8 Things About Sri Lanka

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?

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    A Sinhalese man stopping to pray to Buddha while passing by the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.

    A Sinhalese man stopping to pray to Buddha while passing by the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. I loved to see their devotion. No matter where they were going, every time they passed by a statue of Buddha or a place of worship they would stop to pray — even if they were outside the premises — and be on their way.


  4. 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.
    Kandy Lake, Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka

    The perimeters of Kandy Lake. No trash to be seen here.

    Sri Lanka

    One of the train stations on the way to Hatton. Some trash on the tracks, but none to be seen at the station!

    Hatton, Dickoya, Sri Lanka

    I think this was in Hatton? The town may seem a bit old, but it was definitely kept clean. Can you spot a man sweeping the streets?


  5. Sri Lankans I had the pleasure of communicating with were mild-mannered, respectful and polite.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

    Since we can't outlaw tobacco, we should implement this. Hey if you want to harm your own health, harm yours alone!

    Since we can’t outlaw tobacco, we should totally implement this. Hey, if you want to harm your health and stink up your clothes, don’t subject others to it!

    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!


A Decade of Love: Our Amazing Sri Lankan Honeymoon (Part 2b): Induruwa, Galle, Colombo

Day 5

After Lunuganga, we headed for Galle Fort, which was about an hour away. But first, we had to have lunch because we were FAMISHED.

CHOGM 2013, Galle, Sri Lanka

On our way to Galle Fort we passed through a street lined with schoolchildren welcoming officials for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013. They gamely posed for us!

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.

"Birizza" turned out to be a piece of pizza crust (which I found quite redundant and didn't eat in the end) on top of a bowl of biryani. Lucky thing the biryani was good!

“Birizza” turned out to be a piece of pizza crust (which we found quite redundant and didn’t eat in the end) atop of a bowl of biryani. I got excited thinking it was baked cheese at first, but fortunately the biryani itself was quite good.

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.

Tsunami Honganji Vihara Memorial, Galle, Sri Lanka

The Tsunami Honganji Vihara in Hikkaduwa — a giant statue of Buddha gifted by Japan as a memorial for the 40,000 who lost their lives to the tsunami.

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.

Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

The sea-facing Galle Fort.

Indian Ocean, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

The Indian Ocean looked stunning but at the same time the vastness of the ocean and its fierce waves were quite intimidating — I felt so small.

Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

A group of Sri Lankan school boys thought I was a celebrity and wanted my autograph. (JUST KIDDING. They were seeking donations for their school. A group of charming boys they were — we said we were on our honeymoon and they complimented us by saying we look good together. Good on you boys — charm gets you very far in life!)

Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

It was sweltering hot and you probably can’t see it but we were actually sweating like pigs in this photo.

Meera Mosque, Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

Meera Mosque, built in 1909.

Lane

Weaving through the lanes of Galle Fort. This was on Church Street. The building on the left of the photo is an Arabic College established in 1892. I wish we would’ve had more time to wander further!

Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

What I got out of our visit to Galle Fort — a pair of pearl earrings and matching ring! I had completely forgotten to bring any earrings on our trip, so my ever so sweet husband offered to buy me a pair. There couldn’t be a better memento of our Sri Lankan honeymoon. :)

 

Colombo

Day 6

We had our last breakfast in Temple Tree Resort & Spa before heading for our last stop in Sri Lanka — Colombo.

Temple Tree Resort & Spa Induruwa, Sri Lanka

Breakfast was meh.

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.

Renuka Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Renuka was nothing fancy compared to the other hotels we stayed at, but it was what you would expect out of a hotel that touts itself as a business-cum-leisure hotel.

Renuka Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka

The view from the room.

Renuka Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Not too shabby — the hotel has a gym and pool on the roof. We didn’t have time to take a dip, but boy did the pool look damn inviting!

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).

Colombo, Sri Lanka

Lunch was Indian food at a nearby restaurant. There is definitely some difference in terms of taste between Sri Lankan and Indian cuisine, though I can’t put my finger on what it is. Anyhow, I don’t remember the Indian cuisine in Singapore to have so many accompanying dishes. Needless to say, we couldn’t finish everything!

Laksala, Colombo, Sri Lanka

We shopped at Laksala, a government-run enterprise selling Sri Lankan souvenirs like tea, handicrafts and textiles.

Odel, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Most of our shopping was done at this departmental store called Odel. That’s me caught in the act, absolutely focused on accessory-buying. I didn’t need any more accessories, but heck — they were cheap!

The accessories I bought. I can't remember how much the necklaces were, but the earrings were like SGD4.50 each?

Managed to exercise some self-restraint and only bought these few accessories. I can’t remember how much the necklaces were, but the earrings were like SGD4.50 each?

Our loot. We didn’t actually spend that much on shopping because we found that the stuff in Sri Lanka weren’t that much cheaper than in Singapore  — well, except for the food, tea, gems, and perhaps locally-manufactured clothing.

Day 7

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:

Paradise Road, Colombo, Sri Lanka

After having read about Paradise Road prior, I knew I had to come here. Paradise Road is a designer (designed by Shanth Fernando, the same Sri Lankan designer who refurbished The Villa Bentota, to be exact) homeware and furnishing boutique. I foresee myself buying things for my house here!

Sri Lanka

….aaaand it’s back to Singapore. Till we meet again, Sri Lanka!

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!


A Decade of Love: Our Amazing Sri Lankan Honeymoon (Part 2a): Induruwa, Galle, Colombo)

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:

  1. After a hectic week leading up to the wedding, we needed a damn good retreat
  2. After reading the reviews, I didn’t think we could’ve waited for it to be at the end of the trip
  3. 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!

 

Induruwa

Day 4

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!

Temple Tree Resort & Spa Induruwa, Sri Lanka

The hotel compounds. The entrance was pretty easy to miss if you didn’t pay enough attention.

Temple Tree Resort & Spa Induruwa, Sri Lanka

The hotel lobby.

Temple Tree Resort & Spa Induruwa, Sri Lanka

Our room!

Temple Tree Resort & Spa Induruwa, Sri Lanka

…and my favourite part of the room — the humongous tub, which looks out onto the lawn and the Indian Ocean!

Sri Lanka sunset

Our view for two nights. MasyaAllah.

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.

Amal Villas Restaurant, Induruwa, Sri Lanka

Our huge crab before it ended up on the dinner table.

Amal Villas Restaurant, Induruwa, Sri Lanka

Faz, together with Pali. Faz and I were literally still covered in oil from head to toe because we couldn’t shower right after our ayurvedic treatment, but was too hungry to wait.

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.

Day 5

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.

Source: www.geoffreybawa.com

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!

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

Waiting for any signs of life to appear after ringing the bell….

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.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

The Entrance Court, the start point of our Lunuganga tour.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

The place is rustic but the details are amazing!

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

Waiting for our guide to take us around.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

Geoffrey Bawa’s gorgeous study. He was obsessed with checks, and I love that it lends such a bold yet refreshing contrast against the traditional-looking furniture in the room!

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

More checks! This was one of the hotel rooms, which we shot through the window.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

We were told this Water Garden was Bawa’s favourite view in the evening.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

One of the many pretty water lilies in the pond.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

You’ll find Lunuganga littered with frangipani trees — frangipani was Bawa’s favourite flower.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

Pong pong — the forbidden poisonous fruit we all learnt about in primary school. I think this was the first time I’ve ever seen it in person!

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

Guess what, even more checks! That’s the Dedduwa lake in the background.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

Cinnamon trees were also planted in the compound. Did you know the entire tree smells of cinnamon –the bark, the leaves and all?

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

I love how ethereal the branches look! The whole time I felt like I was Alice in Wonderland or something.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

An interesting plant the blue fern is. It only looks blue when the sunlight hits it.

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

What did I say about feeling like Alice in Wonderland? I felt like I’d just come out of some secret passage in the forest!

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

Have I told you I have a fondness for old, weathered doors? I feel like they have so much character. And how unexpectedly bold is the choice of colours in such a rustic setting? Love it!

Lunuganga, Sri Lanka

Bawa’s favourite frangipani tree, which was also the largest one in Lunuganga. This one was weighted to achieve that low, spreaded-out effect. You could come here to the Western Terrace to have a meal and enjoy the majestic view.

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!


A Decade of Love: Our Amazing Sri Lankan Honeymoon (Part 1: Ceylon Tea Trails)

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:

Sri Lanka honeymoon itinerary

Our itinerary summarised.

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.

Getting there

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.

Kandy Railway Station, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy Railway Station at 5 am. Our ticket counter hadn’t even opened yet!

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Met this friendly lil’ Sri Lankan kitty walking along the Kandy lake.

Kandy Railway Station, Kandy, Sri Lanka

These Sri Lankans definitely didn’t look as solemn as Singaporeans going to work on a Monday morning!

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!

Onboard the Podi Menike train

Onboard the second class Podi Menike train, which was quite clean. There were vendors going up and down the train selling snacks and drinks, and later a group of boys singing and playing instruments, providing entertainment throughout our journey.

Onboard the Podi Menike train, Sri Lanka

With the cool air blowing against my face, it was hard not to fall asleep.

Onboard the Podi Menike train, Sri Lanka

As the train crept up higher, we were presented with views such as this. MasyaAllah! What a reward for fighting to stay awake!

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:

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

This was the magical view that greeted us. A slice of heaven on earth!

Day 1

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!

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

The exterior of the Summerville bungalow.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

The spacious interior of our Garnet Suite. No TV here — nature will keep us entertained!

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

His and hers mirrors — and a stylish clawfoot tub!

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Our room opened up to a private lil’ garden. In the mornings we’d wake up to fresh mountain air and birds singing. Absolute bliss.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Lounging in the living room after dinner, discussing our itinerary which initially included venturing out of Ceylon Tea Trails. After having seen the scenery here, we threw that itinerary out the window — we’re staying put!

Day 2

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.

Norwood Tea Factory, Tea Experience, Ceylon Tea Trails

At the Norwood Tea Factory.

Norwood Tea Factory, Tea Experience, Ceylon Tea Trails

Resident tea planter Andrew Taylor (whose lineage dates back to Sir James Taylor, founding father of Ceylon Tea — how cool is that!) explaining to us that a cup of tea starts with two leaves and a bud.

Norwood Tea Factory, Tea Experience, Ceylon Tea Trails

The morning’s collection of tea leaves coming in to be laid out and dried.

Norwood Tea Factory, Tea Experience, Ceylon Tea Trails

What the interior of the factory looks like.

Norwood Tea Factory, Tea Experience, Ceylon Tea Trails

Ground tea leaves, ready to be packed.

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.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

The husband looking rather nervous about the narrow boat.

Castlereagh bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Lunch at Castlereagh bungalow. Vegetable broth with a view, how’d ya like that?

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.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Having afternoon tea with yummy cakes and scones.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

This was at about 5 pm, I think. I can’t believe how mystical this looks — no editing at all! It was so magical to see every time the clouds rolled by!

Day 3

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Taken just after sunrise. A sight to behold!

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.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

At the start of the trail.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Having a ton of fun even though it’s just the two of us!

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

The view atop the tea trails.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

The way down was steep!

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.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Sorry to break the flow of beautiful pictures with this pic, but this was one of the leeches that made its way into my shoe. Gross!

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Pradeep, trying to get the leeches off. Such a sweet guy he was. We chatted with him later and found out he has a girlfriend he plans to marry. Awww!

Day 4

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.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Boohoo, last day here! Admiring the scenery for the last time.

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:

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Breakfast always starts with fruits and freshly squeezed juice!

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

One of the days that we opted for a Sri Lankan breakfast, which consisted of string hoppers and accompanying condiments. I can’t put my finger on what makes Sri Lankan cuisine different from Indian cuisine, but there definitely is something that sets it apart.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Lunch/dinner always starts with some soup.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

…followed by an appetizer. We had requested to have prawns one time and they served us this grilled prawn salad. I love prawns!

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Another appetizer we had for dinner. Darn, can’t seem to remember now what was in those parcels….

Castlereagh bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Mains one day was grilled tuna and cream sauce.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan dinner — a burst of flavours in our mouths! Absolutely delish.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

My favourite course of the meal — dessert! Pastry with raspberry filling, with a side of homemade vanilla ice cream.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Poached pear with cinnamon ice cream.

Castlereagh bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

Creme brulee with a mint leaf garnish.

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.

Summerville bungalow, Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka

With the lovely people who made our stay at Ceylon Tea Trails an experience.

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!


A Decade of Love (Part 1: Nikah)

And so Faz and I have been married for…..TWELVE days now! It literally feels like our wedding was just yesterday. Guess time flies when you’re having fun!

Now that we’re back to the humdrum routines of Singapore life after our honeymoon, I’m experiencing all sorts of withdrawal symptoms. I miss the chaos of last minute errands, the busy chatter of family and friends who came by to help, our gorgeous wedding reception and of course, our freaking amazing Sri Lankan honeymoon.

It all feels like a sweet dream that ended too soon!

Alhamdulillah, God had mercy on us and gave us a wedding that surpassed all our expectations. I didn’t think it was possible, but I have NO major complaints! It’s just indescribable, the feeling you get when you see your years of planning and hard work come to beautiful fruition. Thinking about it makes me want to weep in joy and gratitude.

Having said that, there were still in fact a couple of hiccups before our nikah ceremony on Friday, 25 October 2013, that made us MEGA antsy:

  1. We didn’t know we had to fetch our Kadi — nowhere was this explicitly written or mentioned to us until he called Faz, who was already reaching Assyafaah mosque in Sembawang from Pasir Ris. One of his best men had to make a U-turn and fetch him from Tampines. He did mention in the teleconversation a couple of days prior what time he would be done in Tampines and even gave the address, but he didn’t explicitly ask to be fetched, and so Faz thought it was just for general information so that we could anticipate what time he would be arriving. It was a case of miscommunication, plain and simple.
  2. Faz’s dad, together with the entire entourage travelling by chartered bus, found themselves lost!
  3. When our Kadi finally arrived, I realised my brother, who was to be one of our two witnesses, was missing. My mother managed to contact him, and discovered he had forgotten to bring his IC, so he was on the way back to our place in Woodlands to retrieve it. I blame myself for this because in my business, I forgot to remind him as well. But I have to thank our Kadi for covering up by delivering the nikah sermon first.

Once we overcame these hiccups, Alhamdulillah it was all smooth sailing. My dad gave me away. Both he and Faz were calm and composed, and it was a one shot, one kill.

Some pictures from the nikah that were captured by our freelance photographer friend Zulkifli Abdullah (thank you so much for the quick edit!) which were also played as a slideshow on Saturday’s reception:

I never knew so many people were seated behind me till I turned around! It was a little nerve-wracking, but I had other more worrying things on my mind.
Photo credit: Zulkifli Abdullah

With my dear mother and younger sister. My sister is the opposite of me — tall, slender, fair. I think she looks damn elegant here in that outfit!
Photo credit: Zulkifli Abdullah

Love the modern architecture of Assyafaah mosque!
Photo credit: Zulkifli Abdullah

Finally, son-in-law and father-in-law.
Photo credit: Zulkifli Abdullah

Raising our hands to seek forgiveness and barakah for this new chapter in our lives.
Photo credit: Zulkifli Abdullah

My imaam.
Photo credit: Zulkifli Abdullah

Finally getting to exchange the rings we bought so early in advance! #kiasu
Photo credit: Zulkifli Abdullah

Best 10-year anniversary gift ever.
Photo credit: Zulkifli Abdullah

After we were done taking photos, we went up to the second floor where our nikah reception was held.

Taken before our nikah. This simple and basic decor was done in part by the mosque and in part by Doulath Wedding Decor. The mosque could’ve provided everything we needed but I wanted a more detailed bridal table set-up, so since I was engaging Doulath Catering, I got their decor team to do it. I also rented matching centrepieces from them for the guest tables.

Bridal table set-up by Doulath Wedding Decor. You can view more of the decor on their facebook page.
Source: Doulath Wedding Decor

Nikah DIY projects

I didn’t want to spend on bridal chamber decor services because you’re basically going to have to return all the fixtures, so it was a full-on DIY project. To make things more challenging, once the queen bed went into the room, I didn’t have much space for much else. I had so many things, I didn’t know where to start. My girlfriend Su had to come by and literally tell me step by step what to do! With her help, I managed to throw away a lot of things and stow away stuff in the right places.

The night before the nikah, my bedroom was still not ready. Another close girlfriend, Seri, stayed past 1am and together we fixed my quilt cover, steam-ironed it and vacuumed my room. This was the final result:

I love love love my new room! It’s a total makeover from how my room used to look like (you can see my previous room here). Sad thing is, my room is no longer this clean because all the stuff I chucked into other people’s rooms are now back in my room. And no thanks to 3M adhesive hooks, four of those frames you see on the wall have dropped off. By the way if you’re wondering why the frames are empty, I was too lazy to go find photos (coz I know I’d be very selective about it and take an eternity to choose 8 photos), and thought it’d be more artistic to leave it blank. Hey, use some imagination!

On the morning of the nikah, we also put together these amazing bunga rampai:

These were inspired by Kasai Sayang, but in the end I think mine looked better (haha obviously biased here)! We got the holders (they’re actually tiramisu cups from SKP) ready beforehand and much to my mother’s disgruntlement, we set out for Far East Flora on the morning of the nikah to get the flowers. Su and I were practically squealing when we were putting these together because they were soooooo frickin’ pretty!

Next I’ll be blogging about our Orchidville reception, vendor reviews and our fabulous Sri Lankan honeymoon, but meanwhile if you’re that curious or can’t wait that long, you can browse our official Instagram wedding hashtag, #decadeoflove2013, to see instant snippets of our nikah, our Orchidville reception and our honeymoon!

Till the next post! :)


Amboi Sri Lanka part two

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.

The hotel compounds
Source: Mr & Mrs Smith

The hotel pool, set against lush greenery and perfectly manicured gardens
Source: Mr & Mrs Smith

Looks so enchanting in the evening!
Source: Mr & Mrs Smith

The hotel lobby
Source: Mr & Mrs Smith

The bedroom lounge
Source: Mr & Mrs Smith

One of their superior rooms
Source: Mr & Mrs Smith

Another superior room, which I think has a nice and cosy beach feel to it
Source: Mr & Mrs Smith

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 facade of Temple Tree Resort & Spa, Induruwa
Source: Book Online 2 Save

The suite. The only difference between this and the standard room is the dining area, but we didn’t need it, so we took the latter.
Source: Book Online 2 Save

The standard room
Source: Book Online 2 Save

The bathroom
Source: Book Online 2 Save

The bathroom also has a round tub also with a view of the Indian Ocean!
Source: Book Online 2 Save

Would you look at that!
Source: Experience Travel Group

The minimalist hotel lobby
Source: Experience Travel Group

Pool and restaurant
Source: Experience Travel Group

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).


Go big or go bust.

I’m almost at my wit’s end here. 

A while ago, Farhana from Kahwin Khronicles posted that my wedding venue, the Grassroots Club, will be undergoing renovations this year. I had zero knowledge of this and was shocked to learn of it. I quickly called our Grassroots Club liaison and he assured me that the renovation of the function rooms that we booked will be completed by mid August, and if for any reason the completion is delayed, they will move us to their multi-purpose hall, which by then would have turned into a ballroom.

I hated the uncertainty. I hated the fact that we wouldn’t know how our venue was going to look like. Renovating the place doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to like it better. Who knows what colours or patterns they’re going to choose?

And then to make things worse than they already were, yesterday I received a call from Nurin (a friend of mine who had booked the same exact venue) followed by Faz, telling me that they had been dropped THE bomb. The function rooms will not be available for rent anymore because they are going to lease it to some tenant, and that they would have to reallocate us to the multi-purpose hall, which will NOT be renovated into a ballroom till next year!

I just flipped. There are bloody reasons why I chose their function rooms over the MPH in the first place, and now you’re giving me the very place I didn’t want!

I can accept the clause in the terms of agreement that states that they reserve the right to reallocate us in the event that our venue becomes unavailable for whatever reason.

But what I cannot accept is: WHY COULDN’T THEY HAVE INFORMED US EARLIER?!

I had to find out from someone else! According to Farhana, they had started to turn down bookings late last year. Why couldn’t they have informed us about the possibility of renovations then? We could have the option to look for another venue if we wanted! We’re only five months away, and for Nurin, only four — where the F can we find other venues at such short notice?

@#%*!?&%^ man, seriously.

I am dead set on not having my wedding at their unrenovated MPH. I don’t settle, so if we don’t find another venue that we like in the next few weeks, Faz and I have decided to downsize our wedding. We will just nikah, throw a simple lunch or dinner for 400 immediately after, either at the mosque or at home, and be done with the whole thing in 4 hours max.

No sanding, no elaborate decor, no multiple outfits, no photobooth, no kompang. I can’t deny it’ll suck a little because I’ve invested so much time researching, getting ideas, acquiring quotations and writing on this blog, only to have them turn to dust. But we’ll be off to Sri Lanka for our honeymoon after that, and have loads of unspent moolah in our banks. Sounds way better than having to settle, if you ask me.

So my dear BTBs, keep your eyes peeled on this space because I might be selling away some of the packages that I’ve signed up for at a discount!