Laya hotel is right outside Yala National Park–one of the main game viewing areas in Sri Lanka. The hotel sits on the Indian Ocean. Here’s the view from our room.
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.
Opening of the Stupa
Buddhists believe that a Tooth from the Buddha is being kept safe at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. It is one of the holiest places in Sri Lanka and every Singhalese Buddhist is expected to make at least one pilgrimage in their life to the Temple in Kandy. Last night we joined many people and pilgrims for the opening of the Stupa to catch a glimpse of the place the Tooth is kept. Below is the performance done right before the opening of the Stupa.
In 477 AD, King Kassapa decided to build his winter palace on top of Sigiriya–a rock 660 feet high with sheer cliffs. He had just murdered his father and taken the throne. He wanted an unassailable palace. At least that is what has been commonly believed. An alternate theory is that this was a monastery or religious site. Either way, it was an impressive construction effort as the walls are sheer cliffs. There are steps etched into the rock face. When the site was declared a UNESCO world heritage site they built steel stairs up most of the way.
Yesterday we tackled the 1200 steps to the top. It’s not as hard as it sounds as we stopped along the way to see some cave frescoes and other features. And, it was crowded so we had to wait on the stair cases.
Before the last section of steps, there are a pair of huge lion’s paws. That is all that remains of a large lion carving as parts of the lion’s head crumbled through the years.
Once we arrived at the top, the summit palace is laid out in an almost grid pattern. You can imagine palace ground with gardens, pools, terraces and rooms. It reminded us of what we saw at Macchu Picchu in Peru.
The 360 degree views are breathtaking and well worth the climb and wait. It is very windy so hold onto your hats!
Before we ascended, we walked through the incredible royal gardens. Take note of the 1500+ year old irrigation system.
Wear comfortable shoes. Bring water.
Go early in the morning before it gets too hot and crowded. If there is a line waiting to go up you can try another way up (from the car park to the right of the main stairs).
Use a local guide.
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.