After an isolated retreat at Siwa Oasis, I once again headed back onto the road. This time, the destination was my home in Toronto. The journey from the Egypt’s Western Desert to Canada took me first to Alexandria and Cairo by land, and then Athens and Zurich by air before touching down on the North American soil. I took an 8-hour night bus leaving Siwa at 22:00, and arriving Alexandria in early morning the next day. I sat beside a friendly old lady who kept on offering me peanuts. After some snacks and chat, I felt asleep with my headphone music. When I get up, Alexandria was just minutes away.
Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, Alexandria is the largest city by the Mediterranean and the second largest city in Egypt. In the Classical era, the city was well known for the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and its Great Library, the largest library in the Classical World with 400,000 scrolls. The city itself was once the largest city in the western world before overtaken by Rome. Alexandria remained as the capital of Egypt for a thousand years from Ptolemaic Egypt, throughout much of the Roman and Byzantine era until the Muslim conquest in 641 AD, when the political centre of Egypt was shifted to Cairo. By that time, the magnificent city that once rivaled Rome and Constantinople was already largely plundered and destroyed. In the modern age, Alexandria regained a part of its former glory as an important port of international trading, connecting Egypt and its products (such as Egyptian cotton) to the outside world.
Day 12 (1 of 3).
Known as Asia’s largest remaining colonial fortress and an UNESCO World Heritage site, Galle is a popular tourist destination in southwest Sri Lanka. Galle has long been an important trading port of the island since ancient times. Cinnamon was exported from Sri Lanka as early as 1400 BC, and Galle was likely the main port of export. Throughout history, Galle traded with the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese, Arabs, Malays, and Indians. Sri Lanka’s colonial history began when the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century and built a fortified city in Galle. Galle continued to serve as the main port for spices export. In 1640, the Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch East India Company. After the takeover, the Dutch built the fort that we saw today with bastions and a solid granite wall. In 1796, Galle and Sri Lanka changed hands again when the island became a British Crown colony named Ceylon. The 400-year colonial rule came to an end in 1948 when independence was granted to establish Dominion of Ceylon in the Commonwealth. Then 28 years later in 1972, Sri Lanka finally became a republic. From four centuries as a colonial port of export for spices and coffee (then replaced by tea) to a tourist town based on commercialization of its colonial past, Galle’s fortune has always been tied with the outside world.
We dropped off our backpacks at the baggage storage in Galle Railway Station, then found our way into the old fortified city.
The first thing we saw inside the fortress was Galle Services Club (est. 1947) and the 1883 clock tower.
Located on the highest point in the fortress, the Dutch Reformed Church (Groote Kerk) was built by the Dutch in 1755. It was the third Dutch Reformed church in Galle and signified the rise of the Dutch after the Portuguese.
Further down the road from the Dutch Reformed Church stands All Saints’ Church, Galle’s first Anglican Church (consecrated in 1871) and a powerful statement by the British.
The former Dutch warehouse from the 17th century has become the National Maritime Archaeology Museum.
In 1796, the British relocated the emblem of the Dutch East India Company from the outer gate to the inner, and put up the British Royal Emblem at the outer gate.
The interior of the old gate is used for motorcycle parking.
First built by the Portuguese, then renamed to Zwart Fort (Black Fort) by the Dutch. We accessed the Black Fort via a police compound. At Zwart Fort, a staff came out to show us around and told us about the history of the place.
The Old Dutch Hospital was established by the Dutch to look after the staff of the Dutch East India Company. Then the British extended the building and converted it into a barracks. After independence, the building was used as the town hall. In 2014, the building was once again converted into a shopping and dining complex.
Meeran Jumma Masjid looks more like a church than a mosque, but this Islamic prayer hall has been around for 300 years already. More than half of the population inside the fort are Moor. They are believed to be descendants of the Arab traders who settled in Sri Lanka at around the 9th century.
Galle Fort is built on a rock peninsula and there are a few small beaches near the lighthouse.
The Galle Lighthouse is the oldest light station in the nation. The original was built by the British in 1848 but was destroyed by fire in 1936. The current 26.5m tall lighthouse was constructed in 1939.
Strolling or cycling aimlessly within Galle Fort is a nice way to explore the town.
In Galle Fort, Dairy King icecream has been recommended by a number of guidebooks and blogs.
Dairy King is a great place to take a short break during a visit to Galle Fort.
Many houses in Galle Fort have been converted into guesthouses, restaurants, or shops catered for tourists.
The ambience of the colonial times is the top selling point for the tourist industry in Galle.
Some old mansions are transformed into high end retail shops for fabrics, furniture, housewares, and other design items with a twist of Sri Lankan style.
Established in 1892, Al Bahajathul Ibraheemiyyah Arabic College is one of the oldest Islamic Arabic institutions in Sri Lanka.
On our way out of the fort, we passed by Sri Sudharmalaya Buddhist Temple, a Buddhist temple with a unique appearance. The temple dated back to 1889. The belfry of the building suggests that temple might be converted from an earlier church.
Day 10 (2 of 2).
In 1995, world renounced photographer Steve McCurry immortalized the South Coast of Sri Lanka with his iconic photograph Stilt Fishermen, capturing four local fishermen sitting on wooden stilts and fishing at the shore of Weligama. The mid-1990s also marked the beginning of tourism at the fishing town of Weligama and the adjacent Mirissa. Mirissa, historically known as the south’s largest fishing port for tuna, mullet, snapper and butterfish, was soon developed into a paradise-like holiday destination. Between Mirissa and Weligama, there are plenty of pristine beaches, decent seafood restaurants, accommodations of all sorts, good surfing spots, hidden coves for snorkeling with sea turtles, and the world famous whale watching waters. The Sri Lankan South Coast has all the essentials of a tropical holiday destination except the large partying crowds like Full Moon parties at Koh Phangan in Thailand. In fact, in Sri Lanka alcohol is prohibited during Uposatha, or the full moon days. Despite the lack of vibrant nightlife and the destructions and loss of lives caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, tourism in Mirissa and the South Coast continues to thrive solely because of the area’s natural beauty.
Many travelers prefer to stay in the South Coast for days if not weeks, especially if one is interested in surfing. We didn’t have such luxury in terms of time, but could only spare two days to chill out by the sea, including a 7-hour boat ride out in the rough waters to seek for marine mammals.
Beautiful, laid back, and has plenty of space to just sit down to enjoy a fresh coconut drink, Mirissa Beach should meet most people’s expectations.
The quality of both the sand and water at Mirissa Beach is top notch.
Just months after the terrorist attacks in Colombo and Negombo, the number of foreign visitors might not match the previous year. Nonetheless, the beach was filled with the laughter of local beachgoers.
The Parrot Rock Bridge, a rock island accessible by a short walk in shallow water, is an iconic feature in Mirissa Beach.
Climbing the Parrot Rock Bridge allowed us to have an overview of Mirissa Beach.
The Mirissa Beach is one of the many resort beaches in the South Coast of Sri Lanka. In fact, the entire South Coast of Sri Lanka has a series of fine beaches along the Indian Ocean.
Two bays east of Mirissa Beach, we arrived at Coconut Tree Hill, a small peninsula topped with a grove of coconut trees that was made famous in recent years by Instagram users and online bloggers who post selfies taken from the hill.
Despite the poor weather, the Coconut Tree Hill was nonetheless a lovely place for us to enjoy a panoramic view of the surrounding beaches.
All tourists chose to stand at the centre of Coconut Tree Hill to take selfies with the sea as the background.
There is a local old man lingering around the Coconut Tree Hill. He loves to interact with tourists and showed them good spots for photo shooting.
In the evening, most tourists sat down at the outdoor restaurants along the beach, while the locals continued to have fun in the waves.
The last moment of sunlight created a dramatic moment at Mirissa Beach.
The locals refused to leave despite it was getting really dark.
A group of locals requested us to take a photo of them.
In the evening, most tourists would sit down at a beach restaurant for a seafood dinner.
We picked Zephyr Restaurant & Bar near Parrot Rock Bridge for dinner.
The staff at Zephyr brought out a plate of catches of the day for us to choose.
We sat down at a table on the beach.
One of us picked lobster as the main dish.
Another main dish we ordered was a grilled spangled emperor fish. Fresh and great ambience.
Day 2 (1 of 5).
Many people dream of opening a guesthouse in an exotic country and lead a carefree life: mingle with the locals, tend to a lush green garden, raise a brood of poultry, walk the dog in the morning, and surf at the beach until sunset. Not sure how Gerd Arthur Haisch from Switzerland ended up in Negombo 25 years ago. But his two decades of effort to establish the Icebear Guesthouse has proven Gerd’s original decision was not a short-lived enthusiasm. Though just an one night stay, Icebear Guesthouse offered us utmost comfort in a Sri Lankan setting. Apart from serving travelers, Icebear has long been a prominent member in the community, engaging in local drug and suicide prevention works as well as tsunami relief works back in 2004.
Coconut trees, aloe vera, hammocks, beach chairs, timber veranda, water features, bamboo furniture, colourful fabrics and exquisite handicrafts, the garden of Icebear Guesthouse is full of charm. Throughout the night, rhythmic waves of the Laccadive Sea washed up the beach. The thundering waves was a pleasant surprise for us when we first arrived at 1:30am. After a sound sleep, we get up as the first light seeped through the window curtains and mosquito net. By the window, the faint silhouette of wooden furniture and table lamp resembled a set coming straight out of a vintage movie. We quickly headed out for a beach walk before returning for a hearty breakfast in the paradise-like garden of Icebear. We felt that we could stay there for the entire day. What a refreshing start for our Sri Lankan trip!
Icebear Guesthouse offered us several hours of comfortable rest.
The first thing we saw when we get up was the soft silhouette of the wood furniture and table lamp beyond the mosquito net.
It wasn’t until the morning that we could appreciate the lovely setting of Icebear Guesthouse.
Icebear is a seaside villa complex full of unique handicrafts.
The reception veranda offer visitors a homey arrival.
Vivid colours go well with the tropical atmosphere.
The idyllic beachfront garden of Icebear Guesthouse is perfect for outdoor dining, leisure reading or even an afternoon nap.
The garden is full of seaside breeze and tropical vegetation. Ducks and birds roamed freely in the garden.
We had our breakfast at the dining veranda.
Our breakfast at Icebear Guesthouse: omelette, Ceylon tea, passion fruit juice, and bread.
20 days to go for Christmas!
Eye-catching statue on a mini column forms the centerpiece in the garden.
Beautiful decoration hung from a tree.
Traditional garden lamp decorated with seashells.
Beyond the garden stands the exit to the beach.
Day 1 (1 of 1).
Almost all foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka would stop by Negombo, a seaside town less than 10km from Bandaranaike International Airport. Since many incoming international flights arrive at night, staying the night in nearby Negombo before heading elsewhere is not uncommon. That’s exactly what we have done, flying in just after midnight and staying the night at Icebear Guesthouse in Negombo.
Situated at the mouth of Negombo Lagoon, Negombo is an important commercial and fishing hub in the west coast of Sri Lanka. In the 1500’s, Negombo became a Portuguese port for cinnamon trade. Later came the Dutch who took over the town’s control, and then lastly the British arrived in the 19th century. The majority of Negombo’s population had converted to Roman Catholic ever since the Portuguese era. Today, two thirds of Negombo residents still consider themselves Roman Catholics. With its high concentration of churches, Negombo is sometimes referred to as “Little Rome.”
Unfortunately, St. Sebastian Church in Negombo was under terrorist bombing during Easter service in 2019. Innocent lives were lost and the town’s tourism was devastated. The negative impact on tourism and other related business could still be strongly felt when we visited in December. The only souvenir vendor we met on Negombo beach expressed his discontent and anxiety when we politely rejected his offer. Negombo’s deserted beach, vacant hotels and desperate souvenir vendor reminded me of Dahab in Sinai Peninsula back in 2006 when I visited the famous diving paradise two months after a terrorist bombing that killed 23 people. Back then, rows after rows of empty beach chaise lounges lined up on the silky sand along the Gulf of Aqaba. Desperate hotel and restaurant owners waited outside the bus station and approached any foreigner with dirt cheap deals. Today, there are a whole lot of places around the world solely rely on tourism to generate jobs and sustain the local economy. Any terrorist attack or natural disaster causing a sudden disruption to tourism would lead to terrible suffering for the locals. This economic vulnerability may spell unpredictable trouble for any resort town, but can also cause a painful impact for any tourist city like Paris or New York. Resilience, versatility, social unity and a persisted sense of hope would be vital for recovery and regeneration for any town or city after such mishap. First came the 26-year civil war and then the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, and now the Easter Bombing of 2019, Negombo is once again on its path of gradual recovery.
All foreign visitors coming to Sri Lanka have to fill out an arrival card upon landing.
Our flight arrived at midnight. The airport passenger concourse was surprisingly busy. We went through customs, bought some Sri Lankan rupees, and purchased two local mobile SIM cards.
We stayed our first night at the northern strip of Negombo where dozens of hotels and guesthouses dotted the shore of Laccadive Sea.
Before breakfast at Icebear Guesthouse, we went for a short walk along the beach behind the guesthouse.
On the wall of Icebear Guesthouse we could still see markings from the Boxing Day Tsunami 15 years ago.
With the country’s largest concentration of Roman Catholic population, churches and Christian shrines can be seen all over Negombo .
Looks like another new church is under construction by the beach.
Not the most exotic beach in Sri Lanka, Negombo’s beach nonetheless provided us a place for a relaxing stroll before moving on to our Sri Lankan journey.
The beach is popular with locals coming for morning exercises.
Dogs also take the beach as their playground.
After the Easter’s bombing, Negombo’s tourism has taken a heavy toll. There were hardly any tourists on the beach except a few Western couples.
A traditional fishing sailboat was the most eye-catching feature on the beach, though we had no idea how Tirol related to Sri Lanka.
A local man stood by the boat waiting for any tourist interested to take a selfie on the boat by paying him a small tip.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit Central Negombo and any of its churches, maybe next time.
One thing truly amazing about Hong Kong is the proximity of untouched nature from its bustling commercial downtown and the ease of access by means of public transportation. At the northeast of Hong Kong, the lush green hills, turquoise water and sandy beaches of Sai Kung is popular for hikers, beachgoers, bikers, kayakers, and all kinds of nature lovers. The tallest of the three steepest peaks in Sai Kung, Sharp Peak (蚺蛇尖, literally translates to Python Snake Peak in Chinese) is often considered the Holy Grail for hikers in Hong Kong. At 468m, Sharp Peak is not the highest peak in the city, but its steep slopes, prominent existence in the area, and the fantastic views of East Sai Kung’s subtropical coastline from the peak makes it a unique hiking destination. During weekends, the area can get a little crowded, including the trail that heads up the Sharp Peak. Though the scenic views from the peak and the reward of chilling out on the pristine beaches below make all the efforts of scrambling up the steep rocky slope of Sharp Peak among groups after groups of fellow hikers more than worthwhile.
Bus 94 from Sai Kung City to Wong Shek Pier dropped us off at the trailhead at Pak Tam Au (北潭凹).
After about an hour on the MacLehose Trail, we passed by the tranquil village of Chek Keng (赤徑) and deviated from the main trail at Tai Long Au (大浪坳), we reached the small trail heading towards Nam She Au (蚺蛇坳), where the ascend of the Sharp Peak officially began. A few signs were erected between Tai Long Au and Nam She Au to warn against anyone who wished to reach the summit of Sharp Peak due to the treacherous conditions of the mountain trail.
Along the way we could see traces of rain erosion due to recent downpours.
Soon we were on our way walking up the first steep section of the ascend.
The trail was exposed with hardly any shade. Despite its difficulty and relatively remoteness, the trail up the Sharp Peak was far from peaceful because of the crowds.
It was exciting to see that the summit was get closer.
Looking back down the route we came up, views of the beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) were quite amazing despite the haze.
There were several sections of the trail that we needed to scramble up the slope using our hands.
After about two and a half hours from the trailhead, we finally reached the summit of the Sharp Peak. The small summit area was filled with hikers of all sort.
From the summit of Sharp Peak, the view of Nam She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣) below, and the Peninsula of Ko Lau Wan Tsui (高流灣咀) and Grass Island (塔門) beyond was incredible despite the haze.
Looking east to the four beaches of Tai Long Wan (大浪灣) from left to right: Tung Wan (東灣), Tai Wan (大灣), Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), and Sai Wan (西灣).
Some hikers prefer to climb the north ridge of Sharp Peak from She Wan beach (蚺蛇灣). The north ridge is well known for its steepness, especially the last part of the trail where grabbing onto the metal ribbon was essential.
The descend down towards Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) is not a walk in the park either, especially when one is already tired from the ascend.
The route of Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂) was slippery at parts due to loose gravel.
Tung Wan (東灣) appeared much closer when we reached Mei Fan Ten (米粉頂).
The summit of Sharp Peak already appeared like distant memory.
Ahead of us was Tung Wan Shan (東灣山), a saddle shape hill overlooking Tung Wan.
After about an hour of descend we were approaching the pristine beach of Tung Wan.
The four beaches of Tai Long Wan, literally means Big Wave Bay, are famous for their turquoise water and fine sand.
Due to its remoteness, there are no lifeguards and shower facilities at Tung Wan.
There were hardly anyone on the beach too except hikers.
Swimmers who make the effort to Tung Wan (by hiking or private yacht) may enjoy the beautiful water of South China Sea without the crowds commonly found in other beaches in Hong Kong.
The second beach Tai Wan (大灣) is the biggest of the four beaches.
Few more visitors showed up on Tai Wan (大灣).
At Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣), we finally had a chance to sit down at a beach eatery and washed down a plate of fried rice with beer.
Lying lazily on the sand of Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) and looking back at the majestic Sharp Peak, it was hard to imagine that we were standing on the summit just a few hours prior.
Ham Tin Wan (鹹田灣) is the beach in Sai Kung that we visit the most. The beach is accessed via a narrow wooden bridge.
In the evening, we were too lazy to walk another hour over to Sai Wan for the village bus. We decided to jump onto a motor boat for an exciting but bumpy 45-minutes journey back to Sai Kung city.
When we are short of time but still want to have a brief getaway from the city of Hong Kong, we often hop on a bus to Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a relatively new residential district at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island for a short hike over Pottinger Peak to the cozy surfing beach of Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) and Shek O (石澳). The hike takes a little over an hour, and is relatively simple, involving two sections of stepped path, one going up the Pottinger Peak and one descending down to the beach. No matter how many times we have walked this route, it was always a pleasant surprise to reach the top of the Pottinger Peak and have the first glimpse of the turquoise water south of Hong Kong Island.
The trail begins in Siu Sai Wan (小西灣), a residential neighborhood at the eastern tip of Hong Kong Island.
Looking north during the ascend to the Pottinger Peak, the Victoria Harbour outside of Junk Bay (將軍澳) is busy with cruise ships and boats of all sorts.
Looking down from the uphill trail, the residential area of Siu Sai Wan looks quite densely populated.
Watching beautiful butterflies hopping between flowers is a pure delight.
Looking south from Pottinger Peak, the peninsula of Shek O and Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) lie right ahead.
A ruined shelter on Pottinger Peak has been used as a temporary shrine.
It seems that the temporary shrine is dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.
Walking ahead, one can clearly see that much of the seaside land between the Big Wave Bay and Big Wave Bay.
On the downhill route, there are several Camellia trees (茶花) by the trail.
The stepped path continues to the hill adjacent to the Big Wave Bay. The noise of the crowds and public announcement from speakers can be heard long before we reach the beach.
Big Wave Bay (大浪灣) is a decent little beach at the southeast of Hong Kong Island.
The natural rock formations around the area of Big Wave Bay are quite interesting.
Though the beach can get a little crowded during summer weekends. For the rest of year, it’s popular for surfers.
Some prefer to stay away from the crowds on a rocky slope near a BBQ site.
For families, small streams out to the sea can be an interesting playground with small fish and seaside creatures.
About half an hour of walk south of Big Wave Bay, there is a Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲), a tied island linked to the mainland of Shek O Village by a tombolo. On the tombolo, a narrow blue bridge is built for pedestrians who wish to visit Tai Tau Chau. The area is popular for couples taking wedding photos.
At one side of the tombolo, a peaceful tidal pool acts like a perfect mirror. The colours of the rocks around the pool reveal the varying water level from time to time.
The coastal granite of Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲) are quite interesting after so many years of natural erosion and carving by the waves.
Despite the occasionally scary waves at this part of Hong Kong, many still brave the danger and climb onto the uneven coastal rocks for wedding photos.
The waves at Tai Tau Chau are beautiful but also terrifying sometimes.
Like the Geoparks in Sai Kung and Northeast New Territories, the coastal rocks at Tai Tau Chau are quite unique.
Just a stone throw from Tai Tau Chau lies the bigger beach of Shek O, a really popular outdoor destination for city dwellers of Hong Kong.