After a few luxurious and fun days in Singapore we headed to Sri Lanka.
Our first stop was the capital, Colombo. Our flight was easy and uneventful.
Once we landed in Colombo we tried to find the taxi rank so as to not get ripped off or scammed. We ended up outside the airport where lots of random men with cars were asking if we wanted a taxi into town. There was no taxi stand, no taxi signs on the cars, no meters… were these guys legitimate? We ended up settling on a price and hoped that we were going to get dropped off in the right place!
We were heading to the YMCA in the center of Colombo. The airport was a good hour drive from Colombo. The streets were not nearly as busy or dirty as in India. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the YMCA, so we made it safely without any problems at all. So far so good!
We went into the YMCA via the back entrance as that is where the taxi driver had dropped us. We went through the restaurant to get to the reception area. We should have known what the state of the hostel was going to look like after seeing the restaurant area! The room was very basic, two single beds pushed together, the mattresses air thin and rather hard, a table, chair and chest of drawers and a toilet and bath. The windows did not close and were just metal slates so we got bitten to death that night by mosquitoes! All part of the experience!!!
Once settled in our fine abode, we headed out to explore the city. We enjoyed walking around. Some magnificent old colonial buildings. As we headed in the direction of the ocean we were approached twice at different points by men telling us to follow them as we were so lucky to be in Colombo today as the country’s biggest Buddhist festival was on and we could go and see it, as well as elephants! The only problem for them was that the Lonely Planet had warned us about this scam. It was hilarious that these men both had exactly the same story and both happened to work at the Hilton Hotel, but it was their day off! Nice try trying to authenticate your story by saying you worked at the reputable Hilton Hotel. Once we were able to get away from these men we enjoyed our walk along the waterfront and stopped to watch some cricket being played by local lads.
It was the weekend, so Colombo was rather quite and not much was open. There was hardly anyone on the street and we had a very hard time trying to find a place to eat. We ended up in a rather strange enclosed restaurant that was overpriced and not that great!
From Colombo we were planning on heading down south. We went to the train station to see how we would get to the south. We asked about trains and then saw a tourist information bureau so went in and asked them about getting trains. We were told that the weather in the south was very wet and stormy and the man suggested we head north first as in a week or two the weather would improve. We listened to his suggestions and had a think about it all. We ended up heading north to the ancient cities.
From the Fort Railway Station in Colombo we took the train 5 hours north to Anuradhapura, the old capital and one of Sri Lanka’s ancient cities. The train ride was great! The scenery was so beautiful, lots of green, lush rice fields and local homes.
Once we arrived in Anuradhapura we were accosted by tuk tuk drivers saying they had a great guesthouse for us to stay in. We settled on a price with a tuk tuk driver that would take us to the guesthouse we wanted to go to. Once we got to the guesthouse we were told it was full and that the tuk tuk driver would take us for no extra cost to another guesthouse. Was the guesthouse really full or was it another carefully planned scam? Interesting to see how some folks operate around the world. It all seemed a little dodgy but we went with it. We got to the guesthouse and the room was big and clean and had a mosquito net, which was a must after we were eaten alive in Colombo.
We decided to rent bicycles and ride around the ancient city. We had to ride a good 30 minutes to the entrance, where we then had to buy tickets to Anuradhapura and any of the other ancient cities. It was USD 50 for entrance to one ancient city or USD 100 for three cities. We decided to buy the ticket to all three ancient cities as we would be working our way from Anuradhapura to Kandy via the other cities. We managed to bike around and see the main dagobas (temples) that were still standing in the old city. We also got to see the sacred Bodhi tree, which according to Sri Lankans is the oldest tree in the world. Not sure how they work that out, but we will give them that one!
Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka from 300 to 1070 AD and during this period it was one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in Asia. The ancient is still to this day surrounded by Buddhist monasteries covering an area of over 40 square kilometers. Anuradhapura is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
We spent all day biking around the ancient city of Anuradhapura and whilst it was a great adventure we both agreed that it was not as spectacular as we expected it to be. Most of the ruins were very run down and in a severely deteriorating state. Nevertheless absorbing the history and importance of this city was a great experience.
We headed back to our guesthouse for a set meal as there is not a huge restaurant concept in Sri Lanka. You mostly order food at your guesthouse in the morning and they prepare it for you for dinner. It is most of the time a curry and lots of vegetable side dishes. The food in Sri Lanka was not as spicy as Indian food, but was still delicious. The guys at our guesthouse were very accommodating and made our overnight stay enjoyable
Our next stop was the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. We got up early in the morning and made it just in time for the local bus to Polonnaruwa. After 3 hours on the bus we finally made it to our destination. It was about 12pm so we had 4 hours at the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, before needing to catch a bus to Sigiriya which is where we were going to sleep for the night.
As soon as we got off the bus, as per normal, we were approached by local men offering to drive us around the ancient city. After walking around the town we were able to negotiate a driver for a third of the price for four hours to drive us around the ancient city. Our driver was very friendly and didn’t hassle or try to sell us stuff during the day – this meant we liked him! I think we both preferred this stop to Anuradhapura.
Polonnaruwa is the second most ancient city of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms and it was first declared the capital city by King Vigayabahu I in 1070 AD. King Vigayabahu I considered Polonnaruwa a more strategic location where trade and agriculture production flourished. The king was adamant that no drop of water from the heavens would be wasted and so built an irrigation system that were far superior to those of the Anuradhapura age.
Although we got caught in the rain at the first site, it cleared quickly and we were able to see the whole ancient city much more easily as we had a tuk tuk take us around this time! Not old, hard-seated bikes! We enjoyed the lovely green areas around Polonnaruwa as well as some of the very well preserved Buddha statues. Polonnaruwa was a spectacular site, enjoyed by us at a time that was not yet high season. It was quite something to wander around this ancient city being at times the only two people exploring the ruins.
Sri Lanka, like so many of the other places we have visited on our travels, is usually explore on a few different routes. Having travelled from Colombo to Anuradhapura and now Polonnawura, we were beginning to make friends along the way with fellow backpackers who we would see at various times during our trip. This would continue all the way back to Colombo!
Our next local bus ride was from Polonnaruwa to Sigiriya. We enjoyed catching the local buses all around Sri Lanka, they were cheap, frequent and easy to find. We were able to see the scenery along the way as well as really experience and immerse ourselves in the local way of life and culture.
The bus ride from Polonnaruwa to Sigiriya was no problems at all as we were now experts on public transport in Lanka!
Once we arrived in Sigiriya we were kindly dropped off by the bus driver right outside the guesthouse we wanted to stay. The guesthouse was full as well as the one across the street. The guesthouse we got dropped off at called around to try and find us a place to stay. It was dark and late so we took the room he found for us, paying way too much I think! However, we needed a room and did not have any choice. After checking in we had a great curry meal at the hotel before heading to bed as we had an early start.
Sigiriya, the last of the ancient cities we had to visit was a very large sacred rock. Sigiriya, meaning Lion’s rock, is a large stone, ancient rock fortress and palace ruin. It is surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs and other structures. Sigiriya along with the other ancient cities is a UNESCO world heritage site. Sigiriya may have been inhabited during pre historic times and another theory is that it was a monastery from about the 400 BC with caves built by devotees of the Buddhist Sangha. More history about Sigiriya reveals that King Kashyapa had the entire complex built around 500 AD and once he died it was used as a Buddhist monastery until around 1300.
We woke early as to not have the midday sun and we were told the earlier we went the better. We were able to walk from our hotel to the summit. We enjoyed the morning hike up this incredible rock. It was amazing! We walked past water gardens as well as the royal gardens. We were glad the stairs held up as they were very old and rusty! You have to love “health and safety” standards in Asia! They are almost non-existent! On the way up we stopped at a cave with frescoes depicting stories of women and what went on during that time. We eventually made it to the summit and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery before making our way back to our guesthouse.
I think of all three ancient cities Sigiriya was our favorite followed by Polonnawura and Anuradhapura.
Another local bus ride from Sigiriya to Kandy via Dambulla. We arrived at the hectic bus terminal, went to one corner and were per usual approached by several tuk tuk drivers. We told them we were fine and if we needed them we would let them know!
It was great to be with Dean as they always spoke to and harassed him. It was like I was not there and did not exist! So nice, a much easier and better experience than when I was in India! When Dean was around it was “Sir would you like/want etc…” and I did not! Anyway, we worked out what where we wanted to stay and then bartered with the tuk tuk driver. Once happy with the price we were on our way. The crazy thing was that our several hour-long bus journeys were SO cheap that we found tuk tuk drivers taking us on a 5-minute journey more expensive! We got dropped off at “Lake Bungalow” where we ended up staying for a two nights. It was a lovely place, right next to Kandy Lake run by a lovely lady who spoke perfect English and had a beautiful German Sheppard called Chloe.
We really enjoyed Kandy and thought it was a very chilled out, well laid out town. We walked around Lake Kandy which is a very relaxing experience. We saw local birds, frogs, massive monitors on the edge of the lake and other wildlife, animals, reptiles and amphibians. Other than the lake that we thought was really beautiful we also thoroughly enjoyed the local market there. It was clean, well laid out and fun to walk around.
We also found some great places to eat and enjoyed trying some local specialties such as hoppers and string hoppers. A must is the New Muslim Hotel in Kandy. The food is magnificent and cheap, but be warned men in the front and chicks out the back!
We had a great walking tour of the city and saw some beautiful old buildings as well as the Asgiriya International Cricket Ground at Trinity College. We really enjoyed Kandy and would recommend it as a stop if you are going to Sri Lanka.
One of our highlights of our trip was the train ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. Dean really enjoyed it as he was able to hang out the side of the train and take pictures whilst the train was winding through the mountain region. The scenery was simply breathtaking and a must do in Sri Lanka! We had paid for second-class seats, however, that section of the train was so full we sat in third class. It was fine, just happy to have a seat! We sat next to very friendly locals that shared their food with us and kept pointing out the window whenever there was a picture worthy moment. The scenery just kept getting better! There were amazing peaks and what seemed an endless number of tea plantations!
Nuwara Eliya is in the high plains of Sri Lanka and we were shocked at how cold it was! Once we found a guesthouse to stay we were served hot tea to warm up. We went for a little exploring of the town center when we arrived. The town center is not very big and is along one main drag. We walked it in about 30 minutes. It consisted of local shops, convenience stores, a central market, local restaurants, a golf course, Sri Lanka Turf Club for horse racing, a cricket ground, police station and post office. All that a small town needed.
Once we had sorted out our stay in Nuwara Eliya we had some great local food. Each stop in Sri Lanka we were getting better and better at finding great local food! We tried to stay warm in our room that night, but with no heating, five layers, long pants and socks we were still cold! Poor Dean was even colder as I stole all the blankets from him. When he woke up in the morning I was nice and snuggled in the blankets while he was freezing with no blankets! We never expected it to be this cold in Sri Lanka because up north at the ancient cities it was so hot! They do get snow in Nuwara Eliya and we were quite high up at around 2000 plus meters, so I guess it has to get cold at that altitude!
We organized to be collected in a JEEP the next morning at 5:30am to go to Horton Plains. Horton Plains is located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, about 1.5 hours from Nuwara Eliya. It is about 2,300 meters above sea level and is rich in biodiversity and many species found here are endemic to the local region. The original name of the national park was Maha Eliya Thenna, but during British rule it was renamed after the British Governor of Ceylon, Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton.
We were picked up by our JEEP and had about an hour and a half drive to Horton Plains. The ride was very bumpy and windy! We made it to the park entrance where we had to pay our USD 150 entry fee (nothing for locals) before entering the national park. We enjoyed a three-hour walk through the nature reserve park. The scenery and colors were magnificent and we were very lucky with the weather as our guide had told us that the past few days they had a lot of rain. We saw a gorgeous waterfall as well as a lot of wildlife and flowers. When we got to the two main lookout points the fog and mist had rolled in so much that we were unable to see the views. One of the main vantage points is called “World’s End” and on a clear day you can apparently see the coast of Sri Lanka, but be warned don’t go to close to the edge as it is an 880 meter sheer drop! According to local guides an Australian man in his 50’s died in front of his wife and daughter two weeks earlier when he got to close to the edge, tried to take a photograph at vertigo and then his backpack overbalanced him off the cliff…very sad!
From Horton Plains we headed to Labookellie Mackwoods Tea Plantation, which at over 2000 meters above sea level was founded in 1841 by Captain William Mackwood. On the way there we drove past Ambewela Farm where we saw some Jersey cows and we were able to sample some of the delicious dairy products (not to worry Jersey Beans the Jersey dairy is better!). Once we arrived at the tea plantation, we had a tour of the factory and were told all about the tea picking, drying and making process. It was very interesting and we were also able to sample and buy some of their tea. Sri Lanka is now the second biggest producer of tea in the world. Check out all our pictures on Horton Plains, Labookellie Mackwoods Tea Plantation and the dairy farm…and you be the judge!
Towards the end of the day we visited the Sri Lanka Turf Club and Cricket Club. The cricket ground is located inside the horse-racing track. We watched the end of a cricket game and then walked over to the horse racing track. Dean was speaking to one of the local jockeys and ask him if he could ride a horse around the track. No health and safety, no helmet or protective gear, but lucky for Dean his mount was a cross between a stallion and pony. One of the funniest things I have seen on our trip so far…I am not quite sure if Dean was riding the horse or the horse was riding Dean! (see pictures of the size of the horse, well pony I think! Hilarious)
Nuwara Eliya was another fantastic and historically rewarding stop on our Sri Lanka leg of our world trip!
Bye Bye Nuwara Eliya hello Ella, Ella, Ella (the song goes with the umbrELLA). Another local bus ride, well in fact two buses to get from Nuwara Eliya to Ella.
Checked into our digs and after that ventured into the village. On our way into the village we came across a two meter plus black snake. Needless to say we got away from it very quickly. Fortunately we had a good 4 meter head start so we legged it quickly. A very, very small and chilled out village with an uber cool café called Freedom Cafe. In the evening we enjoyed some down time and hanging out with two fun Germans, Fanny and Chris. They were both traveling on their own and were staying at the Rawana guesthouse as well. We had a great evening hanging out with them, having a few drinks and listening to all of Fanny’s funny flight attendant stories!
The next morning we enjoyed hiked up Little Adam’s Peak. Another opportunity to experience the ever so much incredible landscapes that Sri Lanka offers.
The gorgeous beach town of Mirissa was our next stop. Bus journey from Ella to Mirissa took about 7 hours in total, so by the time we arrived in Mirissa we were well spent for the day!
We found a great little guesthouse right on the beach. Not only was it right on the beach, it had great fresh seafood and had the cutest four puppies ever! They are by far the cutest dogs we have seen in Asia as well as the cleanest! Later on we learnt why…it was because a Slovenian couple who were staying in Sri Lanka for 3 months decided to get these strays vaccinated and jabbed up. So these little pups will get an opportunity to live now! Shame about some animals in these countries, especially the dogs as the local authorities seem to just let strays roam the streets and bred as they want. Most of the dogs looks sick, full of worms and probably have rabies.
We enjoyed a few days of relaxation on the beach, some walks and great swimming in the waves! We met a lovely couple from Slovenia (Martin and Eva) and hung out with them while we were in Mirissa. We really enjoyed their company and had a fun few days. We actually had seen them in our travels back in Nuwara Eliya, as well as in Ella and Horton Plains!!! Just by chance they were now staying in the room next door to us in this three room guesthouse in Mirissa.
After backpacking and hiking through the ancient cities and the hill country of Sri Lanka it was nice now to relax by the Indian Ocean for three days before heading on to Galle.
Our last stop in Sri Lanka before heading back to Colombo to catch our flight to Malaysia was Galle.
It was only a short bus ride from Mirissa. Our tuk tuk driver from the bus station took us to a guesthouse inside the Old Portuguese Fort town of Galle. I walked around trying to get the best deal for us while Dean waited with the backpacks. I was in my element and without Dean in toe, I was able to barter down the price a lot more than if he was with me! We should have done this from the start! Dean should have waited around the corner while I dealt with the owners (who were 99% of the time males) in order to get a better deal!
Anyway.. we got a good room for a good price, checked in and then walked around the old fort walls before heading to the Galle International Cricket Ground as there was a game being played. After the cricket match we wandered around for a while and then headed back to our guesthouse. As the internet connection was strong we were able to update some of our website and check our mails as the internet connection until this point had not been great in Sri Lanka.
The next morning we purposefully awoke early to enjoy a walk around the walls of the old fort at dawn. A gorgeous walk and scenery. On one side there was the Indian Ocean and on the other side beautiful Portuguese, Dutch and British Colonial buildings including a Lighthouse and Clock Tower. Quite simply Galle and more specifically inside the fort walls is one of the most unique combinations of Sri Lankan culture and European architecture.
After our lovely morning walk we had a delicious breakfast on a roof top terrace overlooking the Lighthouse and Indian Ocean – can it get any better. We enjoyed a chilled out afternoon walking around the streets outside the fort walls. We both got hair cuts - the cheapest hair cut I have ever had at $3.50 and Dean only paid $1! We loved Galle and wished we had spent more time there before heading back toward Colombo to catch our flight the next morning.
We left Galle by bus and made it to Colombo city center late that night. We then had to hop on another bus to take us to a guesthouse near the airport as we had an early flight then next morning. We found a cheap room for the night and after a good night sleep we were off the next morning back to KL for the sixth time since September!