaving for Induruwa the next day. Fortunately the rain stopped, and we left almost immediately. Pradeep, the butler, equipped us with some salt to fend off leeches and we were on our way. We only had about two hours before dark, so we had no choice but to go for the shortest trail.
Typically the trail would’ve taken an hour to complete, but because we were stopping every now and then to take pictures, we took almost double the time. The trail back to the bungalow was quite steep — I wonder how we would’ve made it back down if we had chosen to go by bicycle. It was already getting dark and had started to drizzle again, so we had to be extra careful. When we finally made it back to the bungalow, we were so impressed to see Pradeep waiting out on the driveway to receive us with umbrellas! Such sincere service!
I dreaded to take off my shoes because I’d felt something like ant bites and somehow knew I’d find leeches in there. Yet I couldn’t wait to get them off! I was just so grossed out I just froze, and couldn’t bear to look! True enough, Pradeep found THREE leeches stuck to my foot! He had to pepper the bloodsucking leeches with salt before plucking them off of me. Where was Faz in all of this? Laughing at me and videoing my high-pitched squeals, apparently. Pfft.
Three days of bliss had gone by, and the time had come for us to move on to the next leg of our honeymoon in Induruwa. We were sad, but didn’t exactly mind leaving because we were already blessed with an amazing time here at Ceylon Tea Trails.
We didn’t get to check out the other bungalows (except for Castlereagh) because of the weather, but in all honesty we were actually quite contented to have stayed put in Summerville. In our itinerary we had planned trips outside of Ceylon Tea Trails to nearby Kandy, as well as the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage but this place was so beautiful, service top-notch — the butlers were attentive without ever being intrusive, every meal a titillation for the palate that we literally couldn’t bear to tear ourselves away.
I haven’t spoken about the food, have I? Every single gourmet morsel that went into our mouths while we were here was delicious. We had enquired about halal food prior to booking, and while they said it could be arranged, we still chose to stick to seafood just in case. At Ceylon Tea Trails we were served breakfast (you could have it Sri Lankan or English), a 3-course lunch, afternoon tea and cakes, and a 4-course dinner. Our chef would discuss every single meal with us beforehand. He would suggest the menus, but we were free to change it up however we liked. We absolutely loved everything we ate here.
Apparently Sri Lankans are big on bread — there are bakeries everywhere in Sri Lanka! We had freshly baked bread to accompany all our meals, which we found great pleasure in. Who doesn’t love freshly baked bread?
Some Singapore-style food pics to make you salivate:
Check-out, as was the check-in, was a breeze — there was nothing we had to fill in or sign, no bills we had to pay because we had paid for our stay in full beforehand, and there were no hidden costs. When we left, all the butlers saw us off, which was a very nice gesture but made leaving a little harder.
Ceylon Tea Trails was the PERFECT place to spend our honeymoon. We couldn’t have been happier.
The drive back down to ground level took us almost 2.5 hours! We were circling down on narrow, bumpy roads which made Faz feel a little sick, but once we were on the ground he was okay.
Coming up in my next post, Part 2 of our Amazing Sri Lankan Honeymoon!
Before anyone starts thinking I have bipolar disorder for being angry and clueless in one post and so cheery and forward-looking in another, I was actually in the midst of completing this entry when the Grassroots Club dropped the bomb on us. Since it’s already written, I thought I might as well just publish it because I really did feel happy albeit in a moment that has already passed — but will come again, I’m sure.
In a holiday mood yet again because we just booked our second honeymoon accommodation in Sri Lanka!
For this second accommodation, we were looking out for beachfront hotels so that we could wake up to views of the Indian Ocean.
The Bentota area in Sri Lanka is popular for their beaches, but I couldn’t really find any hotels there that suited my taste. There were lots of beachfront properties with amazing views of the ocean, but none with interiors that blew me away. By the same stroke, the hotels we found with interiors to die for weren’t as close to the beach as we’d hoped.
We did come close to making a reservation for two nights at Paradise Road The Villa Bentota, a gorgeous 19th century property that was converted into Sri Lanka’s first boutique hotel back in the 1970s by the late world-renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, that recently got refurbished again by Sri Lankan design guru Shanth Fernando.
I love the interior of this hotel! It fuses old charm with contemporary design, and the end result is a space that exudes so much character. But then again I may just be biased because I’m a sucker for anything that has a story behind it. You could spin a little history around a product out of thin air and I’d probably buy into it.
This gorgeous property faces the beach, but its rooms don’t open out to the sea. They open out to the gardens, which is really not bad an option, but it’s not what we originally wanted.
Lucky thing we weren’t so quick to settle, because I decided to check out other beaches nearby Bentota, and chanced upon Temple Tree Resort & Spa, Induruwa. Now this became an instant contender because it offered us uninterrupted views of the Indian Ocean!
The interior is a far cry from that of The Villa Bentota, and is in fact rather basic, but fortunately in a way I thought was tasteful.
For a while we were at a loss with the two options but we slept on it and finally decided after that to go with Temple Tree Resort & Spa. The Villa Bentota is gorgeous, but we just couldn’t pass up on the Indian Ocean. The cheaper option of the two, it just seemed like the more appropriate option since we’ll only be staying in one of the two days anyway.
So two hotels down, one more to go! The last one will be nothing fancy, just a place to crash after shopping in Colombo before we head home (and face reality, ha-ha).