Sri Lanka’s vast diverse landscape makes it one of a kind. Where breath taking views are a plenty with beaches of golden sands and turquoise blue waters attracting many a surfer and beach dweller. It’s home to the mysterious and rarely seen leopard and a place where you can see the largest mammal on land and sea, the elephant and blue whale. Most famous for it’s export of tea, sapphires and damn well tasty cuisine there’s plenty of reasons to visit. The war which devastated the country for 30 years has now ended and tourists are returning. If there was ever a time to visit Sri Lanka it is now…
Here we offer our tips and recommendations from our travels around the island in January 2014.
Onenight in the capital will allow enough time to explore the city…notice all the high end big hotel companies setting up shop near the sea front, in a few years this will be rolling in bling.
WHERE TO STAY
The Renuka business hotel was comfortable and more than decent enough to recover from the long haul flight. With a gym, rooftop infinity pool and bar it’s easy to fall straight into holiday mode. Located only a short tuk tuk ride from the train station and situated on the main street near the ocean. Rooms start from around £48.
A place that will be in the guide book is the popular chain Cafe Bars which is a pretty trendy eatery for any time of the day. Relaxed and informal enough to venture in you will find the food top notch. Admittedly a little more expensive than what you will find elsewhere but it’s a decent place alright.
For cheap eats and snacks bakeries and cafes called ‘hotels’ are what you need. Perera and Sons is a bakery filled with exotic delights for next to nothing, from vegetable roti or fish roti to sweet breads it’s a great opportunity to try a bunch and see just how damn tasty and addictive they are.
GETTING OUT OF COLOMBO
Getting out of Colombo is easy is you take the right train and most people will be heading to Kandy. If so, early morning trains are best and where possible book first class, it’s cheap enough. The train to Kandy around mid day is particularly bad as it takes considerably longer than the 3 hours the early trains take and although you should expect trains to be hot, over crowded and slow this midday fight to be onboard may leave you standing the whole way in hot and humid conditions and take our advice, it’s not nice.
Book a seat where possible, on some trains you are able to reserve on 2nd class, which is fine and the conductor will remove people without tickets who happen to be in your spot. Otherwise think about using a driver, if there’s four of you it’s pretty cheap.
Kandy seems like a base for people to spend a night and then move on. The place is located in the hills around a huge lake, which is nice to walk around. There is a famous cemetery worth visiting but mainly people come here to queue for the Sacred Tooth you will never see… People take visiting the sacred tooth very seriously but it’s only brought out in full view to the public around twice per decade…
Guide books will tell you the food in Kandy is generally not exciting. The best bet – as always – is to go where the locals go. Kandy Muslim Hotel offers pretty good dishes and is recommend though you may want to eat with your eyes closed, food is great but the place don’t look that appealing.
WHERE TO STAY
A high end place away from the centre of Kandy is Clove Villa. Rooms have all the mod cons, balcony views, outdoor pool and some snazzy little communal areas for resting, reading and shooting some pool. Staff are extremely helpful, happy to share their knowledge and will help book anything your continuing travels. Rooms start from around £85.
GETTING OUT OF KANDY
There’s always the train but these book up fast. After our experience on the Kandy train we switched to using a driver, prices of which are negotiable but expect to pay around £40 for the day for long drives. Ask your hotel to arrange or head to the train station. Most vans are pretty decent, have air con and hopefully someone who knows where they are going.
DAMBULLA & SIGIRIYA
Whilst both places are sure to be high on the agenda you will find a stop over at each is not needed saving you time and money. Arrange a driver to stop off at these places on route to where is next on your list, most likely Polonnaruwa.
The Golden Temple in Dambulla is well worth seeing. The huge statue of Buddah makes for a brilliant photo opportunity. Up the never ending stairs is an cave temple…tickets must be purchased at the bottom of the stairs in the museum, remember that. An hour to an hour and a half is all that is needed to see the sites and play with the monkeys.
Sigiriya is home to the Lions Rock and is monumental. Allow up to three hours to fully appreciate and experience the rock. The walk up to the place is long, you pass stalls selling snacks and drinks and there is a chance you will run in to wild roaming elephants. You will definitely see many a cheeky monkey. Tickets allow access to the museum (toilet stop) and through the various stages up the rock though there are many other parts of the grounds to explore on the way. A guide is a good way of getting to know the history and origins of what you see however it’s not essential. Getting up the rock is pretty demanding in the mid day sun so visiting early morning is better.
Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon…