THE WORLD’S MOST SCENIC TRAIN RIDE, Kandy to Ella, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.11
Day 7 (1 of 2).
Established in 1864, the railway system of Sri Lanka was constructed by the British colonial government for tea transportation. While not the fastest way to travel, making intercity journeys by train was a unique way to absorb the history of Sri Lanka, and enjoy the beautiful scenery in a relaxing pace. Some journeys are particularly more popular than the others because the beautiful scenery they offer. The journey from Kandy to Ella is one of the most popular routes, and is often referred to as one of the world’s most scenic train journey.
Getting a reserved ticket (1st class or 2nd class) from Kandy onward to the hill country is a challenge for many tourists, including us. We tried purchasing through online agent 1.5 month prior to our departure, but failed to land on any reserved tickets for our desirable date. We planned to try our luck to buy unreserved tickets and get on at an earlier stop. At worst we might need to stand for a period of time until someone get off during the 7-hour ride. The staff at Villa Rosa heard about our situation, and helped us to obtain two 2nd class tickets with reserved seats from a local agent on the day before our departure. We were grateful for his help.
The wooden timetable board at Kandy Station looks like it has been around since the colonial time.
As the train slowly left the train station, we bid farewell to Kandy and moved on into the hill country.
Soon we arrived into the tea plantation country.
Hindu temples are often erected in tea plantations as many Tamils working in the plantations are Hindus who came from Southern India.
The entire hill country is lush green and dotted with houses of pitched roofs.
Our train passed by one village after another.
On occasions, our train would get close to a sloped tea farm.
It was amazing to see so much land have been converted into tea plantations.
The tea farms seemed never ending.
Some tea farms seemed to receive poorer maintenance.
Since the train was relatively slow, many tourists chose to sit at the doorway with their legs hanging out of the train car.
Tourists took turns to lean out of the doorway of the train to take selfies and enjoy a moment of “flying” over the tea farms.
Many villagers stood near the railroad to watch our train passed by.
Many locals walked on the train tracks.
And so as dogs wandering around the railway stations.
Near the end of the journey, the weather suddenly turned breezy and foggy.
Fog covered much of the area near Ella.
After 6.5 hours, we finally arrived in the area of Ella. We would stay in Ella for two days before moving on to the south.
ROAD TO ANURADHAPURA, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.06
Day 2 (2 of 5).
We always enjoy scenery outside the car window while traveling on the road. It offers us an aperture to frame momentary street scenes away from tourist attractions. From billboards to posters, gas stations to bus stops, convenient stores to market stalls, private dwellings to communal housing, observing the locals from the car gave us a collage of insights on their daily businesses from a discreet distance. Unlike driving on a North American highway where human activities remain unseen from the road, the enthralling human activities in South Asia may happen anytime next to the curb, even along a busy highway.
The 4 hour car journey from Negombo to Anuradhapura passed through numerous villages and towns, school complexes, wet markets, Buddhist temples, Christian shrines, palm forests, rice paddy fields, etc. Roads were surprisingly clean and well maintained, and traffic was certainly not as hectic and insane as we have seen in other countries like India, Egypt or Peru. Indeed, Sri Lanka is one of the fastest growing economy in South Asia. According to the World Bank, Sri Lanka has the lowest rate of extreme poverty in South Asia. As we have seen during the trip, the gap between the rich and poor in Sri Lanka is certainly not as apparent as many other countries we have visited. While lives of most Sri Lankan remain simple, rapid urbanization, wide-spreading of the Internet and mobile network, and high literacy rate would certainly transform this sleepy island nation in the near future.
Water puddles reminded us that the monsoon rain was getting more unpredictable and lengthy in recent years according to the driver.
Fishmonger like to set up their stalls right by the road, usually under a big tree.
Peacock is the national bird of India. These magnificent birds are also very common in Sri Lanka. Their vivid colours become an undisputed symbol of beauty for the country.
Many rely on the state-run Sri Lanka Transport Board buses to move around the rural areas and go about their daily business.
Convenient stores selling snacks, sweets, fruits and drinks were the most common shops we saw on the road.
Like much of South Asia, the sugar-coated problem of diabetes also poses a rising threat to Sri Lanka. In 2017, the prevalence of diabetes in Sri Lanka was about 10%. This number climbed to 27% in the city of Colombo. Around 10% of pregnant mothers had diabetes and 35% of women were overweight.
Occasionally, we would pass by large neglected estate or plantation compound.
Christian shrines dot around the roads near Negombo.
The Christian shrines gradually make way for their Buddhist counterparts further away from Negombo.
Dialog and Mobitel are two of the most popular mobile service providers in Sri Lanka. Foreign tourists usually choose between these two providers for sim cards.
Bicycles are the most popular means of transportation for local villagers in rural areas.
For town dwellers, motorbikes are definitely their desirable choice.
However, for moving a group of people or traveling with goods, most locals would opt for hiring a tuk tuk (auto-rickshaw).
For local women, fashion and styling are heavily influenced by Bollywood from its powerful neighbhour.
Fashion in Sri Lanka is relatively conservative, especially in the north or near religious sites.
A Buddhist monastery features a smaller version of the famous elephant wall at Ruwanwelisaya Stupa in Anuradhapura.
Approaching Anuradhapura, we passed by a series of water bodies. Since the 3rd century BC, reservoirs were constructed around the ancient capital to sustain the earliest kingdom of Sri Lanka.
The arrival at the artificial reservoirs of Tissa Wewa and Basawkkulama signified our 4-hour-drive had come to an end. We had officially arrived at the heart of Sri Lanka’s most ancient capital, Anuradhapura.
HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, June 15-25, 2019
Tsuyu (梅雨), the rain season, begins to hit Okinawa in May and gradually makes its way north to the rest of Japan until the end of June. During the wet season, rainy and cloudy weather affects the entire country except Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island north of the main Honshu Island. The seismic active island is 3.6% smaller than Ireland, with a climate significantly cooler than the rest of Japan. Seeking for a pleasant getaway from Hong Kong’s humid and hot summer, we picked Hokkaido as the destination for our 11-day vacation from 15th to 25th of June. Traveling in the remote national parks and rural countryside of Hokkaido, hiring a car was a necessity. The Hokkaido journey was our first road trip in Japan.
Known as Japan’s last true wilderness, Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園) is the natural haven where Brown Bears and Blakiston Fish Owls ruled the primeval forests and Orcas, Minke and Sperm Whales roamed the waters of Nemuro Strait. With fantastic natural scenery, wildlife and seafood to offer, this easternmost part of Hokkaido topped our priority list in the travel itinerary. Next in the journey took us to the spectacular volcanoes of Akan Mashu National Park (阿寒摩周国立公園), where we came close to Japan’s clearest water at caldera Lake Mashu (摩周湖) and the fantastic onsen and fly fishing hot spot of Lake Akan (阿寒湖). While the lavender fields of Furano (富良野) and Biei (美瑛) had yet reached the peak bloom moment, the ultra fertile soil below the Tokachi Volcanic Group (十勝火山群) treated us with some of the best bread, corn, potatoes, asparagus, melons and milk that we ever had in our lives. Despite far away from Tokyo and Osaka, the architectural magic of Tadao Ando (安藤忠雄) in Hokkaido satisfied our thirst of contemporary design and aesthetics. Back in Obihiro (帯広), Otaru (小樽) and Sapporo (札幌), historic traces of early pioneers and contemporary dessert shops and local eateries brought us back to delightful charm of urban Japan. What’s more? Day after day of mouthwatering seafood, fresh produces, good coffee, and lovely patisseries reminded us how wonderful our world could be, when the water is clean, soil is rich, forests are healthy and people are friendly. Thank you Hokkaido. You have truly touched our hearts.
Located north of Honshu Island, Hokkaido is the second largest island in Japan.
Flying in from Tokyo Haneda, our Hokkaido journey began from Memanbetsu (女満別空港) near the Shiretoko Peninsula. After more than 1,181km of driving, we arrived at Otaru and Sapporo at the western side of the island.
This black hatchback hybrid Toyota Prius c (Toyota Aqua in Japan) provided us the means of transport from east to west across Hokkaido.
After 2 days of rain and wind, we finally had a glimpse of the active volcano of Mount Rausu (羅臼岳), the tallest peak in Shiretoko Peninsula.
The greatest experience we took away from Shiretoko was the close encounter with a pod of orcas in the Nemuro Strait.
The Mashu Lake (摩周湖) offered us a peaceful sunrise at 3:30am.
Under the shadow of Mount Oakan (雄阿寒岳), dozens of fly fishermen stepped into the crystal water of Lake Akan (阿寒湖) to test their luck.
Farms and greenhouses were washed with heavy rain as we entered into Furano (富良野).
Still at least half a month to go before the peak season of lavender blossom, visitors were enjoying themselves at a relatively less crowded Farm Tomita in Nakafurano.
Compared with rainbow flower fields, we loved the wheat fields at Biei the most.
Tadao Ando’s Chapel on the Water has been famous in the designer’s world since the 1980s.
The Hill of Buddha is the latest addition in Hokkaido by Tadao Ando.
At Yoichi Distillery (余市蒸溜所), whiskey has been produced since 1934.
Saturdays Chocolate in Sapporo is one of the many excellent local eateries and cafes that we visited in the journey.
Last but not least, Hokkaido offered us the best seafood and dessert that we ever had as far as we could remember. Let’s begin to tell the story of our journey!
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HOKKAIDO ROAD TRIP, Hokkaido (北海道)
Day 1 – from Tokyo to Shiretoko Peninsula
Day 1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
Day 1.2 ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ)
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 3 – Rausu
Day 3.1 RUSA FIELD HOUSE (ルサフィールドハウス)
Day 3.2 JUN NO BANYA (純の番屋)
Day 4 – Rausu
Day 4.1 MOUNT RAUSU (羅臼岳)
Day 4.2 FANTASTIC ORCAS, Nemuro Strait (根室海峡)
Day 5 – Lake Mashu & Lake Akan
Day 5.1 SUNRISE AT LAKE MASHU (摩周湖)
Day 5.2 MOUNT MASHU TRAIL (摩周岳) , Teshikaga (弟子屈)
Day 5.3 SILENT NIGHT AT LAKE AKAN (阿寒湖)
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 9 – Yochi & Sapporo
Day 9.1 NIKKA YOICHI DISTILLERY (余市蒸溜所), Yoichi (余市)
Day 9.2 SOUP CURRY NIGHT
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)
DAY 5 (1/4): ON THE ROAD IN TIBET (西藏), 2017.09.20
With an area about twice the size of France and including some of the most remote mountainous landscapes in the world, traveling in the Autonomous Region of Tibet takes time and patience, and requires a reliable SUV and an experienced driver. We didn’t have sufficient time to venture out to the furthest areas of Tibet, such as the sacred Mount Kailash in Ngari Prefecture. We did, however, managed to include a 6-day excursion out of Lhasa as the second part of our Tibetan journey with a classic tourist route taking in Shannan (山南), Gyantse (江孜), Shigatse (日喀則), Mount Everest Base Camp (珠穆朗瑪峰大本營) and Lake Namtso (納木錯). We hired the SUV and driver through Pazu, the owner of Spinn Cafe. As our agent, Pazu took care of our border travel permit (for visiting the Mount Everest area) in Lhasa. He also told us a little about the habits of Tibetan drivers, meals and accommodation options before departure.
Many Chinese travelers who come to Tibet would arrange a shared SUV through online tourist forum or notice boards in hostels and local travel agents. In a small group of three, we decided to hire a 4-seat SUV on our own. Writing to Pazu prior the trip, we requested for an experienced and safe Tibetan driver who would not smoke in the car, and a decent 4×4 SUV vehicle with a proper AL or BL license plate (official license plate of local tourist vehicle). It turned out that Sangzhu (桑珠), our Tibetan driver for the journey, was a highly experienced driver. Despite his sometimes unpredictable attitude and services, his driving was safe and efficient. The intercity roads in Tibet were better than we expected. The roads to and from Everest Base Camp were dusty and occasionally treacherous. Everyday we spent hours on the road between towns or destinations. Scenery along the way was often spectacular with golden barley fields, sleepy pastures, picturesque villages, rugged plateaus, and distant snow-capped mountains.
The white Toyota SUV offered us a comfortable means of travel and a movable resting place between different sights.
Our driver Sangzhu (桑珠) with Mount Everest in the background.
Most of the intercity highways were decently paved.
Along the way, we saw various new infrastructure under construction, including highways and railways linking Tibet to other parts of China.
For most of the time, we passed by a number of arid landscape such as the huge sanddunes in Shannan.
Fields of Tibetan Highland Barley, a local cereal for Tibetan milk tea, alcohol and tsampa, were common sights along the roads.
Our SUV was occasionally blocked by flocks of sheep and cattle in the rural areas.
On the road, we encountered quite a number of motorcyclists and cyclists who were willing to brave the chilly winds of the high altitude.
As one of the high profile tourist attraction in Tibet, our SUV drove along the Yamdrok Lake (羊卓雍錯) after our brief stop for photos.
The scenery on the road to and from the Everest Base Camp was breathtaking.
Most parts of the Friendship Highway between Tibet and Nepal was decently paved.
Due to point-to-point speed and driving time limit, our SUV occasionally would take breaks on the road. Our driver made use of the last break on the journey to wash the SUV.
On a few occasions, we stopped by a roadside Sichuan eatery for a quick lunch.
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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet