This year we have had the privilege to do a considerable amount of traveling. Two weeks after arriving from Australia, we headed off to Sri Lanka for a week. We travelled with friends and their 10 month old baby.
We set off from Doha in the evening and arrived in Colombo late at night (2.5 hour time difference). We had all our accommodation and transport arranged prior to leaving home. We booked the first night in Colombo and arranged for a local company to collect us from the airport. Living in the desert and having not seen a great abundance of nature in recent months, seeing luscious trees and vegetation was lovely. In addition to this, being back on the left hand side of the road put us at ease immediately, giving us a sort of feeling as we were home!
The accommodation was very basic (to put it mildly), but we were exploring Sri Lanka on a budget so that’s pretty much what we expected. It was clean and our hosts very welcoming. We were under the impression we were staying in a hotel when we booked, however, this was more like a house with a few rooms. Quite frankly, at that time of the night we couldn’t care less; we were very pleased to crash out; however, there was the minor detail in which there was no bed for our 4 year old! This was sorted out and soon it was time for lights out! Our pillows stank of pesticide, and I mean, they stank. We were so tired that not even that kept us awake. We woke up the next morning to find one of the most stunning views from the front door. Palm trees, lovely plants, shrubs and trees and an enormous lake less than 100 yards from the door! We explored our surroundings trying to take it all in; it was like something out of a postcard. We then discovered that due to building work in the area there was no electricity…or hot water; but to be honest, none of us were fussed by it…not in the slightest. Our hosts showed us where we could get some breakfast…from the restaurant next door. We ordered some sandwiches and had them delivered to our accommodation. Our transport arrived soon after to take us to Waduwa which is an hour or so from Colombo.
We drove partly on the motorway and partly cross country, as the miles went by, we fell in love with the country more and more. We arrived at the River View Hotel in Waduwa and were greeted by very friendly and helpful staff who couldn’t do enough for us. We were given rooms overlooking the garden. The room was basic but clean enough and comfortable enough for our needs and in keep with what we were paying. The hotel had a lovely pool and restaurant overlooking the river, from where which we admired the surrounding wildlife (including monkeys fighting on the trees). Food in the restaurant was good and the Lion Beer even better still! Even though we had our transport and accommodation booked; we didn’t have an itinerary of things to do, we thought we’d play it by ear.
We got chatting to someone on the beach who said he could organise for us to visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy as well as the Botanical Gardens and Elephant Sanctuary. At US $60 per person it wasn’t cheap (this included entrance fees to the Temple, Elephant Sanctuary and Botanical Gardens as well as transport). We agreed to it. For local transportation we used Tuk Tuks wherever we went (not only are they fun but also a great way to explore). We popped into Panadura which is by Waduwa and explored the local market where we took the opportunity to purchase several different fruits.
We also decided to catch a train and head South to Galle. We paid for our tickets (we were offered second or third class, so we chose second at a cost of US $ 1.88 for 3 of us one way!). While waiting for the train we got chatting to a Sri Lankan chap who lives in Jersey (UK). He suggested we scrapped Galle and headed to Ambalangoda where we could go on a boat trip around the islands and visit the local temple. We were more than happy to go with his suggestion. When the train arrived our friends (with 10 month old baby) and us jumped on board. It was a bit tricky as there were people already hanging out of the sides but we managed to squeeze in. I was sort of hanging out of the door part of the way but eventually managed to climb into the compartment. People were extremely friendly and even gave their seats up for our friends with the baby. We arrived in Ambalangoda where we hopped into 2 Tuk Tuks, our newly acquired friend negotiated a price for us and told us the average price for a metered Tuk Tuk should be in the region of 80 SL Rupee per km (US $ 0.60). We took the island trip which was great fun. However, at every step of the way there was someone who wanted some money for something. Including the chap on a boat with a baby monkey. We then visited the temple and stopped for some snacks from a local bakery. We didn’t get a chance to stop at the mines or the turtle place the other first two places were quite a distance apart and had taken longer than anticipated. The day cost us in total less than US $ 60 per couple and we had a cracking time!
It was now the day for our big trip (Elephant Sanctuary, Botanical Gardens and Temple of the Sacred Tooth). We had arranged to leave at 05:30 am. The hotel without hesitation had offered to open the restaurant early for us so we could have breakfast before leaving. We left the hotel at the arranged time and made our way to Kandy. The scenery was truly amazing all the way, even though the quality of driving was less than amazing! We arrived at the Elephant Sanctuary and admittedly, it wasn’t what we expected….far from it. The Elephants didn’t look to happy and it just wasn’t what we had hoped for (we then discovered we had gone to the wrong place, we wanted to go to the Elephant Orphanage!) – We paid a bit extra to ride an Elephant US $ 30 for both of us (Katja refused to come). Unexpectedly we went to a couple of other places which included the Spice Gardens and a Tea Plantation. Both of which I must admit we really enjoyed. We arrived in Kandy and went to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Due to a local holiday, the queue was UNBELIEVABLE. We queued patiently but eventually our patience wore off (remember, this was with a 4 year old and a 10 month old). We didn’t make it to the very top but probably approximately 2/3 of the way. We took a good look at the temple and the gardens then we headed off. The weather was deteriorating quickly and soon it was pouring down. Fortunately our guide had a couple of umbrellas! We had to scrap the botanical gardens soon after going in as it was raining heavily and not looking as it would stop any time soon (it didn’t). We headed back home relatively happy with the day. (I say relatively as we were disappointed to have gone to the wrong Elephant place).
Our hotel was 100 yards or so from the beach so we spent a bit of time on the beach and the rest in the pool. While on the beach we met a lovely local family, Katja joined in and played with their girls and soon after we were sitting on the beach singing kid’s songs and Cathy teaching them a bit of English.
We spoke with the guide who took us to Kandy and asked him to sort out transport to head back to Colombo, he agreed for a fee of US $55. We paid for our hotel with our credit card, this took some organising, I am glad we asked them in advance as they had to bring in a credit card machine! For 8 nights including breakfast we paid US $430 per room including breakfast. Our last night we stayed in the Cinnamon Red Hotel in the centre of Colombo. The views were magnificent to put it mildly. Once we were settled, we hopped into a Tuk Tuk and went to explore the markets and the city. We booked the hotel’s car to take us to the airport, this cost I think was approx. US $35, the room was US $90 for the night (breakfast not included).
We LOVED our stay in Sri Lanka, so much so, that after our holidays back home in the UK, we are heading back to Sri Lanka for 16 days in August.
1) Do some research beforehand and make sure you know the name of the places you want to visit
2) Negotiate prices and negotiate hard
3) Be careful as not everybody takes credit cards, check first
4) Be prepared for some pretty hair raising driving
5) Tuk Tuks are awesome but ALWAYS agree a price before your trip
6) Try and get your head round the exchange rate, most things are also quoted in US $
We made all our bookings through www.booking.com then arranged transport, except the first night. For our next trip we have booked several different places as we want to explore more locations, once again we used www.booking.com as well as www.airbnb.com We are still looking at whether to hire a car or to use a transport company….watch this space.