Tag Archives: Tea

Travel Guide: Kandy

This posts details our second location for the week Mitch and I spent in Sri Lanka. You can read about our first few days in Colombo here.

After our two nights in Colombo, Mitch and I ventured to Kandy on a beautiful train ride. I really loved watching the countryside and getting glimpses of the towns and villages that we passed. We paid a little bit extra for first class tickets on the express train, which meant comfy seats, air-conditioning, and stops in only a few towns. Otherwise, we would have been looking at wooden benches, assuming we could get seats at all, and a much slower journey. The view as we climbed through the hills was really beautiful.

 

We had a bit of an issue with the guesthouse where we’d planned to stay on one of the hills overlooking Kandy, so we ended up at a place by the lake. Kandy is very a small town and feels that way. Most restaurants and shops close quite early and it is rather challenging to find anywhere that serves alcohol. Rough Guides had warned us that this would be the case and they were right! We enjoyed a walk through town on our way to find lunch.

 

The main attraction within Kandy itself is the Temple of the Tooth, which contains a tooth relic from the Buddha. I first learned about Buddhist relics when I visited Hong Kong about a year ago. While seeing the tooth itself is off limits, as is photography for most of the temple and the temple’s museums, the architecture itself was really enjoyable.

 

In a coffee shop later on, Mitch and I decided we wanted to spend the following day exploring the hills around Kandy. We made a few calls and ended up booking a tour to hike Knuckles Range under the guidance of Ravi Desappriya (his website is here though we contacted him by phone), recommended by the Rough Guides book.

The sunset around the lake that night was really pretty:

 

Ravi and a fellow guide picked us up early the following morning and we joined two other couples, one about our age and the other a bit older. All four of them lived in London, but one was originally from Hungary. All were very well traveled, and my own experiences paled in comparison to some of their adventures. Travelers are probably my favorite people. Everyone is friendly and open-minded, everyone has a story to tell, everyone asks questions, and everyone is eager to learn. We all had a lot of fun on our trek, which started with a drive of about an hour and a half into the mountains. We drove through tea plantations and small towns, stopping once to pick up the lunches that we would take into the Knuckles with us, once to enjoy an absolutely delicious breakfast and tea at a dingy family eating house that I wouldn’t have even noticed on my own, and once to buy bananas from a market that we passed.

 

Once we arrived at Knuckles Ridge, the sun was fully up and it was hot, much hotter than it had been when we started. We began at the foothills of a tea plantation . . .

 

. . . and then ventured into the Knuckles.

P1070504

While I initially wished I was wearing leggings, I ended up quite happy with my shorts. The guides taught us about the plants we saw and bird calls we heard as we hiked. They were also instrumental in helping us pick off the leeches that we found everywhere on the path. Everyone was in socks and running shoes except for me (I had my favorite pair of Tevas, of course) but it didn’t seem to make a difference. The guy in our group who got it the worst was wearing running shoes without socks, but everyone shook leeches out of their shoes and socks at least once. Those little buggers are clingy and not very friendly! The scenery, however, more than made up for the discomfort.

 

P1070524
Look, Mitch and I asked someone to take a picture of us! This is the only time this happened over the entire trip.

We stopped for lunch after about three hours of walking and then headed back down a slightly different path towards the residential areas of the tea plantations. Mitch and I had a really fantastic experience visiting tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia in December 2014 and I’ve loved them ever since. You can read about that trip here and see loads of pictures of the tea plantations. It’s a little different from what we saw in Sri Lanka:

 

The path guided us towards a waterfall and natural pool, which reminded me of Letchworth State Park (take a look here) back in Upstate New York. This waterfall was a lot smaller than the gorges at Letchworth, but it was so peaceful to sit on the rocks in this beautiful environment with my feet in the water.

 

We were quite tired when we got back in the evening and more than happy to have an early dinner and head off to bed. Although we knew we had a long day of travel to look forward to the next day, Mitch still got up to go for a run in the cool morning air so I took a walk around the artificial lake in the center of Kandy. The lake was created in 1807 using forced labor on what used to be rice paddies, according to Rough Guides. It’s amazing how much beauty is a result of blood. History is the best!

 

Finding breakfast that morning was a bit of a challenge because it was New Year’s Eve and a lot of restaurants were closed. However, by that point we understood enough about Sri Lankan food and etiquette to sort out food and coffee at the two options available. It helps that it has never been easier to be a vegetarian and travel. That is very challenging here in Southeast Asia, but Buddhism in Sri Lanka means that vegetarianism is encouraged. Every local restaurant that we checked out, as well as many fusion and Western places, had vegetarian friendly menus and it was great!

We had a really positive experience during our time in Kandy and I’m really glad that we did. Everyone who we talked to prior to arranging our trip was adamant that we visit and they were right. In the future, I’d do what one of the couples we met on our hike had done. They landed in Colombo and immediately made their way to Kandy, planning to spend a couple days there and then hike Adam’s Peak and World’s End, both of which are located further south than Kandy in hill country. It would be lovely to spend more time in that area in the future.

After Kandy, it took us a tuk tuk, a train, a taxi, a bus, and another tuk tuk to make it to our next (and ultimately favorite) destination – Galle! Look out for that post soon.

 

Travel Guide: Ipoh and Cameron Highlands

With the aid of the trusty Lonely Planet guidebook that a friend left me when she fled to Australia and the sheer willpower of our dependable Kancil, known as Daisy, Mitch and I embarked on a road trip north to Ipoh and east to Cameron highlands.

Yes, we took this baby on a road trip up mountains. No, she did not survive the journey unscathed. More on that later.
Yes, we took this baby on a road trip up mountains. No, she did not survive the journey unscathed. More on that later.

For the geographically challenged, here’s a map of where we went:

It did not take 4 hours and 37 minutes. That is a lie.
It did not take 4 hours and 37 minutes. That is a lie. It took much, much longer.

If you’ve never travelled overland in Malaysia before, expect loads of traffic all the time for no apparent reason; lane closures that are unmarked until the moment the lane closes, leading to more traffic, speed limits of 110km/h that really mean cars are driving anywhere from 70-130km/h, and lots of trucks. As Mitch and I learned, stopping at a rest area is a bad idea. They are very crowded and there’s not nearly enough parking. I’m not sure if that’s because we were travelling over a holiday week/weekend, but that’s the experience we had. It honestly would have been faster to drive into a town to use the washroom and buy coffee, but we didn’t know that. So that slowed us down a little, too. Finally, if you’re driving in Malaysia, be aware of the demands you will put on your vehicle. Our Kancil has a 660 cc engine, which means it cannot go very fast. 90 is pushing it. 110 is nearly impossible. It also doesn’t accelerate, which is really scary when there are larger vehicles and motorcycles whizzing past in all directions at unthinkable speeds.. All that said, we got there and back in one piece. Well, Mitch and I did. Daisy needed a new battery after we left the lights on overnight. Oops.

Our trip started Saturday late morning and we planned to stop in Ipoh to wander around Old Town and grab some food. It took us a lot longer to get to Ipoh than we’d hoped or anticipated, but we did stop to wander, eat, and stretch our legs. Ipoh’s Old Town is a cluster of streets full of buildings with colonial-style architecture. There’s also a wonderful little hipster plaza where we saw three couples taking wedding pictures!

This is Ipoh’s Birch Memorial Clock Tower, dedicated to James WW Birch, its first British resident. There are figures painted on all four sides and we’re quite curious about who was rubbed out:

Missing People P1040552 P1040553

I really enjoyed wandering around the hipster corner, and not only because I got a real salad at a great restaurant! The shops were adorable and a few had Christmas displays and Christmas crafts for sale. The whole place was basically restored buildings built in, around, and incorporating trees. There was a public toilet behind the wall of books, which is a strange place for a toilet. We also got a kick out of the rather ancient Chubb safe.

Ipoh, like Penang, is filled with street art. At least one artist who colored George Town in Penang also had a hand in painting Ipoh. We didn’t see nearly as many murals as we did in Penang because we didn’t spend as much time there, but the ones we saw were charming and the art itself was really impressive.

We left Ipoh in the late afternoon and began the ascent to Cameron Highlands, which is about 5000m above sea level. Everyone told us to avoid the back route and avoid travelling in the dark. So what did we do? We took the back route and we arrived in the dark. It was honestly an accident. We were perhaps too reliant on our GPS and didn’t check the route map before following blindly. I was terrified and not driving; Mitch was very calm and driving, so that worked out. He got loads of practice shifting, too!

As we learned in the morning when we could see, Tanah Rata is an adorable little town full of steamboat restaurants (the local preference) and Indian restaurants (my preference). There were also a number of restaurants catering to Western tourists and even a well-hidden Starbucks which, I am proud to say, we only visited once.

Tanah Rata
Tanah Rata

We were surprised to see a convent on a hill overlooking the town, but it was actually a comforting sight. Three years at OLM has had quite the influence on my feelings towards religious houses!

Convent in Tanah Rata
Convent in Tanah Rata

There are dozens of little markets all over the place in the three main Cameron Highlands villages – Brinchang, Tanah Rata, and Ringlet – and along the roads connecting the villages.

Beautiful vegetables!
Beautiful vegetables!
Fish
I’m not sure where this fish comes from because there’s no ocean nearby, but it smelled VERY fresh

A note on the food for this trip: Indian food is my favorite food here in Malaysia because Indians understand what it means to be a vegetarian. Most of the tea in Malaysia comes from Cameron Highlands and most tea pickers are Indian, so Indian food was everywhere. We breakfasted each morning (and snacked once or twice) on some of our favorites: Masala tea, egg-cheese-onion roti with curry, and potato-vegetable thosai with dahl and curry. Delicious! I had vegetable curry twice for dinner because it’s just that good and we had amazing tom yam steamboat one night, too. The proprietor of this busy family restaurant clearly understood my dietary restrictions and assured me that there was no shrimp in the tom yam, but I’m still a bit skeptical. There’s shrimp paste in sambal, which is in just about everything spicy, so I’m willing to bet there’s at least a little in the tom yam. But darn was it good.

This sign was in front of the steamboat place where we had amazing food. The vegetables were kind of fresh, I guess . . .
This sign was in front of the steamboat place where we had amazing food. The vegetables were kind of fresh, I guess . . .

The first morning that we spent walking around Tanah Rata was literally the only time it wasn’t pouring. November and December are the rainiest months in the Cameron Highlands, which also makes them the coldest. We were not at all prepared for temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, but we joked that it’s good practice for our upcoming trip to Spain. Nevertheless, we had come all that way to explore and that’s exactly what we did.

Strawberry farm
Strawberry farm
Strawberry
It was weird to see strawberries grown so “unnaturally” – where I come from, they grow on bushes in gardens and are often eats by birds. There’s also much smaller at home and that’s how you know they’re going to be tasty!

I think our best adventure was to the Boh Sungei Palas Tea Centre. Boh tea is really popular here (think: Lipton or Twinings) and Mitch and I learned that we didn’t know anything about tea production. And now we do thanks to a factory tour! For example, all tea comes from the same plant that is picked every three weeks. The type of tea (green, black, white, yellow, etc) produced depends on the fermentation and oxidation time and temperature. (Who even knew tea had to be fermented and oxidized?!)

Roller from 1935 used to crush tea leaves that is still in use at the Boh factory
Roller from 1935 used to crush tea leaves that is still in use at the Boh factory

If teas are flavored or herbal, that’s because of added or substituted natural products, like chamomile flowers or ginger.

P1040602

The Boh plantation was astonishingly beautiful. Sadly, the pictures don’t even come close to capturing it.

We also made a very brief stop at a honey bee farm, mostly to sample honey sticks!

P1040613 P1040614

Like everywhere in Malaysia, religion is important. It is telling that we didn’t see a mosque in Tanah Rata. Instead, we visited Hindu and Buddhist temples.

We couldn’t go inside Sri Tehndayuthapany Swamy but we enjoyed the gorgeous outside.

We did venture into Sam Poh Temple, quite a popular and even busy sight.

As if one tea plantation weren’t enough, we had to visit the other one, too. Cameron Valley Tea Estates didn’t seem as large as Boh, but it was equally incredible.

The other popular thing to do in Cameron Highlands is hike, but we had no real rain gear and it didn’t stop raining. I’m willing to bet that a hike in these mountains is a beautiful and unforgettable experience. Personally, I’m really glad we made this trip because this is the most beautiful land I’ve seen in Malaysia and we learned a lot about tea. If you go, go when it’s a little warmer and a little drier!