The driver was on time and the car was very comfortable. Saffron 21 Spice Grove was the first stop, and the tour, given by a student of natural medicine, was very well done. A "free" herbal oil massage was offered (and it was very good), but I was strongly urged to tip afterward (which was fine and I did).
Unfortunately, things took a sour note when the shop I was taken to after the tour tried very aggressively to push me to spend. I was interested in some of the remedies, but they were always trying to push me to buy the biggest bottle and never telling me there were smaller ones until I said they were too expensive. And when I decided I just wanted a few small bottles to try, the staff immediately turned from very friendly to stone-faced.
That place reeked of dishonesty.
The driver then took me to an elephant "sanctuary" which was not mentioned in the online description I read when I made the booking. I have always been skeptical about these "sanctuaries", and when I realised that even feeding and patting the elephants would cost LKR5,000, I said no.
Luckily, the Geragama Estate as a pleasant experience. The in-house guide and all the staff were helpful and friendly, and the tour was informative but not too long or overloaded. After a complimentary cup of tea and very delicious biscuits, I was allowed to browse the tea shop leisurely (in contrast to the pushy experience at Saffron 21), and prices are reasonable (although there are also premium varieties one is free to splurge on). I ended up spending much more at the tea shop than I did at the herbal/spice shop.
I wish the tour would include a quick stroll up to the plantations. I only had enough time to look at them from the foot of the hill.
There was no lunch arrangement, and by the time I was back in the hotel, it was almost 5pm. It was a long day to last without anything to eat after breakfast. It would have been nice to have a quick stop for a bite in the afternoon, even if it's just a quick roti.