Linking a number of tourist attractions like Tai Kwun, PMQ and Man Mo Temple, Hollywood Road is always popular for tourists in Hong Kong. While tourists come for the historical attractions, many locals, on the other hand, come to Hollywood Road for food and drinks. South of Hollywood Road, the narrow Staunton Street (士丹頓街) was once home to wet market vendors, trading offices, family-run stores and small Buddhist convents (庵堂). In fact, Staunton Street was once nicknamed the Street of Buddhist Nuns (師姑街). After the Central – Mid Levels Escalators opened to the public in 1993 and brought an influx of pedestrians from the business district downhill, Staunton Street and the adjacent Elgin Street(伊利近街) have quietly undergone a dramatic transformation. Expatriates started to move into the area. Old shops and Buddhist convents were gradually replaced by bars, pubs, restaurants, comedy clubs, cafes, and wine shops. In 1996, Thomas Goetz, a restaurant owner from Elgin Street, came up with the acronym “SoHo” (蘇豪) for this new entertainment and dining area of Central, referring to the location “South of Hollywood Road”. From then on, the Staunton Street that I used to go as a child to get fresh grocery and pay ritualistic respect to my grandfather at a small Buddhist convent has silently disappeared. Today, SoHo would remain sleepy most of the day, and then bursts into life after sunset. The yell of market vendors and pungent incense smoke have been replaced by causal giggles and laughter, and the smell of beer.
Further away from the Central – Mid Levels Escalators and less than 150m northwest of the buzzing SoHo, Gough Street (歌賦街), Kau U Fong (九如坊) and Aberdeen Street (鴨巴甸街) offer a much more laid-back and tranquil ambience. Once home to family run shops and small printing presses, these sleepy back streets have become a hipper cousin of the nearby SoHo. Known as NoHo for “North of Hollywood Road”, this area is particular attractive to locals who come for the foodie scene: Chinese cuisine, dai pai dong dishes, beef brisket noodles, Japanese ramen, sushi, Western fine dining, unadon, Vietnamese pho, hand-drip cafes, bubble tea, chocolate, etc. Despite its abundance of dining options, the shops here remain small and peaceful. Compared to its noisier neighbour, NoHo is much more low key, as if deliberately staying away from the public limelight. Here visitors would enjoy a sense of discovery and intimacy that is hard to find anywhere else in Central.
Day 2 (5 of 5).
Since most attractions in Anurādhapura are covered by the one-day Cultural Heritage Ticket, we decided to visit the two obvious exceptions on our first day: Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, and the rock temple of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, and leave the rest covered by the day ticket for the following day. On the east coast of Tissa Wewa, the reservoir built by King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, stands a group of giant granite boulders, where for the past two thousand years had been served as a small Buddhist temple, the Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya. Constructed under the reign of Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, the vihara was used as a Buddhist monastery to the house 500 ordained children. Renovations and additions in later centuries continued to transform the temple into its current form, which is consisted of the old rock shrine, the new shrine, the lily pond, and the rock cliff on which visitors can climb atop to check out the stupa and a rock engraved footprints of the Buddha. The temple is famous for its stone carvings, but unfortunately much of the complex, including the small museum, was under renovation during our visit.
From Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, we followed Google Map and walked towards Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya. On our way, we passed Dakkhina Stupa, a brick stupa constructed in the 2nd century BC.
Unlike the ancient stupas in town, Sandahiru Seya near Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya is in fact a modern construction commissioned by President Rajapaksa in 2010. Once completed, the modern stupa will reach a height of 85m. Slow funding and construction means Sandahiru Seya won’t be completed anytime soon.
Near the entrance of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, we passed by the Buddhist monastery Sri Sarananda Maha Pirivena.
Beyond a bridge over a beautiful lotus pond, we arrived at the entrance of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.
Lotus ponds are common all over Sri Lanka.
It was almost sunset when we reached the magnificent rock temple. Just like the shrine of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, we had to take off our shoes before entering the compound of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.
Set in front the backdrop of granite boulders, the Isurumuniya Temple and the adjacent pond are the most prominent features in the complex.
Splendid stone carving of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya is one of the main reason why foreign visitors come.
The shrine of Isurumuniya Temple contains a Buddhist image behind glass.
Unfortunately the small museum on site was closed for renovation. We left the temple and walked over to the stair at the back side.
Behind the Isurumuniya Temple, a series of steps led us to the top of the granite boulders.
Top top of the boulders is dominated by a stupa and rocks with carvings.
The white stupa is actually a relatively recent addition to the complex.
Late afternoon sun cast a peaceful aura onto the stupa.
At the top, ancient carvings, including a pair of Buddha’s footprints.
What seems to be a designated area of money offerings at the top.
Looking down, we could see the pond and more incoming visitors.
Behind us to the west, the sun sett over the peaceful reservior Tissa Wewa. It was time for us to head back to the hotel for a Sri Lanka supper to conclude the day.
Day 2 (4 of 5).
In 288BC, a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred fig tree in Buddha Gaya of India under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta Theri, the eldest daughter of Indian Emperor Ashoka the Great. The sapling was brought to the island in a golden vase on the ship, and planted by King Devanampiya Tissa on a 6.5m high terrace in the Mahamevnawa Gardens of Anuradhapura. Sangamitta stayed in Anurādhapura and established the nun-lineage of Bhikkhunī with several other Indian nuns. Along with his elder brother Mahinda, Sangamitta was a vital figure for spreading Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The ancient capital Anuradhapura continued to flourish and develop into a hub for Buddhist teachings that lasted for many centuries.
Today, the sacred tree Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi continues to thrive and has become one of the most important pilgrimage site for Buddhists around the world. The amazing 2308-year-old tree is also known as the oldest living tree planted by human hands on record. Given the significance of the tree, the Sri Lankan government banned all construction within 500m from it. Walls were also erected in the 18th century to protect the tree from wild elephants. Golden fence around the tree was later added in 1969. Buddha statues were placed at four sides of the sacred tree by different ancient kings. Ceremonies are held at the site to celebrate new year and several other festivals every year.
After a light lunch, we ventured out the Sanctuary Tissawewa and head east. Following the instruction given by the hotel staff, we found our way towards the legendary fig tree.
From the main road, we followed a pedestrian only path for about 10 minutes towards the sacred tree. At one point, we passed by a tree full of monkeys.
Most worshipers arrived at the sacred tree with lotus flower as offerings.
A green garden mat surrounds the terrace where the sacred Bodhi is located.
From the semicircular Moon stone (Sandakada pahana, a floor feature unique to Sinhalese architecture), worshipers would go up the steps to the shrine at the second level of the platform.
At each cardinal direction, a shrine is built for worshipers to leave their offerings and receive blessing from the monk.
The shrine is relatively simple, with an offering table and small Buddha statues.
Offerings of lotus flower can be seen at all Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, including Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.
Some shrines are more popular than the others.
Dressed in white, worshipers would leave a handful of lotus flower at the shrine, and receive blessing and a white string wrist bracelet from the monk of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.
At the platform, monks and worshipers interact and chat prayers towards the sacred Bodhi tree.
Behind the shrine further up the platform, we could see what must be the 2300 year old sacred Bodhi tree.
The lush green crown of the sacred tree provides a perfect backdrop for the golden features of the shrines and colouful Buddhist flags. The golden sunlight, peaceful aura, and sounds of rubbing leaves in the gentle breeze convey a strong sense of spirituality.
Structures painted in gold are erected to support certain branches of the sacred tree.
A small temple is located at one side of the platform.
Inside the temple, a decent sized worship hall houses a Buddhist statue.
Apart from the sacred Bodhi tree on the highest terrace, younger fig trees are planted at the lower platforms. These trees are meant to provide protection to the sacred tree against storm and animals.
We enjoyed the spiritual atmosphere of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. After checking out the shrines at all four sides of the sacred tree, we left the compound at the south gate.
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.
Day 10 (1/6).
Under the Meiji Government, the Hokkaido Development Commission was established in 1869, and the pioneer movement in Japan’s northernmost and second largest island, Hokkaido, officially began. The Japanese pioneers brought over their living culture, farming techniques, and faith of Shintoism. Emperor Meiji in Tokyo enshrined three deities Ōkunitama, Ōkuninushi, and Sukunahikona as the deities of Hokkaido reclamation (開拓三神) to support the pioneer movement. These deities were then moved to Sapporo from Tokyo. The shrine housing these Shinto deities was first named as Sapporo Shrine, and then in 1964 renamed as Hokkaido Shrine (北海道神宮) along with the enshrinement of Emperor Meiji into the same shrine. Today, the 150-year Hokkaido Shrine continues to play a crucial role in the lives of the locals, from New Year celebration to wedding ceremonies. The shrine is also a popular spot for hanami (花見), the spring cherry blossom festival. To start off our second last day of the trip, we spent a peaceful morning at the Hokkaido Shrine in Maruyama Park (円山公園) while most shops and cafes had yet opened for business.
In the shade of magnolias, maple, oak, Japanese Judas, and cherry of Maruyama Park, we arrived at the Torii gate of Hokkaido Shrine (北海道神宮).
2019 marked the beginning of the Reiwa era (令和) and the accession of Emperor Naruhito (徳仁).
Before entering the main shrine complex, we arrived at the first shrine building called Kaitaku Jinja (開拓神社), the pioneer shrine.
We washed our hands at the chozuya (手水舎) before entering the main shrine.
The current Hokkaido Shrine was restored in 1978, after a fire destroyed the earlier structure in 1974.
Inside the main complex, we arrived at the courtyard in front of the main shrine.
Just like many Shinto shrines around Japan, the main shrine of the Hokkaido Shrine is a beautiful timber structure.
We had a quick peek into the main shrine as we left our offering coins and clapped our hands at the entrance veranda.
We also picked up an O-mikuji (御御籤) or sacred fortune slip from a wooden box.
There are a number of racks for visitors to leave behind their undesirable O-mikuji (御御籤), as well as wooden ema (絵馬), or wooden plaques with written wishes.
After the main shrine, we paid respect to the other small shrines before leaving the shrine complex.
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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)