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
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.
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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.