Initially, Sri Lanka was not in our plans. We planned go to Malaysia, then India. During our research during while in Vietnam, it turned out that the price of flight tickets to Sri Lanka was cheaper, and especially it will bring us closer to India. So we arrived in Sri Lanka at Colombo airport from Phom Phen in a late evening. The airport is located near the seaside resort of Negombo and so we chose to spend our 1st night here before taking the bus to the north the next morning. Arriving late around midnight, that does taxis and tuk-tuks driver to offer us overpriced rates, happy Asia, we still found a tuktuk for 1200 rupees after several round of negociation. When we reached the hotel, the tuk-tuk driver says thank you and didn't not want to give us the change back !!! He told it to us with a smile of course and left, letting us with a really bad feeling and of course few extra 200 rupees in his pocket! This will be the only bad surprise of the evening, the room we booked is very good, and we spend a very good night before taking a bus the next day to Anuradhapura.
On the bus again to Anuradhapura
It is really very very easy to move from places to places in Sri Lanka. There are many public and private bus lines as well as a well-developed rail network with really cheap prices both! There is no direct bus Negombo-Anuradhapura, so we made a stop at the bus station in the city of Kurunegala, first real contact with Sri Lankan!
People are very curious and approach us very easily. They inform us without problem to find our bus to Anuradhapura. We opt for a local bus, without air conditioning and packed, but it will cost us a little less than 1 EUR per person for a journey of 3 hours!
Arriving in Anuraradhapura, we did not book any room for that night and that time it was a good idea! We meet Supon by chance, a really kind Tuk-tuk driver who offers us to see a hotel that we spotted online. After looking at the rooms, we were not really convinced about that place. That's when Supon surprisingly told us ( what most of the tuktuk drivers would have done before ) he has a guest house with his wife with a brand new room available! What a good surprise! After having dropped our stuff in this little paradise, we spent an hour to relax in the peacefulness of his place, then Supon drove us to Mihintale which is 16km Anuradhapura and is known for its ancient city and its great Dagoba.
This is a very good spot to watch the sunset. We are Poya Day (Full Moon) and there is a big Buddhist celebration on the site. People are dressed in white and go to the temple with their families to pray. The monkeys are also in the game! If you followed our adventures, you know that the monkeys and Manu do not mix really well! But nothing happened that evening !
Anuradhapura: first capital of Sri Lanka
The ticket to visit the old city / capital costs 25Euros per person, which is really expensive, but there is another way. It's to visit part of this site for free so we choose this option and Supun, explained where to go and not go to not pay the XNUMX EUR! We have seen some tourists doing tour in bikes and our hosts also offers bike rental, so we left to visit the old capital on two wheels!
We visited ancient monasteries, ruins, Buddhist temples but above those we visited one of the most sacred sites of Buddhism: Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. This is a tree that comes from a re-planted branch of the sacred tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. Magical!
During our stay at Supon's place, we tasted many Sri Lankan specialties such as rice and curry, sri lankan dosas, a kind of large pancakes accompanied by dhal (mashed lentil soup) and other curries. We really loved it because it's close to Indian cuisine!
Dambulla and its surroundings
The 2th stage of our trip in Sri Lanka will bring us to the city of Dambulla in the central region of the country. We have in there a nice schedule. First to visit the sacred caves of Dambulla! Our guest house is really close to it so we go on foot through the Golden Temple. Then comes the climb to the caves! Here again the monkeys are not far, actually they are everywhere! When we arrived up there, we discovered 5 caves which are home of tens of statues of Buddha all in different postures! The site also offers a beautiful view of the entire valley and the rocks we are going to climb the day after!
The next day we went to Sigiriya located about fifteen kilometers from Dambulla. We went there in tuk tuk. We have 2 options here. The first is to climb the Lion Rock and its sacred site and the second is to climb the Pidurangula which is the massive rock next to Lion's rock and offers a magnificent panorama. We opt for the Pidurangula for several reasons! The 1st is the cost! 500 rupees versus a little more than 5000rupies for Lion Rock! The 2nd: the crowd! The majority of tourists visit the Lion's Rock and it is lot of pedestrian traffic along the path during the ascent and descent! The climb is done easily in 3 min and at the end it's a little bit more difficult because you really have no track and you climb and jump from rock to rock! But when you reach the top and you really enjoy the view, it's pure happiness!
Going to the mountains: Kandy
It is a relatively important city, with a lot of traffic! It is still a Mecca of Buddhism which houses the famous temple of the tooth. (A relic of the Buddha). We visited some temples nearby including one dating from the 14th century and the beautiful botanical garden! This last one is a quiet and shady place where tourists and locals mix!
Kandy is also the starting station of the train line which go to the higher mountains! It is a very popular route for tourists because the views along the track are from what we have heard just beautiful!
We were unable to book our tickets in advance because of no more availability and you need to book 2-2 months in advance but we could easily buy 12 tickets for the XNUMXnd class without seat assigned. We hoped to have XNUMX seats with the best views possible ...
The trip on this train was one of the most memorable of our entire trip ... but not necessarily good memories! The train was overcrowded with tourists! It's impossible to sit down, the worse is that we had to stand, packed like sardines during the 6h of the journey. So yes the train moves very slowly through the tea plantations, crossing small beautiful villages. But the street vendors who climbed the train shouting "Vadai vadai vadai" made this trip a little more painful, so we were very disappointed ...
We choose the small town of Haputale to get of the train, and it was our 1st stop in the mountains.
The city itself is nothing special but the surroundings ...
We went in tuk-tuk to the Lipton seat, named after Sir Thomas Lipton, who enjoyed at his time a cup of tea at the top of the mountains, enjoying the view of the tea plantations. It's splendid. The mist and clouds gradually cover the mountains and make this landscape mysterious! We then descended into the valley on foot through the tea plantations crossing the many Tamil women harvesting the tea leaves. Those women earn only 40 Sri Lankan rupees per kilogram of leaves picked (0.20 EUR), it is a bit sad compared to the hardness of work. Some pickers are more welcoming than others and we can even sometimes communicate with them in rudimentary English. We spent 2h and about 6km to get down from Lipton's Seat to the village of Dembethenna in the valley. Walking was really easy and we visited the XNUMXst tea factory of the area. Was nice !
Our next stop, still in the mountains will be the very touristy city of Ella. We took again the famous train to get there and unsurprisingly it was full of tourists and obviously impossible to climb into one of the 2nd class cars. We found at the really end of the train a car with few people inside and we jumped in! This is the train maintenance car! A team of young local Cricket players are back from an away victory and it's party time! This trip was really nice!
Ella is a nice little town despite the strong tourist traffic. We did 2 hikes. The 1st to go to the 9 arches bridge in the middle of the green forest, people walk on the rails while waiting for the train! And the 2nd to go to Little Adam's peak! Unfortunately the weather was not very clear and the view was built up with fog!
After those stops in the mountains, it's time to go back to the coast!
Tangalle, Unawatuna and Galle's visit
Tangalle will be our 1st stop. We explored the surroundings and enjoy delicious meals based on fresh fish in small restaurants on the seafront nearby our hotel, good food. The city itself is not really charming, then our accommodation was not necessarily at the best place, there was 45 minutes walk to reach Tangalle Beach which still has some stigma of the 2004 tsunami (destroyed and abandoned houses, non reconstructed bridge, ...)
Our last stop before flying to India is Unawatuna. On the south west coast of the country it is a very nice seaside resort! We booked a great guest house quiet with a nice pool so our last 3 days were rather quiet and relaxing! Apart from some outings to eat in the small narrow streets of the village, we mainly rested (yes again).
We still visited the old fortified city of Galle which is worth seeing. The legacy of colonization can be seen everywhere in the city. Churches, and many colonial houses restored in hotels everywhere. The fortifications are in some places destroyed because they protected a bit the city during the tsunami of 2004. The walk around the fort is very pleasant and we spent half day there. Really enjoyable place.
Thus our adventures in Sri Lanka came to an end there, we took the train from Talpe to Colombo Fort Railway, from there we took a local bus to reach the airport at 1h away driving.
The same evening we flew to Chennai in India ...
Bilan of Sri Lanka
- The food ! Close to Indian cuisine but at the same time a bit different ... very spicy anyway!
- The ease of moving. The frequency of buses and trains as well as the coverage of the country make transportation so easy as well as not expensive at all!
- The mountains ( except maybe Kandy ) and the tea plantations! Beautiful landscapes!
- People!!! Very smiling and welcoming! Always ready to help us when needed!
- The awful negociations with tuktuk drivers, and sometimes the scam which goes with it, like the first night when we arrived. But also in Kandy, the tuk-tuk driver just dropped us down in the middle of nowhere with the pretext that he was not feeling well, but he felt good to take the full money. But they are not all like that, and we are not talking big money here.
- The train route between Kandy and Ella, which despite its beauty is too touristy! Very few locals on the train, and 7h standing up, like sardines not really comfortable, however this is part of the trip!
- Sometimes very hard to find except on the coastal areas. Alcohol is very expensive as well. We still could drink a few beers, again, this was not gold juice to be honest. Anchor Smooth and Lion are the two local beers that could be found when available. At the same time it's good to drink less, after these few months in South East Asia!
Sri Lanka was not in our plans initially, so we had to build the budget when we decided to visit this country. We accounted for 1200 EUR in the budget for 15 days there, we easily were on budget, spending only 1116 EUR, may be also the facts of less drinking, but also the affordable transportation made it easier! In total we spent 74 EUR / day for 2 people