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The Indian Ocean: Seychelles, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Phuket

SRI LANKA | Wednesday, 14 January 2015 | Views [357] | Comments [2]

We had a bowl of chendul in Penang

We had a bowl of chendul in Penang

The Seychelles and the Maldives are two sets of islands in the western Indian Ocean, now dependent almost exclusively on tourism for income.

We got to The Seychelles first as we left mainland Africa.  It’s a small cluster of volcanic mountaintops sticking out of the ocean, very green and lush, and home to several resorts and luxury homes.  From the cruise ship, we got onto a big catamaran, then cruised around while our guide pointed out three islands that make up the national park, and told us a few things about the resorts and residents.  The water was beautifully clear, with lots of tropical fish and coral formations visible directly under the cat.  We then transferred to a glass-bottom boat in the middle of the bay, and we all piled down into the hold, where the sides of the hull were plexiglas panels.  We had excellent views directly out onto the coral reef, and saw lots of big and small tropical fish, almost face to face.  Finally, our excursion ended with about 45 minutes of snorkeling off the catamaran, in the bay near the reef.  Plenty of fish, but the coral itself was only so-so. 

After another two days of sailing, we arrived on Malé, the main island in The Maldives.  This is a string of 1200+ islands running north to south, west of the southern tip of India.  Our ship docked at the main island of Malé—small island, densely populated, Muslim mosques everywhere.  We went on a walking tour that was mildly interesting, we probably liked the fishing fleet and the fish market the best.  The ship stayed overnight, so the next morning we got into a water taxi and headed for another island to spend the day at a resort on their beach.  Even though the nation is Muslim, and neither alcohol nor pork products are permitted on the main island of Malé, apparently anything goes on the outlying islands.  220 of the islands have some sort of development on them, including a whopping 4400 hotels and resorts.  Tourism is the main source of income for the Maldives, so cutting out alcohol would probably kill the industry.  Their other concern is the rumors of rising sea levels due to global warming.  If that happens, they are in trouble, since the highest peak in the whole country is only seven feet above sea level.

Sri Lanka was an entirely different story.  Formerly known as Ceylon, and hanging like a “teardrop off the face of India”, Sri Lanka also received independence from the British crown in the early 70s, then underwent years of internal strife which ended only in 2009.  Buddhism is the thing in Sri Lanka—70% of the population is Buddhist, then in descending order Hindus, Christians. and Muslims.  Buddhist temples and shrines were *everywhere*.  We lost count of the roadside shrines, roofed but with open sides, containing painted statues of  Buddha 15-20 feet tall.  We went through a large Buddhist temple, and the only thing they required was that we remove our shoes, no bare knees and no bare shoulders.  They had no problems with photography (unlike the Muslim mosques), and no problem with our guide talking quite loudly to our group. 

Since the internal problems dies down in 2009, Sri Lanka has really turned its efforts to development and capitalism.  Tourism, especially, has taken off, and tea exports remain very strong GDP producers.  There are lots of signs of building and prosperity throughout the city of Columbo.

Our neighbors on the cruise ship are a couple from Singapore—he is an Australian, she is half Malaysian and half British, and they’ve told us some very interesting things along the way.  Among other things, they told us that the Andaman Straits (entered when we left Sri Lanka) was the world’s busiest piracy corridor.  Fortunately, the pirates focus mostly on freighters and tankers, and pretty much leave the cruise ships alone. 

Anyway, yesterday we visited Phuket (poo KET), Thailand, a thriving island building a pretty good reputation for leisure vacationing.  On our bus tour, we saw rubber tree plantations (in decline because synthetic rubber is cheaper to manufacture), many resorts and hotels, and many, many tourist bars and restaurants.  We saw lots of scooters on Sri Lanka, but Phuket leaves them way behind.  They seemed to come in waves, down the roads—mopeds, scooters, and motorbikes of all sizes and shapes.  It’s also not unusual to see a family of four or even five all piled onto one motorbike.  Our guide told us that the legal age for driving a motorbike is 16, but sometimes parents will buy them for their 12 year-old-kids, just so the latter can get to and from school, allowing both parents to work.  He also told us that most working class Thais don’t usually eat dinner at home, but instead get home from work, wash up, and head out for a meal of street food.  This would almost always be a bed of rice with a topping of vegetables, fish, and some sort of sauce—and always very spicy, purchased from a guy with a cart on the side of the road, for about $1.50 per person.  Sounds delicious, but rather risky.

 

 

 

Comments

1

I'm very impressed with how brave you two have been about eating strange things. Especially you, Mumsy!

  Melani Jan 18, 2015 11:02 PM

2

It all sounds so adventurous! Asians use a lot of red beans for dessert because they aren't use to super sweet sugary treats like we are. Red bean paste in buns is a favorite of theirs. Hope you are enjoying the cuisine! I wish I could explore the temples!!

  Beth Jan 19, 2015 9:16 AM

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