Cycling is a popular way to take in attractions that lie further afield from the oasis. Renting a bicycle was quite easy in the town centre. Under the scotching summer heat of around 45 degrees Celsius, riding the bike in Siwa means one has to get a drink every half an hour. That was exactly what I did. Without smartphone or a proper map, cycling by myself also forced me to interact with the locals to ask for directions. With a bike, I was able to venture out a little further away from the town centre to visit the Temple of the Oracle, the Holy Temple of Amun that Alexander the Great visited over two thousand years ago; Fatnas Island, a laid back and lush green area right by Lake Siwa and Gebel al Mawta, the Mountain of the Dead carved with many rock tombs.
Spending the night in the oasis town of Siwa was not as dramatic as sleeping under the Milky Way in the Great Sand Sea. Nonetheless, it was an exceptionally peaceful experience to stay the night in Siwa. In the evening, there wasn’t many people on the streets. Alcohol was almost non-existence. While most locals stay in their homes, some tourists would spend their evening smoking shisha or devouring a cup of coffee or tea at a tea house After a delicious couscous dinner, I wandered around the oasis town with my tripod and film camera to document the tranquil nightscape of the oasis. The Shali Fortress was always the focal point no matter where I went in the town centre. Under strong floodlights, the majestic ruins stood proudly above the the new town centre. Each of the eroding structure once contained generations of desert culture and forgotten memories of the ancient Berbers.
With a constant temperature of 29 degrees Celsius, the Ain Juba or Cleopatra’s Spring is a popular tourist attraction near Siwa Oasis. While some say Cleopatra swam in the pool during her visit to the oasis, many other historians dispute about this legend and insist that the spring has nothing to do with the famous Queen of Egypt. The spring is nonetheless ancient and well known in times of antiquity. Referred as the Fountain of the Sun by Herodotus, legend has it that Alexander the Great followed a group of birds in the desert and reached the famous spring during his conquest of Persia. From history to the present, the spring remains as a reliable treat of a cool refreshing dip for tired travellers.
Many tourists reach the pool as part of a local tour going out to the Great Sand Sea, it can also be reached by cycling on the road to the Temple of the Oracle. For me, I have done both, first as part of a local tour on the way to stay a night in the desert, and second time by bicycle on my way to the ruined temple. On my first time, I spent most of my time chatting with the friendly pool caretaker in the pool hut. I didn’t notice any bather during my two visits. Given the fact that swimmers were advised to bath with a t-shirt on in respect to local customs, I didn’t get into the famous water myself given I didn’t have an extra t-shirt with me on both occasions.
Perched above the town centre stands the 13th century Fortress of Shali is the grand centerpiece of Siwa Oasis town. For centuries, the fortress stood to protect the local Berber community against all outsiders. In fact, few outsiders have ever set foot inside the fortress throughout history. In 1926, a three-day rain caused great damages to the kershif (local salt and mud) buildings of the Shali. The locals abandoned the centuries-old fortress and relocated themselves in new houses adjacent to the Shali. Since then, the mighty fortress was left for self decay and gradual erosion from wind and occasional rain.
In 2018, a joint effort by the EU and the Egyptian company Environmental Quality International began to restore the crumbling ruins of the Shali. The government was hoping that a restored fortress in Siwa would boost eco-tourism in the faraway oasis town. The EU funded project aims to restore traditional marketplaces, upgrades environmental services and establishes a child healthcare centre for the villagers. Not everyone agrees with the restoration. For some locals, the Shali is better to be left in its ruined state and the resources to be spent on something else.
In the midst of the Great Sand Sea in the Western Desert 560km west of Cairo, Siwa Oasis is one of the most remote destinations and a town deepest in the mighty Sahara that tourists may reach in Egypt. Only 50km away from the Libyan border, Siwa lies in a natural depression about 19m below sea level. Occupied mostly by a group of Berber people who have developed their own culture and distinct dialect Siwi, Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements. Until a tarmac road was built in 1984 to Marsa Matruh at the Mediterranean Coast, Siwa was only accessible by camels. Despite its remoteness, Siwa has long been a famous place in times of antiquity when a Greek oracle temple dedicated to the Egyptian sun god Amun was established in about 700 BC. In 331 BC, a celebrated conqueror from Macedon set sail from his newly founded Egyptian city by the Mediterranean Coast to Mersa Matruh, and then marched inland into the desert to reach the remote oracle. His visit has forever put Siwa on the map of history. This military genius is commonly known as Alexander the Great.
Home to spectacular landscapes, ancient ruins and distinct oasis culture, Siwa has been considered as an alternative destination in Egypt away from the popular Nile region and Red Sea resorts. For me, the simple idea of venturing out to the far end of the Western Desert in Egypt was tempting enough. Before the emergence of smartphones, Instagram and even Facebook, Siwa was not a well known tourist destination back in 2006. I learnt about Siwa Oasis from Lonely Planet guidebook. Given the anticipated impact of speedy globalization, I feared that the remote Oasis would turn into a resort town in a few years’ time. Thus I decided to pick Siwa as the last stop of my 2006 Middle East trip.
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.
The Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya is probably the second most popular attraction in or around Kandy after the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Lying at 5.5 km west of Kandy, the 147 acres garden was established in 1821 by Alexander Moon to house coffee and cinnamon plants. In 1843, plants from other gardens including the London’s Kew Garden were transplanted to Peradeniya to establish the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya is one of the about 230 tropical botanical gardens in South or Southeast Asia. Before 19th century, botanical gardens in Europe were mainly designated for scientific studies and classification. During the 19th century as colonialism extended to the east, botanical gardens were established by the Europeans in Asia as a research facility to study not only the science of plants, but also the techniques and economy of agriculture. The Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya had contributed to the agricultural development of Ceylon, the former British colony in Sri Lanka. Today, it is a lovely park that opens for all who pay the admission.
The Royal Botanical Garden at Peradeniya is a pleasant park frequented by visitors of all ages, even for those who have little knowledge in botany and horticulture.
One of the first plants that caught our attention was Amherstia nobilis, or Pride of Burma, near the Great Circle.
The Great Circle was the first large lawn area we reached in the garden. Surrounding the circle were groves of different tropical trees.
We could hear strange noises coming from one of the groves. As soon as we walked closer, we discovered a large group of Indian flying foxes on the tree canopies.
The trees in the garden provides perfect resting spots for the bats during the day.
Apparently the bats were resting, but they often moved around and communicated with one another.
When a few of them took off in the air, we could appreciate the large wing span of the flying foxes.
With a wing span ranging from 1.2 – 1.5m, the Indian Flying Foxes are one of the world’s largest bat.
While the bats were busy pushing one another for a better spot, two cows had the entire grass field to themselves.
It was a unique experience to see so many trees were occupied by the resting flying foxes.
The three Royal Palm Avenue are probably the most recognizable scenes of the garden.
Stretching their branches like myriad of open arms, the Giant Java Fig Trees are the favourite photo spots for many.
The Giant Java Fig Trees occupy a large area of space among themselves.
Near the Giant Java Fig is another amazing giant.
Built in 1931 by the British, Peradeniya Sangili Palama is a suspension bridge that lies across the Mahaweli River.
Back to the Great Lawn, we stopped by another famous Giant Java Fig Tree.
Some called this the largest pruned tree in the world.
An interesting study on grass species from around the world.
It wasn’t really crowded so we had a good 2.5 hours of relaxing time at Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya.