Sri Lanka

Trip Start Sep 09, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

After a near missed departure from Auckland airport (thanks to our travel agent’s misinterpretation of ‘ Street Bird’ s as a last name we arrived safely after 25 hours of travel, very tired and very pleased to greeted by a driver at Colombo airport after having booked into a high end hotel (the Galle Face) in Colombo where we were treated like royalty.  

After a great nights sleep in luxury we set out to explore Colombo and began planning the rest of our trip at the other end of the luxury scale – with a daily budget of roughly 1/8 of the amount we had just spent on our first night’s accommodation.   We also had out first eating with our hands experience at a local lunch bar in Colombo.  Sri Lankans believe you can’t properly appreciate the texture and experience of eating unless you use your hands.  It was interesting at first but we both quite enjoy it now.

At the train station we were talked into signing up for a 3 day tour with a private driver that we were a little apprehensive of at first and it turned out rightly so.  It started off well, we caught the train from Colombo to Kandy and enjoyed the observation carriage. Awesome views as we chugged our way up into the highlands. We had a driver waiting for us who dropped us at a lovely guest house overlooking tropical plants and a small river.After the first day of the tour however our apprehensions were confirmed, we had spent far more than we needed to and ended up being farmed around touristy, overpriced sites and activities (with the exception of the Royal Botanical Gardens which were established in the 1800s and were incredible – it was also an auspicious calendar day to get married and we stumbled upon multiple wedding parties having photos throughout the gardens).  We had a rather disappointing and very expensive trip to an Elephant orphanage (was cool to see the elephants but felt too touristy and we were dubious about the elephants’ treatment) followed by a cultural dance (far too touristy) then a quick walk around a Buddhist temple (temple of the tooth relic) then home

The next day of the tour was disappointingly more touristy.  We had two temples on the itinerary but managed to talk our driver out of taking us to the second one (each temple costs around $15 NZD per person to visit over here and once you’ve seen one …).  We were then conned out of far too much money at an ayurvedic/traditional natural spice garden and healing farm – they clearly saw Emily the hypochondriac coming and managed to talk us into walking away with tooth whitening paste (think it’s just baking soda), hair removal cream (think it’s just veet), hair growing cream … Richard is waiting for the results (and has since shaved his head to monitor the results accurately), a cream for aches and pains, and detox pills!!.  They even managed to con us into getting asthma pills for Debbie and cholesterol pills for Richard (Bird) … including postage to NZ … will be interesting to see if they arrive. 

Day two of the tour ended better than it had begun with a visit to Sigiria a rock in the middle of nowhere, similar to Ayres Rock in Australia and the site of an ancient King’s palace (the king apparently had 500 queens …). It was really interesting with amazing views.  Then we were lucky enough to have a private tour of a Sri Lankan police station as our driver had to sort a traffic offence.  The station and the police were very relaxed (although all were armed) and were quite exited to talk to us.  It was interesting to see an unlocked and unguarded room full of guns of various types and sizes.  We were eventually asked to please quickly leave when a ‘bad man’ was escorted in and the police were worried about our safety. 

After leaving the tour we’ve been having a great time (and spent considerably less money). We spent half a day wandering round Kandy city center where Richard enjoyed a local barber trip – bye bye  (for now) hair – a cut-throat shave and a vigorous head massage and we ate delicious, cheap street food.  We then trained from Kandy to Ella – incredible scenery through jungle, tea plantations, rice paddies and forest. We spent three days in Ella – a beautiful sleepy town in the central highlands surrounded by tea plantations with great walks (including good walks along the train tracks – not as dangerous as it sounds as the speed limit for trains is 15k/hr) and amazing views.   

We did a day trip from Ella to the Horton Plains national park and the ‘world’s end’ walk which is over terrain similar to the North Island’s Dessert Road and which apparently has amazing views over the island out to the coast on a clear day.  We didn’t get a clear day and the walk was a little disappointing but it was interesting to see the natural diversity of the island – it was about 15 degrees cooler up on the plains than in Ella. 

After Ella we drove to Marissa, a quiet beach town on the south coast.  We had a great first day lounging by the beach but the weather packed in today.  As there wasn’t a lot to do in there other than lay in the sun we packed up this afternoon and tuk tuked to Unawatuna, a more touristy, slightly larger beach village.  We’re really enjoying it here so far having just finished a delicious Arabian Mixed Grill platter at a cute café/restaurant run by two Arbaic and Canadian guys – was quite exciting to have a break from ‘Sri Lankan Rice and Curry’ which is delicious but can get a bit tedious when that’s all you eat.

We’ll probably spend a few days here in Unawatuna, depending on weather, and a day or so in Galle (old Portugese settlement with apparently beautiful architecture) before flying out to Kerala in India early on the 22nd

Sri Lanka’s been a blast but we’re both really looking forward to India!
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