A TALE OF IS­LAND GET­AWAYS

Sey­chelles and Sri Lanka are two pop­u­lar hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions in the In­dian Ocean. gives us glimpse of what you can do if you visit

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - DESTINATION -

As the air­plane was com­ing in to land I could not help but say “wow” as I saw nu­mer­ous dif­fer­ent-sized is­lands of green in the blue In­dian Ocean, and the white cloud mass above them look­ing like soft cot­ton can­dies.

I could see the ocean only a few me­ters away through the port­hole be­cause Sey­chelles In­ter­na­tional Air­port is lo­cated on the is­land of Mahe.

The coun­try’s im­mi­gra­tion stamp is shaped like its na­tional trea­sure — the sea co­conut, or coco de mer.

The gov­ern­ment con­trols the trade in coco de mer and the palm tree is pro­tected. Tourists can see the trees mainly in the Praslin and the Curieuse Na­tional Parks and botanic gar­dens on other is­lands.

Vic­to­ria, the cap­i­tal of Sey­chelles is on the Mahe is­land. And my day­long tour of the city starts at the Botan­i­cal Gar­den to see the coun­try’s iconic plant and an­i­mal — the coco de mer and the Aldabra gi­ant tor­toise.

With a his­tory of more than a cen­tury, the beau­ti­ful trop­i­cal gar­den also show­cases many ex­otic plants such as spice trees.

The palm trees which pro­duce the coco de mer are en­demic to just two is­lands in the coun­try. The trees are dioe­cious — mean­ing there are male and fe­male trees which are lo­cated close to each other.

The trees can grow to be­tween 25 and 34 me­ters tall, and have large fan-shaped leaves.

“For us, the coco de mer is our for­tune. It is ev­ery­thing,” says tour guide San­dra Vic­tor, 28.

Ac­cord­ing to her, in the old days, the for­bid­den nut was be­lieved to be an aphro­disiac. The lo­cals used to cut the fe­male nut into two and cook rice or wa­ter in the shells, or use them as stor­age con­tain­ers. The shells were also in­laid with jew­elry to make or­na­ments.

Sou­venirs in­spired by the coco de mer are ev­ery­where. There are soaps, mag­nets, post­cards and the like. A lo­cal jew­elry brand even has a bracelet with tiny or­na­ments in the shape of the coco de mer.

The Aldabra gi­ant tor­toise is one of the largest tor­toises in the world. They come from Aldabra, a re­mote is­land.

Don’t be sur­prised by their muddy ap­pear­ance be­cause they love to wal­low in the mud.

Their life span is about 250 years and they can sur­vive nearly three months without food or wa­ter. They can float in deep wa­ter and can swim short dis­tances.

Later, I head to the Mis­sion Ru­ins of Venn’s Town, which was a board­ing school for the chil­dren of slaves freed by the Bri­tish in the 19th cen­tury. It is on the top of a moun­tain.

The blue sky and the white thick clouds above, to­gether with the green moun­tains and the In­dian Ocean, are en­dur­ing mem­o­ries of my trip to Sey­chelles.

I also en­joy strolling along the peace­ful streets of Vic­to­ria, en­joy­ing its old colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture and the hos­pi­tal­ity of lo­cal res­i­dents.

I get to see dif­fer­ent spices and fruits in the mar­kets and rub shoul­ders with the lo­cals. cocode­mer

Mahe is­land also boasts of many pic­turesque beaches, sur­rounded by ex­pen­sive re­sorts and rea­son­ably priced self-cater­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Be­sides ex­plor­ing Mahe, visi­tors can also take boat trips to two pop­u­lar is­lands — Praslin and La Digue.

Be­fore I re­turn to Bei­jing, I fly to Colombo to sa­vor a dif­fer­ent kind of charm.

“We are con­fi­dent that our new flight (Sri Lankan Air­lines re­cently started four flights a week be­tween Colombo and Sey­chelles, us­ing If you go

Chi­nese cit­i­zens do not need visas for Sey­chelles. Sri Lankan Air­lines re­cently launched four flights a week be­tween Colombo and Sey­chelles, us­ing A320s. It takes around four hours to get to Sey­chelles from Colombo.The Bei­jing-Colombo con­nec­tion takes eight hours.

A320s) be­tween the two coun­tries will draw more Chi­nese tourists to Sey­chelles. The flight can also com­bine the two des­ti­na­tions and en­joy the di­ver­sity of Sri Lanka such as its moun­tains and sa­fari parks,” says Sa­minda Per­era, gen­eral man­ager, mar­ket­ing of Sri Lankan Air­lines.

“Chi­nese visi­tors like cul­ture, his­tory and en­joy na­ture. So, we are see­ing an in­crease in both in­de­pen­dent trav­el­ers and fam­i­lies, and they are stay­ing longer in Sri Lanka than be­fore.”

Ac­cord­ing to him, the air­line is also boost­ing links with its Chi­nese part­ners such as on­line travel agen­cies and fo­cus­ing more on so­cial me­dia mar­ket­ing.

My first stop in Sri Lanka is Ne­gombo, about 35 kilo­me­ters north of Colombo. It draws many visi­tors for its sandy beaches.

Visi­tors can also buy fresh seafood such as fish and crabs from the mar­ket near the sea. Be­sides, they can also go fish­ing in a la­goon or the sea with lo­cal fish­er­men.

At the beach, a fishy smell per­me­ates in the air. And crows fly around as work­ers skin fish.

It’s amaz­ing to see the fish dry­ing on straw mats.

Galle is about 120 kilo­me­ters away from Colombo.

Dur­ing the 14th cen­tury, it was an im­por­tant trad­ing port, for the ex­port of spices espe­cially cin­na­mon from Sri Lanka.

In 1988, the old town of Galle and its for­ti­fi­ca­tions were listed as a UNESCO World Her­itage site.

Galle Fort is well-pre­served and there are still canons mounted on the ram­parts within the fort.

It is like time-travel when you stroll through the peace­ful al­leys.

The ar­chi­tec­ture of Galle is typ­i­cally Euro­pean as it was ruled suc­ces­sively by the Por­tuguese, the Dutch and the Bri­tish.

At the Groote Kerk or Dutch Re­formed Church, which was built by the Dutch in 1755, I am sur­prised to see dozens of grave­stones of Dutch set­tlers in the yard. Some of the stones are now used as floor tiles in the hall.

As for food, visi­tors can choose be­tween Sri Lankan food and Western cui­sine. Pop­u­lar choices in­clude fresh seafood such as lob­sters, fish and crabs, cooked with a lot of spices.

Con­tact the writer at xulin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

PHO­TOS BY XU LIN / CHINA DAILY

Clock­wise from top: Chi­nese tourists ex­plore the wild na­ture in Sri Lanka; the palm trees which pro­duce the are en­demic to just two is­lands in Sey­chelles; fish­er­men dry fish on straw mats in Ne­gombo; the Aldabra gi­ant tor­toise from Sey­chelles is one of the largest tor­toises in the world; Ne­gombo’s veg­etable mar­ket.

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