Archive for December, 2015

The Force Awakens

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

So, the day after we arrived back in Singapore from Sri Lanka, December 27th, the three of us finally got our look at The Force Awakens, Episode VII in the Star Wars series of films. Zen and I, big Star Wars fans, enjoyed the film tremendously, and even Naoko said that it was great (and she normally doesn’t like science fiction films). I was a bit troubled by a small number of things in the film; but Zen and I watched it a second time on December 31st, and those troubles were basically forgotten. I’m glad I saw it twice – it’s definitely a great film!

The film starts off (like they all do) with the heart-stopping opening blast of trumpets, then the classic intro scroll – and nothing beats the feeling of seeing that for the first time (I’ve seen all of the Star Wars films in their original runs in the theatres, and that moment took me right back to the Sheridan Mall theatres in Mississauga, 1977, when I was eight years old, watching A New Hope with my 6-year-old brother and my dad, who took us there with great reluctance), it’s a great way to start a film off quick. We quickly find ourselves on Jakku, a Tattooine-like planet (and the first of many parallels to the original Episode IV-VI trilogy). There are a series of interesting battles, reunions, new encounters, Millennium Falcon chases, dogfights with TIE fighters, hints to the past, and ultimately another attack on another Death Star. Some have complained about this (one friend even expressed disappointment of the second Death Star in Return Of The Jedi, something I thought was pretty badass), but I was okay with it – after all, how do you top the ultimate weapon but to make an even stronger weapon?). Also, sneaking-around-Death-Star scenes always work well – spooky, haunted house, enemies-all-around-us kind of stuff – and the scene of the Millennium Falcon warping right into the shields was pretty darn cool after all. The scene that really won it for me was the final sequence showing the search for Luke, with its reference to the Earthsea stories of Ursula K LeGuin, and the fact that he doesn’t utter a word. I wonder how Episode VIII will pick this up!

The movie is full of thought-provoking questions. Who is Lor San Tekka, described only as an ally of the Resistance, and what is the significance of his very few, cryptic but seminal lines of dialogue? What is Rey’s full name and parentage? And, since no one in the Star Wars universe meets randomly, what is Finn’s parentage for that matter? Who is Snoke? And why are there so many parallels in the Star Wars universe (there’s many in this film, but also others – both Luke and Anakin losing hands, for example… I’m just waiting for Kylo Ren to lose his – hasn’t happened yet, though)? Why does Rey get visions in Maz’s cantina on Takodana… and why does Maz have Luke and Vader’s light sabre anyway? Finally, why is Rey chosen to be the one to go find Leia’s twin brother (sure, it’s implied, but it also feels very rushed)?

We also must wonder – what will Mark Hamill sound like once he opens his mouth (he could be perfectly awful!)?

But the series has a lot going for it, based on the stuff established in The Force Awakens, and I’m picturing two tense new movies that take the series to a new level of depth – perhaps with Snoke as an ancient evil being to whom Darth Sidious and the Galactic Empire is a mere footnote. I’m not sure I really like Finn’s flawed character – he’s a turncoat, a coward (of sorts), a bit vain and a casual liar, and I don’t quite buy his blood brother-like friendship with Poe given their brief time together, but I’m optimistic that he’s going to turn out all right over the next movies. Finally, we will need to get closer to the answer to the real Star Wars question – who is Anakin’s father (forgot about that one already?)!?

JJ Abrams has done an interesting job, blending the familiar (same actors, same must-stop-the-Death Star concept, same desert planet, same hiding of secret plans inside a droid, hiding in the floor of the Millennium Falcon, stalking the Death Star in order to disable it, observing the death of a beloved character from afar and screaming “NOOO!!!”) with the new (female protagonist, art film-ish intro to Rey’s life on Jakku among ruined Star Destroyers and AT-ATs, cliffhanger ending). It’s also interesting that he’s reunited two of the cast of the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewin Davis – title character Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), who had a small part in the Coens’ film.

There’s been a lot of backlash to the film, with people calling it a re-boot, and others calling it the least interesting film in the series (the entire first three films are less interesting, in my opinion, since we know how it all turns out); plenty of this stuff is click bait, and the articles don’t make compelling arguments. A lot of people also think that Maz Kanata is the worst character in the film and despise the new cantina scene, calling Maz an orange Yoda, or comparing her to the Oracle in the Matrix trilogy. Personally, I was more disappointed with Carrie Fischer, who couldn’t have been more stiff. As hot as she once was, she hasn’t taken care of herself over the years and is clearly in very bad shape. Harrison Ford, by comparison, hops around the set and has a lot more spark left, which is great – we get to see quite a lot of him in this film, and I have a feeling he’ll turn up in some form in following films!

Some have complained that they don’t understand why there’s still a rebellion (now called the Resistance) against an evil Galactic Empire (now called the First Order), but I don’t have a problem with this – just because Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader died at the Battle of Endor, doesn’t mean that the Empire they build immediately collapsed; instead, it’s most likely that it splintered under various generals until the most brutal faction rose to the top, boring background stuff that can be explored elsewhere. So we get a galaxy divided into an established democracy in certain worlds and star systems, and a resistance in areas controlled by the First Order (along with bloodthirsty, evil generals with British accents who must rally their troops in corny A Triumph Of The Will-like scenes). Other have mentioned the lack of clone troopers here as another problem, but that’s referred to in the movie – seems that the nefarious Grand Moff Tarkin replacement called General Hux,

After I saw the film for the first time, I was quite annoyed at the crappiness of the chrome stormtrooper Captain Phasma, the wimpiness of Kylo Ren and the resurrection of yet another Death Star; but none of this mattered the second time I saw it, and I found the story flowed well with hardly a bump. I also came to realise the silliness of the conclusion of some that Finn and Rey could never have fought Kylo Ren to a standstill at the end – well, wasn’t he weakened and badly injured after taking a hit from Chewie’s laser crossbow? However, one thing still annoyed me – how is it that Rey can just try her luck and succeed with the Jedi mind trick, never having tried it before!? That’s quite a stretch, I think, of anyone’s suspension of disbelief. I was also quite captivated with Adam Driver as Kylo Ren – initially, I thought of Kylo Ren as a silly, but talented, adolescent prone to temper tantrums who fails more often than he succeeds, but now I see him as a complex character who is likely to ultimately sacrifice everything to become a Sith lord even more powerful than Darth Vader. He also seems to be a fine actor, as witnessed by the strange scene when Daisy Ridley resists his attempts to extract information from her (kudos to Daisy Ridley as well, of course), but we need to find out more about the source of his anguish before we can really tell about him as a character.

My sense is that this is a relatively un-dynamic “foundation” film, sort of like the first Batman/X-Men/Iron Man movies, that need to get stuff behind it in order to get things moving with plenty of surprises in store for Episodes VIII and IX. Sure, Star Wars is now a Disney property – this can be a problem in the sense that there will be a big corporate tendency to maximise profits playing it safe, but the advantage of having big Disney money behind Star Wars is that continuation of the story will be at the hands of a publicly listed company with a strong management and access to a massive range of talent, and not based on the energy and whims of one man (George Lucas) who once envisioned nine films, but retired after three; the series, of course, was doomed to retire with him… until Disney came along. I never thought I’d say it, but… hooray for Disney!

Of course, the problem with all of this is that building on all of these grand ideas will be a tricky task, and it could easily get very, very silly; however, there’s no doubt that Disney has its ear to the ground and has the opportunity to learn from fan feedback as it embarks on the next one. And, with Lawrence Kasdan’s involvement, the series is in good hands – Mr Empire Strikes Back may actually have the best track record of anyone in Hollywood for being attached with quality films (Body Heat, The Bodyguard, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Big Chill, etc).

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My 1,000 Amazon review

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Well, guess what – I’ve written a few Amazon reviews in my time, and have just published my 1,000th!

my 1000th Amazon review

First day back in Singapore!!

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

First day back in Singapore was great! Naoko and Zen slept a lot, but I got busy with organising our 700+ photos and doing my blog posts.

With no food in the fridge, Naoko and I went down to the hawker centre and had a nice lunch – rice and curry (but in this case, actually chicken briyani, not Sri Lanka style, heh heh…). Lazy Zen stayed at home, so we brought him takeaway.
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In the afternoon we went swimming in the Sonmerville Park pool, which was great. Even though the vacation is over, we still feel like we’re in an amazing resort, and basically we ARE! I don’t officially go back to work until January 4th, heh heh…

We had a simple dinner on the balcony, which was tremendous fun. After 10 days of eating other peoples’ cooking, Naoko was keen to make her own food, even if it was just a simple pasta gratin (but boy did it ever taste great – Zen noted that it’s probably the best gratin he’s ever tasted of Naoko’s, and I think I agree!).
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The sky was perfect at sunset. The air pollution is the lowest I’ve ever seen it – in the 30-36 range, which is low, low low! Let’s hope it stays that way!!
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Say… what kind of a crazy person checks the PSI reading when it’s NOT hazy out!?

Incidentally, when we were in Indonesia we found a cool local mask carving that depicts the mask of happiness with a snake and a bird; well, Naoko and my Chinese zodiac signs are snake and bird, respectively, so we took that as a good sign!

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Tomorrow we go to see Star Wars – The Force Awakens. Yay!!

Sri Lanka trip 2015

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

(tour diary at top – scroll down for videos and 264 photos from our trip)

We just got back from Sri Lanka this morning, an amazing 10-day/9-night trip from December 16th (morning flight out to Colombo) to December 26th (red-eye back to Singapore). I brought my guitar to play some songs, and Zen brought books to study for the new school year starting in January. Once we got there, we didn’t stay in Colombo at all, and started our Sri Lanka experience off in the south in the town of Galle, where we’d booked three nights in a nice hotel; after that, we were on the go with a driver to see Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Sigiriya, and many spots in between. The tour was amazing – we stayed in four great places, ate plenty of amazing local food from 4- and 5-star restaurants (Trip Advisor ratings), we had great weather and great health. I saw two Indian Ocean sunsets (at Galle and Nebombo), two lake sunsets (at Habarana) and two river sunrises (in Kandy). Wow!! And here’s a very long post about it.

It all got kicked off with an early morning flight on Wednesday the 16th, four hours in the air, and we got to Sri Lanka before noon. We took a taxi into the city along the nearly-empty new airport highway (built with Chinese money, apparently), and and then fell right into an intense downtown Colombo traffic jam. Nothing moved for a long time. Got to the train station, bought tickets for the three-hour trip to Galle (S$1.80 per person), and had about 30 minutes to wait. The train was completely packed, we had to stand nearly the whole way, but we got seats near the end. It was a nice trip, although the scenery wasn’t outstanding – what was remarkable, though, was the sheer number of train vendors inside the train who squeezed between the passengers lining the aisles carrying beverages, fried food, candy, or fresh fruit! Got to Galle, had a bit of confusion about where to go – apparently, not many of the tuk-tuk (three-wheeler) drivers knew about our place, Templeberg Villa, despite Galle not being a big town; but we got one eventually, and off we went. We got a nice greeting from the staff, and discovered that we were the only guests in the place for our three nights there. Great… privacy!! We had a wonderful house-cooked meal that was totally amazing, and then went to sleep early, but not before having a good look at the villa’s garden of fireflies!. I had one of the best rests of my life that night – total peace and tranquility!!

On Thursday the 17th we woke up perfectly-rested, had breakfast, and lounged around. Zen started a Sidney Sheldon book, and I played guitar. At noon we got a ride to Galle Fort and wandered around there for a while, first looking for a nice place to eat local food for lunch. Every place seemed to be serving non-local food (Italian, Thai, Indian, Japanese), but after a while we found a lovely rooftop restaurant called Mama’s; the beer was cheap, but unfortunately the food wasn’t very good. Oh well, at least the location was fine. We wandered around for a few more hours, mainly along the fort ramparts, and saw an amazing sunset, then headed into town for provisions – beer and snacks, and a detour to a spice shop to pick up some whole black pepper, cumin seeds and cinnamon powder. Chilled out at the place, then went to sleep early.

On Friday the 18th we had even less idea of what we wanted to do, so we rented a tuk tuk with driver for the day and went to see the famous stilt fishermen (well… they don’t fish any more, but they’ll pose for photos for a couple bucks!). Then we went to the Hundungoda virgin white tea plantation (our first of three tea plantation/factory visits on the trip) to see how Sri Lankan tea is made. The plantation is a lowlands plantation, owned by Herman Gunaratne, author of “The Suicide Club: A Virgin Tea Planter’s Journey”. Nice place, and we bought some Suicide Club tea. We then went for lunch at a real local place, where we paid only $6 for a full family meal – not bad (while we ate Sri Lankan food for most of the trip, most of the shops cater for tourists and cost about three times as much as what locals pay), which was amazing – the boss of the place waited at our elbows to see how we enjoyed the food, and if we need anything else, charming. We then went to hang out on a beach, returned to the Antique Mansion at Galle Fort (an old fort house that is part folk curio collection, part gem store), then chilled out at the hotel in the afternoon, also went for a swim. Lovely! In the evening we went for dinner at a beach restaurant that had been recommended to us… and had our first (and only) real disappointment of the trip there – we ordered our food, which the staff forgot about for an hour. The people at neighbouring tables got their food before we did… then when I made a fuss about it, we got our food within five minutes. And after that long wait, it wasn’t anything special at all, (although I tried Zen’s and it was pretty tasty). The waiter asked how the food was, Naoko said “it was okay.” He seemed like he hadn’t heard correctly, so he asked two more times how it was, Naoko said it was okay each time. Oh well.

On Saturday the 19th we got picked up by our driver-for-the-rest-of-the-trip Priyantha in his mini-van, and we headed out to see the country. The first day included an 11-hour drive to the highlands, with lunch on the road ($7.50 for the three of us) and a river rafting experience. We paid our money, left our stuff in the van, and then jumped into inflatable rafts and headed down the Kelani River in Kitulgala, where The Bridge On The River Kwai was filmed in 1957. The ride was a log of fun, with a few scary moments when we had to drop to the floor of the raft, but no real problems, and near the end we all jumped in the water and floated around. It was just the three of us with two local fellows to help us out. It was so much fun!

The rest of the ride was in twilight and darkness, with only hints of the spectacular views we were missing because the day had disappeared. We got to our hotel in Nuwara Eliya, which is called Avian Breeze, after 8:00 PM, and were served a big meal; unfortunately, we were queezy from 11 hours of driving on mountain roads, and didn’t eat everything, although it was yummy! The room was big, but nothing great, and the night was chilly.

On Sunday the 20th, we woke up to great scenes of farm country outside our hotel room, very nice! We spent the day driving around the Nuwara Eliya area, starting  off with the botanical gardens, where we had a brief spell of rain – our only moment of not-perfect weather the whole ten days we were there. But, in a way, it was the right place to have rain, as the precipitation gave the wooded botanical gardens an unearthly feeling, especially the mossier top part that was partially overgrown. A gorgeous place! We stopped at a small, nearby Hindu temple for a look, then we went to the train station to look into getting train tickets for Kandy (we heard that riding the train in the mountain areas is amazing). Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending how you look at it – there were no more seats, so we went back to plan A, which was to travel by mini-van. After that we drove into town and had a look at the Grand Hotel, where we were considering sitting down to high tea; a gorgeous hotel, but a bit noisy from renovations, so we headed off to the Heritance Tea Factory hotel, where we had high tea. It was awesome – a five-star hotel in the middle of nowhere in a former tea factory building, accessibly only by one-lane hill roads. Truly a serene, beautiful place. After that, we headed into town, and because we weren’t too hungry after our high tea, we bought ourselves some beer, egg hoppers and other snacks for a leisurely dinner in our room, and then sleep. Zen was happy that the room had cable TV, and watched his fill before going to sleep (as he did every night for the rest of the trip, actually…).

On Monday the 21st we had a big day ahead of us – a morning exploration of Horton Plains National Park, mainly to see World’s End but also to look at Baker’s Falls, that started at 5:30 AM (the alarm went at 4:45), and then on to Kandy in the afternoon with a few stops in between.

At 5:30 we got picked up by super Jeep-driver Nimal, who took us up to Horton Plains National Park, and then offered to be our tour guide. I’ve never seen a more enthusiastic and conscientious tour guide – he explained all about the geography, and the flora and fauna of the park, also telling us about a few of the tourist accidents that have happened at the cliff areas, like this one:

Later, we even picked up a pair of UK bird watchers – Clive and Sharon – who contributed to Nimal’s tip at the end. I don’t remember ever enjoying a tour guide’s knowledge as much as this guy – he also grabbed a few lizards to show us, and pointed out birds for our friends as well. Wow! First we saw Small World’s End, then also World’s End. That’s where we ate our packed lunch from the hotel, which included hard-boiled eggs (hard-boiled eggs at World’s end, reminiscent of Murakami Haruki’s Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World novel). Timing-wise we were very lucky – the mist rises every day at mid-morning and obscures the view, which is exactly what happened fifteen minutes after we arrived, so there was very little time to enjoy the view.

After World’s End, we headed off over the plains to view wetlands and drylands and the amazing Baker’s Falls. All together, we spent five hours on the path, walking only nine kilometres, with many pauses to learn more about nature. After we finished up in Horton Plains National Park, we returned to the hotel, and leaving Nuwara Eliya to head out of town, visiting a few vegetable stands, and then arriving at a gorgeous St Clair’s Falls for lunch.

After that, we saw Glenloch tea factory, which was our third (and last) of the trip, where we bought more tea; the tea factory was in a building similar to the Heritance Tea Factory, and was flooded with strange Indian tourists (including a few Hindu holy men), but we still had a great time, with our lovely (but exasperated) guide providing us with nice tea at the end of visit. At this point we realised that it was a good thing that we didn’t get train tickets, since we’d have missed the waterfall and the tea plantation, where we had a lovely time (despite the fact that we’d basically done the same tour twice before). We drove on a bit more and reached Kandy, where we checked in to Serendip Stone Cottage Bungalows, next to a river, and a big funky room with cable TV again. We’d eaten such a late lunch, so we just drank beer and settled in for a nice, mellow evening.

Tuesday the 22nd was a day in Kandy, I woke up early and had a walk down to the river to have a look, managing to see a brilliant sunrise there! After a quick breakfast of rice and curry, toast, and fruits (including a “rare” red banana), we headed off to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, where we saw tons of elephants hanging around in the conservation area, and we took pictures with the elephants and got to touch them. There was a display of baby elephant feeding from a water bottle that everyone told us was so amazing (I thought it was a bit of a circus personally); what was most impressive about the visit, though, was the elephant bathing activity, where the handlers drove about 50 elephants down to the beautiful river and scrubbed them down. It was a truly amazing experience seeing these elephants enjoying the water – just beautiful.

We had a lovely lunch at Kevin’s Lake View restaurant (Kevin lived in Italy for 20 years, makes pizza and lasagna in Kandy, and plays drums in the guest house band), and then had a bit of time to chill out in the hotel, before we headed out to watch Kandy cultural dancing next to the beautiful reservoir/lake area. The show was great, with dancing, acrobatics, and fire walking! After that we headed to the Buddha’s Tooth Relic temple, which was a lot of fun to explore, and full of mystic rhythms.

On Wednesday the 23rd we hit the road again, this time passing by a cool Hindu temple on our way to Dambulla, where we saw Sri Lanka’s largest and best preserved cave temple complex, a truly impressive space that was full of amazing statues, as well as a beautiful painted roof. The place was rocky and hot, but high up and totally gorgeous. We also saw tons of monkeys, some of which had pretty funky haircuts. Loved it! On the way, we also had a great rice and curry lunch and visited a few tourist traps – a wonderful spice garden, where we bought some herbal oils for Naoko (hair massage, and muscle massage oil), and a cool carving factory, where Zen bought a set of lovely masks. Although this was a very busy day with many stops, we still managed to get to our last hotel of the trip, Sorowwa Resort and Spa in Habarana, by late afternoon, stopping first to change Singapore dollars (best rates so far) and stock up on beer before the full moon on the 24th (since it’s illegal to sell alcoholic beverages in Sri Lanka at the full moon).

Funnily enough, Sorrowa tried to put us in a room in a basement that had lawn access, but was a bit dingy otherwise. After inquiring, we got a great corner balcony room on the third floor with a great view of the lake (and, we later discovered, the sunset, the amazing flocks of birds, and the incredible full moon!). That night we ate a light meal in the hotel restaurant, but it wasn’t satisfactory either – it actually failed to meet our low expectations!

Thursday the 24th, Christmas Eve, was a very busy day, starting at 7:30 as we went to Sigiriya lion’s rock park. After the visit to World’s End, this was probably the other major highlight of the trip – a wonderful, ancient 1,500-year-old royal palace of 1,500 concubines! The entry (after the crappy museum) brought us past ancient water parks and gorgeous forested areas, mossy stone coverings, gigantic boulders leaning together to form an natural arch, and all sorts of amazing staircases. A long queue led us to a metal staircase going up to a gorgeous cave of painted concubines, all topless and well-endowed, that was quite stunning. Afterwards, we wandered along to another metal staircase that led us up the face of the lion rock, between the two stone paws, and up to the top of the rock itself, where there was another ancient complex of stone walls, pathways and pools to wander around, taking in the views on a splendid day. What incredible weather we had – blue skies and cottony clouds the whole way – amazing!! On the way down, we saw how long the queue had grown for those wanting to see the cave paintings (looked like a two-hour wait at least) and got quite scared – with the 24th a full moon holiday, and the 25th a day off for Christmas, many Sri Lankans had a four-day national holiday and were out in full force, Sigiriya was much more than crowded than usual. We were lucky we’d started out so early, we only had to queue 30 minutes or so.

The bottom part of the park was great too, with more rock structures, including the hooded cobra rock, and this is where we spotted a very large monitor lizard! We got in the mini-van, had a short journey, and were then at our next part of the tour – a village safari. This included a funky ride in an ox cart, with Zen holding the reins for part of the tour, then on to a small lake where we got a catamaran ride across the water. This led to a traditional banana leaf hut, where we were shown how rice is husked in a bowl with a big thumping pole, how millet is ground into flour, and how coconut is split and gutted. The two Sri Lankan women demonstrating these activities were so cool, and later we were given a millet pancake with coconut sambal that we ate with our hands off of a banana leaf. It was exquisite, possibly the most amazing eating experience I’ve ever had. We also saw how banana leaf fronds can be woven into roof tiles. After that we jumped into a tuk tuk and headed back to the mini-van, off to our next adventure – lunch, and then a 2-hour safari. Fun! Unfortunately, there were too many tourists on safari, making noise, so wildlife was scarce – we saw an eagle, and a herd of elephants. We also headed up to a look-out hut on the top of a rocky hill, which was fun, and then back to the main road, where we saw… another herd of wild elephants! The safari was interesting, but ultimately a bit too bumpy (and chaotic) for too little benefit, and I could have skipped it. But it was still pretty fun, and I think Zen loved it!

Having eaten a pretty huge lunch, we skipped dinner again, and headed up to the room to watch the sunset, drink beer, and chill out. Since everyone was so pooped, we all went to sleep early – Zen dropped off at 7:15, Naoko at 8:00, and I lasted until about 8:30 or so. A fine way to spend Christmas Eve, although we sure had a busy and fun day to account for it (the hotel had a party raging downstairs – we got to hear the music, but weren’t at all tempted to check it out). I also got to see some great full moon views over the lake throughout the night, when I woke up to go to the toilet, the last one near dawn at 5:30 when the moon was near the horizon and quite orange!

On Friday the 25th, Christmas Day, we were allowed a late start, so we had a long, leisurely sit-down at brunch, I played guitar on the balcony, and around 11:00 we hit the road. Interestingly, the roads were relatively empty, since no one was travelling in the middle of a long weekend and a national holiday. We made good time to Nebombo, stopping only once in Kurunegala to see the lovely Elephant Rock, and the chilled-out lake. Soon we were in Nebombo, the beach town close to the international airport, where we chilled out on the beach from 4-6, watching the sunset, then had our lovely seafood dinner before heading off to the airport and our flight home at 1:00 AM on December 26th. Nothing very interesting about the flight and the airport, although I was exasperated that Zen was pestering us for a Burger King meal at 11:00 PM, only a few hours after he’d had dinner, and that a Whopper meal coast US$12!! Oh well, you don’t go on vacation every day. I slept through most of the flight, but Zen stayed up all night watching movies on his little entertainment system screen. Not for me.

Got home at about 9:00 AM, time to unpack, organise photos, and work on the blog. And here I am! We also had a hawker centre meal, listened to some music, drank some beer, and went for a swim. Tomorrow we see Star Wars – The Force Awakens (since it opened the day we left Singapore, we haven’t had a chance to see it yet).

This was probably the best family trip that we’ve ever had, seeing so many great sights, eating great food, with great guides to explain things along the way. The roads weren’t great, but the driver was, so we were in good hands. Can’t wait to go again!

Here are some pictures of the trip; as usual, clicking on any of them brings up a larger version!

16-12-2015 – X-Wing fighter at Changi Airport Terminal 3. Lookin’ cool!
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16-12-2015 - Waitin’ for our flight.
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16-12-2015 – At Colombo train station, waiting for the train to Galle.
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16-12-2015 - We sat down to a great meal of Sri Lankan cuisine!
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16-12-2015 - Red rice, thick dhal, banana flower salad, fried eggplant, carrots, and who knows what else!
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17-12-2015 – Here’s one of the Templeberg Villa dogs, Reeba, with a flower in her fur; there was also Moo Moo, a tan mutt.
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17-12-2015 –  we got the villa in the back, a nice two-roomer, and the place to ourselves!
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17-12-2015 – Zen read a couple of the hotel’s books while we were there; anything to avoid studying!
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17-12-2015 – The outdoor Buddha of the Templeberg neighbourhood temple.
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17-12-2015 – Found this cool old-timer car on our wander around Galle Fort.
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17-12-2015 – Great view of Galle Bay from the Fort.
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17-12-2015 – Nice mangos!
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17-12-2015 – Lunch at Mama’s; the view was great, the food… not so. At the far right you can see a corner of the nearby mosque, and to the left is the light house.
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17-12-2015 – Mama and Papa at Mama’s.
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17-12-2015 – Galle Fort light house.
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17-12-2015 – The Indian Ocean from Galle Fort.
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17-12-2015 – This is the mosque next to Mama’s, where we ate lunch (the rooftop to the right of the mosque)
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17-12-2015 – Nice view!
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17-12-2015 – Walking along the fort ramparts.
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17-12-2015 – Baby likes the Mens At Work sign.
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17-12-2015 – Church at twilight.
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17-12-2015 – Cathedral at twilight.
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17-12-2015 – Cool sunset!
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17-12-2015 – Sunset cowboy.
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18-12-2015 – Fisherman perches, but no fishermen…
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18-12-2015 – Touring the Hundungoda virgin white tea plantation with Xavier, our guide, and Daniel from Spain.
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18-12-2015 – Lovely plantation hibiscus!!
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18-12-2015 – Hibiscus Zen!!
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18-12-2015 – A tea worker gathering white tea buds, cutting them with golden scissors into porcelain bowls.
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18-12-2015 – Sampling teas.
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18-12-2015 – Awesome roadside food!!
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18-12-2015 – Awesome beach wander at noon!!
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18-12-2015 – On the beach!!
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18-12-2015 – I love this picture of Zen and me on the beach in Galle!!
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18-12-2015 – Wave and cloud form a pattern.
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18-12-2015 – At the Galle Fort antique mansion, which was part curio collection and part gem store.
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18-12-2015 – Gone for a late afternoon swim at the Templeberg Villa’s new pool!!
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18-12-2015 – Sunset with doggy.
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19-12-2015 – A fond farewell from the  Templeberg Villa staff (owner Karen in red).
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19-12-2015 – On the road to Nuwara Elliya; many Sri Lankan towns look like this.
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19-12-2015 – We went rafting in the Kelani River in Kitulgala, where The Bridge On The River Kwai was filmed in 1957. No pictures from the ride, since I didn’t want to take my camera near the water, but this picture we took from the road shows a view of a stretch we passed.
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20-12-2015 – Our view from our hotel room in Nuwara Eliya in the morning light. Wow!!
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20-12-2015 – This giant fern in the hotel grounds was pretty funky!
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20-12-2015 – Look at the size of that fiddlehead!!
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20-12-2015 – Mossy view of the amazing Nuwara Eliya botanical garden!! This is where we had our only spot of bad weather – a brief patch of light rain.
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20-12-2015 – Horizontal palm trees!!
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20-12-2015 – Colossal tree!!
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20-12-2015 – Crazy tree trunk!!
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20-12-2015 – Gorgeous forest!!
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20-12-2015 – Misty morning!!
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20-12-2015 – Nice, small, Hindu temple in Nuwara Eliya.
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20-12-2015 – On our way to the Heritance Tea Factory hotel for high tea.
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20-12-2015 – On the road.
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20-12-2015 – The Heritance Tea Factory Hotel. As the name suggests, this was once a tea factory, the drying, separating and fermenting floors have been converted to hotel rooms. A very nice place. We saw simliar-looking buildings at working tea factories around Sri Lanka.
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20-12-2015 – Peter and Naoko chilling at the Heritance Tea Factory hotel.
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20-12-2015 – Naoko and Zen chilling at the Heritance Tea Factory hotel.
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20-12-2015 – Lovely!!
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20-12-2015 – Tea grounds next to the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel.
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20-12-2015 – Tea grounds next to the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel.
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20-12-2015 – Tea grounds next to the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel.
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20-12-2015 – Tea grounds next to the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel.
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20-12-2015 – Tea grounds next to the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel.
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20-12-2015 – Danger is never far away!!
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20-12-2015 – Grabbing some dinner: hoppers, egg hoppers, and fried goodies.
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21-12-2015 – Sleepy in the jeep heading up to Horton Plains National Park, and World’s End and Baker’s Falls.
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21-12-2015 – Spotting a sambar deer near the entrance of Horton Plains National Park.
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21-12-2015 – Close-up of a sambar deer near the entrance of Horton Plains National Park.
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21-12-2015 – Horton Plain National Park.
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21-12-2015 – Horton Plain National Park.
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21-12-2015 – Chalky rock formations form natural colours, as explained by our super guide/driver Nimal.
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21-12-2015 – Nimal demonstrating the colours rock chalk can produce, which were used for paintings in old times.
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21-12-2015 – Crazy tree.
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21-12-2015 – Nimal caught a lizard…
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21-12-2015 – …which made him popular with passing tourists!!
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21-12-2015 – Small World’s End!!
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21-12-2015 – Small World’s End!!
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21-12-2015 – Small World’s End!!
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21-12-2015 – Small World’s End!!
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21-12-2015 – World’s End!!
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21-12-2015 – World’s End!!
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21-12-2015 – World’s End!!
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21-12-2015 – World’s End!!
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21-12-2015 – Eating hard-boiled eggs at World’s End!!
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21-12-2015 – After only spending 15 minutes at World’s End, we already had mist coming up over the valley. Lucky we came when we did!!
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21-12-2015 – After only a short while, the void looked more like this than a massive chasm!
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21-12-2015 – …but that’s okay, because after a short hike we were in Baker’s Falls, another gorgeous place!!
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21-12-2015 – A panorama view of Baker’s Falls!
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21-12-2015 – We three at Baker’s Falls!
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21-12-2015 – Our eagle-eyed tour guide spotted a rhinoceros lizard.
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21-12-2015 – …and here’s the close-up!
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21-12-2015 – Lovely lake!
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21-12-2015 – Our eagle-eyed tour guide spotted another lizard.
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21-12-2015 – …and here’s the close-up!
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21-12-2015 – A photo with our amazing tour guide Nimal.
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21-12-2015 – Zen and the Avian Breeze beauties!
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21-12-2015 – Roadside vegetable stand.
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21-12-2015 – Roadside vegetable stand.
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21-12-2015 – Tea Workers
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21-12-2015 – Gorgeous nature, with Devon Falls in the distance.
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21-12-2015 – St Clair’s Falls.
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21-12-2015 – The Glenloch tea factory.
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21-12-2015 – trying some tea with driver Priyantha.
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21-12-2015 – Zen with the lovely tea girl and tour guide.
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21-12-2015 – Gorgeous Sri Lanka.
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21-12-2015 – Our funky inn in Kandy: the Serendip Stone Bungalow.
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22-12-2015 – River sunrise in Kandy.
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22-12-2015 – Morning river scene in Kandy.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy breakfast with red banana.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy city scene.
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22-12-2015 - Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: feeding the baby elephants.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: walking the elephants to a river bath.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: walking the elephants to a river bath.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: walking the elephants to a river bath.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: walking the elephants to a river bath.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: the elephants’ river bath.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: walking the elephants to a river bath.
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22-12-2015 – This guy was so huge, but he just walked right past me…
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: the elephants’ river bath.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: the elephants’ river bath.
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22-12-2015 – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: the elephants’ river bath.
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22-12-2015 – Bats hanging from the riverside trees in full daylight!
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22-12-2015 – Viper’s rock.
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22-12-2015 – Cormorants hanging out at Kandy lake.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy lake.
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22-12-2015 – A guy in a tree.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy cultural dance.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy cultural dance.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy cultural dance.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy cultural dance.
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22-12-2015 – Fire walking!!
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22-12-2015 – The stars of the show… the fire walkers!!
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22-12-2015 – Zen and the fire walker.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy tooth relic temple, moonrise!
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22-12-2015 – Kandy tooth relic temple.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy tooth relic temple.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy tooth relic temple.
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22-12-2015 – Kandy tooth relic temple
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23-12-2015 – A bit of guitar in the morning.
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23-12-2015 – It’s Burger Hut!!
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23-12-2015 – Visiting a gorgeous Hindu temple on the road to Habarana.
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23-12-2015 – Visiting a gorgeous Hindu temple on the road to Habarana.
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23-12-2015 – Visiting a gorgeous Hindu temple on the road to Habarana.
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23-12-2015 – Visiting a gorgeous Hindu temple on the road to Habarana. Love the left-handed sitar!!
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23-12-2015 – Love the peacock feathers motif!
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23-12-2015 – Visiting a gorgeous Hindu temple on the road to Habarana.
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23-12-2015 – Three little liions.
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23-12-2015 – In the herb garden: fresh cloves!!
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23-12-2015 – Checking out some carved souvenirs.
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23-12-2015 – Pagoda at the Dambulla cave paintings complex.
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23-12-2015 – Entrance to Dambulla cave paintings complex.
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23-12-2015 – View from the Dambulla cave paintings complex.
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23-12-2015 – View from the Dambulla cave paintings complex.
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23-12-2015 – Zen and Naoko visiting the first cave at the Dambulla cave paintings complex.
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23-12-2015 – Zen making a scary face at the Dambulla cave paintings complex.
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23-12-2015 – Zen in the amazing first Dambulla cave, showing the reclining Buddha.
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23-12-2015 – The reclining Buddha.
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23-12-2015 – The feet of the reclining Buddha, showing uneven-length toes.
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23-12-2015 – Naoko and Zen chilling in Dambulla.
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23-12-2015 – The awesome Dambulla caves!
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23-12-2015 – The entrance to the biggest painted-ceiling cave in Dambulla.
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23-12-2015 – Dambulla’s incredible ceiling art.
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23-12-2015 – Detail of Dambulla’s incredible ceiling art.
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23-12-2015 – The full length of the biggest cave.
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23-12-2015 – Incredible Dambulla cave statue.
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23-12-2015 – Incredible Dambulla cave statue.
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23-12-2015 – Incredible Dambulla cave statue.
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23-12-2015 – Incredible Dambulla cave art.
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23-12-2015 – Incredible Dambulla cave art.
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23-12-2015 – Incredible Dambulla cave art.
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23-12-2015 – Dambulla lotus pond.
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23-12-2015 – Dambulla lotus pond.
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23-12-2015 – Incredible Dambulla cave statue.
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23-12-2015 – Dambulla cave entrance.
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23-12-2015 – Dambulla monkey with a punk rock haircut.
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23-12-2015 – Capping a visit to Dambulla with some king coconut water!
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23-12-2015 – We three!!
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23-12-2015 – Sunset Naoko at Sorowwa Resort in Habarana.
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23-12-2015 – Amazing sunset.
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23-12-2015 – Amazing sunset, with incredible flocks of birds!
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23-12-2015 – Amazing sunset, with incredible flocks of birds!
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23-12-2015 – Zen loved the idea of drinking Coca Cola out of a wine glass; too bad the food wasn’t very good.
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24-12-2015 – Habarana morning from Sorowwa Resort. Merry Christmas!
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24-12-2015 – Nativity scene, without the infant Jesus. I guess that will arrive tonight…
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24-12-2015 – Habarana morning!
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24-12-2015 – Yummy, this bun looks spicy!!
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24-12-2015 – Sigiriya lion rock from the road.
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24-12-2015 – Our mini-bus!!
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24-12-2015 – Sigiriya park gardens.
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24-12-2015 – Sigiriya rocks!!
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24-12-2015 – Naoko and Zen approach the challenge.
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24-12-2015 – Two gigantic boulders form a natural arch.
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24-12-2015 – Sigiriya cave paintings!
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24-12-2015 – Sigiriya cave paintings!
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24-12-2015 – Sigiriya cave paintings!
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24-12-2015 – Sigiriya cave paintings!
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24-12-2015 – Sigiriya cave paintings!
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24-12-2015 – Final approach to the Lion’s Rock!!
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24-12-2015 – The Lion’s Paw!!
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24-12-2015 – Zen on the rock.
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24-12-2015 – Peter and Naoko on the rock!
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24-12-2015 – We’ve come this far…
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24-12-2015 – On top of the rock! We can see for miles and miles!!
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24-12-2015 – Zen has a Sigiriya rock admirer!!
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24-12-2015 – Great view from Sigiriya rock!!
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24-12-2015 – Great view from Sigiriya rock!!
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24-12-2015 – Great view from Sigiriya rock!!
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24-12-2015 – Great view from Sigiriya rock!!
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24-12-2015 – This is what a 2-hour queue looks like in Sri Lanka.
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24-12-2015 – The Hooded Cobra rock.
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: ox cart ride!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: ox cart ride!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: ox cart ride, with Zen at the reins!!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: ox cart ride, with Zen at the reins!!
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24-12-2015 – rice paddies!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: boat ride!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: boat ride!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: boat ride, with Sigiriya in the background!!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: boat ride!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: boat ride!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: husking rice!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: grinding millet to flour!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: scraping coconut!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: wonderful food!
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24-12-2015 – On a village safari: wonder-food!
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24-12-2015 – the end of the tour with a small tuk tuk ride, and Zen in the front!!
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24-12-2015 – Going out on a safari!
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24-12-2015 – Going out on a safari!
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24-12-2015 – Safari fun!
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24-12-2015 – Spotting an elephant!!
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24-12-2015 – Super-driver Priyantha!!
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24-12-2015 – Spotting elephants on safari!!
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24-12-2015 – Taking a safari break!!
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24-12-2015 – Safari selfie!!
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24-12-2015 – We spotted more elephants after the safari from the roadside!!
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24-12-2015 – We spotted more elephants after the safari from the roadside!!
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24-12-2015 – We spotted more elephants after the safari from the roadside!!
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24-12-2015 – A gorgeous full moon, with its reflection in a pond (around 2:30 AM).
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25-12-2015 – A complete nativity scene. Merry Christmas!!
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25-12-2015 – A complete nativity scene. Merry Christmas!!
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25-12-2015 – Elephants and tourists on the prowl.
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25-12-2015 – A great hotel room balcony!!
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25-12-2015 – A great hotel room balcony selfie!!
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25-12-2015 – Zen in study mode!!
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25-12-2015 – Negombo catamaran!!
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25-12-2015 – Chilling in the Negombo surf!!
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25-12-2015 – On the love beach!!
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25-12-2015 – Great!!
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25-12-2015 – Sun-sea-sand silhouette!!
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25-12-2015 – On the beach!!
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25-12-2015 – Catamaran casting off!!
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25-12-2015 – Sea-sun-sand catamaran!!
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25-12-2015 – Sri Lankans having a good time on the beach!!
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25-12-2015 – Negombo church cricket!!
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25-12-2015 – Sunset sun-kissed!!
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25-12-2015 – Beautiful Negombo sunset!!
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25-12-2015 – Our last dinner in Sri Lanka: seafood!!
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25-12-2015 – Sea bream, crab and salad!!
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25-12-2015 – Shrimps and squid!!
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25-12-2015 – Zen hanging with the other kids.
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