Day 11 (2 of 2).
Cinnamomum verum, or true cinnamon tree, is an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka. Considered as the better tasting and has more health benefits than the other types of cinnamon cultivated elsewhere in Asia and Africa, the inner bark of Cinnamomum verum has been a precious commodity sought after by the West since colonial times. Sri Lanka nowadays exports roughly 85-90% of the world’s true cinnamon. Spice plantations can be found in many parts of the island, including the South Coast.
We stayed at Mirissa Hills, a working cinnamon plantation near Mirissa, for two nights. At the plantation, there are three buildings that offer guest accommodation. We stayed at a building called the “Museum”, a work-in-progress cinnamon museum. At Mirissa Hills, we got a chance to join a plantation tour to learn more about cinnamon production.
Our room was located at the “Museum” building, around halfway up the hill of the plantation estate.
Inside the “Museum”building, four guestrooms are allocated on both sides of the courtyard.
Despite the age of the building, our room was quite comfortable.
The main building, Mount Cinnamon, is located 5 minutes walk uphill from the Museum. Designed by architect C. Anjalendran, Mount Cinnamon is an hidden architectural gem in the midst of dense vegetation.
Served as an apprentice of architectural master Geoffrey Bawa, C. Anjalendran is a leading architect of today’s Sri Lanka. At Mount Cinnamon, C. Anjalendran arranges the guestrooms around the courtyard and swimming pool.
The common room in Mount Cinnamon is dominated by Laki Senanayake’s sculpture “Enchanted Forest”.
Laki Senanayake worked as an assistant to architect Geoffrey Bawa, and created a number of sculptures and murals for Bawa’s buildings.
Outside the common room, the covered veranda was where we had breakfast and dinner.
The two dogs of the estate often lingered around the veranda. One of the dogs is already 16 years old.
The pavilion in the backyard served as the dancing stage for peacocks to attract other peahens.
After breakfast, we walked over to a covered veranda serving as a gallery for sculpture and artwork.
Seeing such an interesting collection of artwork was a great surprise for us.
In the second afternoon just before most staff called it a day, we followed the manager for a cinnamon tour. The manager showed us cinnamon trees of different sizes and ages. The cinnamon trees were virtually everywhere in the estate: by the road, behind the buildings, on the hill slope, etc., just that we didn’t notice them until the tour.
At the factory, a staff showed us how to remove the bark of the cinnamon branch.
The bark rolls were then placed over our heads for drying.
From 1970 to now, international production of cinnamon has grown more than tenfold. It is hard to imagine that such popular spice could still be processed in such a simple and traditional manner. Such production method in Sri Lanka hasn’t changed much in the past few centuries.
In the morning of December 16th, Mirissa Hills arranged a car to drop us at Galle.
We passed by a series of beaches near Weligama. Occasionally we would see empty stilts near the shore. The traditional fishermen that Steve McCurry encountered in the mid 1990s were long gone. Today, the stilts are mainly for tourist to take selfies or locals to mimic their the bygone fishermen and let tourists to photograph them for a fee.
Most beaches were empty except occasional surfers. Half day in Galle and a dinner in Colombo would make up the last day of our Sri Lankan journey.
Day 9 (3 of 4).
After the morning walk to the Little Adam’s Peak and Nine Arches Bridge, we returned to Zion View Ella Green Retreat for a quick breakfast. The car came to Zion View Ella Green Retreat to pick us up right at 10:30. We bid farewell to the two German shepherds and hopped on the car. We left Ella behind and slowly descended from the hills. Our next destination was Udawalawe, a small town between the hill country and the southern beaches. The two hour drive from Ella to Udawalawe brought us from tea plantations and green hills to grasslands, marshes and forests, the home of diverse wildlife. After world heritage historical sites and hills of tea plantations, our focus shifted once again to the natural treasure of Udawalawe National Park.
Established in 1972 as a sanctuary for wildlife displaced by the construction of Udawalawe Reservoir, the 30,821 hectares national park has become the third most visited park in the nation. With an annual rainfall of 1,500mm, the park lies at the boundary between Sri Lanka’s wet and dry zones. Within the park, there are marshes, grasslands and forests. Udawalawe is famous for its 250 or so Sri Lanka elephants. Other mammal species found in the park include Sri Lankan leopard, rusty-spotted cat, sloth bear, Sri Lanka sambar deer, Sri Lankan axis deer, wild boar, water buffalo, jackal, civet, monkey, mongoose, etc. The park is also a good venue for bird watching, and so as reptiles including lizards, crocodiles, and snakes.
Passing the Rawana Ella Falls on the Wellawaya Ella Kumbalwela Highway signified our departure from Ella.
The more we get closer to Udawalawe, the higher the chance we might see wildlife along the highway.
Domestic water buffalo are kept for their milk (curd and ghee) and rice cultivation.
Sri Lankan elephant is undoubtedly the superstar in Udawalawe, and can often be seen along the road.
Elephants are highly intelligent animals. According to our driver, some of the curious males have learnt to approach the highway fence regularly to greet tourists in exchange for easy treats like bananas.
Roadside stores near Udawalawe offer visitors a convenient stop for fruits, and perhaps have indirectly encouraged the unnatural habit of the highway approaching elephants.
Despite the popularity of the national park, the town of Udawalawe is relatively tourist-free. There is hardly any tourist souvenir shops along the main road.
Bakery tuk tuk is quite common across the country. As soon as we heard the music of Beethoven’s Fur Elise, we knew one of these mobile bread vendors must be nearby.
Our guesthouse Green View Safari Resort was at a side street across the road from R/Emb/Udawalawa Primary School.
Hidden from the dusty main road, our guesthouse for the night Green View Safari Resort was a simple little retreat.
Facility was clean and simple. The guesthouse owners arranged both the afternoon and morning safari for us.
Dinner and breakfast were included in our one-night stay at Green View Safari Resort.
To reach the national park from Udawalawe, our jeep would pass by Udawalawe Reservoir, a place of potential wildlife sighting before reaching the park entrance.
Locals came to the dam to catch the sunset.
The Udawalawe Dam separates the lush green forest on one side and the peaceful reservoir on the other.
The Udawalawe Dam provides a high ground to watch the distant scenery.
The lush green forest revealed what the area might have look like before the construction of the reservoir.
Local wildlife has adapted to the man-made environment of Udawalawe Reservoir. The water has even attracted wildlife including birds and elephants.
Beyond the reservoir, we finally arrived at the ticket office of Udawalawe National Park.
We chose Udawalawe National Park over Yala National Park was an attempt to avoid overcrowding. During our first safari visit, the entry route into the park was loaded with tourist 4×4 vehicles. Luckily, as we ventured deeper into the park, we would have the park pretty much by ourselves.
Day 6 (3 of 3).
Located in the hilly heartland of Sri Lanka, Kandy was the last capital of pre-modern Sri Lanka before the country was colonized by the British in 1815. Kandy was our last stop in the Cultural Triangle, and the first stop into the hill country. The Kindgom of Kandy was established under King Sena Sammatha Wickramabahu (1473 – 1511). In 1592, Kandy became the capital city of the last remaining kingdom in Sri Lanka, while the colonial powers, Portuguese and Dutch had taken over the coastal regions and gradually made their way into the heartland.
Home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, Kandy is an UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular tourist attraction. Many tourists, including us, stop by Kandy before heading to the villages of the hill country, such as Ella, Nuwara Eliya or Haputale. Today, Kandy remains as the second largest city in Sri Lanka, and a major transportation hub in the region. It also lies in the midst of tea plantations. Known as the Sea of Milk, the artificial Kandy Lake remains as the focal point of the city. The lake was built in 1807 by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe right by the Temple of the Tooth Relic. During our 1.5 days in Kandy, apart from the Temple of the Tooth Relic and Royal Botanic Garden in Peradeniya, we had a waterfront stroll at Kandy Lake, made a brief visit to the national museum, had lunch in the old city centre and dined at the historical Empire Cafe. Though a heavy shower in the second afternoon cut short the time we spent in the rather laid-back city.
On our first night on Kandy, we dined at Empire Cafe adjacent to the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
Housed in a beautiful colonial building, Empire Cafe also serves as a hotel.
Under a rather vintage ambience, we had a enjoyable meal at Empire Cafe.
It was pleasant to sit by the window and enjoy the evening streetscape right by the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
Taking the tuk tuk down the steep slope from Villa Rosa was an exciting way to enter the city of Kandy.
Wall paintings could be seen in a number of locations around Kandy.
On the outer wall of a school building, different groups of painters were busy making murals.
Similar to other Sri Lankan cities and towns, tuk tuk is the best way to get around in Kandy.
Like other tourists, we spent most of the time in Kandy near the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The temple entrance plaza was always crowded with visitors.
Around the Temple of the Tooth Relic, vendors were selling all kinds of Buddhist souvenirs, lotus offerings, snacks and king coconuts.
We made a brief visit to the small national museum behind the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
Kandy Lake is the main focal point of the city. The waterfront scenery reminded us of some European cities and towns.
Right by lake embankment, the Ulpange or Queens Bathing Pavilion stands out as a beautiful between the palace and the lake. Built in 1806, the building was used as a bathing chamber in the past. Today, it belongs to the local police.
Kandy Lake is also home to Asian water monitor lizards, one of the largest lizard species in the world.
In the heart of Kandy Lake rises an artificial island planted with palm trees and shrubs.
Known as Walakulu Bamma or Cloud Wall, the ornate wall was built around part of Kandy Lake for aesthetic purpose.
With over 160 years of history, the Queen’s Hotel stands proudly across the street from the entrance of Temple of the Tooth Relic and Kandy Lake.
The elegant colonnade of Queen’s Hotel prominently connects the entrance plaza of the Temple of the Tooth Relic with the old city centre.
We followed the colonnade of Queen’s Hotel towards the old city centre.
The old town centre is a busy hub of shops, banks and restaurants. We had lunch at one of the cafes before an afternoon shower forced us to return to the hotel.
Day 6 (1of 3).
“Steeply up the hill” was what many tuk tuk drivers referred to when they heard us mentioning the name of our guesthouse. Every time we head back or out of Villa Rosa would be an exciting uphill or downhill tuk tuk journey. High above Mahaweli River, Villa Rosa was more than a tranquil retreat of several spotless rooms with amazing views of the river valley. Sitting on our private terrace looking over the river valley in search of returning flying foxes in early morning, having a fine Sri Lankan dinner at the outdoor patio in a breezy evening, resting in the airy bedroom surrounded by traditional wood furniture, these pleasant moments would live long in our memories.
Greeted by friendly staff and three dogs, we were glad to arrive at the entrance foyer of Villa Rosa after the car journey from Dambulla.
Flanked both sides by guestrooms, the entrance foyer, upper living room, and the courtyard bisects the complex of Villa Rosa.
Accessed from a covered veranda, our room was situated at a corner on the upper level.
At the upper living room, we spent a short period of time flipping through an architecture book on Geoffrey Bawa, one of the most famous architects in Sri Lanka.
Our room was spacious and spotless. The ambience was relaxing and the river views from the terrace was amazing.
Even the bathroom revealed a tropical sense.
Sitting at the terrace to enjoy the river scenery was a delightful morning activity.
After heavy rain at night, a rainbow emerged for a short period of time in the second morning during our stay.
The 335km long Mahaweli River is the longest river in Sri Lanka. It passes by the valley right below Villa Rosa.
The courtyard offered views to the river valley and the dense forest beyond.
In the courtyard, small lily ponds and sculptures are put together in perfect harmony.
The courtyard is a well tended garden for all guests to enjoy.
Another classical sculpture somehow goes well with the surrounding tropical vegetation.
Despite their size, the dogs were pretty friendly. The staff was helpful too. We were especially thankful that they were able to get us two reserved train tickets for from Kandy to Ella, something that had been sold out online 1.5 month prior to our arrival in the country.
One of the dogs has its own resting mat in the foyer.
The dogs play together every morning.
We had two breakfast and one dinner at the patio facing the river valley. Fruits were always served during breakfast in Sri Lanka.
For dinner, we had local prawns as one of the main dishes.
And tuna steaks for the other main dish.
Fine details at the veranda reveal some lovely touches from the owner. Staying at Villa Rosa for two nights was truly a remarkable experience.
Day 2 (3 of 5).
After a brief stopover in Negombo, Anuradhapura was the real first destination of our journey. Lying on the north central plains, the historical cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Kandy are often referred to as the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka where visitors flock to see the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological sites and Buddhist temples. We began with Anuradhapura, one of oldest and certainly the most important capital cities of ancient Sri Lanka spanning 1300 years from 337BC to 1017AD, and the centre of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. We stayed in Anuradhapura for 1.5 days to check out the Buddhist stupas and archaeological sites, as well as the famous 2300-year-old sacred Bodhi Tree. Most visitors stay in the new town where the majority of hotels and restaurants are located. Only a handful of hotels and restaurants can be found in the old town along with ancient stupas, lily ponds, and archaeological sites, including the historical hotel The Sanctuary at Tissawewa, where we stayed two nights.
Opened in 1907 as the Grand Hotel Anuradhapura during the time of British governor Henry Arthur Blake, the 22-room Sanctuary at Tissawewa is one of the most well known colonial hotel in Sri Lanka. The hotel has served a number of celebrities and foreign heads of state in the past, including Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, etc. After extensive renovations in 2013, the hotel reopens its doors again. The century-old building is a great example of architectural combo of east meeting west, with large eaves and covered verandas coupled with stone arches, timber balustrades and antique furniture. For us, the most lovely feature was the 14 acres garden, where we watched peacocks and monkeys chasing around the hundred-year-old trees in early morning, and looked for flying foxes and fireflies dancing over the bushes before dusk.
Heavier than usual rainfall prior to our arrival flooded the hotel’s entrance path. Every time we walked out the hotel we would need to walk over the flooded path with our sandals.
The flooded water perhaps came from overflow of the ancient artificial reservoirs nearby.
Peacocks roamed around hotel garden every morning.
There are a number of beautiful trees in the hotel garden.
The walk through the lush-green garden was our first pleasant experience of the day.
Renovated in 2013, the 113-year hotel is a fine colonial building.
The covered passenger drop off welcomes all visitors from close and afar.
The veranda on the ground floor faces directly to the lush green garden.
Apart from peacocks, a large group of monkeys came to the garden
The upper veranda offers better view to the hotel garden.
Staying at The Sanctuary at Tissawewa offered us a comfortable sleep.
In the evening, the hotel stood quietly in the darkness of the garden.
During our stay, there were a few other rooms were occupied.
Occasionally we could see fireflies in the hotel garden.
The staff was always busy with paperwork at the receptionist counter.
During our stay at The Sanctuary at Tissawewa, we always have dinner at the hotel restaurant.
For breakfast, we could choose between Western or Sri Lankan breakfast.
Outside of the hotel compound lie a number of wetlands, including rice paddy fields.
A number of lotus ponds also lie across the street from the hotel entrance.
In one evening, we had a warm encounter with a kitten just a short walk on the main road from the hotel entrance.
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.
RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス), Rausu (羅臼), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.17
Day 3 (1/2).
We woke up to another stormy morning in Utoro. For the morning, we had seats reserved for a 3-hour Cape Shiretoko Boat Cruise to the eastern tip of Shiretoko Peninsula. Due to strong winds and heavy rain, not a single boat was allowed out in the sea that day. We had no choice but decided to leave Utoro earlier than planned, and crossed the Shiretoko Mountain Range to Rausu (羅臼) on the east coast of the peninsula. On our way, we passed by Shiretoko Pass, the highest point between Utoro and Rausu where we could see the full view of Mount Rausu if the sky was clear. Unfortunately, all we saw was rain, fog, fallen branches and flying leaves in the air. Beyond Shiretoko Pass, we gradually descended to Rausu, the remote fishing village which also served as the eastern entry point of the Shiretoko National Park. The rain began to cease as we approached Rausu. With extra time to spare in Rausu, we decided to check out Rusa Field House, the interpretation centre providing information on the famous residents of the Nemuro Strait: whales and dolphins.
We quickly put all our luggage in the car and left Utoro under stormy weather. We followed the Tran-Shiretoko Highway 334 heading towards Rausu via Shiretoko Pass.
As expected, we couldn’t see the mountain scenery along the way. Instead, we drove cautiously on the winding Highway 334 under heavy rain.
Blocked by Shiretoko Mountain Range, Rausu was actually pretty dry, though the wind was strong and waves were high.
High waves had also prevented any boats sailing out to the sea from Rausu.
Though we could at least step out of the car to enjoy the coastal scenery.
Near the end of coastal Road 87, we reached the Rusa Field House. It was very windy at the field house where strong wind from the Shiretoko Mountains channeled through the Rusa River Valley to the river mouth right by the Field House.
The Rusa Field House is a pleasant timber building facing the sea.
The Rusa Field House has a special focus on the wildlife at Shiretoko.
The upper mezzanine offers visitors binoculars and telescopes for whale spotting in the sea.
This beautiful map of Shiretoko Peninsula in the Field House caught our attention. Although we couldn’t understand Japanese, we thought the map was showing two routes (winter and summer) over the mountains connecting Rausu and Utoro to the northwest.
While one side of the Field House overlooks the sea, the other side faces the Rusa River Valley that goes all the way up the mountains to Shiretoko Pass. In the building, we could feel the strong wind from the mountains sweeping through the valley out to the sea.
Standing at a column base, the taxidermy of an Ezo Red Fox reminded us that red fox is a common sight in Shiretoko.
The Field House also showcases what is probably the most famous product from Rausu: the Rausu Kelp, one of the three most precious kelp in Hokkaido.
A hand-drawn illustration that shows the hidden connections between the life cycle of local salmon and coastal ecosystem of Shiretoko.
The Field House provides visitors information on current weather and coastal conditions of the area. We could see the warning of high waves along the shore, urging people not to visit the coastal outdoor hot springs. We decided to give up our plan of visiting the outdoor baths of Aidomari Onsen (相泊温泉) near the end of Road 87.
After visiting the Field House, we drove to the fishing village of Rausu. At Rausu, the weather seemed fine and the sea pretty calm. We spent quite a bit of time searching for a place to sample the fabulous local seafood.
In the afternoon, we checked in at our onsen hotel Rausu no Yado Marumi Ryokan (羅臼の宿 まるみ). In the lobby, we were greeted by some of the most iconic animals of Shiretoko: Sperm Whale and Brown Bear.
Our guestroom offered fantastic panorama of the sea.
The dinner at Rausu no Yado Marumi Ryokan (羅臼の宿 まるみ) was probably the most satisfying hotel dinner of our Hokkaido stay. Other than the “compulsory” seafood on our table as shown in the photo above, there were also a wide range of dishes made with local seafood and vegetables served in a buffet.
From our room, the sea looked peaceful and beautiful in late afternoon. We silently wished for fine weather in the next day when we would have our last chance to sail out to the sea before leaving Shiretoko.
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HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)
Day 2 – Utoro
Day 2.1 SHIRETOKO FIVE LAKES (知床五湖)
Day 2.2 UTORO FISHERMAN’S WIVES CO-OPERATIVE DINER (ウトロ漁協婦人部食堂)
Day 2.3 FUREPE FALLS (フレペの滝)
Day 6 – On the road from Lake Akan to Furano
Day 6.1 FISHERMEN BELOW MISTY OAKAN (雄阿寒岳), Lake Akan (阿寒湖)
Day 6.2 TREATS OF OBIHIRO (帯広), Tokachi (十勝)
Day 6.3 ARRIVING IN FURANO (富良野)
Day 7 Furano & Biei
Day 7.1 LAVENDER BUDS, Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.2 FARM TOMITA (ファーム富田), Nakafurano (中富良野)
Day 7.3 BI.BLE, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.4 PATCHWORK ROAD & PANORAMA ROAD, Biei (美瑛)
Day 7.5 NINGLE TERRACE (ニングルテラス)
Day 8 – from Furano to Otaru
Day 8.1 CHURCH ON THE WATER (水の教会), Hoshino Resorts Tomamu (星野リゾート トマム)
Day 8.2 HILL OF THE BUDDHA (頭大仏), Makomanai Takino Cemetery (真駒内滝野霊園)
Day 8.3 SEAFOOD, CANAL, & HISTORY, Otaru (小樽)
Day 8.4 RAINY NIGHT IN OTARU, Otaru (小樽)
Day 10 – Sapporo
10.1 OKKAIDO SHRINE (北海道神宮 )
10.2 MORIHICO COFFEE (森彦珈琲本店)
10.3 KITAKARO SAPPORO HONKAN (北菓楼札幌本館)
10.4 SATURDAYS CHOCOLATE
10.5 GOTSUBO OYSTER BAR(五坪)
10.6 MOUNT MOIWA (藻岩山) & RAMEN HARUKA (ラーメン悠)
Day 11 – Sapporo
11.1 FORMER HOKKAIDO GOVERNMENT OFFICE (北海道庁旧本庁舎)
11.2 RED STAR & GENGKIS KHAN, Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール株式会社)