Read our report just published in Adventuress Travel Magazine
We drove from Nuwira Eliya to Nanu-Oya and took the 2 1/2 hour scenic train ride to Ella. The train reminded us of the backpacker train we took from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Instead of a lovely valley by the river in Peru, the Sri Lankan scenery was hill side tea plantations with workers picking tea. Instead of switchbacks, thankfully, the train hugged the base of the hills and passed under tunnels. The ride was a nice one, but became repetitive after the first hour.
There are several classes of seats on the train. Tourist class is open seating. First and second class are assigned seating, with the difference being that first class is air conditioned and the windows can’t be opened. As a result, first class is no good if for people who want to take pictures. And, the elevation makes the heat manageable so the AC is not really needed.
Ella: 98 Acres Eco-Friendly Resort
We stayed 98 Acres, an eco-friendly boutique hotel just outside of town. The location is ideal for those who want to climb Little Adams Peak. The resort consisted of 12 bungalows each housing 2 suites. Our unit was the one that was located at the very end, next to the spa and very close to the climb up to Adams Peak. After 315 steps to the top of Admas Peak, we were rewarded with 360 degrees view of the countryside and of Ella Rock. There was a small altar with a Buddha at the top of Little Adams Peak. Devotees climb the peak to make offerings especially on Poya days.
From the balcony in our unit, we had an unobstructed view of Little Adams Peak and Ella Rock. 98 acres is a resort that sits on – you guess it, 98 acres of tea plantation that belongs to UVA Greenlands. The room was rustic, one of the walls was lined with old wood taken from old tea crates, the king-size bed was huge, the largest we slept on and ever so comfortable. Instead of air conditioning there is a large ceiling fan. Even in the summer, there is no real need for air conditioning at that elevation. For privacy, you can lower these blinds or leave them semi shuttered so you can be woken by the sunrise rising behind Little Adams Peak.
The large bathroom is wonderfully equipped with a rain shower separated from the sink and toilet area by a clear glass wall. Natural ayurvedic soaps, shampoos and conditioners are provided for your use.
The resort is not wheelchair accessible – there are hundreds of steps, to your rooms, to the pool, to the reception and most importantly, to the restaurant. The resort employs golf carts that would bring you and your luggage up and down the narrow paths lined with tea bushes.
Polonnaruwa dates to 1270 AD and was the second most ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka. It is a world heritage site with hundreds of Temples and other structures.
There is almost 1000 years of history here. This was the capital of the South Indian Chola dynasty in the late 10th century. It sits at the head of a man-made lake that was created in the early 1200s.
One of our favorite sites was Gal Vihara. This is a grouping of 4 Buddha images carved from one large slab of granite.
The reclining Buddha is 14 meters long (about 42 feet) is said to be a depiction of the Buddha entering nirvana (after death). The site is very impressive and haunting. The first Buddha is 7 meters and is thought to be an image of Ananda, one of the Buddha’s disciples, mourning the Buddha’s ascendancy to Nirvana.
We spent the last two days visiting ancient temples and ruins in the northwestern part of Sri Lanka. Today we were in Anuradhapura at Jetavaranama–the first capital of Sri Lanka from 380 BC to 1200 AD–and then Minhitale Temple–one of the most sacred places for Buddhists in the country. The sites were very interesting and fun to see.
We’ve been to temples all over the world and today brought some unique experiences. First, it was prayer day. Once a month, usually after the full moon, the government announce Prayer Day and everyone goes to the temples to pray. Second, it was 31 degrees centrigrade. Third, the Sri Lankan temples have a million stairs. Even the hotels have a ton of stairs. Today we walked the equivalent of 40 flights of stairs. And finally, you cannot wear shoes in the temples. That means most of the 40 flights we walked barefoot on stones that were very, very hot. While we hobbled along with our hot feet feeling every hot stone, pebble and grain of sand, Sri Lankan’s of all ages easily walked and climbed and prayed.
The morale of the story–train your feet and quads before going to Sri Lanka.
More on the temples tomorrow.
It’s noon, we are starving and we have 45 minutes before we need to be back for an appointment. We noticed a sign for the Market Street Food Center (at the junction of Market Street and Malacca Street). We walk up the stairs, through the car park to a door that says food court. Once through the door, we suddenly experience a wave of smells and warmth and people. There are tons of table and food stalls. Some stalls have long lines. Some stalls have even longer lines. We have arrived.
But First an introduction to Hawker Center Etiquette.
In Hawker Centers, there are tables for eating either in the middle of the stalls or around the stalls. It is open seating and they fill up fast. One of the first things you do when you arrive is to find a seat. This can look easy. It’s not. When you look around, you’ll see what looks like an empty table BUT there will be tissue packets or business cards on the table. That means those seats are taken. This is called CHOPE. If there are seats left, you are welcome to put your own tissue packet down to reserve your seat. Oh, and, there are no napkins. That’s why everyone brings tissues–to CHOPE and to use.
City Center Hawker Center
City Center is located downtown and is very crowded during lunch time. It serves office workers and executives. Our first task was to find a seat for three people–no easy matter. We were finally successful and then turned to deciding what to eat among the dozens of stalls. One trick of the trade–if you have time–find the stall with the longest queue. That is the most popular stall of the moment and is likely to yield a delightful experience. In this case the Curry Rice Stall had the longest line. We were in a hurry, so were not able to sample that dish. Curry Rice is very popular right now and we saw the longest queues for those stalls at a number of hawker centers.
We ordered from the Tiong Bahru Roaster Pig Specialist. We had four dishes: roasted duck with noodles, roast pork with rice, roast pork wonton noodles and a side order of Chinese broccoli. All for $13.50. Did I forget to tell you that the food in hawker centers is cheap? Each of the dishes came with soup. And, there are fruit and drink stalls that sell sugar cane and fresh squeezed fruit juices to go with your meal. The food was tasty–the duck was well cooked, though covered in a brown, oyster sauce which was okay. The roast pork was just the right amount if sweetness and “chardness.” The veggieswas drowned in sauce which was a little salty. Even with that, it was a satisfying meal and we were on our way in time for our next stop.
Ask a group of Singaporeans about their favorite dish or place to eat and you are likely to start a long and spirited debate about the best Hawker Center, the best place for chicken rice, chilly crab, Char Kway Teow. Debating about food is the national sport in Singapore, second only to traveling all over the island for the best [name your dish]. Upon your first meeting with someone from Singapore, don’t be surprised if one of the first comments is, “Have you eaten?” Followed closely by “Do you take Spicy?”
The people of Singapore take their food seriously! And for good reason–its among the best in the world. Just ask Anthony Bourdain or Gordon Ramsey or Andrew Zimmerman ……. or me!
Singapore is an island nation within striking distance of Malaysia and Indonesia and is the gateway to most of Asia. It has an extremely diverse population-Indian, Chinese, Peranakan, Malay, Eurasian and, now, second and third generation Singaporeans. The food has been influenced by all of these cultures into an exquisitely and endlessly evolving cuisine.
There are a lot of very good restaurants in Singapore. Every cuisine and every fusion possibility can be found in the country. I have eaten in many restaurants, but my favorite place has always been Hawker Centers–outdoor food courts found all over the place from city center to the residential neighborhoods. Hawker centers can have a handful of stalls or up to 100. Each stall has their own specialty. Most of the stalls specialize in a certain dish or a certain kind of food. Since there are many stalls, there are endless varieties of meals to select. Some hawker centers are well-known to tourists, while others are located deep within the neighborhoods. All are regulated and rated for food safety by the government.
At lunch with some friends, I recently asked people about their favorite Hawker Centers. During the ensuing heated conversation, I made a list of the places that I wanted to go: the Old Airport Road, Maxwell Food Center, Bedok, Amoy Street, Seah Im and several others. And so, I eat my way through the week.
Tomorrow we’ll start a tour of the Hawker Centers I visited.
Here’s a taste of Cuba music. This is a group called Tribason.
See our article on our road trip through the Algarve in Portugal published in Adventuress Travel Magazine.