Ella to Kandy - The scenic route
ELLA was undoubtedly our favourite non-coastal town in Sri Lanka. It is how we imagined Nepal to be, even though we've never been to Nepal (it's on the list!). From the minute we arrived we were overcome by the super-chilled / hippie vibe of the town, it was such a contrast to the Southern Province. This little village up in the mountains was at least 10 degrees colder than the down on the beaches, which was a pleasant change after the heat down south. Sitting at an altitude of over 1,000 metres, the main (and only) strip of shops is surrounded by tea fields and cloud forrests. On our first evening we were having a pre dinner drink at Cafe Chill when suddenly we could barely see the road 5 metres in front of us - we were in the clouds! It reminded us of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.
There were 2 main things we wanted to see / do in Ella, as well as leaving us some time to relax and to get some blog posts written.
LITTLE ADAMS PEAK was top of the list. As the name suggests, this mountain was a smaller version of the real Adams Peak. It served as a good test of our fitness as we prepared for trekking Sri Pada (the big Adams Peak) in a few days time. We departed our guest house at about 5pm hoping to catch sunset. It only took us 45 minutes to reach the top, however before we even got the chance to get our breath back or reach for our cameras, the views were lost to a thick blanket of clouds. It was actually really cool to watch the clouds roll in, and to be suddenly lost in a cloud of white. Luckily we had time to come back the following day to the base of the trek where we captured some drone footage over the mountains - what a view!
Ella has a strangely large number of cool restaurants, cafes, and bars which made choosing lunch and dinner particularly hard. Matey Hut is the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor and is famous for its Rotti, so it goes without saying that we had to give it a try. This place only seats around 6 people, and is possibly the smallest restaurant we have ever been to. The food was very nice, but to be honest it was a bit overrated. We had plenty of Rotti in the past week, and it didn't stand out any more than them. The owner was particularly friendly though, which is likely why the reviews are so good. Hot Tip: Must try Chocolate Rotti - it's to die for.
THE NINE ARCH BRIDGE was first stop on the agenda for day 2 in Ella. We planned to arrive in time to see one of the trains coming across the bridge as there are only a few each day. We walked along the railway tracks from the main train station to Demodara, which was an experience in itself and only took about 25 minutes. The bridge is truly a sight to behold, the curved arches span over a steep gorge that is lined on either side with perfectly arranged tea plantations. We arrived half an hour before the train and passed the time talking to a nice local family that we met. We could hear the train approaching about a minute before we could lay eyes on it. As it came closer everyone who had gathered to watch it pass lined the tracks with excitement. People on the train were hanging out the doors and windows waving at us as they passed - it was pretty cool to see. This is a must-do if you ever plan on visiting Ella.
Our last afternoon was spent wandering some of the local tea plantations. We had seen plenty like this before in Malaysia, so we didn't bother to do a formal tour of the factories. On our walk home we stopped at the sound of knocking on wood - I straight away recognised the sound and began searching for what I hoped was a wild woodpecker! Sure enough, we found it! I have always had a weird fascination with wood peckers, it might have something to do with my nickname "woody".
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THE SCENIC TRAIN FROM ELLA to KANDY
The train trip from Ella to Kandy is renowned for its scenery, and has been touted as the most scenic railway in the world. So naturally, this was our mode of transport between Ella and Kandy. Rather than doing the entire journey in one hit we decided to make a brief 2 night stop over at SRI PADA, which was a little detour but roughly half way between Ella and Kandy - We will save the details of this for another blog.
Traveller.com.au accurately describes the Sri Lankan train as the "one of the most charmingly decrepit railway systems in the world". Built sometime in the mid-19th century, comfortable is not the way we would describe these old beauties. There are 3 class options, 1st class being the most expensive, and 3rd class being the cheapest but with no reserved seats. We opted for 2nd class, this way we had a guaranteed seat, and still had the option of sticking our head out the window to take in all the sights (1st class has no windows, only AC). We would highly recommend booking a 2nd class seat. Feeling the breeze on our face as we watched the stunning scenery pass by was one of the highlights of our trip. This truly is the most scenic train trip we have ever experienced.
Kandy was the first place that we experienced the hustle and bustle of a Sri Lankan city. It was busy, noisy, hot, and a bit chaotic, and at first neither of us liked what we saw. Yet somehow Kandy eventually had a charm over us. We stayed in a little guest house that was outside of the city, which helped knowing that we could escape the crazy city if we felt like it. We spent our first day exploring Kandy Lake in the centre of the city. We ate fresh fruit from the markets, saw millions of carp fish in the lake, and chatted to some of the very talkative locals as we made our away around the whole lake. We had a tasty lunch at Cafe Secret Alley, before making our way to the Kandy Market Hall. The market hall was the highlight of our day. It's not really a tourist attraction and many of the vendors were surprised to see foreigners walking around. Spices, seafood, meat, fruit, and leather are all sold for incredibly cheap prices. It's definitely worth the effort if you visit Kandy.
If you go to Kandy you'll undoubtedly be asked if you want to go the Spice Garden. We eventually gave in on our last day and decided to pay a visit. It was actually really interesting. Local university students act as guides and take you around the garden, conveying information about all the herbs and spices and how they are used as remedies to treat certain ailments. I experimented with the local version of "Veet hair removal" and now have a bald patch on my shin. The highlight was the free 15 minute massage with king coconut oil and a bunch of other natural products. I was promised to be cured of every ailment under the sun... Like any tourist trap, it's not complete without a tour of the gift shop. We were actually pretty keen to try a few of the natural medicines, that was before we saw the ridiculous prices. Our guide told us that these prices were set for the Chinese visitors who flock in herds to pick up natural remedies. We escaped with a small packed of cocoa powder, which was barely good enough to make a good hot chocolate. Alas, the Spice Gardens are a great "free" activity to do in Kandy, especially if you are interested in natural medicines.
We hope you enjoyed our content from Ella & Kandy. We will get our Pinnawalla and Colombo posts up soon!
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