Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful place that you should visit in your next vacation. The rolling greens of tea plantations, the endless Indian ocean, the friendly people and the pocket friendly choices for accommodation and food are reasons you should consider it for your next holiday.

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Sri Lanka is very well visited by the Indians (due to proximity) and the Europeans (due to its British colonial history and it’s cheap prices?) but not so by Singaporeans. When we were there, we were the few Southeast Asians roaming about and everyone assumed we were from China. Sri Lanka is an up and coming travel destination and my advice is to go there asap before the prices start going up!!

There has been outpouring of investments into Sri Lanka due to the immense potential for growth ever since the civil war ended in 2008. Lots of luxury holiday destinations are being built up and lots of jobs are being created for the Sri Lankan. In fact, Tourism is one of their top national incomes. So go there before it becomes overcrowded like Bali and overly touristy!

However, be warned that it is still a developing country and hence the travel conditions are less than ideal. For example, the roads in the central highlands are extremely winding because they follow the natural contours of the hills, or it is likely that the road leading into your hotel (even if it is a 5 star one) is a dirt road suitable for only one vehicle to pass.

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Since Sri Lankan is not very popular in Singapore yet and finding information may be confusing at times, I’ve compiled my To-See, To-Live, To-Eat list, in addition to some advice.

My 8-day itinerary was as such-
arrive at 12am from Singapore
stay overnight at Airport Green Hotel
2 nights in Stafford Bungalows (near Nuwara Eliya)
2 nights in an Ella Airbnb
1 night in Jetwing Yala
2 nights in Hotel Calamander Unawatuna

As you can see, we made a loop travelling from Colombo to the central highlands, then down South before returning to Colombo. If I had to choose my favourite place, it would have been Nuwara Eliya. Maybe because I am more of a green, hilly, mountain-ey kind of person rather than a beach person. Before I start rambling on, let me share with you my lists.

To-See
1. Tea plantations around Nuwara Eliya

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These tea plantations are on hill after hill as you drive through the Central Highlands. Take your pick as to which plantation you would like to visit. As we were staying in Stafford Bungalows, we had a morning tour around their own tea plantation and also visited the nearby Pedro plantation. Some would charge you for a factory tour, my advice is to just do it once to see the machinery and the processing of tea leaves. It is quite an interesting learning process!

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After finishing with the factory tour, you should walk around the tea plantations to see the women plucking the tea leaves. It’s incredibly hard work as they carry 10kg of tea leaves on their back while plucking leaves at lightning speed under the hot sun. A lady showed us her hands and they were all callused up ): And she was only 30 years old. You can take a photo with them, but they expect a fee. I would encourage you to take a photo with them and stop to talk to them for a while, they are really friendly. It’s okay to give them some money also especially because their wages are low, they earn about US$5 for 4h of plucking. They can work in the morning from about 8am -12pm and then afternoon from 2-6pm, so you are most likely going to bump into them!

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I would give Finlays tea factory at Ella (near 98 Acres Resort) a miss because the staff were one of the most unfriendly Sri Lankans we met (that is an achievement in itself) and the green tea they produced tasted terrible. Furthermore, you have to pay for the tea-tasting! The Finlays green tea is different from the Japanese green tea we are used to, the aroma is much milder and the stronger ones leave a bitter aftertaste.

2. The beautiful Southern Coastline

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Stop and stay at any of the coastal towns just to enjoy the ocean breeze and marvel at the incredible Indian Ocean. I stayed at Unawatuna, which is deemed as one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka. It had a touristy vibe to it because there were many homestays and seafood restaurants on the beach, but the beach itself was indeed lovely. If you want a nice relaxing beach holiday with cocktails in the evenings and lots of food choices, then Unawatuna is for you. Lots of people were sun-bathing and bobbing in the waters throughout the day. Swimming is not advised because the waves are really strong and there wasn’t a lifeguard in sight.

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If you want to learn surfing, you can try it at Welligama where there are lots of surf schools. From the road, we could see lots of beginners tumbling with the waves. If you would like to do whale-watching, you can visit Mirissa. We gave whale-watching a miss because we were concerned about safety, since it was a developing country and the Indian Ocean is a scary place (we are scaredy cats).

3. Moonstone Mines or other Gem Mines

Sri Lanka is rich in semi-precious stones, so ladies, this is an opportunity for your guy to splurge on you. There is a whole range of semi-precious stones that can be found, from pink topaz to the blue sapphire. These semi-precious stones are considered inexpensive jewellery but they are pretty, so they are used as costume jewellery.

If you are driving around Sri Lanka, then there will be mines along the roads for you to visit, or ask your driver to bring you to one (they definitely know a place). Our driver brought us to a Moonstone Mine which was really interesting because they showed us the whole process, from collecting the gravel and stones from 12m underground using a pulley system, to washing and separating the moonstones from the rest of the stones/ sand to cutting and embedding it. The tour ended with a visit to their shop where lots of jewellery were on sale. The prices are definitely much cheaper than what you would get elsewhere (at least for Singapore), with a huge moonstone ring setting you back by about 40USD.

If you do not have the opportunity to visit a mine but would still like to purchase some gems, then it is advisable to go to a reputable shop with a certificate from the government, so that you are assured that the gems are real. Make sure to ask for a certificate when you buy your gem.

To-Live
1. Stafford Bungalows

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One of the most beautiful places I have stayed at in all my travels. The drive to Stafford Bungalows was extremely long from Colombo, especially because Stafford is a 1h drive from Nuwara Eliya. However, the long drive was worth it. Upon entering the gates of the bungalow, you are greeted by the sight of trees, blooming flowers and the tea plantation. The garden was my favourite place to relax at, and the Management encourages guests to do so. They placed comfortable lounging chairs in the garden for you to soak in the surroundings, and serve breakfast and afternoon tea in the garden. One night’s price includes afternoon tea, a 4-course dinner, breakfast and morning and evening walks.

Price: $$$$

2. Jetwing Yala

When we first entered the hotel, all that we could utter was ‘wow’. The view was unparalleled; you had the Indian Ocean right in front of you at almost every corner of the hotel. Being situated near Yala National Park, it is not uncommon for hotel guests to spot elephants and wild boars roaming around the hotel grounds. Unfortunately for me, the elephants did not come say hi to me, because they already visited the previous night ): Hopefully, you would have more luck!

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Also, the facilities were great, the furnishing was modern, the swimming pool was well-maintained and there were beach chairs for you to laze around by the ocean. The dining experience was memorable too! For dinner, we sat under the stars in the open air while feasting on freshly grilled seafood. The hotel prides itself in getting most of its ingredients from their own organic farm and making their own curd. I loved their curd! My greatest regret of the trip was that we only stayed here for 1 night. I would definitely be back!

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Even if you aren’t interested in going for the safari, many people still stay here to relax because it is away from the hustle and bustle of beach life and the service is impeccable. In fact, we were not very impressed by the Safari because there weren’t many animals to see. Even though we saw the elusive leopard from afar, most of our time was spent driving around the national park trying to spot animals. There are definitely better Safaris out there in the world, so if you’ve been to one already, I would say, just give this a miss.

Price: $$$

3. Airport Green Hotel

Run by a local and recently refurbished 1 year ago, this place was a good resting spot right after we landed at 12am. It is located just 10 minutes away from the airport and has 3 rooms. The rooms are clean, the local breakfast of hoppers and eggs provided was yummy and the owner was very friendly and helpful too!

Price: $

To-Eat
1. Grand Indian at Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

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The best Indian food I have ever eaten.

That statement shall be kept there until I visit India. But this meal was so satisfying. Fresh naan with butter chicken and really delicious tandoori chicken at great prices – what more could you ask for????? You have to try this place if you are in Nuwara Eliya.

Price: $$ ($10-$15 per person)

2. AK Ristoro, Ella

This restaurant is set up by a local who married a Japanese lady, and serves Italian and Japanese fare. We did not try the Japanese fare but we tried their pastas, twice. We came back for two consecutive nights because the pastas were so delicious. Their kitchen is an open one, so you get to watch the Sri Lankan chefs whip up your al dente pasta.

They have lots of sauces / ingredients available but the most memorable combination that we tried were – anchovies and cabbage aglio olio,

Price: $$ ($10-$15 per person)

3. Galle Face Hotel Sea Spray, Colombo

I would travel to Colombo just to eat at this place again, and actually live at the beautiful Galle Face Hotel. As the flights home to Singapore were at a strange timing of 1am, we had the opportunity to dine at the Sea Spray restaurant in the Galle Face Hotel. It was ironic that even though we spent 2 nights along the beach in Unawatuna, the best seafood we ate was actually found in the city Colombo. Another ironic thing is that you can’t find the famous huge Sri Lankan crabs in Sri Lanka because all of them are exported, so what’s left are tiny crabs. Anyway, what I loved about this restaurant was their sides. Their rice was cooked so fancifully, I could just devour the entire bowl. They also serve homemade bread in the shape of fish (!!) with fancy butter. Yum! And of course, the seafood was fresh and the tuna steak was done perfectly with a perfect price of $13.

Price: $$$ ($20-$30 per person)

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Top 5 Places to Eat in London

1. Dishoom
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Rated London’s top restaurant in 2015, I knew I had to try this bombay-style cafe, especially since I love Indian food. The menu was extensive and it was a pity I could only try the Deep fried Okra, Chicken Ruby and Chicken Briyani.

In my opinion, your experience at Dishoom very much relies on how wise your selections were. Next to us was a table of two which ordered naan and chicken ruby, and they were very angry about how small the portions were and how they had to go find more food after dinner. In contrast, Sandra and I traded the naan (even though it would have been lovely to have some naan dipped in curry) for biryani (basmatic rice) and had a satisfying meal.

They were very generous with the chicken pieces in the biryani, and I loved how quirky the dish was, with a sprinkling of cranberries to add a British twist to this Indian dish. The Chicken Ruby was a curry that was quite spicy, actually so spicy that the lady had to place a jug of water on our table instead of constantly refilling our glasses haha. But it was so flavourful that we wiped the entire bowl clean. There was not a single drop of curry left. The deep fried okra was a pleasant starter to our meal. I loved the Indian spices in the batter and how seemingly healthy this dish was (because ladies fingers= daily fix of veggies). It definitely made me feel less guilty about my deep fried okra addiction.

As long as you are in London, you HAVE TO try Dishoom even though the queues are long. At least they give out hot chai while you wait in the queue :>

Check out their locations at http://www.dishoom.com

2. Patty & Bun


BEST BURGER EVER. Enough said. I posted a photo of their burger on my instagram and other people agreed that this was the best burger they ever tasted. Everything on their menu looked so good that Huifen and I spammed order. We each ordered a “Smokey Robinson” burger, shared a “Winger Winger Chicken Dinner” and Chips with Roast Chicken Mayo and Chicken Sea Salt. Even their names sound awesome.


The “Smokey Robinson” consisted of a beef patty, caramelized onions, bacon, tomato, lettuce, cheese, ketchup and mayo. I loooooved the melted cheese, it was all over the burger and the paper wrapping the burger. I ordered my beef patty as Medium (they usually do it Medium Rare) and I found it to be cooked perfectly. Loved how thick the patty was and how it actually had a substantial taste of beef, as compared to the burgers found in Singapore.

Check out their locations at http://pattyandbun.co.uk/contact/

3. Burger & Lobster

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There are only 3 things on the menu at Burger & Lobster, you choose a whole lobster, a lobster roll or a beef burger. I guess ordering the beef burger is a bit silly and I’d rather eat a whole lobster than less lobster in a roll (unless you are lazy to crack open the lobster) so Sandra and I each spent 20 pounds on a whole lobster. Steamed, then grilled, with a garlic butter sauce to go with it.

The garlic butter sauce overwhelmed the natural sweetness of the lobster, so in the end, I just enjoyed the lobster by itself. The sauce was instead used as a dip for my fries, which I ashamedly cleared the entire cup of. Comparing prices with Singapore, getting a lobster for 20 pounds (S$40) is a steal. Plus the lobster was fresh and perfectly cooked (thank god they didn’t boil it because that would be stupid), so what’s not to like?

One of my friends commented on how he went to Burger & Lobster twice recently. London has too much good food for you to try B&L twice (please don’t waste your precious meals) but at least try it once. It’s worth the 1 hour wait and the 20 pounds.

Check out their many locations at http://www.burgerandlobster.com/home/locations/london/

4. Little Social

Burrata with Truffles Cod Brandade Braised Irish Ox Cheeks
This French-inspired British bistro is opened by Jason Atherton which means the food here was no doubt excellent. I particularly enjoyed the braised Irish ox cheeks and the roasted bone marrow. The ox cheeks were really tender and the bone marrow was really fatty. Other dishes that we ordered were burrata with shaved truffles, cod brandade with tapenade and a roasted turbot. It’s a pricey restaurant so visit it if you decide to splurge one night or if you are with the parents.

5 Pollen Street, Mayfair, London W1S 1NE
Tel: 020 7870 3730

5. The Mac Factory

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Found in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of Camden Lock market, this Mac & Cheese shop is a gem. They give out free samples to people so that you can decide if Mac & Cheese is your kind of thing but seriously, how can it not be your kind of thing?! We ordered the truffled Mac & Cheese for 7 pounds, plopped ourselves down on the stairs and ate away. They fry the Mac & Cheese for you on the spot so that when you eat it, it’s all warm and gooey and you can’t stop reaching for more. Writing about it is making me really really hungry. Now I want my mac & cheese >:

Camden Lock Market, West Yard
Open 10am to 6pm

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A Guide to Lauterbrunnen

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If you’re ever visiting the Bernese Oberland and at a lost of which village to stay in, stay in Lauterbrunnen! It is the most accessible village and the scenery in the valley is beautiful too! I stayed in Lauterbrunnen for 3 nights and I loved each and every night. I’ve compiled a list of things you should do and eat in Lauterbrunnen and also the places you can travel to from Lauterbrunnen:)

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Eat

1. Hotel Oberland Rosti

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Can I just say that this was the best Rosti I had ever eaten in my entire life. I’m not even kidding about how good the Rosti was. I couldn’t stop putting it into my mouth. And the fact that it had bacon and onion hidden between the strips of potatoes, topped generously with melted Alpine cheese just sealed the deal for me. You cannot miss this Rosti when you’re in Lauterbrunnen!

2. Swiss Restaurant Weidstuebli

I loved the vibe of this restaurant, especially since it was World Cup period and there was a TV for everyone to cheer on their favourite soccer team while eating their food. The food was relatively reasonably priced (for Swiss standards) and well portioned. Though this restaurant veers off the normal touristy path, the walk to and fro was quite enjoyable.

3. Flavours

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This cafe just opened when I was there last June and we tried their burgers which were delicious while the oven baked potatoes that came with it were addictive. Besides the food, I also loved the design of the cafe. There were bean bags and fake grass outside the cafe for cafe-goers to lie on and chill while people-watching. A pity that we only visited Flavours on the last day of our Lauterbrunnen trip. We would eat there again if we ever had a chance to!

4. Airtime Cafe

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This is a really popular cafe with tourists, maybe because it offers adrenaline-packed activities and free wifi besides food and drinks. I came in just to pack a vegetarian sandwich for my walk which was quite passable but honestly, not really worth the money. But if you’re looking for a place to buy food to-go, this is one option.

Do

1. Walk the Mountain View Trail to Murren

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There are different ways to get to Murren from Lauterbrunnen. You could choose to hike all the way, which is only for the experienced hikers due to the super steep slope; you could choose to take public transportation all the way which would mean a gondola up and a train to the village or you could be like us and do both. We took a gondola up and then decided to walk to Murren. Even then, you have two choices: to walk on flat ground or to walk the Mountain View Trail.

We decided to walk the Mountain View Trail so as to get a vantage point of the breath-taking scenery around us. I mean it’s not every day that you can walk alongside mountains so we chose the more scenic route. However, the route was quite taxing and the terrain quite rocky

2. Visit Trummelbach Falls 541A6991

The sound of gushing water of these glacier waterfalls could be heard from a distance and it scared me bit. But the Trummelbach Falls were so magnificent. The water in these falls originate from Jungfrau and the falls are the only glacier waterfalls in the world accessible underground by lifts, stairs and pathways. Don’t miss this if you are in Lauterbrunnen! It really is a sight to behold.

3. Take the cruises on Lake Brienz or Lake Thun
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One of the perks of buying a Swiss pass is that cruises like these are free. We decided to capitalise on the fact that there were free and went on both cruises even though they were quite similar. Hence, my suggestion is to take just one of the cruises for the experience and also because it’s a different way of taking in the sights. I would recommend cruising on Lake Brienz because the lake has nice, calming turquoise waters which is really unique. The cruises can be found near Interlaken OST and you can stop along the way to visit small little villages.

4. Vist Jungfrau-joch 541A6678-2 541A6690 541A6850

Even though the trip to Jungfrau-joch will set you back by about $200, it is worth it to head up to the tallest reachable point by tourists in Europe. The views were so spectacular and breath-taking that we stayed up there for 4 hours, being fascinated with the snow and snow capped mountains. A warning first though, your body may have problems adjusting to the altitude, resulting in altitude sickness and a general lack of energy. Manlin faced problems breathing and felt tired really easily due to the lack of oxygen. After 4 hours on top, my head felt heavy and I came back down with a sunburnt face ): So lesson learnt is to always apply sunblock before heading for the mountains even though it seems very counter-intuitive to me.

5. Take a day trip or stay over at Mannlichen

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Männlichen is easily accessed by taking a train from Lauterbrunnen to Murren and then taking a gondola up to the mountain. We stayed in Berghaus Mannlichen for 1 night because we wanted to experience staying up in the mountains. However, because it was summer, the clouds were low and shrouded the entire mountain which meant that we spent an entire afternoon just chilling in a blanket of white mist. It was a frustrating experience to a certain extent but a unique one. What made the stay up there really worth it was the view in the morning. I jumped out of bed at 7am and was overjoyed to see that the clouds had cleared and the scenery was just breath-taking. Words can’t describe how amazing it felt to be surrounded by mountains so I’m just going to leave you with photographs.

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Stay

1. Hotel Stabbauch

Hotel Stabbauch offers attic rooms at a cheaper rates to budget travellers like me which I found to be a very good deal because I didn’t see the need to pay extra for a room view of the Stabbauch falls, considering that I could see the falls from anywhere in town and the hotel also had public balconies to chill and view the falls. The breakfast was not very memorable but at least it filled us up for our day ahead. I loved the fact that the hotel had a common lounge with a TV set and a piano for guests to hang around and watch soccer together. Also, the hotel staff here were incredibly helpful. There was this pregnant lady who loved Manlin and I, and never failed to answer all our questions and give us recommendations as to where to eat. The service in this hotel was impeccable!

2. Valley Hostel

We ended up with a free night with no lodging so we decided to bunk in at Valley Hostel where the person kindly offered us a 4-bed room at a 2-bed room price 🙂 The hostel had basic amenities and the room and sheets were clean, nothing to complain about as long as it gave me a comfortable night stay. What I loved about the hostel was this common porch right outside the room that allowed guests to sit on the benches and watch the trains go past. It was such a chill thing to do, just watching the world go past while enjoying the occasional breeze 🙂 It’s moments like these that make me fall in love with travelling.

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