”Hello”, ”Hello?” BEEP ”Sir?”, ”Hello, you from?” BEEP ”Hello?” BEEP ”Tuk tuk?” BEEP ”Hello”, ”Where you go, sir?” BEEP BEEP BEEP Hearing this almost every minute of being outside can eventually drive you crazy. I thought that by now, after so many travels, I would be immune to it but I’m not. It is kind of funny at the beginning but after a while you get tired of it. And I don’t mean it in a nasty way. Sri Lankan people are very friendly and nice. They were often offering help without asking for anything in exchange. However having my experience from other Asian countries I was very cautious about any new acquaintances.
Sri Lanka has been on my list for a few years and I finally managed to tick this beautiful country of my list. Its diverse landscapes range from rainforest and arid plains to highlands and sandy beaches. It’s famed for its ancient Buddhist ruins, including the 5th-century citadel Sigiriya, and with its palaces and frescoes. Again, a lot to see and only 10 days. Let me tell you how I managed to travel around and hopefully you will find it useful for your own trip.
I started my adventure in Colombo, capital and the financial centre of the island as well as a popular tourist destination. It is located on the west coast with estimated population of 5.6 million in the metropolitan area and around 750 000 in the city itself. I stayed pretty much in the central part of the city, 15 minutes from the centre and 15 minutes from the Fort and Pettah. I very often choose to find my accommodation through booking.com as I get sweet discounts for using them a lot and I can always control what accommodation is the most convenient. This time I chose Zak Residences which are self catering spacious apartments with massive beds, air condition and a bathroom. And in the tropical weather of 30 degrees and more you will regret not having the a/c in your room. I paid there 30 USD per night for an apartment that can fit up to 4 people. I also stayed in a hostel called CityRest Fort which is situated in the Fort, just few hundreds metres from the Fort Railway Station. It is a shared dorm hostel, with really good facilities (also a/c and good Wi-Fi). Clean rooms, good bathrooms, and amazing breakfast for around 15 USD per person per night.
Public transport in Colombo is quite hard to work out as there are no timetables or routes explained anywhere, even on the Internet (unless something has changed) so you need a local to explain you how to get to the desired place by bus. Having said that, tut tuts (rikshas) are a very cheap way to travel around the city, you just have to be careful to get the right price. It should be roughly 50 LKR per kilometre. Because of the location of the apartment I stayed in I pretty much walked everywhere working on my 10k steps a day challenge.
If you want to feel the vibe of old Colombo you should hang out in Pettah. Place full of local markets and street food. If you want to experience modern part of the city, just stay in the city centre or Fort. There are quite a few places definitely worth visiting. Gangaramaya Temple is one of the main attractions. It’s the biggest Buddhist temple with many rooms and museums and places where you can sit down and stay with your own thoughts. I think I spent there about 30 min and then head to a smaller temple – Seema Malaka which is just around the corner by the lake. The combined ticket for both of these temples is 300 LKR. There are a few smaller temples, churches and mosques that you can find spread out around the city. Also the Viharamahadevi Park is a nice place for a little break and even picnic by a little pond.
I would say that two full days are enough to see the highlights of the city and get used to the climate.
I spent one of the mornings planning my next days. At the end I had two drafts as I kept changing the plans. I used the Sri Lankan train schedules online to have an idea about the connections and timings. However do not trust those too much. I went to the station to purchase the tickets to find out that the train I wanted is already booked out for the next 4 days. So I sat down and started thinking what to do next. I didn’t have many choices. The only place I could have gone the next day was Kandy. So that’s where I went…
Trains in Sri Lanka have three classes. 1st is with reservations only, comfy seats that you can move around to the direction of the journey, air conditions and tv screen playing different movies. 2nd class is also with reservations, normal seats with fans attached to the ceiling. But you can open the windows which you can’t do in the 1st class. 3rd class is with no reservations so you can purchase the ticket on the day if it’s not full yet. People in that class are mainly standing and hanging out of the doors. Not very convenient if you have 6 hours journey ahead. I can definitely suggest one thing. For longer journeys along the coast take 1st class if possible. Going up the mountain take 2nd as it is cooling down and you can take good photos because of the opened windows. On really short journeys take the 3rd class (sometimes that’s the only available) just for the experience.
Kandy is a major city in Sri Lanka, located in the Central Province. The city lies in the midst of hills in the Kandy plateau, which crosses an area of tropical plantations, mainly tea. Kandy is the home of The Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa), one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world. Entrance to the Temple costs 1500 LKK for foreigners raising up to 2000 LKK from 1st January 2017 and it should be on your bucket list even if you are not a Buddhist.
The city’s heart is scenic Kandy Lake (Bogambara Lake), which is popular for strolling. It is surrounded by a busy road but you can still enjoy an hour walk around and take some good photos.
There are a lot of trekking opportunities in the city. You can walk up to the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue on the top of the hill. It costs 200 LKK for foreigners and it is called a compolsary donation rather than an entrance fee. You can also walk around the Udawatta Kete Sanctuary if you want to have a break from a busy city and looking for a little escape from people. It is a park in the middle of the city and you can easily spend there couple of hours. The views are not the greatest but it is a nice walk and you can spot some local animals. For the views you should head to the view point on the other side of the lake (from the Park). It’s not really an official spot but you get really cool views.
In Kandy there is also a Local Dance Show where you can learn more about the culture. It costs 1000 LKK and I think it is a bit overratted. I didn’t find it that exciting but it is one of the things you should go and see. I don’t like that even though you pay a lot of money they still try to force tipping at the end of the show.
I stayed in 256 Townhouse Rest which is a small guest house located less than 10 min walk from the lake. It cost me 20 USD per night with a/c and good breakfast for a private double bed room.
One of the good places to eat if you are already missing some Western food is ‘Licensed to Grill’ where you can get really good burgers.
From Kandy I took a train to Nanu Oya. Beautiful train ride up the mountains where I passed hundreds of tea plantations. I was planning to have a nap but I couldn’t have – too beautiful outside to miss the views and hundreds of tea plantations. From Nanu Oya I took a local bus which is on the main road just outside the station, to Nuwara Eliya for 25 LKK. You can also take a tuk tuk for 400 LKK. It’s only 9km away. In Nuwara Eliya I stayed in New Tour Inn. It was a nice hotel with good breakfast and location. Just 5 min walk away from the bus station. But… you have to pay extra for the heating – 6 USD and I had a bird nest in my bathroom which resulted in having unwanted visitors and some bird’s poo in my shower. However I don’t think it is common so overall I can recommend it. I paid 27,5 USD per night for a double bed room.
I spent the rest of the day walking around the town, lake Gregory and local markets. The next day I booked myself a trip to the Horton Plains National Park which cost me 3500 LKK for the transport both ways (it is per car so you can fit more people in it) and another 3000 LKK for the entrance. The pick up was at 6:30 am and it took around an hour to get to the place. I did the 9 km trek around the mountains in 3 hours and it was absolutely stunning. The Horton Plains is a protected area covered by montane grassland and cloud forest. The key attraction is the ‘World’s End’ which is a beautiful look-out of the valley and surrounded mountains.
From Nuwara Eliya I went back to Nanu Oya and took a train back to Colombo. I suggest booking these trains in advance to avoid stressful situations.
I wish I could have stayed there a bit longer. There is so much more to see. I know what’s left to see and I know that one day I will tick it all off from my bucket list. For Sri Lanka I would recommend about 3 weeks to see all the places and have a couple of days to lay down on one of the beautiful beaches.
Currency – what to take with me?
You can easily change GBP, EUR, USD, AUD. The bigger notes you have the better exchange rates you will get.