Get going: a new Shangri-La

Sule Shangri-La, Yangon, Myanmar

To all ends of the world, from  Chilean Patagonia to the new frontier of
Myanmar, in this week’s Sun-Herald travel deals. Closer to home, eat and sleep all
things Manfredi on the NSW Central Coast or snap up the Novotel St
Kilda’s six-bottle special. Enjoy!

GO NOW
MYANMAR
Stay two nights at the newly rebranded Sule Shangri-La,
Yangon, and get $40 hotel credit and a one-way airport transfer until
July 31. The former Traders Hotel is in walking distance of the
2000-year-old Sule Pagoda. “Celebration packages” from $265 a night,
deluxe room. shangri-la.com.

NEW SOUTH WALES
Bushwalk, read, eat at hatted restaurants: stay three nights
and pay for just two on an escape to the Central Coast at Bells at
Killcare. Includes a Manfredi continental breakfast until June 30. From
$700 for the king spa suite for three nights. (02) 4349 7000, bellsatkillcare.com.au.

Novotel St Kilda

GO SOONER
VICTORIA
The Novotel St Kilda’s famous “wine and wind down” deal is
back: book a standard non-bayview room from $209 a night and get six
bottles of wine worth $200. Includes car parking and breakfast. Until
December 30, quote “wine and wind down”. (03) 9525 5522, novotelstkilda.com.au.

SINGAPORE
Transit passengers on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir passing
through Singapore’s Changi Airport can get $34 of vouchers to spend in
the airport’s shops, or to use the Ambassador Transit Lounges in
Terminals 2 and 3 for up to six hours. The offer is available until
September 30. See singaporeair.com.

GO LATER
CHILE
Book eight nights in two of Abercrombie & Kent’s Chilean
lodges on Easter Island, in Patagonia and in the Atacama desert, and get
two free nights in Santiago’s Lastarria Boutique Hotel, worth $1140 a
couple, until October 31. From $6484 a person, twin share. 1300 590 317,
abercrombiekent.com.au.

Patagonia’s Explora Lodge

WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Catch a “last seat superdeal” in the Kimberley and save on
15-day trips from June to September. Save $500 on the 15-day 4WD
Kimberley Complete tour, $8295 a person twin share including a
helicopter ride over Mitchell Falls and cattle station tour. Book by May
31. 1300 196 420, aptouring.com.au.

Tourwatch

ANZAC CENTENARY
Missed out on tickets to the 2015 Gallipoli centenary
commemoration? Tempo Holidays’ two tours let you watch it on large
screens from a ferry offshore. The tour starts in Istanbul and takes in
the ruins of Troy and Anzac Cove, Lone Pine Australian Memorial and
Chunuk-Bair New Zealand Memorial accompanied by military historians.
Departs from Istanbul on April 19, 2015 (eight days) and April 22, 2015
(nine days), from $3700 a person, twin share. 1300 558 987, tempoholidays.com.

CYCLE OF LIFE CAMBODIA & VIETNAM
Combine cycling, culture and kids in a new mountain bike
adventure from Angkor to Saigon. The seven-day trip covers an almost
flat 275 kilometres, departing Siem Reap monthly from July 19. The
journey includes a boat cruise down the Mekong River, visit to Can
Tho’s floating markets and the support van carries your gear and weary
travellers. Best for bike-riding kids from 10 years, with tag-alongs
and bike seats available. Costs $1930 for adults, $1544 for kids under
12, (03) 9016 3172, grasshopperadventures.com


This travel deals column by Belinda Jackson is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper every Sunday.

Colour my world: the textiles of Sri Lanka

Barefoot’s design house, Sri Lanka.

I have fondled hemp throws in Morocco, lusted for
Kashmiri embroidered cushions, gone cammo with Arabic scarves, and when
my husband told me not to buy any carpets in Iran I deduced the man was
obviously delusional: I was going to Persia, home of the rug. He’d given
up by the time I announced the Sri Lanka trip.

In my defence,
textiles are surely the ideal souvenir. They usually pack down easily,
they’re not fragile, they are useful and, importantly, they are a direct
link to a country’s culture.


I showed him photographs of women working on traditional handlooms
and waxed lyrical about the colours of the country: peacock blue, russet
red and saffron yellow.

“You
have to use bright colours in Sri Lanka because of the sunshine,” says
British interior designer George Cooper, who has lived in the southern
seaside town of Galle for the past decade and stamped his mark on a
string of villas along the coastline.

“In England and France, muted colours work, but you have to up your palettes here.

Traditional batik.

“The colours are more primary. They’re simpler.”

The country’s
textiles were born in the time of legend, says Sri Lanka-born,
Melbourne-based textiles artist Cresside Collette. She’s talking way
back: as far as the Ramayana, the Indian epic from 3000BC; in Sri
Lanka’s royal chronicle, the ancient Mahavamsa, even the queen is
spinning yarn.

Cresside, who recently led a new textiles tour
through her home country, says the main industries are weaving,
lacemaking, embroidery, dyeing and batik. Don’t expect the massive
factories of Bangladesh or India: Sri Lanka’s textiles industry is
small, secretive and, in some instances, even dying out. You’ll need a
knowing local on hand to help eke them out.


Luckily, I have Cresside’s tips and my friend Andrea, a writer, guide
and friend of the arts, who has a flair for design. Happily, she’s also
an English-speaking Dutch burgher – an exotic, ethnic blur of of Dutch,
Portuguese and indigenous Sri Lankan: the woman is a strolling atlas.

In
Galle, the Portuguese element is obvious in the southern province’s
reputation for its cotton lace. Intrepid Portuguese were blown off
course from the Maldives and landed here in 1505. “There’s a strong
sense of Lisbon through the lacemaking,” Cooper says.

One morning,
as I leave my hotel, the luxurious Amangalla, a quiet man sells me a
beautiful child’s white cotton nightdress. Strips of handmade lace
decorate the chest, hem and armholes, and although a delicate white
dress is a green light to my rambunctious daughter for wildness, I have
to buy it. I’m undertaking a classic transaction that’s been taking
place for centuries: Amangalla’s own history notes recall local
Sinhalese women sitting tatting on its verandah, making lace to sell to
tourists until the 1970s.

Waxing a batik. Photo: Alamy.

Andrea translates for me the story of
Manikku Badathuruge Priyani – or Priyani, for short – an internationally
recognised lacemaker. Now 53, she first sat down to lacemaking when she
was five, the fourth generation in her family to do so. Her work is
stocked in local handcraft stores including Lanka Hands and Laksala, and
each year, in her tropical home, she tats snowflakes that are exported
to Finland as Christmas ornaments.

Priyani has a cabinet full of
awards for entrepreneurship thanks to her own one-woman campaign to
preserve the craft by visiting stay-at-home women and disabled women,
giving them knowledge and small orders. You’ll spy Galle lacemakers’
work on the silver screen in Jane Austen movies Persuasion and Mansfield
Park, yet she’s not optimistic about the future of lacemaking.

“It’s
hard to sustain and is dying out rapidly because of the lack of
resources to preserve this craft that has survived for hundreds of years
and preserves our Portuguese heritage,” she says, echoing the time-old
complaint: “Young people are not interested.”

In contrast,
handloomed fabric is enjoying a renaissance, as we Westerners fall in
love with the seeming simplicity of design and clarity of the colours
employed by Sri Lankan designers. Treadle looms weave bright tableware,
and rolls of fabric are on sale in the country’s high-chic shops.

In
KK Collection, Cooper’s interiors shop in Galle, I unfurl cotton
handloomed fabric from its roll. The cotton is woven in villages near
the capital, Colombo, hand-dyed into smart stripes using vegetable dyes,
which creates variation that is frowned upon by puritans but loved by
those of us who see humanity in its imperfection.

Loom weavers at work. Photo: Cresside Collette.

On her tour,
Cresside visits the cloth weavers of Dumbara Valley, Sri Lanka’s
indigenous weavers, who draw on the countryside for inspiration. In
little Henawela village, the traditional motifs of elephants, deer,
peacocks and snakes gallivant along agave fibre stained with plant dyes
and woven into mats. All cotton used in Sri Lankan fabrics is imported,
mostly from India. Sri Lanka is about the same size as Tasmania but with
a population of about 20 million, and while its rumpled geography is
fine for delicate tea terraces, it defers to India’s vast plains to
produce raw cotton.

The bright interiors of another indigenous
design house, Barefoot, are a celebration of all that’s wild and lovely
on the island. In 1958, Barefoot’s founder, textiles designer Barbara
Sansoni, began teaching village women weaving and needlecraft. Under
principal designer Marie Gnanaraj, they now create vivid, high-quality,
hand-woven and hand-dyed fabric while earning a living wage, and their
beautiful fabric, toys and fashion are exported all over the world,
including to Australia.

While I love a good shop, show me the
creator and I’m sold. You’re bringing that person’s skills into your
home. Cresside ventures in to the village workshops around Kandy that
specialise in mat weaving, silversmithing and wood carving, and on to
Matale Heritage Centre, between Kandy and Matale.

The centre is at
Aluwihare, the ancestral home of batik and embroidery artist Ena de
Silva, dubbed Sri Lanka’s grand dame of batik. Her signature pieces are a
wild batik ceiling in the Bentota Beach Hotel and a set of banners of
heroic proportions, hanging in front of Sri Lanka’s parliament. De Silva
is widely regarded as one of the major catalysts in Sri Lanka’s craft
revival: her women’s co-operative operates out of Aluwihare, where local
villagers balance wax and dye to create traditional batik. Their
embroidered cushions and toys are for sale and lunch is also available.

The
time is right for such tours, as Sri Lanka itself awakens to its own
riches. The Colombo National Museum has just opened a new textile
gallery, and there’s an international appreciation for the social
consciousness that guides much of Sri Lanka’s home-bound textiles
workforce.

When I finally, regretfully, leave Sri Lanka, Andrea
and I exchange gifts: flowers and wine for my friend, while she presses a
handmade paper bag into my hands. Inside is a long scarf, dyed strong
fuchsia, grassy green, blood red and a deep royal purple. It is
hand-block-printed with a black motif of stylised flowers and bordered
with strips of gold.

The scarf encapsulates all that is Sri Lanka:
its blazing palette, ebullient nature and the rich embellishment worthy
of a culture of tradition and vivacity.

The writer was a guest of Banyan Lanka Tours and Sri Lanka Tourism.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION
banyanlanka.com; srilanka.travel

GETTING THERE: Singapore
Airlines has a fare to Colombo for about $1125 low-season return from
Sydney and Melbourne including taxes. Fly to Singapore (about 8hr) and
then to Colombo (3hr 40min); see singaporeair.com. Malaysia Airlines
flies via KL from $975 return including tax; see malaysiaairlines.com.

TOURING THERE: Cresside
Collette will lead Active Travel’s next Sri Lanka Textiles & Crafts
tour July/Aug 2014. From $4842, 15 days. 1300 783 188, see activetravel.com.au.
Her next tour is a 20-day tapestry tour of Europe, from London, September 2, priced from $5950. See tapestrytour.blogspot.com.

FIVE MORE TEXTILES TOURS

Burmese Lun-taya acheik, globetrottinggourmet.com

MYANMAR: Join
textile designer and weaver Morrison Polkinghorne from Yangon to Bagan
and Mandalay, where handloomers create weaves at an inch (2.5
centimetres) a day. The tour coincides with Waterfestival. Departs April
next year, from $4500, 14 days, see globetrottinggourmet.com.

LAOS: The
20th-anniversary Laos Textile & Culture tour is escorted by the
head of textiles at the ANU, Valerie Kirk. From Hanoi into Laos’
mountainous villages, the birthplace of Lao weaving, to Luang Prabang
and Vientiane. Departs January 15, next year, from $4375, 17 days, see activetravel.com.au.

INDIA: Gujarat
Tribals + Textiles is a five-star tour through western India exploring
the clothing, jewellery and fabrics of Gujarat’s indigenous people.
Departs January 26, next year, from $US7250 ($8095), 15 days, see mariekesartofliving.com.

MOROCCO: From
Marrakesh to the imperial cities of Rabat and Fez,through museums and
palaces, experiencing Amazigh (Berber) food and hospitality. Departs
September 28, next year, from $3180, 15 days, see culturaltours morocco.com.

BHUTAN
With
textiles artist Barbara Mullan, travel from Paro to the annual Thimphu
Festival, pausing to admire striking architecture and the view from high
mountain passes. Departs each September, from $4290, nine days, see worldexpeditions.com.


This article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald & The Age newspapers (Australia)
Belinda Jackson