Damro Tea Manufacturing unit Tour and Tasting, Sri Lanka

On our drive from Dambulla to Nuwara Eliya, we wanted to stop at a tea plantation as there are dozens around the area. Our driver recommended the Damro Tea Factory; one of the oldest tea plantations in Sri Lanka. When you visit Damro Labookellie Tea Lounge you’ll get a quick guided tea plantation tour and a free tea tasting in the lounge afterwards. Although we didn’t have the weather on our side when we went, I really enjoyed the experience and would definitely recommend stopping here if you’re passing by.

Damro Tea Factory: Why it’s worth a stop

We spent about 1.5 hours at the Damro Tea Plantation. Upon our arrival, our driver set up a free tour for us. There were maybe six people in total in the tour with one tour guide. The tour guide took us around to the different sections of the factory and talked about the leaves, machines, different types of tea, etc. I found the tour guide very informative and helpful. She answered all of our questions and explained the tea-making process in detail.

At the very end of the tour, which lasted for about 20 or so minutes, we sat in their lounge facing the tea plantations and were given a complimentary glass of black tea to try. Afterwards, we paid a visit to the little boutique shop where I took home a big box of their Ceylon black tea.

I had read that they also offered tours into their tea fields, but we weren’t given any further information on this when we were there, so we decided to head back out on the road.

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The highest 6 issues to do in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

Nuwara Eliya is a small, sleepy city located in the tea hills of Sri Lanka. We were drawn to Nuwara Eliya for a few reasons; the tea plantations, the former British colonial influence on this area, and it was on our way from Kandy to Ella. In fact, the city’s nickname is actually ‘Little England’ as many British civil servants once lived here and other colonialists would visit in order to partake in fox and deer hunting, polo, golf, cricket, etc. I’ll be honest, there aren’t a tonne of things to do in Nuwara Eliya, so I’d recommend only spending two nights here at most. However, I really did enjoy my time exploring this small city.

1. Lake Gregory

Originally a swampy bog, this lake was created in the late 1800’s by a British colonist. Today, many people visit the lake to partake in water activities – you can go on a boat tour, sea doo, swan paddle boat, etc. – or to simply walk around. When we first arrived earlier in the day, the skies were grey and it was quite cold, but thankfully the sky opened up later on.

There is an entrance fee for foreigners of 200LKR.

2. British Post Office

The post office in Nuwara Eliya was constructed in 1894 by the British, hence the well-maintained Tudor-style building. Apparently, the upper floor, which was the former living quarters of the post master, was transformed into tourist accommodations in 2012.

3. A quick walk around town

There really isn’t much to see when you walk around the town aside from little shops and lots of cars. We did, however, find a little samosa place and ordered some to take with us when we walked around. You probably only need 30-45 minutes to make your way around the town.

4. Get lost in the tea plantations

Depending on where your accommodation is, you might already be surrounded by tea plantations. We were lucky in that we stayed further up a hill and could easily walk around. Surrounded by tea plantations and quaint homes, this area was picture-perfect. There was an actual viewpoint called Shanthipura View Point. We walked there from out accommodation (the photos above are from the walk), but you have to actually pay to go up to the viewpoint. We decided not to as we were already happy with what we had seen.

5. Visit an actual tea plantation

Nuwara Eliya is the most important area for tea production in Sri Lanka thanks to its cool, temperate climate. That being said, you will literally be surrounded by tea plantations. We ended up stopping at a tea plantation on our way to Nuwara Eliya, but you can walk around a plantation nearby if you don’t care for an actual tour. You can also just ask where the nearest factory/plantation is and make a half day trip out of it. During our walk, we saw many local ladies picking tea leaves in the plantation.

6. Grab a beer and a book, and relax

As I mentioned before, Nuwara Eliya will likely be one of the most relaxing stops on your Sri Lanka trip. Make the most of it by grabbing a Lion Lager (Sri Lanka’s beer) and a book, and enjoy a few hours of downtime surrounded by greenery.

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What it is best to know earlier than taking the prepare to Ella

The one thing that I associated Sri Lanka with before my trip was the infamous blue train making its way through the mountains with people leaning out the doors for a photo op. All of the photos were stunning and I couldn’t wait to experience the train to Ella for myself. That being said, I was not prepared for the chaos that would come. From ‘blackmarket’ ticket purchases to the hoards of people clambering for a seat, this might not be an experience that’s worth it just for the ‘gram.

What you should know before you go

I don’t think this experience is something you can fully prepare yourself for, but there are some helpful tips that you should know ahead of time.

Buy your ticket in advance. Ticket sales open up about three months ahead of time and sell out extremely fast, especially over major holidays. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way. All of the pre-purchased tickets were sold out online when we went to buy ours. You can always buy a third class ticket the morning of at the train station, however, you’ll likely be standing the entire time.

‘Blackmarket’ first class tickets. Our driver had a contact that could get us into the first class train for 1250LKR (US$7). Keep in mind, a third class ticket is 80LKR and a second class ticket is 150LKR. Basically what happened is we paid to take the seats of other people who had gotten off at the previous stop and there were extra seats that no one would be occupying when the train came to our station. It ended up being okay, but there was a fair bit of mayhem before we finally got seated.

The blue train only runs on certain hours. If you’re only wanting to take the blue train that you see in all the pictures, make sure you look up when that train is running. Otherwise, you’ll likely end up on a red train instead.

Be prepared to stand the whole ride. Most people end up standing pretty much the entire time. Looking back at the second and third class cabins, they were filled to the brim with people standing in the aisles and train doors. I could not imagine how uncomfortable the journey would have been if I had to stand the entire way. Also, it’s very unlikely you’re going to be able to see anything if you’re standing, which defeats the purpose of the train ride.

What you’ll see on the train to Ella

Obviously, the views are beautiful and I really enjoyed the experience. However, a big part of my enjoyment was also from the fact that I had a seat and that the aisles weren’t crammed with people. We were told to take the train from Nuwara Eliya instead of Kandy as the scenic route only starts from Nuwara Eliya. I’m so glad we decided to do this as it saved us from spending an extra 4 hours on the train.

Ultimately the decision is up to you and what you think you can tolerate!

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Little Adam’s Peak Hike, Ella (every thing you want to know)

Since moving to Hong Kong, I’ve really gotten into hiking. The city has hundreds of hiking trails offering incredible views of both sky-high buildings and islands/beaches. When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for a hike to go on. Little Adam’s Peak in Ella is the perfect hike for everyone – it’s not long or difficult. Ella is such a lovely little town, it would be an absolute shame if you missed out on this opportunity to see its surrounding mountains from on top of one! If you are spending a few nights in Ella, Little Adam’s Peak hike should definitely be on your list of things to do.

How to get to there

Little Adam’s Peak is such a popular tourist attraction (they’ve even built a zipline up there!) that your driver or taxi will know how to get there without any issues. Depending on where your hotel is, you might even be able to walk there.

The way up is very straightforward – simply follow the dirt path. At some points, you will see a sign leading you up ‘the stairway to Little Adam’s Peak’. Just follow the signs and stay on the path. There will likely be dozens of other tourists climbing up the peak at the same time, so if in doubt, just follow them.

Why you need to do Little Adam’s Peak hike

The climb up to the peak shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes. Once up there, you’re in for an absolute treat. The sweeping views of the surrounding mountains are absolutely breathtaking. You’ll actually be able to see Ella Rock (another, more challenging, hike) in the distance. There were plenty of people at the top, but everyone was very friendly and offered to take our photo. There are also a few rocks around, so you can sit down and spend some more time up there (before it gets too hot).

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Ella Rock Hike Information: How one can climb up with no information

When visiting the quaint little town of Ella and asking locals what they would recommend doing, we were constantly told to head up Little Adam’s Peak. We did that and absolutely loved it. While at the top of Little Adam’s Peak, we realised we were actually looking out at another popular hike: Ella Rock. We had heard a lot of mixed reviews about this hike in regards to hiring a guide, getting scammed on the way up, etc. After a fair bit of research and speaking to some other tourists we met, we made it up to the top unguided. I’m here to help you do the same with this Ella Rock hike guide!

What you should know BEFORE hiking up Ella Rock

After speaking to a few people in Ella and doing a bit of research, we heard a few interesting things about this hike. There are many locals who offer paid hiking guide services to get tourists up Ella Rock for around US$25. They claim the climb up is unclear and it’s very easy to get lost.

At the same time, we also read a few blogs online with guides on how to get to the top. We were warned that if we went on our own, to be wary of locals who try to ‘offer you help’ by pointing you in the ‘right direction’. When in reality, they are actually taking you the wrong way and once you realise you’re completely lost, they offer to help you get up to Ella Rock. For a fee, of course. We also read about false directions on paths while doing the hike, but we didn’t come across any of these.

Don’t be fooled or persuaded into thinking you need to hire a guide. The hike isn’t that challenging as long as you have looked at the route ahead of time and have a device with data to guide you. Also, don’t listen to any locals along the way who have told you that you’ve gone the wrong way. Stick to your guide and gut!

Starting point of Ella Rock Hike

You’ll begin the hike at Ella Railway station. Once in the station, go left and walk down to the end of the platform. Hop off onto the tracks and continue walking. Just make sure to keep your eyes and ears out for oncoming trains.

Continue walking along the tracks past Kithalella Station – this should take around 30 minutes. Keep your eyes out for a sharp left about 7 minutes past the station. It’s practically impossible to see while you’re walking along the tracks – we actually ended up walking past it for a few minutes before we realised and had to back-track.

Step by step Ella Rock hike guide until the first view point

Shortly after your sharp left, you’ll see a little bridge over a stream. Walk across it and take the first left afterwards. At this point, you will slowly begin to ascend. Continue along the path – you will have tea plantations on either side of you.

About five minutes later, you will come out into a bit of a clearing where you’ll see a few benches and some little wooden houses. Stick to the right of them and walk up the stairs.

After another five or so minutes, you’ll come out into another clearing with tall trees surrounding you. Make your way down and through these trees. This is also where you’ll be able to get a bit of a sneak peak at the views to come.

Making it to the top of Ella Rock

Once through the trees, you will begin to make the big climb up to Ella Rock. At this point, you can’t really make a wrong turn, as there is only one way to go: up! It is a steep climb to get up, so this part of the hike may be quite challenging for some.

Once you finally get to the top, you’ll see a little house and a lot of other people surrounding the area. There are locals selling water, and other drinks and snacks should you need it.

It should only take you an hour or so to make it up to the top of Ella Rock. The rock area that looks out over Little Adam’s Peak and the surrounding mountains was packed with other tourists who were leisurely sitting around. We were able to grab a few photos and then, because it was too crowded up there, we decided to leave. However, we made a bit of a detour before our descent.

A little detour

One of the locals who was selling drinks at the top suggested we go down along another path just behind the house. She said to keep following the path and you’ll eventually make it out into a clearing with more sweeping views of the mountains. It was about a 10 minute walk to get to the clearing.

To get back, just retrace your steps and head down the way you came up. Just be careful on your way down – it’s very steep and slippery in some parts!

Things to note:
– the climb up shouldn’t take more than an hour
– in total, the hike should take around 2.5 hours
– bring proper shoes and plenty of water
– there were plenty of other tourists also doing this hike, so it’s likely you’ll all be going in the same direction. If in doubt, just follow or ask others
– we read many guides saying to leave first thing in the morning, however, we left in the early afternoon. While it was very hot, it was still manageable (perhaps not so in the summer months)
– be careful on your way down. It is very steep and slippery in some bits
– don’t listen to any locals who may be trying to lead you in the ‘right’ direction. It’s likely a scam to get you lost and then need their paid help to put you back on the right track

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9 Arch Bridge, Ella – what to anticipate

The Nine Arch Bridge in Ella is one of the more popular tourist spots thanks to its colonial-era construction. While the bridge itself is truly impressive to look at, many people also time their visit in order to see a train go by. I really loved the look of the old, massive bridge surrounded by lush greenery. The beauty of this scene certainly makes for a great photo op. Whether you want to visit to admire the architecture or to get a photo for the ‘gram, the Nine Arch Bridge is worth a stop while in Ella.

When to go to the Nine Arch Bridge

You can visit the bridge at any point during the day, but most people will time their visit with the train passing through. We simply asked our driver when the trains passed the bridge and planned around that. If you don’t have a driver, just ask reception at your hotel. If you’re not too fussed about seeing the train, it’s best to go early in the morning in hopes of avoiding the crowds and the heat.

What to expect

There are plenty of photo opportunities to be had: below the bridge, on the train tracks, on the bridge edge, etc. Unfortunately, it was very busy when we went, so it was difficult to get a photo without dozens of other people in the shot. If only I knew how to photoshop people out..

As a heads up, if you’re visiting when a train is coming through, a staff member will clear the railway tracks about 15 minutes beforehand. You want to make sure you’re on the far end of the bridge (see above photos) in order to actually see the train coming at you for that perfect photo.

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Lipton’s Seat, Sri Lanka: Value a go to?

While we were in Ella, a visit to Lipton’s Seat in Haputale was recommended to us. Although it was a bit out of the way, we had a driver at the time and since we were on our way down to Udawalawe anyway, we decided to make the detour. You’ve likely tried or at least heard of Litpon’s Tea and this is the place where the man behind the name, Sir Thomas Lipton, would sit to survey his tea fields. The combination of historical significance along with the beautiful views is what brought us here.

How to get to Lipton’s Seat

Our driver could only take us so far before the road becomes too narrow and you need to hire a tuk tuk to take you up to the top. We were charged 1500LKR (about US$8) for a round trip ride, which was quite expensive given the short trip and time we were up there. There were some cars that made their way along the road, but they were driven by locals and our driver didn’t feel comfortable doing it. We also saw some people walking, however this would’ve taken a very long time so I wouldn’t recommend it. In order to enter Lipton’s Seat, there is an entrance fee of LKR100 (US$0.50) for foreigners.

What you’ll see at Lipton’s Seat

While we were making our way up the hill, the sky was blue and clear. However, once we arrived at the top, it was practically covered in mist which was a bit disappointing. Thankfully, after about 30 or so minutes, it started to clear up and you could really enjoy the views from Lipton’s Seat. After walking around for a bit, we went over to the little cafe where you could get a pot of tea for 150LKR (US$0.80). We did feel quite rushed by our tuk tuk driver who wanted to get back down the road before the supposed afternoon crowd came. Thankfully, we were able to get a few good photos of the beautiful views before we left.

Is it worth the trip?

If you have a driver and had planned to pass the area anyway, I’d say it’s worth a quick pit stop. However, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to pay a visit to Lipton’s Seat.

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The Prime 6 Issues to do in Ella

Ella is one of my favourite spots in Sri Lanka. From the train ride to get there, to the delicious food, hiking, and incredible views, this quaint little town is definitely worth a visit. I spent three nights in Ella and loved every bit of it. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth a stop or what there is to do there, read on for the top 6 things to do in Ella.

1. Hike up Little Adam’s Peak & Ella Rock

This was one of my favourite parts about Ella. Whenever I travel, I love to get outdoors and explore the surrounding hiking trails. These two hikes were absolutely fantastic. If you’re pressed for time, stick to Little Adam’s Peak; the hike is quick and the views are fantastic. If you’re feeling slightly more adventurous and want a bit of a challenge, then try Ella Rock. The route is a bit more tricky, but I promise it’ll be worth it in the end.

2. Hop on the infamous blue train to Ella

If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka, you’ve likely seen or heard about the train to Ella. While I do believe it’s worth doing, be cautious when booking your ticket. I recommend taking the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, as this is where you’ll get the best views (and you don’t need to spend an extra 4+ hours crammed on a train). It’s also best to book a first class ticket so you have a seat and aren’t standing the entire time. For more tips on taking the train, check out my blog post here.

3. Eat all the delicious food

If this wasn’t obvious already, Ella has some great restaurants scattered around the main little road. Because this quaint town has become such a huge tourist destination, there’s a great variety of restaurants to visit while there. I’d highly recommend a visit to Matey Hut (try to go during an off-time to avoid a queue) and Cafe Chill (get their lamprais – it’s a mix of different curries, chicken, and rice all wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf). I would also recommend trying Sri Lanka’s famous dessert of buffalo curd; it sounds a bit odd, but it’s delicious. Many of the restaurants have cheap drinks and seating outside, making it a great place to head for a few hours after a busy afternoon running around.

4. Visit a tea factory

Ella is surrounded by rolling hills and tea plantations, so it would be a shame to leave without making a quick stop at one. We went to Lipton’s Seat when we were leaving Ella. It’s a bit out of the way, but was lovely to be surrounded by all the tea plantations. If you’re not keen for a long ride to one, there are definitely closer ones you can head to for a quick look, tour, and taste.

5. The Nine Arch Bridge

This massive historic bridge brings flocks of locals and tourists to it. The bridge itself is an impressive sight and dates back to the 1800s. If at all possible, I’d recommend planning your visit to time with one of the trains that pass by. Alternatively, you can plan on taking one of the trains over the bridge if you have the time.

6. Catch a stunning sunset or sunrise

Before you book your accommodation, I’d highly recommend looking into a place that is higher up on the mountain with views over the rolling hills. Although our accommodation was a little bit out of the way (thankfully we had a driver, so it really wasn’t much of an issue), we absolutely loved waking up to the sun slowly rising in between the mountains and softly setting in the evening. The views were honestly stunning and I’m so happy we choose this place.

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Coconut Tree Hill, Mirissa – How you can get there and what to anticipate

The lazy beach town of Mirissa has a handful of Instagrammable spots, but the one that everyone lines up for (I’m not kidding) is Coconut Tree Hill. While it is an absolutely stunning spot, because everyone is there to take photos, it isn’t really a place you linger for very long. Regardless, it’s worth checking out if you don’t mind a bit of a wait to get the perfect photo.

How to get to Coconut Tree Hill?

Coconut Tree Hill is about a 20 minute walk from the main area at the beach. We did decide to walk it during the day as we had some extra time on our hands. However, it was incredibly hot and bear in mind, you are walking along the main road, so you might be better off just taking a tuk tuk.

That being said, make your way east along the road, past Mirissa Beach. You keep following the main road until you see a little road that juts off to the right called Coconut Tree Hill Road (at lease this was what it was called on Google Maps – I can’t remember if there was actually a street sign). I would definitely recommend using Google Maps to navigate, as we got a little lost and had to ask a local if we were going down the right path. After the road, just follow a small dirt path until you start seeing all the palm trees; you really can’t miss it.

What to expect

Coconut Tree Hill is essentially a large dirt mound with palm trees scattered about. While I know that doesn’t sound particularly appealing, it truly was beautiful looking out at the palm trees and ocean in the distance.

Be prepared to also look out at the dozens of other tourists there who also want to get the exact same photo. To be fair, I did actually appreciate that there was a queue when I went and people waited patiently for everyone to go to the picture-perfect spot and take their photos. I think we waited 10 or so minutes before it was our turn to grab a quick photo.

Overall, my experience there, although fairly rushed, was not all that bad. However, from talking to others it seems as though people’s experience was either hit or miss due to overcrowding, people disregarding the queue, etc. Regardless, it’s a beautiful spot, easy to get to, and makes for a great ‘gram photo!

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Transferring Flats in Hong Kong – The way to make your new flat really feel like a house

Moving flats in Hong Kong can be an absolute nightmare. From trying to find your new place via an agent or through Facebook Marketplace, to moving in and making it feel like a home.. it can all be incredibly overwhelming. I’ve lived here for almost 9 years and have only moved twice. The last time being just shy of two months ago and boy, was it a process. If you’re thinking about moving flats in HK, here’s how I found the perfect flat for me and then decorated it (and treated myself to the best night’s sleep thanks to my new Emma Mattress!) to make it feel like home.

How to find your dream flat

Okay, let’s get real. Unless you’re seriously making bank here, you’re going to have to manage those ‘dream flat’ expectations. If you live in Hong Kong, you know that rent costs a small fortune and you’d probably be getting twice the amount of space back in your home city. So, set your frustrations aside and decide on a list of things you absolutely won’t negotiate on.

For me, my non-negotiables were plenty of natural light, staying in a certain neighbourhood, not a far uphill walk from the MTR ’cause lord knows the summer humidity will leave you in a puddle of your own sweat after a few seconds, one separate bedroom (no studio), and within a certain budget.

You want to give yourself enough time to find the perfect home, so you really should start looking at least 4 weeks ahead of time. I began looking a bit earlier and decided that if I did find my ‘dream flat’, that I would be okay to overlap on rent for a few weeks. Giving yourself enough time is important so that you’re able to see a variety of flats available without feeling like you need to settle on something for time’s sake.

While you can walk into any realtor shop around the area you like, I actually found my flat on Facebook. Both Marketplace and a few Facebook groups were great ways to see what’s on the market. The only downside is that it’s basically you doing all the work, yet it’s highly likely you’re still going to have to pay an agent fee.

Treat yourself… to a new Emma Mattress!

I decided to treat myself with a new bed frame and mattress. For the past 8 years I had been sleeping in a double bed, so I finally splurged on a queen size bed in my new flat.. and it was the best decision ever. I had heard about Emma Mattress before from a few friends who absolutely loved their mattresses and said it was the best mattress they have ever slept on, so I obviously had to do a bit more research into the brand. While researching, I was surprised at how many options there were when it came to online mattresses in Hong Kong. As I looked further into Emma Mattress, an internationally reputed German mattress company with over 30 international awards, it was clear that they really stood out from the crowd.

Their ‘bed in a box’ is made in Europe and was shipped to Hong Kong right away. They offer mattresses in many different bed sizes. Along with the mattress I also ordered their probiotic mattress cover, which helps to reduce humidity and allergens, and is also waterproof, and their memory foam pillow which offers the perfect amount of support. The mattress was super easy to roll out onto my bed frame and watch as it slowly expanded from its compact delivery box.

If you’re feeling a bit nervous about purchasing a mattress, no need to worry! Emma Mattress offers a 100 night trial period (and an impressive 15 year warranty), though you probably won’t need it. For those that are extra cautious, you can always pop into one of the mattress shops around Hong Kong (there was one right in my neighbourhood in Sheung Wan) to try it out before you make your purchase.

If you’re in the market for a new mattress or pillow, or are just in need of an upgrade, use code “AbroadDream” upon checkout to receive an additional 3% discount for their 3-year anniversary sale, which can add up to 30% altogether!

Decorating your flat on a budget

Moving to a new flat can be very costly, so I wanted to make sure I saved where I could. My old flat had a very dark wooden theme to my decor, however, this time around I wanted to go white and bright. This meant that the only piece of furniture I would be taking with me was my beloved couch. Because I wanted to save a bit on furniture, I found most of my other pieces secondhand on Facebook Marketplace and Carousell (a Hong Kong-based app where you can buy and sell things). I also had a friend help me order a kitchen island off Taobao to save a bit of money.

Whether you’re on a tight budget or not, the number one thing you probably want is for your new space to feel like home. So, don’t forget to add those little touches of personality to your space. For me, I have a few framed pictures up in my flat of my Home Kong, plenty of plants to add a touch of green, a fully stacked wine rack, and my favourite books on display.

Hopefully these tips will help make the process of finding/moving flats in Hong Kong a little less painful!

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