Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sri Lanka: Observation car in train ride from Ohiya to Ella

Taken by S because she was sitting at the window seat
This is the only photo of the head of the train even though it is a little blur, taken by S as she was at the window seat. Ok, back to observation carriage.

How much did it cost?
LKR 1,000 / ~USD 6.80 / ~AUD 9.10

Can one buy the tickets in advance?
Yes, we bought ours in Kandy Station, 3 days before our travel (I think one could buy it even more further in advance).

How was it? 
On the train we took, it was the last carriage of the train and our seats were at the last row which means we had the whole of the view. In other words, we were facing the opposite direction of the direction of the moving train.

We had the whole of the view and my friend had the side too but on our seats, none of the windows could be opened. There were also curtains which you could pull over in case of scorching sun but it also a nuisance when trying to take photo. In addition to that, if the windows were dirty, then you will have that patch of dirt on every photo you took.

Was it worth it? 
It wasn't expensive comparatively to railway travel in many countries and yes, it had a reserved seat and it was good knowing we don't have to rush and be kiasu to get a seat. The seats could be reclined too. That being said, if I am given a choice of a cheaper train ride in 2nd or even 3rd class reserved seat, I'll go for that.

The Ohiya to Ella leg
Getting on the train from Ohiya is a little tricky, in the sense that one would need to have some muscles in lifting yourself and your luggage up the train. The train arrived in the middle tracks, meaning you don't get on the train from the platform, instead you'll need to carry your luggage (and yourself, of course) down from the platform and walked to the middle of the tracks and heaved your things up the train.

The scenery was ok, I prefer the scenery between Nuwara Eliya to Ohiya. The distance wasn't far from Ohiya to Ella but somehow there were a lot of waiting time. The train just stop at the station waiting for something or someone but I don't know of what.

Side note: Addicted to ginger-y snacks, gingerbread man, ginger crackers... 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sri Lanka: Horton Plains National Park

If you do a search online, you'll see there are quite a fair bit of debates on the cost of getting to Horton Plains NP and if it is worth it. Well, it is expensive and whether worth it or not, it really is up to one's own judgement but this is my favourite activity among all the ones we did. Despite my non fitness, I am more a mountain person than a sea person. Maybe because I can't swim to save myself. S is more a sea person, so this was my favourite and not ours. Grin.

Here are the cost incurred.
Tuk-tuk from Hill Safari - Horton Plains NP - Ohiya station LKR 2,200 / ~USD 15 / ~AUD 20 (for 2 pax)
Horton Plains NP entrance fee - LKR 2950 / ~USD 20 / ~AUD 27 pp
Total cost per person - LKR 4,050 / ~USD 27 / ~AUD 37

The plan is to Horton Plains as early as we could, so we could trek before it gets scorching hot and it was said that it could get foggy later in the day. Besides, we also have bought our train tickets for the 11(ish) am train to Ella. According to the Sri Lanka Railways website, this train will arrive at the Ohiya station at 10:36 am but will only depart at 11:04 am. However when we bought the ticket, we were told that it was a 10:36 am train. We asked the locals and was told that the train is always late. We reached Ohiya station at about 15 minutes past 11 (I think) and the train had not arrived at the station yet.

There was still a bit of a distance from the ticket office to the start of the trail and we saw an elk! I was staring at it and forgot to take a photo :P

There was a bag check just before you enter the trail and if you are carrying plastic bag, they will throw it away.

There are 2 ways around this trail, you could opt to start at mini World's End and end at Baker's Fall or vice versa. The owner of Hill Safari recommended that we do the mini World's End first. From memory, the left route. I think the idea is that you will see both the World's End in event that the fog started to cloud the view and you won't be able to see anything. It was fairly flat all the way, except the stretch of uphill to get to Baker's Fall.

After stopping at mini World's End, we made our way to World's End. It is call "World's End" because it is a sheer cliff, with a drop of about 870 m. From "World's End", one can look down at some 870 m in height and on a clear day one can see all the way to the sea.

We had our packed breakfast of sandwich at World's End and then resumed our walk to Baker's Fall. We were that if we want, Chula could also make us roti breakfast but I think it would be too cumbersome to carry roti plus dhal around, so sandwich it was.

The only harder ascending trek on the route we took was the stretch from World's End to Baker's Fall.

The night before we visited Horton Plains, the manager at Hill Safari told us about this Nelu plant.

Nelu flower blooming is a bit of an infrequent incident. The flowers are said to bloom only once in a Nelu plant's lifetime and the plant dies thereafter. It is said that Nelu flowers only bloom every 12 years and when this happens, a pink and purple blanket of flowers can be seen across Horton Plains.

We saw this flower but not too sure if we recognised the right flower. I'm pretty bad at gardening.

After that, we continued our walk to finish off the round.

Side note: What's the cheapest destination to fly to from Melbourne during the Christmas-New Year period?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sri Lanka: The almost missed Ohiya

We almost gave this beautiful spot in Sri Lanka a miss, because my brain cannot compute the need to move to another location after a night in Nuwara Eliya. The initial plan was to go to climb up Adam's Peak, came down, travel to Ohiya, get to Horton Plains National Park. As Adam's Peak did not happen, the revised plan was getting to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy and there really isn't a need to make a stop in Ohiya because getting to Horton Plains from Nuwara Eliya is totally possible, even though it was further away compared to Ohiya geographically. This translates to we could stay in Nuwara Eliya for 2 nights and avoid moving to another location just after an overnight.

My friend let me make the decision and it was a bad idea (lol) because I am fickle-minded and the rational side of the brain thinks that we should stay another night in Nuwara Eliya so it would be less tiring. The other side of the brain, however, argued that I really want to go to Ohiya despite the hassle of re-packing and moving after a short one night in Nuwara Eliya. As I could write this post, it meant that we did make our way to Ohiya because Heidi's Home was fully booked the next night, so even if we decided to stay another night in Nuwara Eliya, we would still need to pack up and move. So Ohiya it was, and I absolutely think this place is beautiful.

For some reason our tuk-tuk driver in Nuwara Eliya mentioned that it was more convenient, easier and faster  to get to Horton Plains from Nuwara Eliya instead of Ohiya despite the obvious difference in distance. Distance from Nuwara Eliya to Horton Plains National Park is 27.4 km versus 10.7 km from Ohiya. We made our way to Horton Plains from Ohiya so I can't comment on getting there from Nuwara Eliya. However, I would pick Ohiya over Nuwara Eliya anytime, as a destination as well as base to get to Horton Plains National Park.

In my opinion, the best view of the train is from Nanu Oya to Ohiya. It was a short ride of about one hour and the only time we had rain in our 2 weeks in Sri Lanka, but it was the best train view as the train went through high elevation, including Pattipola, the highest railway station in Sri Lanka at elevation of 1,897.5 m above mean sea level. We paid LKR 50 / ~USD 0.40 / ~AUD 0.50 per person. Best value train ride ever.

We stayed in Hill Safari in Ohiya and getting there was a little tricky. The road to Hill Safari was full of potholes and narrow. The last stretch was being repaired when we were there, so we had to change tuk-tuk i.e. getting off the first tuk-tuk, walked past the construction bits, then got on another tuk-tuk. Despite us bouncing off the bumpy ride, the view was amazing!

Hill Safari was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, with no internet connection, if you wonder.

There are some treks one could do in Ohiya but we decided to take it easy and skipped the treks. We only wandered around the compound and chatted with an Australian family (2 adults and 2 kids) who were there as well. How coincidence that we were all travelling from Melbourne to Sri Lanka on the same flight!

Dinner was included in the accommodation fee, and in all seriousness, there was no other option for food unless you carted some yourself. Food was great and I regretted on not asking how to I say, "Chula is a good cook!" I did tell him in English though and he could understand that :)
(Chula is the cook working in Hill Safari).

In case you wonder about the portion, they were refillable :P
One of the girls were talking about wanting dessert and I really thought she was joking... until Chula brought out this delectable, smooth creme caramel.

We had an early night as we would be getting up early for an early trek in Horton Plains before departing to Ella.

Side note: I have such low satisfaction index, give me free breakfast and I am a happy girl. Lol

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sri Lanka: Short morning in Nuwara Eliya

The view near our accommodation wasn't bad, was it?

But in actual fact, it was looking like this.

In a short morning stint, I managed to slip and fell, giving me a gash on my palm and a big blue black on my thigh. S was worried that the wound would be infected and off we went back to the accommodation to get some antiseptic to clean the wound. We also checked out a little grocery shop nearby to buy one to bring along.

It was quite nostalgic. It has been a long time since I entered a grocery shop which sells plaster (bandaid) by number of pieces you want.

There was also a little strawberry farm nearby. We didn't enter as it charged an entrance fee.

Yes - I know these are not strawberry plant

Next stop, Ohiya!

Side note: Where is the most affordable last minute travel destination from Melbourne during Christmas season? 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sri Lanka: Nuwara Eliya in a day

A friendly Sri Lankan family who coincidentally also was getting off Nanu Oya helped me get my suitcase off the storage rack. When I caught up with S, she already engaged a driver who assisted her in getting her luggage off the train. It was a van and we paid LKR 800 / ~USD 5.40 / ~AUD 7.40 for the two of us. The van took us from Nanu Oya station to our accommodation, Heidi's Home.

After checking in, the first thing to do was food! We asked for some recommendation on local food and was told to go to De Silva Food Center. We did go there but they had sold out all the rice and curry, and we were told cook-to-order dishes took about an hour to prepare. We didn't want to wait and went next door instead. I don't quite remember the name of the shop but it should be Grashia Restaurant (please don't imagine high end restaurant, it is just a small eatery).

I don't usually order fried rice but that was pretty much the best option and it was pretty good, this was named nasi goreng on the menu. My guess is fried rice are usually Chinese fried rice style, whiter in colour and nasi goreng mostly Indonesian influenced and of course, darker in colour. I don't remember how much it was but total cost for this plus fish fried rice that S ordered cost LKR 630 / ~USD 4.30 / ~AUD 5.80.

After feeding our tummies, we decided to go to a tea plantation. We flagged down a tuk-tuk from Heidi's Home and he took us to town area, waited till we finished lunch and sent us to the tea plantation that we wanted to go, thereafter dropped us back to the town. We paid total cost of LKR 1,200 / ~USD 8 / ~AUD 11. 

We decided to to go Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Centre, entrance is free. Not only there is no fee to enter the Mackwoods Labookellie Estate, they also provides a free guided tour and finished it off with free tea tasting at their cafe. Need to pay for cakes. Grin.

I didn't think I am so bad at recognising people's face but after Sri Lanka, I have doubts on my ability in facial recognition. Not only I have trouble remember our tuk-tuk driver's face, I also realised I don't really recall their names. I remember the colour of the clothes their are wearing or shoes, etc but not the face. Must be old age setting in.

Along the way to the tea estate, we were treated with beautiful greeneries, we were amongst tea plantations anyway.

Our tuk-tuk driver (sorry, can't remember his name either!) decided to join us for the tour. He said that he often bring tourist to the tea estate but had never once walked around the area so he decided to join us. I suspected he probably taken a liking to my friend. Grin.

Tea leaves
Processing floor

Packaged tea to be sent out
It wasn't a long tour and after that, we went to the cafe and try the tea. One could tell them which type of tea you would like to try at the counter.

Our tuk-tuk driver is the one in green jacket, (so obviously I recognised him by the jacket.. umm) waiting for tea collection

After finishing the tea, I wanted to go out for a little walk.

The cafe from outside
I walked over to the viewing deck and told S I want to go down (where I took this photo)

It started drizzling by then and at the end of these steps, there was a sign saying no permission to go further (something like that), so I came back up.

After that the driver dropped us back at the town. Nuwara Eliya town area is like a big bus station and there were so many people because it was a long weekend. So I didn't think Nuwara Eliya is charming, like how other people might have experienced. We went for a quick look at the post office.

After we short walk, we decided to have dosa dinner with recommendation from our tuk-tuk driver and headed to Ambaal's Vegetarian Hotel. I had my first string hoppers and only scooped a little of the curry on my plate. The waitstaff saw me and obviously thought I needed assistance and piled on the variety of curries on my plate. Haha.

My friend then sent me down to grab a dessert, I tried to ask the workers what were the flavours and they were basically telling me all were chocolates = ="

Given the colours of the sweets were a little too vibrant, I decided to err on the cautious side and took the chocolate one. It obviously is chocolate, more like Milo taste actually.

I had 10 string hoppers (they come in set of 10s), S had a plain dosa, we each had a milk tea and shared a piece of sweet. Our dinner came up to a grand total of LKR 200 / ~USD 1.35 / ~AUD 2. Cheapest dinner ever and tasty too!

Side note: Are you in the group that likes chai or are you in the group that doesn't like chai?