Thailand’s Starbucks Village, Tea Time in Sri Lanka, And More

For a taste of the exotic—and world-class coffee—head to Ban Huay Hom, a tiny village nestled deep in the lofty mountains of northwest Thailand. It’s a scenic hour’s drive on winding, paved roads from Mae Sariang, near the Myanmar border.  The village is so remote that it doesn’t even show up on Google Maps, yet it’s a perfect weekend getaway from the northern hub of Chiang Mai.

Arabica coffee grows well at higher elevations, so the cool, sunny days in 3,300-foot Huay Hom are perfect for growing rich, organic coffee. On any given day, the villagers are either tending their coffee trees; harvesting, preparing, and drying the beans—a three month process—or roasting them for distribution. When the beans are finally ready, they’re sold to Starbucks and other outlets, where they eventually find their way to discerning coffee drinkers everywhere.

The Huay Hom villagers are members of the Karen minority, and they dress in colorful, traditional hand-woven tunics, sarongs, and turbans. You’ll see them sipping coffee from Starbucks mugs and showing off the Starbucks 2004 annual report that featured the village. Best of all, you are unlikely to run across any tourists here—few people other than locals know of this town.

“The coffee is delicious, but even if I wasn’t a coffee drinker, I’d still come here for the amazing scenery and traditional culture,” says International Living Vietnam Correspondent Wendy Justice. “I discovered the village during a tour with Thailand Hilltribe Holidays, and it was a highlight of my trip.”

The Love Tree

If you’re looking for love, why not write to the “Bridegroom Oak,” a 500-year-old tree in northern Germany’s Dodauer Forest, about 100 miles from Hamburg? It’s the only tree in the world with its own mailing address and is said to be responsible for 100 marriages since the tradition began.

In the era of online introduction services, smartphone apps and speed dating, it’s hard to believe that such a quaint custom could survive, but perhaps the old ways are still the best. The tree receives about 1,000 letters a year. The local postman climbs a ten-foot ladder to deliver the letters into a small hollow. This is where people come to look through them. If they find one they like, they reply.

The only rule is that they must put back any letters they don’t want to answer.

It started 128 years ago when a local girl and a young chocolate maker fell in love but were kept apart by the girl’s father.

They placed letters in the tree to secretly communicate and finally, in the summer of 1891, the father relented and the pair were married.

The story inspired romantics to write to the tree and so many letters arrived the postal service gave the mighty oak its own address. What is it? It’s Dodau 99, 23701 Eutin, Germany.

Tea Time in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the top tea producers in the world, and the town of Haputale is at the heart of highland tea country. It’s a good base for exploring the region.

Superb hiking trails lead to the remains of ancient empires and panoramic views. National parks provide some of the best wildlife watching outside of Africa. The country’s diversity of landscape and culture is matched by its rich history. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of the country’s colonial past at the same time as appreciating its breathtaking natural beauty.

For instance, from Haputale it’s easy to get to Lipton’s seat, named for the Scottish tea baron, Sir Thomas Lipton, who used to sit on high and look out over his domains.

Exotic culture and stunning landscapes await in Sri Lanka. ©

A sea of green tea plants carpets the steep, surrounding hillsides, and from this high point you can see the ocean 75 miles away. Take a tuk-tuk up the hill and, if you’re feeling fit, you can walk the 5.5 miles back down the winding road and soak up the exceptional views of the working tea plantations, while getting a brief insight into the lives of those who tend them. Go in the morning, before any mist forms, to insure you get the best view.

Lipton’s seat isn’t the only attraction in this area. You can take one of the most scenic train trips in the world between Ella and the town of Nuwara Eliya. Once the playground of the tea barons, the town and the area around it has been nicknamed “Little England.” Enjoy high tea at the nostalgic Grand Hotel there or play 18 rounds on the lush greens of the golf club, right in the middle of town.

Or simply while away an hour in the subtropical Hakgala Botanic Gardens.—IL Roving Correspondent Sharyn Nilsen.

Join a Battle on Mallorca, Spain

“Every May, islanders on Mallorca celebrate the town of Sóller’s victory over Algerian and Turkish invaders,” writes International Living contributor Mike McDowall.

“The original battle took place in 1561, when there were fewer than 900 citizens in Sóller. So the annual ‘Es Firó’ re-enactment, involving tens of thousands, has far outstripped history.

“The biggest event is staged at port de Sóller, but there are numerous skirmishes around the valley too.

“If you plan to attend, keep an eye out for the many hand-launched fireworks and inexpertly wielded swords. Smoke grenades are thrown around with abandon, and the event is a good excuse for local boat captains to have a clear-out of any expired emergency flares. Despite its absolute disregard for health, safety, and sanity, I’ve witnessed no injuries.”

Es Firó events take place throughout May. The battle re-enactments are due to be held on May 14.

Byron Bay’s Prettier Sister

“If you’re heading Down Under, chances are you’ve heard of Byron Bay—the hip, beach-loving New South Wales town located just a short flight from Sydney.

“But Byron Bay isn’t the sleepy seaside village the tourist brochures would have you believe,” says IL contributor Michelle Hammond. “Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly crowded and commercial.

“Fortunately, there are plenty of nearby spots that are just as special…minus the lines and inflated prices. Like Bangalow, a leafy little town just a 20-minute drive from Byron Bay.

“Here you’ll find some amazing, reasonably priced cafés (I highly recommend the Niçoise salad at the Corner Kitchen), beautiful boutiques, enchanting galleries, and a selection of fantastic yoga studios.

“Both towns are definitely worth a visit, but the prettier Bangalow just might surprise you.”

DID YOU KNOW? The world’s largest outdoor swimming pool holds 66 million gallons of water and is 3,323 feet long. It’s found on the seafront of the San Alfonso del Mar resort near Valparaiso in Chile.