Initially, Sri Lanka was not in our plans. We had to go to Malaysia, then to India. During our research during our trip to Vietnam, it turned out that the price of air tickets to Sri Lanka was cheap, and especially it brought us closer to India. So we arrive in Sri Lanka at Colombo airport from Phom Phen in the late evening. The airport is located near the seaside resort of Negombo and so we chose to spend our 1ère night before taking the bus to the north the next morning. Arriving late around midnight, forcing taxis and tuk-tuks feast to offer us prices overpriced, we still find a tuktuk for 1200 rupees after several round of trading. Arriving at the hotel, the tuk-tuk driver says thank you and does not want to give us change !!! He tells us with a smile of course and leaves, planting us there and taking a few extra 200 rupees! We do not come back! 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 to Sri Lanka. There are many public and private bus lines as well as a well-developed rail network and especially the prices are really low! There is no direct bus Negombo-Anuradhapura, so we make 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 a room and oh what a good idea! We meet Supon by chance, a driver of Tuk-tuk who offers us to take us to see a hotel that we spotted online. Seeing the rooms, we were not super packed. That's when Supon tells us he has a guest house with his wife with a brand new room available! What a good surprise! After having put our stuff in this little corner of paradise and quiet, Supon takes 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! It is a little tense as we explore the site and watch the sunset!
Anuradhapura: first capital of Sri Lanka
The entrance ticket to visit the old city / capital costs 25Euros per person, which is really expensive, but there is opportunity to visit part of this site for free so we choose this option! We have seen some tourists make the bike tours arriving in the city and our beautiful guest house also offers bike rental, so we leave 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 go there in tuk tuk. We have the 2 options. The first climb the Lion Rock and its sacred site and the second climb the Pidurangula which is the rock next to the rock of the lion and offers a truly magnificent panorama. We opt for the Pidurangula for several reasons! The 1ère: the cost! 500 rupees versus a little more than 5000rupies for Lion Rock! The 2nde: the crowd! The majority of tourists visit the Lion Rock and it is the clogging of the path during the ascent and descent! And finally the 3th reason that made us visit the Pidurangula is the view! Unobstructed view of the valley but also on this famous lion rock! The climb is done quietly and at the end it's a little more difficult because there are a lot of rocks to climb but not too much difficulty! And when you reach the top and you land to 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 trip ... but not necessarily good! The train is crowded with tourists! It's impossible to sit down, the worse we had to stand, glued to each other during 6h. So yes the train moves very slowly through the tea plantations, crossing small villages, street vendors who climb the train shouting "Vadai vadai vadai" making this trip a little less painful but we are still a little 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 tuk-tuk to the Lipton seat, named after Sir Thomas Lipton, who enjoyed 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 Tamulus harvesters. These women earn only 40 Sri Lankan rupees per kilogram of leaf 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 will need 2h and about 6km to get down from Lipton's Seat to the village of Dembethenna in the valley. Walking is easy and we visit the tea factory.
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 1er stop. We explore quietly the surroundings and enjoy delicious meals based on fresh fish in a small restaurant on the seafront in front of the hotel. The city itself is not really charming, then our accommodation is not necessarily in the right place, there is 45 minutes walk to reach Tangalle Beach which still has some stigma of the Tsunami 2004 (destroyed houses and abandoned, 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 walled 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 more or less the city during the tsunami of 2004. The walk around the fort is very pleasant and we spend half a day there.
Thus our adventures in Sri Lanka come to an end, we take the Talpe train to Colombo Fort Railway, from there we will take a local bus to reach the airport at 1h from road.
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 honest tuktuk drivers, the first night arriving, but also to Kandy, the tuk-tuk driver just let us down in the middle of the middle pretext that he was not feeling well, but he felt good to take the all the money, well it's not all like that.
- 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 complicated to find except on the south tourist coast. Alcohol is very expensive. We still could drink a few beers, again, this is not madness. 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 do the budget when we decided to visit this country. In the end we had a budget of 1200 EUR for 15 days on site, we easily respect this budget, spending only 1116 EUR, may be also the fact of less drink alcohol, but also the affordable transport have help to reach this budget! In total we spent 74 EUR / day for 2 people