Ella: Top 5 things to do

Ella is the most beautiful place.  High in the hills, with breath-taking views it is understandably one of Sri Lanka’s most popular stop-offs.

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Ella is one of those beautiful places where it feels time stands still.  It has much more of a backpacker vibe than the rest of the centre; which means if you have time on your hands, it would be an amazing place to while away a few days relaxing here.

If I had the time I would grab a bike and head up to the surrounding hills and visit even more tea plantations (as you can never have too much tea). But having said this, I think two or three days is more than enough for what we wanted, so for those with a tighter time-scale, these are my top 5 things to do in Ella:

  1. Catch the train
  2. Ella Rock
  3. 9 Arches Bridge
  4. Eat at Raha cafe
  5. Little Adam’s Peak

 

Catch the Train

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Train passing as we were walking along the tracks in Ella

Catch the train… Now this sounds like simple enough advise but if anyone thinks this is easily done, then check out my diary entry: ‘no room on the train’.  Needless to say any journey that I am partaking is unlikely to go to plan.  However, despite this, we had the most incredible journey.

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Beckys best impression of Jeremy Corbyn

The stretch of railway from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful in the world; it is a must and therefore tops my list of things to do in Ella.

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View from the train when we finally got enough room to look out!

You can catch the train from Kandy itself or Nanu-Oya, the closest station to Nuwara Elyia.  The length of the journey depends on which train you catch as there are slower, local trains that run the same route.  More information on how to catch the train is in my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’.

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Platform at Nanu-Oya

 

Ella Rock

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Top of the World on Ella Rock

Ella Rock is coming in at number 2.  In a place of such natural beauty, hiking is one of the most popular things to do in the area, the two most popular being Ella Rock and Little Adams Peak.

Ella rock is a short walk from the town along the railway tracks.  Lots of people climb Ella rock for sunrise but having done Adam’s Peak only shortly before we were happy to have an early morning walk instead.  This insured beautiful views on the way up and down; still kept it relatively quiet from a tourist point of view and increased our chances of passing a train on the tracks – we saw two.

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Morning commute

You can either set off from the train station itself or at the crossroads in the main village there is a steep path up a hill, to cut up to the railway tracks.  If in doubt ask the hosts at your hostel/ guesthouse – you do not need a guide.  Take a left turn once you reach the tracks and keep walking until you pass over a small, metal bridge. Soon afterwards you will pass a 166.5 marker and there will be a large granite rock on your left where you take a sharp left turn (I forgot we were looking for 166.5 and thought we were looking for 165.5 which added a bit extra onto our journey!).

If you follow these instructions you shouldn’t go wrong.. when we retraced our steps to see if there was anything to make it easier to follow there really isn’t, it is a large rock and the only one around.  I don’t know how we missed it.

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From here the instructions we followed told us to ‘follow your nose’ – it appears that Becky and I have a terrible sense of smell as we went wrong on numerous occasions but contrary to all the warnings we read online, any locals we met were all really helpful, correcting us and sending us on in the right direction.

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Getting taken back the actual way!

If you do go wrong, it’s not far to retrace your steps and once you’ve found your way to the base of the climb even we couldn’t go wrong from there!

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Turning off the railway tracks

From the base it only took us about 30 minutes to get up (we are quick walkers) so although lots of people advise 4 hours in reality it only took us about 2.5 from the village and back.

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Base of the climb

It is a steep climb at the top so don’t forget trainers and some food for sustenance.  We LOVE peanut brittle!

Also, be warned, Ella is not as hot as the coast but most of the hiking we had done so far had been very early morning.  Even getting towards 11am was becoming too hot for me.  I would not want to be walking up during the heat of the day between 12-2pm as I am terrible in heat! Early morning or late afternoon is best.

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Stunning views across Ella makes the steep ascent worth it

Once at the top you have a beautiful panorama of Ella itself and the surrounding hillside.  There is an obvious viewpoint but my advice would be to turn right at the main clearing and carry on for a further 5 minutes or so through the trees, to get to a prettier spot with less tourists.

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Follow the route a little further round through the woods… trust me on this, it’s worth it!

There is a small cave temple so you will know if you’re in the right place and the views are definitely worth that extra bit of hiking.

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Quote Becky: ‘Oh well, might as well get once now we’re here’ [takes selfie]
If you time your walk right, you might even be lucky enough to see a train passing.

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9 Arches Bridge

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I was so excited taking this, you’d never think I’d seen a train before

Now surely this has to be the most photographed spot in all of Ella.  Nine arches, also known as the ‘Bridge in the Sky’ in Sinhala, is situated at Gotuwala, between Ella and Demodara. The viaduct was built in 1940 whilst Ceylon was under the reign of the British Empire and is a fine example of engineering.  The bridge itself is made of rocks, stones and cement and it was rumoured this was as a result of the war effort and the steel assigned for the bridge was instead used on war related projects.

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A feat of engineering

The architecture is beautiful and again if you time it correctly you will be able to catch a train passing through the bridge.  We went around 5pm and incidentally caught the 5.30pm train passing. This is a great time to visit as the heat of the day is over, there are a few less tourists than earlier and all being well, you are generally guaranteed a clearer background for photographs.

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Waiting for the train

It’s easy to spend time playing around taking photos at the bridge and even though I am absolutely terrified of heights there is a slight thrill in standing atop the bridge.

The bridge is in the same direction as Little Adam’s Peak so after we had been here we did Little Adam’s Peak at sunset on our way back to the hostel.  Again the bridge is easy enough to find and if you grab instructions from your guesthouse you can’t go wrong (except for we obviously did!).

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Walk on walls

 

Raha Cafe

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I’m in food heaven!

For anyone that knows me it is unsurprising that a restaurant/ cafe has made it into my top 5 things to do in Ella.  To me food is so important and Sri Lankan cuisine is now one of my favourites.  I think it would hard to appreciate a place without embracing their culture and with that comes their food.

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Ella has lots of eateries, its sad to say that over the last few years it has hugely developed with more guest houses on the way.  This means lots of lovely places to eat but my favourites will always be the small, local options which more often than not also prove to be the cheapest (yay!).

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Raha cafe was both of our favourites and I think we ate here a total of 4 times, which I know seems excessive and we should have tried somewhere new but when the food is that good, it’s impossible not to go back.  In fact, I would be tempted to go back to Ella just to eat here again!

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The menu had the basic roti, kottu roti and curries and they were all incredible.  Just go! You’ll see what I mean.

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Little Adam’s Peak

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The circle of life

Last but by no means least is Little Adam’s Peak.  This is another beautiful spot.  An easier climb than Ella Rock and from the road only took us 20 minutes to climb up.  Towards the top it does get a little steeper, but having done the real deal only a few days before Little Adam’s Peak seem like a walk in the park.

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Another hike!

The views from Little Adam’s Peak and over Ella Gap to Ella Rock were stunning and I would definitely recommend a sunset climb.

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It is quieter than during the day and Becky and I were probably the last two to come down and it’s easy enough to find your way in the dusk.  We perhaps left it a little late as by the time we hit the road we were walking back in the dark but it’s simple enough to follow the road back to the town.

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Sunset itself was cloudy but still worth seeing as you watch it setting over the rock to the west.  As mentioned above, link this is with the 9 arches bridge as they’re in the same direction and you’ll have an amazing afternoon.

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Mordor or Sri Lanka?
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Buddha atop Little Adam’s Peak

 

Other

This is by no means an extensive list of what to do in Ella but what I would recommend as definitely worth doing.  Other things if you are around for longer would include hiring a scooter to see the surrounding countryside; going up to Lipton’s seat and visiting Rawana Falls (although you can easily do this as you are leaving Ella and I’m not convinced would be a good use of a day).

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Rawana Falls

As I mentioned, as Ella is so popular it has understandably been going through development recently and has much more of a backpacker vibe than most of the other places we visited in the centre.  Lots more guest houses and infrastructure was being built whilst we were there.  However, having said this although there are bars and live music it doesn’t appear to be a wild night out or huge for drinking.  Peak time appears to be in the early evening and often when we were vacating around half 10 a lot of the restaurants/ bars were already clearing out.  Obviously like us, getting ready for another early morning hike the following day!

Enjoy x

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Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has been growing in popularity these recent years and it’s easy to see why…

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This guide is going to cover the basics to travelling.  The things you need to know/ wish you’d have known, to get from A to B.

Intro

-Arrival/ Departure

-Travelling Around

Packing

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Intro

I have been desperate to visit Sri Lanka since some of my friends worked there after we finished Uni in 2012 and with its increasing popularity in the last few years I was keen to go before it became too commercialised, like other areas of SE Asia.

With incredible history, beautiful scenery and stunning coastlines it’s easy to see why over three times more tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2016 compared to 2010 (statistical reports of Sri Lanka Tourism).  These figures likely have a lot to do with the ending of the civil war in 2009 between the government and the Tamil Tigers, lasting 26 years.

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Wild elephants at Yala National Park

Normally when travelling, I like to create the whole itinerary myself.  However, we had so many good recommendations for Sri Lanka we based a lot of our route on tips from friends and with a bit of improvisation, I now think we have it pretty much sorted.

We travelled in January and February, apparently peak season which we hadn’t realised until we got there.  At this time of year we were pretty much guaranteed sunshine in the centre and on the South coast, so based our trip around these areas.  This worked perfectly, as they’re the best!

I travelled with one friend, Becky (aka. Machine Mason).

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Becky ‘the machine’ Mason

Having travelled some of SE Asia together before, albeit 5 years ago, we were pretty sure we could survive three weeks in each others company!

One thing we did notice travelling here compared to other areas of Asia, was the majority of other travellers were couples.  There were a few groups and solo travellers here and there, as well as some other female duos but we felt exceptionally single! So lucky we had each other!

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Because of this, I would say it is potentially harder to travel around Sri Lanka easily on you own compared to other places if you’re not a confident solo traveller; unless on the coast, where you will find more of a backpacker vibe.

 

Arrival/ Departure

Getting to and from a place is equally as important as travelling around it.  You can get a Sri Lankan Visa (ETA) easily online.  I only sorted mine the night before, it cost $25 USD and came through immediately.  Then you just need to fill in an arrivals card when you get there.

The airport is fairly standard, it flies planes but don’t expect the full luxuries of an international airport.

Shopping is minimal and I had forgotten/ lost my memory card for my camera.  I was hoping to pick one up on arrival and although there are multiple electrical shops which sell everything from washing machines to toasters, they sadly don’t stock anything as practical as an SD card.  I managed to last my entire trip on only 16GB by constantly deleting photos – quite proud of this achievement!

The airports closest city is definitely Negombo and as an interesting town with Portuguese and Catholic influences, as well as a long stretch of beach, it is generally peoples first choice over Colombo.

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Negombo beach at sunset

Colombo itself is worth a visit but a day is enough.  It is further to the airport but the buses are good, taxis fairly reasonably priced or if you want something a little cheaper than a taxi, grab a metred tuk-tuk.  All of Colombo have these, don’t believe them if they say they can’t put it on a metre; just grab the next one passing.

If you want a tuk-tuk from the airport then you’d have to leave the airport enclosure and make your way towards the road to flag one down as they’re not allowed into the main pick-up/ drop-off area with all the cars.

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Seema Malaka in Colombo

When leaving, the airport has limited choices available for eating and drinking; all of which appear overpriced compared to Sri Lankan cuisine outside the airport.  My advise would be to eat before you go or grab some roti to take through with you which is far tastier and means you don’t need to pay a fortune.

Top Tips:

  • Bring any electricals you need and don’t expect to pick up anything on arrival.
  • Negombo is an easy place to stay when you arrive but still about a 20 minute drive away.  It is smaller and more picturesque than Colombo.
  • If travelling round Colombo, be sure to use metred tuk-tuks to get the best price.
  • On departure, eat before arriving at the airport or grab food to take through with you as the airport meals are basic and dear.

 

Travelling Around

We used various methods of transport on our trip.  It was so easy and I could not praise their transport system more highly, it’s great!  In fact, so good, the buses when direct don’t take that much longer than driving.

Also they drive on the left which keeps things simple for us Brits!

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Private Drivers

Our first week we had a lot of ground to cover in a short space of time, so following advice, we hired a driver.  Including drivers accommodation you can expect to pay about 9000LKR / day and this couldn’t be easier.  £20 each for us to be driven the distances we were, door to door; stopping wherever took our fancy, without the hassle of worrying about backpacks was an absolute bargain.

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Our amazing driver Palitha

Just to put this in perspective, I missed my train from Leeds to Manchester Airport (as I was still packing!) and my replacement ticket cost me £30.

It’s easy to arrange; we sorted ours 9.30pm the night before and he met us at 8am. Actually 8am as well, Sri Lankans it turns out are very good at keeping time and unlike most of SE Asia which runs on what I call ‘Laos time’, aka. 3 hours late, they were on the dot for everything.

That, and our driver Palitha was absolutely amazing.

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Every time he saw us he’d jump up and give a huge smile and double handed wave to welcome us.  So attentive – almost too much, we tried to explore a little on our own but he didn’t want us walking anywhere!

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Service stop

The other advantages to a driver beside stopping at beautiful services like this…

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..is if you’re anything like Becky it means you can sleep in comfort.  Trust me, this girl can sleep anywhere!

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Buses in Sri Lanka are great and doable if you have more time but if you want to see as much as possible, as quickly as possible, definitely get a driver around the centre.

Train

Our driver left us in the beautiful Nuwara Elyia (pronounced as one word), where we explored the tea plantations.  From here to Ella we caught the train.

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I’m sure most people, like me, have the train at the top of their Sri Lanka to-do list.  The stretch of train line from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful in Sri Lanka and the World; travelling through tea plantations, forests and hill country.  You can either jump on at Kandy and go the whole stretch or midway as we did, at Nanu Oya (the closest station to Nuwara Elyia).

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Don’t feel that because you caught the train from Nanu Oya you’ve missed out on some of the scenery, in fact we drove to Nuwara Elyia and our approach via road, winding through tea estates was equally as breathtaking.

We even picked up a friendly police officer en-route!

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The trains are fantastic and the majority whilst we were there, were on time.  However, they can get full… very full!

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Our train from Nanu Oya to Ella

We hadn’t booked and when we tried to book a few days before, all the seats were sold out.  This is not uncommon, it turns out most trains are fully booked a month in advance.  We actually bumped into a tour guide who revealed he booked almost double the number of seats required just for his group to travel with a little more space.  Assuming these tourists book trips months- years in advance, it’s hardly surprising we couldn’t get a seat turning up at the counter 2 days before!

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Nanu Oya ticket office

I was also unaware that you could book online (in truth, I didn’t bother checking!) but was told by a Dutch couple it is possible and ‘seat 61′ [https://www.seat61.com/SriLanka.htm] is a great website for doing this.

If you are lucky enough to book a seat, firstly, congratulations!  Secondly, either 2nd or 3rd class would be my choice of travel.  They’re fairly comfortable and although 1st class has the luxury of air-con, this means the windows don’t open and you can’t get that wind-in-your-hair train feeling or those all important travel shots for instagram!

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Not that we managed to get any at all.. as we were packed like sardines for our journey.

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You can just about see the view if you stand of tiptoes for 5 hours!

At one stage the small area between the carriages about half a metre wide had 16 of us and a stack of precariously balance backpacks squashed together.  This is no exaggeration, Becky even had to scratch an itch on her nose using my shoulder as couldn’t release her arms! An insta train photo for us was out of the question.. or at least a less orthodox one.

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Our train was particularly busy as it was national independence day so everyone was travelling.  We wanted to catch the first train to arrive in Ella by lunch, however, this was one of the older Sri Lankan trains with less carriages and they travel slower; so we stood, very squashed, for 5 hours.  The advantage to this, is we got more stops to enjoy the journey to the full extent and with the national holiday locals in the next carriage were singing and playing music.

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If you don’t have a seat and are worried about this, check seat 61 as it tends to say which train is at what time and some of the later trains are the modern blue ones imported from China.  These trains are faster, about 2 hours for our stretch of the journey and they have more carriages, which means more space if you are standing.

The other option, if boarding at Nanu Oya and you want to have a higher chance of getting an unreserved seat, jump on at the station before as it will be quieter.  We did read about this and considered it but thought we would be OK being early.  Turns out you have to be early, some people arriving ‘on time’ couldn’t even get standing room on the train.   If you do try this, let me know how you get on!

Of course it’s not always as busy as when we travelled and I for one loved our experience and am glad it panned out as it did.  I am also beyond impressed at myself, and those that know me will appreciate this, but I made it nearly 6 hours without going to the toilet! That has to be a new PB.

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Galle Railway Station

Just to prove it is possible to actually get a seat we also caught the train from Galle up to the capital at Colombo Fort.  As this is a slightly quieter line and with more locals, we managed to buy our ticket on the morning and reserve a second class seat.

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The main advantage of a seat is you can actually enjoy the view instead of worrying about being pressed up against a stranger for hours.  Although the seat was wasted on Becky, who as usual promptly fell asleep and missed all the views.

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Platform at Galle

The views for this stretch of railway were fantastic and having basically missed the panorama on one of the most beautiful stretches in the World, this was some consolation.  Beaches and palm trees instead of tea plantations but equally stunning and at about £1 a ticket you can’t go wrong with the railways.

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Sunrise at the station

Buses

From Ella onward we took one taxi but otherwise used buses all the way to Galle.  The buses were so easy, you literally just hop on and off anywhere.  The technique is they slow a little, you shout at the conductor where you’re going and if they are too, the bus slams on its breaks.  They only stop just long enough for you to clamber up the steps and find some seated/ standing room for the journey.

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Going from bus stations is so simple and we generally found it easier on these occasions to get a seat but people are always on and off so it’s less of an issue than on the trains.

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The buses go pretty quickly and the blue/ white ones even play out music TV, generally Bhangra style and good fun.

The distances between the coastal towns are minimal and with the cost of the buses being so cheap (only 70LKR from Mirissa to Unawatuna) this is definitely preferable to drivers/ taxis, unless of course money is no object in which case you should get the bus anyway just for the fun of it!

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Tuk Tuk

The faithful tuk-tuk.  How they make me smile!

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I even saw an ice-cream tuk-tuk for the first time and thought they were the most amazing things ever!

The key with tuk-tuks is always haggle and like I said previously, if in Colombo, go on the metre.

Mopeds

The final mode of transport we considered were mopeds.  We had the idea last minute to hire bikes to get from Unawatuna to Galle but the morning we wanted to go they were all in use!  We’ve been caught out before in Sri Lanka by everyone else’s organisational skills, so if you want a bike, you’re best booking it at least the day before

Top Tips

  • If travelling to lots of places in a small amount of time definitely get a driver.
  • Book a seat on the train in advance, 2nd class gets you an open window.
  • If you haven’t booked and fancy a seat travelling from Nanu Oya to Ella try turning up the station before.
  • You can’t beat buses as a mode of transport along the coast.
  • If you want to hire a bike, don’t forget your drivers licence and don’t leave it until the day you want it.  Book a bike at least a day or two in advance to make sure you get one.

 

What you Need

So, what to pack?

Sri Lanka had a warm climate and minimal rain whilst we were there and I took what I would consider standard things for travelling SE Asia, some I needed, some I didn’t.

On top of the obvious packing list these were essential/ would have been useful:

Adaptors

We didn’t buy/ take any adaptors for non-UK sockets as believed Sri Lanka to use both UK and 3 circular pin plugs.  It’s true they use UK plugs in a lot of places but not all of them.  We ended up relying on portable battery chargers in between places with UK sockets, so it would have been good to have at least one 3 circular pin adaptor.

Shawl/ Maxi

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and like most others expect you to cover up when in temples.  I never went anywhere without my shawl to cover up shoulders or maxi skirt to slip on over a pair of shorts, you never know when you might need it – essential!

Leggings and Hoodie

Believe it or not I was actually cold some days and not just from air-con!  Hill country is a lot colder and although Ella you can just about get by with shorts and t shirts, Nuwara Elyia is much cooler.  I ended up wearing a jumper during the days, hoodie in the evening and even needed to sleep in my leggings!

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Horton Plains

Layers are also useful for some of the early morning hikes in hill country such as Hortons Plains and Adams Peak, if you’re waiting for sunrise on top of the mountain it gets cold.

Immodium/ Dioratlye/ Senna

I won’t say which of our party (or both) needed to resort to the medicine bag at some point but I am ashamed to say I have never not needed one, or all of the above at some stage whilst travelling (except perhaps Australia) .  I’ll leave you to come up with the details but don’t forget them! They save your life if you have a long days travelling ahead on public transport.

Trainers

Sri Lanka is amazing for hiking but all of the terrain in manageable in trainers.  I wore my trekking shoes (which are hideous but functional) but Becky wore trainers which were absolutely fine for all of our hikes, including Adam’s Peak.

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Adam’s Peak descent

 

Non-essential items, aka. I over-packed but don’t want to admit it:

Travel Pillow

I take this everywhere but sadly did not need it.  Unlike previous travelling there were no long overnight buses to get place to place and no extreme camping that required a pillow.

Torch

Again no camping but I thought we would need it for Adams Peak ascent.  This was not the case, candles and lit all the way.

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I hope this is useful to get your trip planned, it is the most incredible country so enjoy every minute.

Have a look at my ‘top tips’ for Sri Lanka for ideas to plan your route in more detail!  It combines our favourite things and our recommendations having made a few mistakes along the way.  If you’re going on a 10 day or two week trip I have some suggested itineraries so take a look and let me know what you think if you decide to follow them.

Happy travels x

Top Tips for Sri Lanka

If you want to know the basics for travelling/ getting around Sri Lanka then check out my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’.  However, if you want to know the good stuff… then these are my top travel tips.  Enjoy!

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Don’t miss out Sigiriya, Lion Rock is definitely worth the trip.

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When staying in Sigiriya, try Wijesiri for dinner. It is a family run restaurant and the food is delicious, a great introduction if this is one of your first stops.  When we were here we weren’t allowed to drink as it was a public holiday so instead had a rather unusual cup of tea!

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Grab a bike and cycle around Polonnaruwa as it’s the best way to see it and we ended up covering over 10km. (Yes, I logged it into Strava!)

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If you’re visiting Polonnaruwa wear covered clothes for ease, even with a maxi and shawl we were taking them on and off every 5 minutes to go into the relics.

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In Kandy, for a ridiculously cheap but incredible meal try the Garden Cafe by the lake, it’s on the opposite side to the Temple of the Tooth.

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If you’re visiting the Temple of the Tooth, avoid going at 9am as this is when everybody goes.  Either go earlier, or later, but 9am not only clashes with all the tourists but also all the locals giving their offerings at the start of the day.

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A day is enough to see Kandy.  If you’re staying longer then don’t miss the botanical gardens and get lost in wonderland when you try tea at Helga’s Folly, a quirky boutique hotel.

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Spot the odd one out…
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Helga’s Folly

Visit Millennium Elephant Foundation, it’s amazing and about an hour from Kandy.  Try walking with elephants instead of riding them.  It involves a thirty minute walk around the forestry with the ellies and an opportunity to bathe and feed them.  This foundation houses ex-working elephants and encourages tourists to engage in this instead of the bareback rides they also offer, in the hope to stop the exploitation of these beautiful animals.

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Elephant Whisperer
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The beautiful Ranmenika

If you do visit the Millennium Elephant Foundation go early, we arrived around 10am and it was getting busier as we left around lunchtime

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Bath time!

Don’t forget to check out the Elephant Dung Factory next door, a great project!  (We were told these Elephants can produce around 60kg of dung a day – which is impressive in itself! 10kg of dung can produce 10000 sheets of paper which if my maths is correct means 1 elephant can produce 60000 eco-friendly sheets of paper per day!!! WOW)

DO NOT MISS ADAM’S PEAK – if you like hiking that is.  This was our trips highlight and I cannot recommend it enough.

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Top of Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak is an incredible experience.  Set off at 2am and you’ll have bags of time for sunrise.  The best thing about sunrise was seeing the view for the first time on decent, absolutely breathtaking.

At the top of Adam’s Peak don’t forget to ring the bell.  One ring = one ascent.  I could go on, so if you’re going to do it have a look at my post on ‘Climbing Adam’s Peak’.

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 Visit Nuwara Elyia for the tea factories, plantations and Horton Plains.  You only need a short stay here but have a look at my guide for an idea of an itinerary.

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Pedro Tea Factory

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Pedro Tea Estate

Arrive early, 6am to Horton Plains to avoid queues and to avoid the ‘white wall’

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The cloud forests at Horton Plains

Catch the train from Kandy or Nanu Oya to Ella.

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As mentioned in my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’, book a seat if you want to sit down.

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In Ella make sure you do my top 5!

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Take the train
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Hidden cave temple, Ella Rock
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Nine Arches Bridge
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Eat at Raha Cafe – the food is insanely good!
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Sunset hike up Little Adam’s Peak

Don’t miss out on a safari.

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We chose Yala as it is one of the best and there is a higher chance of seeing leopards (we were lucky enough to see one, although too far away for a photo).

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People say it isn’t as good if you’ve been on safari in Africa but I would disagree, as it is a totally different experience.  It’s true, it can’t compare to the open plains of the Maasai Mara but it is still incredible.  The wildlife is native to Asia and I even saw a hornbill which I spent my entire trip around Borneo looking for, but was unable to find, so I was buzzing!

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Wild elephant at Yala National Park

Tangalle, on the coast, is beautiful.  It’s slightly less touristic than others and an absolute paradise.

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If you are visiting then try and get to a secluded place called Think Club in Goyambokka for sunset.  We caught it just as dusk was passing and it would have been sensational.  I’m not even sure how we came to find it we just jumped in a tuk-tuk who took us there and it was completely deserted.  Be warned it is pricey but would be worth it for a romantic meal; or if like us you’re travelling on a bit more of a budget, you can have a few beers and head back towards Medaketiya beach for dinner.

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Go blue whale and dolphin spotting in Mirissa.

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Wild dolphins
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Blue Whale!

Visit ‘secret beach’.  To find it, walk through Mirissa harbour (you need to pay a small fee for this) and up the hill.  You should pass a resort and keep going until you see signs for a ‘secret beach’ (obviously not so secret!) but definitely worth visiting.  It’s a small beach nestled in behind the rocks and far nicer than Mirissa beach itself.

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Love this girl!

On our way we even stopped for a spot of cricket.  England vs. Sri Lanka.

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Becky batting
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The teams!

Visit Unawatuna for the beautiful beaches and take a cooking course at Happy Spice.

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Take a day trip to Galle from Unawatuna by bus, tuk-tuk or moped.  It gets very hot so avoid the midday sun.

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Visit Dalawella beach and see what paradise looks like.

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If you want Sapphires (this was believe it or not the only part of my entire trip that I looked at in advance – this will not surprise my friends in the slightest) then go to a reputable seller.  Ensure you get a certificate and have it validated, there are lots of blogs on this so have a look.  After reading a few I went to Salie’s in Colombo which was amazing and I would definitely recommend them.  Sri Lankan sapphires are world famous and they were stunning!  My new favourite is the peach sapphire, WOW!

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Most importantly, eat as much food and drink as much tea as possible!

These tips are a combination of recommendations, what we loved and what we learnt the hard way.  Sri Lanka is the most incredible country so enjoy it!

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Hong Kong: 24 hours of chaos

So, I’ve been very bad with my blog recently and a short time ago, on a trip to Wales we found my friends travel blog from when we did SE Asia.  Not only could I not believe it had been 5 years since then, I also could not believe how funny it was and how many of the little things you forget… cue blog.

This time my adventures are taking me East again, to Hong Kong.

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My trip started the night before, when I set off to London to stay with my friend Clemency.  Unfortunately, as I was on my way down I received a message saying her key had broken and we wouldn’t be able to get into the flat, as it was too late for a locksmith and her boyfriend was away.  Luckily, she has family nearby, so disaster averted and we were taken in by her aunt and uncle for the night.

The first real obstacle came early next morning, about 6am, when the tube tram in front of mine hit some metalwork on the track.  As a result, the line was closed and I was unable to proceed to Heathrow.  For once in my life (with Clem’s help) I had left with enough time to spare and managed to get the bus halfway around London to Paddington, catching the express with just enough time to check in (and be upgraded to business class!).

The flight went relatively smoothly until HK itself, when due to the worst storms in recent years we were unable to land.  The cabin crew did their best efforts to keep us all informed but we were kept in a holding stack for what felt like hours until we were finally re-directed to land in Taiwan until the worse passed.

Several hours later we were successful and landed safely in HK despite Typhoon Pakhar’s best attempts to prevent us.

 

 

 

 

Now, despite August often being a wet month for HK, two typhoons in 10 days is exceptionally rare and I’ve only come this time of year to meet my friend Jezebel who is currently travelling in Asia.

Landing on my feet as always Jez had already booked a nice hotel to ‘treat’ herself between travels.  All I had to do was jump in, perfect!

However, I was flying in a day before and as I was in London looking at hotels for the following night I was struggling to pick between an extra, more convenient night at her hotel vs. satisfying the traveler in me.

Needless to say I picked the less practical option.  Instead of a fancy hotel I chose to spend a night in a rather interesting alternative.  Less of a hotel and more of a complex.  Only after my nights stay did I decide to actually search for the place I had stayed in..  In fact, all I had to do was type in the name of my hotel to see that it had once been described by a HK professor (who studied it for four years) as a ‘world hub of low end globalisation’.  Rather condemning.

Turning up I was ambushed by people in what was essentially a maze of indoor markets.  I fought my way through with my case and found the lift upstairs.

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The receptionists were nice enough and at least the hotel offered the unique experience I had been looking for.

Normally I would opt for a dorm in a hostel, as it’s a good way to get to know people and get some travel tips for the city.  This time, as I was only staying the night and likely to have jet lag, I had opted for a private room.  This was definitely the best choice.

In fact, I slightly dread what a dorm would have been like, considering of all the places I have stayed, this was definitely the worst.

The single bed filled the whole room, except for a small fridge which not only smelt very offensive but had a pool of water collecting in the bottom.  Water seemed to be the theme in this room, as although having the luxury of an en-suite, the shower head was literally over the toilet with just enough space to stand and left the whole room swimming in water after use.

Finally the additional opulence of air con was made less luxurious by the fact it was leaking.  Dripping water constantly onto the view-less window sill and the bottom of the bed itself.  In an attempt to be helpful, the staff gave me a towel free of charge (so generous) to place under the ceaseless drip.

The air-con proceeded to stop and start all night long to a huge whurring noise, which didn’t actually concern me half as much as the frayed and exposed wire to the broken fan underneath it!

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Thankfully, as I’m writing this, I miraculously made it through the night without being electrocuted.  Hurrah!

Having said all of this, it was bearable and my memories would have perhaps been fonder if I’d have been less optimistic.  Always eager to explore a new city, I left my room and never one to wait for the lift, skipped to the stairwell with enthusiasm and bounded down the first few flights.

Anyone else may have been deterred by a completely empty staircase.. but as they say ignorance is bliss and I jovially made my way down past the crumbling concrete; damp, peeling walls and exposed wiring.  I happily made it down to about the fourth floor when I noticed a man sitting sprawled on the stairwell, shoeless.  In a typical English manner, I slowed out of politeness, in order to give him space as I passed.  This was my first error (or second after booking the hotel!).

In the few seconds I slowed to pass him, he lunged and tried to grab me.  Luckily and ironically, out of courtesy I had given him a wide birth.  He just missed me and although he brushed my bag, my reactions were quick enough to dodge and pull my bag with me so I wasn’t held back.

In my complete naivety and shock I turned around and gave him an incredulous look.  I could not for the life of me work out why he had tried to grab me!  Retrospectively, I’m a moron and should have run, but it took a couple more slightly less enthusiastic flights of stairs before I realised I needed to get out of this completely isolated, rundown stairwell.

Only then, I couldn’t find a way out and obviously couldn’t go back the way I came.  I stumbled upon the second floor equally deserted, full of empty street stores and came to the conclusion this was not the place to walk around on your own, especially not later on and into the night.

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Once outside, the typhoon was still raging and despite my raincoat, I was soaked within seconds.  I attempted to explore the streets with no map and no idea where I was, looking for food but all in vein.  All I could seem to find were stores selling fried fish balls, chicken feet or intestines…. After 25 hours travelling I can’t say it was top of my list.  Instead, I finally found a small place serving dim sum, so opted for the safe option of spring rolls and pork dumplings.

Obviously, that was when I was hungry and desperate.  The next day in the same area I could find nothing but delicious looking restaurants… but I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes.

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I made the wise decision to go to bed early and sleep off the jet-lag.  Luckily, I was exceptionally tired and not kept awake (much) by the warm, damp smelling, fire hazard room that I was staying in.

Welcome to Hong Kong…

Devonshire Weekend Away

Wow! What a weekend!

After years of saying we’ll plan a weekend away, we finally succeeded and we hit the jackpot.

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#madeinyorkshire (or the majority of us were)

Devon was our destination of choice, not for any particular reason other than it’s a lovely county and we felt fairly sure they would have a large enough house we could hire for the weekend. We booked through air bnb and although you can never be entirely sure what you are getting I was pretty certain it would tick all the boxes.

It did not disappoint.

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Turning into the grand drive we were giggling with excitement and couldn’t wait to run inside and grab our rooms. We were greeted by some of our party who had already arrived (and obviously already taken the best bedrooms) and ran about the house exploring. It felt like a maze, endless rooms of ridiculous proportions, completely over the top for a weekend stay but just what we wanted.

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Corridor to the dining room
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Drawing Room

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Katie and I were sharing and chose the chapel suite with a view over the side lawns towards the folly.  Yes we had our own folly! The perfect space to call ours for the next few days.

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Room with a view

Returning downstairs we were greeted to glasses of wine and cheese and I guess you could say it all escalated rather quickly from there.

By the time the London party had arrived we probably on the other side of merry and although I can’t recall at what exact time we all thought it a great game to swap clothes and run around the house collecting obscure and ornate objects to place on the games room table… It was only after spending about half an hour shut inside a dogs cage I realised we were all absolutely obliterated.

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Not my best angle!

Needless to say the quiet and sophisticated Friday night drinks did not happen and I do hold Thomas partially responsible for the eccentric drinking games.

We woke the next day with absolutely stonking hangovers but to a beautiful day, 30 degrees, sunshine and not a cloud in the sky.  We breakfasted on the lawn and the majority decided that a swim would be the perfect hangover cure.

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Breakfasting in style
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Off for a dip
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Dogs encouraged!

Yes we had dogs! The gorgeous Roo and Rupert who were luckily small enough to be easily picked up.

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@roothecockerpoo puppy looking unbelievably adorable
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Puppy Love! I want one!

Rupert, obviously oblivious to his stature even tried to take on a couple of swans before being luckily resuced by Sonny.  Yes, we even had swans. They settled by the lake near the boathouse… because where else would swans reside darling?

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Our resident swans

My random fact that I always say when the conversation arises is the only legal place to kill a swan in the UK is Worcestershire.  The queen actually still owns all of the swans and only recently has this crime been pardoned of treason.  My friend has reliably (or perhaps not so reliably) informed me that the country of Worcestershire was exempt from this rule following royal pardon.

However, having finally just googled this after years of being gullible and telling everyone of Worcester’s royal exemption, this does not appear to be in the least bit true; likely my friend and subsequently myself have been spreading complete and utter nonsense for the last 10 years.  However, as it now appears to be a good yard to spin, I will continue to tell people my utterly useless and completely fictitious fact about swans.  If anyone knowledgeable in the area ever reads this then please contact me to let me know, I would love to know the details.

The rests of the day we played in the sunshine and pool, including a rather competitive game of water polo.

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Action Shot!

We whiled away the rest of the day eating and drinking (mainly drinking), playing rounders and even partaking in the odd yoga session.

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Cobra position
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Luncheon on the lawn
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Joined at the hip #besties

Close your eyes and picture the most idyllic setting to settle and read a book.  Is it here?

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English Summers…

After an amazing day, fuelled by hair of the dog (or puppies) it was time to get ready for dinner.

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Gorgeous girls

We took meals in turns and Clemency and Jolyn had taken it upon themselves to cater for perhaps the most highly pressured meal of the weekend.  They excelled, a delicious joint of ham with all the trimmings, cooked to perfection!

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H-am-azing!

They had laid the dining table beautifully and fit for the finest of dinner parties. The most impressive thing about the dining room was the balcony overlooking it.  We had our very own minstrels’ gallery overseeing the dining table below, obviously the perfect stage for an excitable game of charades (involving finger puppets) following dinner.

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The perfect dinner

After dinner and games it naturally descended into prosecco pong and needless to say some more sore heads followed in the morning.

The little time we had in Devon felt like an oasis.

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Spot the gender difference
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England can get sunshine!
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Bat and ball
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Sleeping off the hangover under the trees

And like Devon knew we were leaving, the glorious weather ended and we spent the morning of our drive back exploring the rugged and beautiful Devon coastline.

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Could almost be a Jack Wills advert!
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Best friends

Such an magnificent weekend with the most incredible friends.

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Same time next year? x

Having a ball

This weekend finally feels like the start of summer.  Long nights, warm days and endless fun!

Saturday night I was lucky enough to be invited to a Hunt Ball in North Yorkshire. Being from Yorkshire I love it but don’t often get to venture out from my local dales to East Riding. Visiting my friend Becky is one of these opportunities.

Everybody always loves a ball, especially me.  Any opportunity to dress up and have a dance is obviously one of my favourite occasions.

 

Our party had organised two tables and although the plan was to rotate around each course, after the champagne reception and a few bottles of wine I don’t think anyone had any idea where they were meant to be…

As dinner was finishing the band announced their arrival by entering at the top of the marquee and playing their jazz ensemble between the tables to the stage.  Instantaneously everyone got up to dance until the small hours of the morning.

The disadvantage to having a fairly large event in a small place in the country is all of the surrounding taxis were fully booked.

Luckily ever a practical family my hosts way around this was to load us into the horse lorry at the end of the night and we winded our way back through the country roads (with some hairy moments!) to the farm.

As always on my return despite having had a delicious three course dinner I was starving and to my sober horror realised I had got back and single-handedly eaten an entire bag of kettle chips and a pack of scotch eggs!

The next day was spent retelling stories from the previous nights antics, taking a beautiful walk around the farm in the sunshine and ended with a delicious Sunday lunch al fresco.

There is nothing better than a weekend spent with friends in the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside, amidst fields of gold.

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Flax and Kale

This place was so good, it deserves its own post.

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Now like most millennials I love brunch and as the current trend is to enjoy a delicious but healthy brunch with friends, who am I to go against the flow?

Priding its self in healthy, flexitarian food (yes, I know, I think they are just inventing diets now) Flax and Kale is one of Barcelona’s best restaurants.  Their motto: eat better, be happier, live longer.  Who wouldn’t want to try this?

 

 

 

The restaurant itself is beautiful and we were lucky enough to find a table on the terrace with a view over the square.  Sat at wrought iron tables with trellaces all around and a bottle of cava I can’t think of any better way to start the day.

The food was stunning: presented beautifully and absolutely delicious, what more could you ask for?

 

If anyone is looking for a spot of brunch in Barcelona then I cannot recommend this enough.

Top tips:

  1. Due to its high popularity it is normal to queue so I would advise you to go early unless you want to wait 30 minutes for a table
  2. Try the paleo bread.