After a year of preparations we could finally start our trip to Sri Lanka! We planned on going in 2014, but because of some troubles with the agency we had to postpone it. This time we used another agency – the first and the last time we will use somebody else than me ;-). We gave them my planning and they turned it into a day to day trip. They arranged the plane tickets, our driver and guide, the hotels (with our consent) and the entrance tickets of everything that we wanted to do.
A relaxing journey, you might think. Well, think again. Jagath, our driver had some sleeping problems – as far as we knew. Because after a few days he started sleeping behind the wheels; or at least he was dozing off, which is bad enough. After a few more days he started assuming we’d pay for him as well. Now let me make something clear: we don’t mind paying for our driver/ guide; we don’t mind buying him a coffee or something to eat. We DO mind that he assumed we would do that. We DO mind that he conveniently walked away the moment the bill came. At the end of the two weeks together, we were glad to get away from him…
But, enough with the frustrations :-). Just be careful if you have your own private driver/ guide. Some are actually very good. We came across some that spoke German or Italian, while our driver couldn’t speak proper English.
We visited the greatest part of Sri Lanka, except the northern part. It was a decision I consciously made. The history of the Tamil Tigers wasn’t so far away, and in the travel guides that I had it wasn’t promoted either, except voor Jaffna. But there’s only so much time one has to travel :-).
So what about our journey? You can find our itinerary in the general blog about this trip, so here I’m just going to focus on the cities we’ve visited.
Our plane arrived early in the morning, at 4.45. Almost two hours later we got our luggage and we could go on our way to our hotel. We stayed in the Mirage Hotel, which had a nice view over the railway and the ocean. The travel agency made sure we had an early check-in, so we could rest until the afternoon. In the afternoon we had a guided drive through the city. Not exactly what we expected when they told us we would do a city tour… So every once and a while when we saw something I really wanted to see from up close we asked our driver to stop, so we could get out and shoot some pictures.
During our drive we passed by the beautiful Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque, Galle Face Green, Beira Lake and we visited the Gangamaraya Temple.
In the evening we could enjoy a nice sunset and in the morning we could enjoy the sceneries of the trains passing by, loaded with people who were going to work or something else.
I was relieved we decided not to take the train during our trip…
We left Colombo to go to Hikkaduwa. On our way we stopped at Kosgoda to visit the Turtle Hatchery Farm. Here they collect all the eggs they find at the beach, to make sure that the little turtles can hatch. The male ones are released when they are a few days old, the female turtles are kept for five years before they release them again in the wild. They do this because most of the little ones are males. This way they make sure that the females have a better chance of surviving their first years.
Make sure you already have some small cash with you, because they ask you for money. You don’t have to give them anything. But it’s a nice project – or so it seems.
After that we did a River Safari on the Madu Ganga. This was a very nice trip on the lake! We passed by some mangroves, saw cormorants and other animals (no crocodiles though) and so on. During the trip we also visited Cinnamon Island where you could follow the procesfrom plant to cinnamonsticks or the spice you use in your kitchen.
Our next stop was our hotel, the Hotel Coral Sands, a nice hotel at the beach.
The following morning we left Hikkaduwa to go to Galle and visit the Galle Fort. One of the places I liked the most in Sri Lanka, mainly because it’s a colonial city. Most other cities in Sri Lanka are small, filthy, with concrete buildings. Galle Fort was rather charming. The buildings were nice, you could walk along the beach on the ancient walls. It’s a nice place to spend the day (or half a day).
Driving to Sinharaja equals driving through a beautiful landscape, with tea plantations, forests, waterfalls, … And a lot of rain. If you come from the beaches and the seaside, the scenery is completely different! We loved it. Although we weren’t sure that our forest walk would still go through, because of the bad weather conditions.
We stayed in the Rainforest Eco Lodge. A very nice hotel, with the friendliest staff I’ve ever seen. The food was great – I’ve never eaten a club sandwich like the one we had here 😉 – and they are clever: leaving umbrellas in all the corners of the hotel. The hotel is located in the middle of the rainforest, so you are surrounded by animal sounds. There’s little electricity around and no wi-fi. But we loved the place.
In the afternoon we could do our walk; despite of the rain – and the lingering guide – we could start are walk! Because of the rain, it would be a short walk. We put on our anoraks – also arranged by the hotel – and started walking. Because the rainforest is famous for its leeches, they recommended us soms leech-socks, but we thought that putting our pants in our socks, would be enough protection. Guess what? It wasn’t. But we didn’t know that, until we got back to our room. The moment I took of my shoes, I noticed some blood on my socks and leg… but no leech :-). I was lucky, the leech got stuck on my hand while removing my sock. Long story short: a panic attack. By the two of us. And a thrive to kill them all.
But what about our walk ;-)? We walked towards a waterfall, where we could put our hands (and feet) in the water, so the stonesuckers could give us a free spa treatment. At least something went right today ;-).
From the rainforest to the savannah! That’s what we did while driving towards Tissamaharama. It was safari-time today! We went to the Yala National Park. The national park is famous for its leopards, although it’s also rare to see one. So fingers crossed! But we were excited anyway. Our safari started in the late afternoon. So there was a change we could see some animals, moving and awaking from there siesta. And we did see a lot of animals. We saw birds, crocodiles, monkeys, dears, wild boars… a elephant hidden in the forest. Just one. And just his back. Partly. That was kind of a disappointment. I honestly thought there would be more elephants walking around. I mean, it’s not like they can hide so easily. But no. We saw a third of an elephant in the beginning, and a whole elephant at the end of the safari. But before you think the safari was a complete turn-off… we also saw the leopard! Big whoop! Quite a bit of him (or her) actually. He or she was walking, drinking, resting and walking again. And we were on the front row (a few miles away, but still close enough). Lovely animal :-). And a day to remember.
Our overnight stay was in the Hotel Chandrika.
From the Savannah we went to the mountains. We stayed in the Hotel Country Comfort Ella. In Ella you can climb a lot of mountains. The most famous one is Adam’s Peak. Most people climb this on very early in the morning, to be on the top of the mountain the moment the sun rises. But the best time to do this, is during the dry season. We were visiting Sri Lanka during the rainy season in that part of the island– so they didn’t recommend climbing the mountain. We decided to do the next best thing: we climbed Little Adam’s Peak. Which was okay as well. We started from our hotel and walk towards the start of the climb. From the top of the mountain you had a splendid view over Ella and the surroundings. We also got to see some raptorial birds. Which was awesome :-).
I got high hopes for Nuwara Eliya – very high hopes! But they weren’t fulfilled… Nuwara Eliya is a colonial city. But a filthy colonial city. A filthy and busy one. Actually all the cities in Sri Lanka are kind of a disappointment. All, except maybe Kandy (coming up next ;-)). We slept in the Heaven Seven Hotel.
But the environment is truly worth it. Nearby they have the Horton Plain National Park, which you really need to visit. You have to leave early enough, before sunset – most hotels offer a take-away breakfast. The reason for the early visit is that the earliest you reach the top, called as “World’s End”, the best view you have. But either way, it’s a beautiful national park, with a lot of rhododendrons, dears, … A beautiful start of the day. The walk talks about three hours.
After that it was time to go back on our way. Before heading to Kandy, we stopped in a tea factory. Also, not something I wanted to do… but actually a nice break of the day. We got a guided tour by a female worker (although I don’t think she actually worked there, other than being a guide). We saw how the process of tea-making happened – and how they make different kinds of tea from one leaf. Afterwards we got a cup of really nice tea with a beautiful view ;-).
Before we reached Kandy, we visited the Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya. A very nice garden. We visited the place an hour (or maybe an hour and half) before closing time. It’s a big garden – and a beautiful one. One of the nicest botanical gardens I’ve visited so far. They have different parts in the garden, and they are all unique.
After our garden visit, our driver took us to our hotel, the Serene Grand Hotel. Which was, well rather noisy. But I think that was because we stayed in the basement – or whatever it was.
On our second day it was time to visit some elephants! Originally we planned visiting the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, which has about 60 elephants. If you pay some extra cash you can feed the baby elephants that are walking around. A few times a day they take te elephants to the river for their bath – which is said to be great. But… thanks to our guide all our plans got mixed up. He convinced us of going to the Millenium Elephant Foundation instead. I got mad – again – because he ran late the other day, therefore we couldn’t visit the Pinnawala Orphanage. But, we actually had a great time in the MEF. There are fewer elephants there, I think less than 10. We gave a bath to Kavari Raja, a male elephant who used to “work” in the Temple of the Tooth (later more), but broke his front leg. After giving him a wash, we climbed untop of Rani. We hesitated a lot – well, I hesitated a lot. Because I actually didn’t want to do it, I felt sorry for the elephants. I don’t know what got in to me for doing it in the end. A really didn’t like it at all. Rani was very sweet though, I think she was the easiest elephant because they thought I was scared, hence the hesitation. In the MEF they don’t use any cabins or something on the backs of the elephants. You just sit on their back with – maybe – a blanket under you. So… that’s not the worst you can do. But still, it’s actually no fun at all. I didn’t sat straight (it’s not easy sitting straight with such a huge animal between your legs :p) and everytime she took a step with one foot I thought I was going to fall down. I was glad to get off :-). As a thank you for the ride, we got to feed her some fruits and vegetables afterwards. That I did like :-). And she did too ;-).
After the elephant-experience we got back to Kandy for a city walk. We had to do this alone, resulting in losing half an hour of finding out where on earth we were in this city :-). Once we found where we were, we had to leave again, because we met with our driver. He would take us to a Cultural Dance Show. Again: not something we asked for, but it was amusing. It’s not a waste of time.
After our dance show we had to hurry us back to the city to get to the Temple of the Tooth, where they keep the tooth of Buddha. You might think that in the evening there aren’t a lot of people visiting it. Well, no. The place was crowded. Not only tourist, but also the locals were coming to visit the temple; bringing gifts to Buddha. The temple was very beautiful, although we didn’t see the tooth relic :-). Every year they have the Esala Perahera – the elephant festival. This happens in July and August. During these days, they carry a replica of the tooth around the city. The tooth stands in a little “temple” which is carried around on the back of an elephant. We didn’t see this festival, but it looks amazing.
Busy days in Sigiriya, but what an amazing place! With so much culture and things to be seen and done! We started with a visit to a Spice Garden in Matale, before arriving in Sigiriya. The spice garden wasn’t actually something that I put on my planning (again); but we didn’t bother to cancel it. I wouldn’t recommend this. It’s nice to have a quick walk around the garden, seeing vanilla, cocoa beans, cinnamon, … but it’s not like something special happened, or we got blown away by al the spices in the garden. We did however receive a massage. I got my legs and feet taking care of, the boyfriend his back. And we ended up buying the damn massage oil, without even using it :p.
Next on the list was the Dambulla Rock Cave Temple. Before reaching this temple, you have to climb all the way up, to the top of the rock. Here you have a nice view over the surrounding area. The Cave Temple is really nice! It’s build with the rock as a starting point, and some parts are actually build inside the rock. The Temple was built as a gift, because it once was a shelter for a ‘later-to-be-king’.
In the evening we stayed in the Elephas hotel.
On the second day we had a busy program as well. We left our hotel early to climb the Sigiriya Lion Rock Fortress, to see the ruins of the fortress that once was on top of the rock. Another day, another rock to be climbed. We passed by beautiful frescos of undressed woman, almost got blown away by the wind on top of the mountain and could enjoy a spectacular view. All that with just a little bit of exercise to get there (yes, it’s an understatement – you are going to be dead by the time you’re on top of the rock). Luckily you can take a break in between.
Once you get to the top, it’s hard to imagine there once stood a castle. It’s hard to imagine how they could build something there.
After climbing back down, passing by the Cobra Rock, we left the place and went towards Polonnaruwa. The second capital of what once was the Kingdom of Sri Lanka. You can spend a whole day here, biking around, visiting the ancient ruins. But we went by car and visited the most important ruins – or at least that was what our driver was telling us. I actually didn’t care that we couldn’t see the whole city, because parts of me were already melting away in the blistering heat.
Our last stop of the day was the Minneriya National Park, which I can summarize as “elephants, elephants and more elephants”. Minneriya is known for “The Gathering”, this means that 100’s of elephants come together in the park during the dry season. If you want to see a lot of elephants, tha’s the place to be.
Trincomalee is the best place for a beach stay in Sri Lanka during the time of year that we went. Otherwise it’s better to go to Hikkaduwa or Negombo. But in July and August, Trincomalee offers the best weather.
Before we arrived here from Sigiriya, we did a village safari in Hiriwadunna. Our guide dropped us with a tuktuk-driver, who took us to a nice little home, made of dirt and feces from the animals. The woman of the house was our guide during this “village walk”. She showed us how they originally made their breakfast and so on. The key ingredient for the whole day was a coconut. They used the coconut’s “flesh” to make their breakfast and the shells as drinking cups. The breakfast we made is called “polroti”. We – or at least I – could help as well. Although my skills were way worse than her skills ;-). Normally after that we could get a boatride on the lake. But unfortunately it was too dry and there was no lake left :-). The boat was still there, but without any water, it’s hard to do a boat trip. So of to the final part of the village walk: a ride on an ox carriage. I wasn’t enthusiastic before the start of the “village safari”. But in the end it turned out really well!
After that we went straight to Trincomalee. We stayed at the Nilaveli Beach, which is said to be the nicest beach there is around here. And it was! We stayed in the Pigeon Island Beach Resort. The first afternoon we just spend a day at the beach, together with some cows who wanted to hang out there as well – something I’ve never seen before ;-).
On our second day, we left for a snorkeling trip at Pigeon Island National Park. There aren’t a lot of place there you can rest; because the beach lies full with dead corals. But the underwater world is truly amazing! Although I’m not cut out to be a mermaid – I got several panic attacks because I had to breathe with my head under water 😉 – it was quite something. There was one fish however who didn’t stop staring at me… And why shouldn’t he (or she), when we were doing the same?! The National Park is a very beautiful place for snorkeling and swim around for a bit; but the current is rather strong, so you have to listen to the “lifeguards” and avoid some parts of the island, becauseyou can get hurt (for example: we saw a man who got to close to the corals, because of the current and his whole belly got scratched in a very bad way). So… listen! ;-).
Anuradhapura would be our final day in Sri Lanka – or at least the final day we would actually visit something.
In Anuradhapura you have the ruins of the first ancient capital city of the Kingdom of Sri Lanka. It’s Unesco World Heritage as well. But thanks to our lovely driver and guide, we got to see a tree for a very long time and the ancient ruins for a very short time, in the evening. Thanks Jagath!
Our final day started at the Aukana Buddha Statue. This is ‘the’ statue of the island, a lot of replicas are made throughout the island of this original piece. It’s a huge – gigantic – Buddha statue, and nice to see.
After that it was time for Anuradhapura. I can’t describe how excited I was. I really wanted to see the ruins of the ancient capital – although I already saw comparable ones in Polonnaruwa. But first Jagath took us to the Sacred Bo-Tree, a part of the original tree were Buddha saw the Enlightenment. After seeing the tree for a minute, we were eager to get away from it, towards the ruins. Jagath however had never seen the tree – or a tree, for that matter I think – and didn’t want to leave. At the moment there was also some kind of sacred ritual going on. So we had to get mad (again) before leaving the tree, ruining the rest of the evening and the trip for that matter. It’s was all too much on top of everything else Jagath put us through :-). And we were way to kind, at least back then ;-). So after arguing with our guide, he drove us around the ruins – for as far as we could still see them, as the night was already coming over the island.
In the environment of Anuradhapura there’s a change of malaria as well. We didn’t took any pills, but we did make sure we slept under the mosquito net, and used our mosquito spray quite often.
We stayed in the Hotel Alakamanda. One of the best hotels we slept in during this journey. Accept for the ice cold red wine, everything was very good! I would recommend this place to anyone.
There isn’t so much I can tell you about Negombo. For us it was only a hotel-stop before we had to take our plane to Malé. The only thing we did see was the beach – a filthy and non-pleasant beach – and the fishmarket. We could enjoy a beautiful sunset with some picturesque images as a result, but that’s all folks.
We stayed in the Golden Star Beach Hotel. This wasn’t soundproof neither; kind of a regular thing for us during this trip ;-).