Sunday, 20 March 2016

My recent trip to Sri Lanka

In which I talked about visiting Buddhist temples, food and saree in Sri Lanka

Purple waterlilies sold outside the Dalaga Maligawa
Yesterday (19 March) was my birthday. Since I made up my mind to go to at least one place I've never been before (Star Trek really) once a year, I want to make a post on my recent trip that I really love. Last February, I had the blessings of going to Sri Lanka for a meeting. The meeting has been covered in my professional blog, so I won't cover it here. What I want to present below is instead my personal trip before and after the meeting. Sri Lanka is a truly beautiful country, and I wish I had more time to explore the island. I will definitely come again one day (hopefully for another meeting, but also with extended holiday afterwards). I fell in love with the island, and I certainly am grateful for the few friends that I knew before coming to the island (because they truly welcomed me with open arms), and also for the new friends I've made during my short one week visit in Sri Lanka.

Below are thus a series of photographs that I took during my trip. It covers my visit to the Dalaga Maligawa (Temple of Tooth Relic) in Kandy, some food fest (God, those delicious SL dishes!) and a bit of saree spree... Oh, and a bit about the traffic in Colombo, tho you can't truly "appreciate" the chaos until you set foot in Colombo. Enjoy!

I arrived in Colombo about 30 min after midnight on 21 February 2016. That day I spent exploring Colombo (looking for the best place for saree shopping, to be exact). I also bought a local SIM card (Dialogue) to communicate with my local friends (and to know where I am using Google or iPhone maps). Very cheap. Don't buy at the airport, they overcharged you as per usual. Buy in downtown, but you need to present your passport (true!). I spent less than 250 SL rupees (less than $3) for a 1.5 GB data and 50 rupees of texting and calling. Pretty much what I needed for a week's visit in SL. 
Jamz's lunch feast for me...

The next day (22 Feb) I went by train to Kandy (that's in the middle of the island, in a mountaineous region) to meet Jamz, a friend I knew back in 2014 from a workshop I organised (for free) in Malaysia (those free works apparently paid off eventually!). Jamz treated me to a very delicious, home-made Sri Lankan lunch. Total fest! As you surely know, if you go to a place and haven't had home-made dishes, you haven't truly got the local taste...

Jamz and his mother cooked me a very delicious meal as seen on the right here. From the top, clock-wise, we have cucumber-apple-celery salad with yoghurt, some chicken curry (I don't eat chicken, so I passed this one), delicious (oh totally delicious) banana flower curry, delicious bitter gourd curry (it's not bitter at all!), yummy creamy dhal (that's a bit Indian, but Jamz peppered it with enough curry leaves to make it Sri Lankan), a crunchy spring onion curry and last but not least SL fish curry. And delicious basmati rice in the middle. My mouth is salivating now as I type this. Total fest!

Then we went to the Dalaga Maligawa (Temple of Tooth Relic) in downtown Kandy. I was so blessed, it was Poornama that day, so the temple (and all other temples in SL) had prayers the whole day. People came from all over Kandy (and also from all over SL if they actually hail from Kandy) to make a prayer that day. It was a very beautiful experience to offer some lotus, water lilies and jasmine to Lord Buddha. I can't explain it with words; it will just reduce the beauty. The photos also don't do justice. The peace was... wow... I'd gladly experience it every day, every minute, every second of my life... Thanks Jamz for taking me there...

The entrance to the Dalada Maligawa
The universal Buddhist flags inside the temple
A little Caucasian girl offering flowers to Lord Buddha
The main stupa of the temple with the Bodhi tree and an old church at the background
A gorgeous artificial lake outside Dalaga Maligawa

After the temple visit, we had a delicious juice break. Sri Lankans love their fresh juices, and you'll find a lot of food stalls selling freshly pressed juice made to order in Colombo, Kandy and other towns. They also put a touch of salt in the juice that enhances the flavour. It's really delicious! Below is the juice counter at my hotel (Taj Samudra). They didn't sprinkle it with a touch of salt, but it was still delicious. The ones on the street will usually have salt in it; request no salt if you prefer, but I'd say try with salt first. It truly enhances the flavour.

The Taj Samudra juice counter

Me & my baby blue saree
Then Jamz took me saree shopping in Kandy. We went to three shops before I got what I wanted. I knew what I wanted: a baby blue saree with supple, easy-to-pleat material like chiffon with no stone works (difficult to wash!), but okay with resham (gold work) or embroideries. I found one beautiful baby blue saree tucked sadly underneath other sarees. My saree. Always almost forgotten because of its simple designs, yet I love them so much (will do a saree post one day!). Then I got a black and white print saree (it has the impression of a tree which I like), together it was about AUD 40. A very good price!

For the next three days, I had a meeting (the main purpose of me being there). But I had the chance to dine out with my Sri Lankan boys (sounds a bit weird, but Jamz, Ivantha and Sachhid are younger than me!) at Chutney, a very delicious Indian restaurant at Cinnamon, a 5 stars hotel nearby Taj Samudra where I stayed. I wore my baby blue saree for that dinner and managed not to splash anything on it! Oh, and I donned the saree in under 30 minutes. These days my time is usually between 20-25 minutes, excluding make up. With make up and shoes, that would be under 40 min. Not bad for a non Indian/Sri Lankan girl...

Then we had a walk along the Galle Face (that's a stretch of promenade along the beach in front of the 5 star hotels at Colombo 3 - by the way, I didn't have $$ to stay at Taj. I stayed there because the organisers paid for it...). I saw some food stalls there, but I was so stuffed, I didn't try anything anymore (plus, my heels were killing me...).

Street food at Galle Face, Colombo 3

On the final evening, the host treated us with delicious dinner. Below is the taste of what I got that night. On my plate I had hopper (appam - that funny bowl-looking stuff with egg in the middle, tho you can have hopper without egg as well), fish curry (the dark stuff in the middle), some small prawn curry, some delicious vegetable curry, string hoppers (that's the noodle-like food on the left hand side), and something similar to Indian paratha. Total fest again!

Afterwards, we had a whale watching as part of the trip. Then me and three girls (new friends!) went to Main Street of Colombo (the name IS Main Street) for some saree shopping spree. My new Italian friend found a beautiful dark blue silk saree (I won't put her photo here, but she looked, and will look, gorgeous in that saree!), my Malaysian friend bought like seven sarees from one shop only (cos Colombo is cheaper than KL for sarees). Take note Ladies: when you arrive in Colombo, if you want to do saree shopping, just head to Main Street, and that'll be more than enough for you. The whole street is full of saree shops that even made me dizzy due to choices! I didn't buy another saree (okay, I did, the previous day, for like $10) cos I've had enough. But now thinking about it, I actually want another one... a chiffon or silk saree with the colour of sunset... Perhaps one day I will get that in India?

West end of saree center Main Street in Colombo
The usual Colombo traffic, this was near Main Street

Oh but there was another reason I didn't indulge in saree shopping that afternoon: I had to go to Anouk's place for dinner. It took me 45 minutes to go to Anouk's place for a distance that I could cover in 20 min in my home town, but it was worth it. I've known Anouk for five years now, and it was an honour to dine with her, her mother (the 90 years old lady used to do Kalamkari/saree painting!), and two Thai friends at her place. For us, Anouk prepared the followings: string hoppers (with white and red rice flour), onion and potato curry (totally delicious! My potato-lover, vegetarian partner would love it!), fish curry (again, feast!), egg and small prawn curry, some tomato curry sauce for the string hoppers, and chicken curry for my Thai friends. Oh Lord Buddha, what a dinner!! Thank you (and thanks Anouk) is not even enough!

Farewell dinner at Anouk's place. Total fest again...

So that's the gist of my trip in Sri Lanka, at least the personal part. God willing, I will come back there one day. It's a truly beautiful place. Just watch for the traffic, and watch your expenses if you love sarees (but it's still cheaper than buying sarees in India they say), but indeed, I don't regret my purchases there. Oh, a bit of thuk-thuk tips. Use the metered thuk-thuk, and wear salwar kameez for ladies if possible. I took buses and thuk-thuks when I was in Colombo, wearing salwar kameez, and I paid the normal price. Then on my last day in Colombo, I wore a dress, and the thuk-thuk driver almost charged us double, had I not glared at him and threatened to get out of the thuk-thuk right away. Going native pays off, apparently... 

... and thuk-thuks are not the only street users in Colombo...

Next time I will come for the elephants and other things SL offers, including tea plantation visit.


Tamuyen Truong said...

Oh I never knew it was your birthday! Happy late birthday than Icha! What a coincidence, since my birthday was on March 18th! We are literally back to back! You are so pretty in the saree there! The places you went to are so beautiful! I hope you had a wonderful birthday and thanks for posting these great posts!

Icha said...

You're a Pisces! And only a day ahead of me! No wonder we got along so well! Belated happy birthday to you too, my dear friend! Hope you will get your dreams this year and always!

I've been avoiding finishing the LOCH episode review like a plague cos the last one contains YK's death. But I will finish it this week. I want to move on from denial :-/ that YK had always been designed as a bad guy. Sure Michael played him so well (too well!!), but YK deserved his ending. Good thing that the 1982 ver had him regretting his deeds before he passed away. Ah...

Linda said...

Oh my goodness, dear Icha! I was looking at my very long list of bookmarks and ran across this blog of yours. First, Happy Birthday! Next, you have tons of items I want to read and look at. You will keep me busy for another YEAR !! But I will be having fun. And your beautiful posts make me realize that there is a WORLD out there that I have never seen! I have been out of the US only 2 times in my 75 years - once to Canada and once to England (a Jane Austen conference of course). Oh well, one day, as we say. Now I must get busy and do some reading/research of this blog. Thanks so much for being my friend. Love you. Linda the Librarian aka Linda Fern

Icha said...

Thanks a lot for the well-wishes, Linda! There are many interesting places in the world. I hope you can still visit them. And I hope you don't find my recent posts confusing, for wuxia (martial-art genre) isn't for everyone. Just holler if you need to ask something!