2 days in Colombo

We finished our Sri Lanka site seeing in Galle and decided to spend the final 2 days in Colombo before flying off.

We booked our stay in Colombo through Airbnb. This was our maiden attempt and we are impressed. The home-stay was with an older couple while their son, living in London, handled all Airbnb communications. The room setup was like a hotel, in fact, even better than hotel. Apart from having basic amenities, such as tea/coffee with an electric kettle, linen, they provided fruits and had a tiny notebook with necessary details such as, closest restaurant, Domino’s Delivery number and Wifi password.

Day 1

We chilled for a while before stepping out to see Colombo. Based on the research we had done, there wasn’t much to do in Colombo so we decided to take a bus to Fort and walk around the old central area of the city. The local bus was an experience to say the least, I have neither sweat so much in a bus nor seen so many people packed into a bus. We survived the bus ride and walked around Pettah area. The area has different markets in each street. At one point, we had a sense of dejavu when we thought we had been to a particular main road before. We then quickly realized that we had been there on our first day in Sri Lanka. However, as there were elections going on, the street was deserted at the time but was now full of people.

Being on a budget and backpacking is tough and we realize this each time we are in a Bakery in Sri Lankamarket. Pettah was no different and we could only look at things without buying. All the walking made us a little hungry and we ended up in a tea & bread house. The waiter gave us a whole tray of bread though we asked for only 2 with our tea. We were billed correctly but it was an interesting cultural experience as this is how Sri Lankans serve bread in tea houses.

After night fall, we walked aroGalle Road, Colombound some colonial parts of the city and took a tuk tuk to Galle Road. It is the sea facing road of Colombo and we saw kids flying kites and people enjoying the cool breeze at night. We then met Manuja, Shruti’s poly mate from Singapore. We had sheesha and a couple of drinks with him and his friends. It was nice catching up/meeting him and he took us around to a Sri Lankan Chinese takeaway.

Day 2

The next morning, we left a little late from the house. We took a tuk tuk to Arcade Independence Square. We didn’t know anything about it except that Manuja recommended it and there was a Burger King there. I say this because by now, we were done with the spicy local food and wanted to avoid a bad tummy before the flight. So for the first time since leaving Sydney, we had a big chain fast food for brunch.

Arcade Independence Square

The arcade itself was of British colonial style originally designed as a mental asylum. From there, we walked to the Independence Memorial Hall. Don Senanayake, whose statue was at the location, was the first Prime Minister of Independent Sri Lanka and the memorial is Independence Memorial Hallgrand and beautiful. Our next stop was the National Museum of Sri Lanka. The building was again colonial and we realised that all buildings in this part of Colombo were from British era. In addition, the streets were wide and full of trees.

The museum was full of knowledge of traditional agriculture, religion, warfare, architecture and art. The issue was though that the place had no airconditioning and the fans were not great. I can tell you, its not a lot of fun looking at history while sweating from humidity. We had to end the walk around the museum quickly and go to the museum cafe for some iced coffee.

OGangaramaya Temple, Colombour next stop was the Gangaramaya Buddhist temple. The temple itself is large with some amazing Buddha statues and Elephant tusks. There was a large Bodhi tree with a quiet stop for the Buddhists to pray and people to meditate. It was certainly a special experience feeling the quietness and devotion of the local population. A added extra was that this temple was the stop over point for the wedding parties. We saw brides and grooms in traditional and European attire and they were dressed beautifully.

This was also the case for the SeemSeema Malaka Temple, Colomboa Malaka buddhist temple close by. This temple is in the middle of a lake and is incredibly picturesque. Surrounded by green water, you can see some of the Colombo skyline behind the temple. After this, we basically walked back the way we came to the Arcade.

As we walked around the arcade again, we saw the Kaema Sutra Restaurant by Jacqueline Fernandez. Jacqueline is a Sri Lankan model who is now a Bollywood diva. Though we knew it was expensive, we couldn’t resist the charm of eating in her restaurant. In reality, I am glad we did as the food was beautiful. We tried the Tuna, Jack fruit and Potato curries with string hoppers, hoppers and rotis. We had a desert of Curd with palm syrup which was healthy and tasty. We caught a tuk tuk home and called it a night.

Tip: Always load Google Maps for the area you will exploring during the day. This way, even if you don’t have internet connection, you can never be lost. Also, always have your GPS on with Google Maps when using tuk tuks. Though the drivers are generally very good, sometimes there could be a miscommunication.

Budha in Colombo

In Summary

This leg of the tour started after Trincomalee and ended in Colombo. We crossed the entire breadth of Sri Lanka in 5 days. It was a whirlwind tour but it was definitely worth it. We experienced the food, culture, religion and the history of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has so much to offer to people and the tourism is starting to pick up after the war ended in 2009.

However, the best thing about Sri Lanka are its people. Everywhere we went, people were very nice to us. When they looked at us, they were very curious and asked if we were Indian. A lot of people then tried a few words of Hindi to make us smile. In addition, Sri Lanka is generally quite safe. We never felt threatened and unsafe even while dark.

Finally, Sri Lanka is quite cheap too. As long as you stay away from 5-star hotels and resorts catered for European tourists, you can have a decent holiday for small cash. Read about accommodation, transport and food costs in our previous post about Trincomalee.

Final Thoughts

In our time here, we only have one regret that we should have climbed Sigiriya rock. We gambled it for Adam’s Peak, which, though wasn’t completely disappointing, we didn’t enjoy the climb or the sunrise from up above. The drive from Trinco to Galle in two days was also a bad idea. When we reached Unawantuna beach, we were so tired that we couldn’t enjoy what it had to offer.

Though we didn’t visit them, Sri Lanka also has some amazing national parks with exotic animals. When we come back (and we definitely will!), we are sure to visit them. Likewise, we heard of Sri Lankans love for Cricket but never saw it. It would be a dream to watch a day of a test match in Galle!

I have high hopes for Sri Lanka. It now has a popular government, booming economy and increasing tourism. Sri Lankans are quite a disciplined and hard working people. The driving and zebra crossings showed us that Sri Lankans are happy to follow rules. Unlike India, we rarely heard the car horns in Sri Lanka. Our driver Asanga who happened to be from a less well off family, repeatedly asked us:

Driver: Do you think Sri Lanka can develop?

ArrangedTravelers: Hell Yea!

It also helps India. Most of the common vehicles in Sri Lanka are Indian ;)

Sri Lanka has lot of raw, untouched, natural beauty and while I hope for development,  I also wish the landscape does not get altered much and locals can maintain their warm hearts and welcoming nature.

Colombo Gallery

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Around Sri Lanka

Our days in Trincomlee came to an end quickly. We decided to travel around Sri Lanka for the remaining 5 days. We booked a tour through Visit SL Tours and were on the road early in the morning with a driver.

Paddy Fields around Sri LankaWe drove for almost 5 hours through the Eastern Province and Central Province of Sri Lanka. The countryside is beautiful beyond belief with paddy fields, coconut trees and hills everywhere. Unlike Trincomalee, these provinces are the heartland of the Sinhalese Buddhist population which meant, we saw Bodhi trees, Buddhist shrines and monks dressed in saffron quite often.

Sigiriya, Sri LankaOn the way, we had a quick pit stop at Sigiriya, which is very significant to the Sri Lankan history. It is basically a huge rock where the king built his fort and now only a lion sculpture and so
me paintings remain. As we didn’t have enough time, we decided not to climb up. Our next stop was for lunch in our driver’s city, Karunegelle. The city has a great hill with a large Buddha statue.

Elephant Orphanage

We finally reached Pinnuwala Orphange at 2:45pm. We bought our tickets to the sanctuary but as it was bathing time for the elephants, we walked to a river, 100m away, where the herd were enjoying themselves.

Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka

Elephant Orphanage, Sri LankaThere were around 30 elephants chilling in the water and mud. It was quite hot and the crowd had gathered all around the river watching the elephants and feeding a few of them some bananas. The caretakers were charging up to LKR 1000 to hug and touch an elephant. We stood at the edge and managed to interact with a few for free :)
The highlight was watching a very young elephant calf playing around the older elephants in the water. Elephant Orphanage, Sri LankaIt was so happy just being in the water and the herd was taking close care of it. Once we had enough of the heat, we did some souvenir shopping. We then waited around for the herd of about 25 elephants to head back into the pens. We watched them cross a major road, walk into the sanctuary, eat the trunks and leaves and finally drove to Kandy.

Here is a mashup video of the elephants –

Music credits to Bertn1991 – http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/listen/618232

Kandy

It took around an hour and a half to get to Kandy. It was pure luck that we managed to be in Sri Lanka during the Kandy Perahara event, which is one of the biggest religious event in Asia. It is a Sri Lankan procession which has dancers, drummers, monks, elephants and an idol or relic related to the Buddha.Sarongs at Kandy Perahara, Sri Lanka Once we parked, we rushed through the crowds towards the Temple of the Tooth. We were told that Suyash and I could not enter the premises due to wearing shorts. Therefore in a hurry, we bought two sarongs and learnt how to put them on.

Our excitement was turned into disappointment when we were told that we couldn’t enter the temple as the Perahara was getting ready to move. However, we didn’t have to wait long to cheer again as we realised that the Buddha’s tooth relic came out on a huge elephant ready to be shown to the whole city of Kandy.

Kandy Perahara, Sri Lanka

Kandy Perahara, Sri LankaWe quickly grabbed a spot as the procession got moving. We saw flame rotators, disc rotators, sword fighters, elephants with lights, monks, dancers and drummers. The highlight of the night was the Nedumgombo Raja, the biggest calmest elephant with huge tusks charged with carrying the tooth relic.

Tip: The perahara starts from the Temple of the Tooth and goes around the city. Getting a spot early in the temple is the best option as you can finish watching the whole procession by 8:30pm. This also applies for any parade or procession, otherwise you will be stuck with the crowd.

Here is a short mashup of the performances at perahara –

Adam’s Peak

After grabbing quick dinner in Kandy, we then drove to Adam’s Peak area for an early morning walk to the summit. We reached Nallathanniya at 12:30am after a crazy night time drive through mountains and bad roads. Suyash and I rotated responsibilities to accompany the driver through the late night drive on mountain. We spotted wild boars, horned deer and hedgehogs on the way.Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka
We checked into our room, which was 2 floors below basement, slept for an hour and went climbing the peak into the night. The manager at the hotel told us it will take approx. 2.5 hours to climb the peak. We started our ascent in the pitch black night. We had a few people ahead and it was a nice walk up the hill in the first hour. After this the climb got hard and harder with the temperature lowering and the stairs getting steeper. In total we climbed 5660 steps and it totally killed our legs.

 

 

Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Adam's Peak, Sri LankaOur fitness level was not the best and we realised that halfway in to the climb. Unfortunately, though we made it to the top, there were too many clouds and the sun was nowhere to be seen after the time of the sunrise. Eventually, we decided it was best to descend and make it back to hotel in time. The walk down was as hard as the walk up and we eventually made it back around 9:30. Though the photos on the way down were amazing, we recommend attempting the Adam’s Peak climb if you are fit enough and there is a high chance of seeing the sunrise.

Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip: Always check the season and weather forecast for any location you want to visit.

Galle & Unawatuna

As we left Nallathanniya, it started to pour. Though there were pretty sites around, we crashed very soon as we were all too tired after the trek and no sleep through the night. We made no stops on the way other than lunch.

Soon after lunch, the boredom of the drive made Suyash and Shruti play random Bollywood related games in the car. Since I don’t remember the films much, I was a spectator. The game was hilarious, both of them were clueless at times and I had a lot of fun watching the siblings coming up with random things to do.

We arrived in Galle around 6pm just before sunset and checked into Happy Night hotel, along the Unawatuna Beach. The name was a bit funny but the hotel was amazing regardless being cheap. Due to the lack of sleep and aching legs, we decided to get pizza, sandwiches and beer while watching a Hera Pheri, a hillarious Bollywood classic, in the room. We called it a night early and slept for a good 9 hours.

Though we felt refreshed the next morning, the legs were still in pain. We decided to see some of the highlights around Galle city and return early. Once there, we had traditional Sri Lankan breakfast and walked to the Fort. As Kumar Sangakkara had retired a day earlier, the cricket stadium in Galle was full of posters of his farewell. Though we don’t support Sri Lanka in cricket, we salute the legend for his contribution to cricket!

Galle Fort, Sri LankaGalle city is quite small and the highlights are all walking distance from each other. A tuk tuk driver saw us walking around the Fort and told us he’ll give us a tour of the old city for LKR 500. We decided against it as we wanted to walk around and absorb the surroundings. However, he was adamant and decided to reduce the price to LKR 400. Against Suyash’s advice, we decided to take the tuk tuk as our legs were in quite bad shape.

Eventually we realised it wasn’t a bad decision. The driver stopped at 3-4 places and gave us 20 minutes each. Old Galle city is an amazing place. It looks like an European town in the middle of Sri Lanka. The town was settled by the Portuguese before the Dutch took over. It had Dutch churches, houses and other Dutch government buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries.

One of the highlights for us was the Dutch museum. The museum was housed in a renovated Dutch Governors house by a local businessman. Artefacts from the Portuguese, Dutch and British eras were carefully preserved there. It was also interesting to see an old lady making lace the traditional way while another man was cutting and polishing gems using a wheel blade. It really was a trip back to the past. The entry was free but the staff showed us around and eventually lead us to the jewelers shop within the museum. They were not forceful but it was a clever ploy nonetheless.

Galle Fort, Sri LankaWe stopped at the church, lighthouse and a Buddhist temple before the time was up. On the way back, Suyash had planned to go the Japanese Pagoda and a place called Jungle beach. However, the driver was charging too much and being on a cliff it would be a pain to walk back from there. Due to Suyash’s great bargaining skills, we managed to offend the tuk tuk driver who accused us of being tightarses (slightly justified!) :P

Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

Since we didn’t want to go the beach or walk, we decided to chill with music into the evening. We again played a game of ‘play a random song on youtube’. The game was a success and it made us quite happy listening to a whole range of songs from 90s Bollywood, Punjabi and House classics. We ended the night with local food though I had a slight Galle belly in the middle of the night.

Suyash left early in the morning for his flight to Singapore while we stayed back, slept a little more before taking an express bus to Colombo for the home run in Sri Lanka.

Final Thoughts

From the Adam’s Peak experience, we will be more careful about planning for back to back activities and never visit a place for one single attraction. But nevertheless, driving around Sri Lanka was a good experience. We crossed many towns and villages and saw the different cultures, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims in the country.

We also regret not climbing Sigiriya – we would have possibly experienced more culture there.

Around Sri Lanka Gallery

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Choosing the right backpack

Out of all the research for the trip, choosing the right backpack was the hardest. We spent a few months reading blogs, visiting shops and browsing ebay and gumtree for the right backpack.

It may seem a bit of an overkill, but for such a long trip, we had to find a bag that was the right size, comfortable, durable and within our budget. Finding all the criteria in one bag proved as hard as a needle in a haystack. In the end, we found that choosing your backpack for the trip is like buying a house. You have to feel that it is right for you!

First of all, most of the blogs we read advised that a ‘travel’ backpack is distinct to a ‘trekking’ backpack. The first obvious difference between the two is that they open differently. A travel backpack opens from the front while the trekking backpack opens from the top. The latter is not comfortable for travel as you would have to pull everything out of the trekking backpack at every destination. This helped us narrow down our search a little.

As with many people in Australia, our next stop was Kathmandu. Kathmandu has a great range of adventure products including travel and trekking which was perfect for us. However, going to Kathmandu made us even more confused than we were before. Backpacks are designed to be filled by litres in volume. Looking at a 70L bag, we couldn’t possibly imagine putting everything we need for a year.

In addition, the prices ranged between $200 and up to $600 for the big trekking bags. We decided to go back to more research and set a budget. We read blogs about travel bags, flying with bags and walking with backpacks. At the end, we decided on a few things bout the bag:

  • The volume must not be more than 60L
  • Our budget for the bag would be $200
  • The bag must have a separate section for winter gear/shoes
  • We will try to buy a second-hand bag if possible
  • We stick to one of the known brands for backpacks, such as Osprey, Deuter, Caribee etc

Unfortunately, though we searched online, we couldn’t buy from the net as we wanted the bag to ‘feel’ right. With the guidelines above, we visited most camping and trekking stores in the area. On a particular Sunday, we visited the Anaconda store in Lidcombe and decided to try a few bags. Anaconda had Deuter, Caribee, Black Wolf and its own brand, Denali.

The great thing about Anaconda is that it had both weights and cushions for the backpacks. We ended up staying in Anaconda for around 4 hours, trying many bags and getting as much information from the staff as possible. Shruti was able to pick her bag and we decided to search ebay and gumtree for it.

On the other hand, things weren’t so easy for me. I couldn’t decide what the adequate size of the bag would be for me. While I had decided on a couple of bags, I couldn’t get them at the right price or the right size. After much thought, I decided to visit Anaconda again and picked a brand new bag which was 50L, around $200, comfortable and had a separate section for our winter clothes.

Meanwhile, Shruti found her bag on ebay in Melbourne. We bought it and had a friend send it over to us (Thanks Aaron!). A quick wash later, the bag was ready to go. Finally, here are our tips for backpack shopping:

  • Think about the kind of trip you are having and the amount of walking you will be doing
  • Try to put in cushions and weights in the bag to test it out
  • Try to get the bag second-hand as many people buy backpacks for short journeys with little wear and tear
  • Read experiences of people with backpacks around the world

Our bags:

Update

Don’t buy a light colour backpack, it will get all sorts of stains. Especially if you check in your bags, the luggage handlers and conveyor belts will ruin it. Shruti has already washed her light blue bag 3 times in the last 6 months.

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Final travel itinerary

As stated in my previous post, we decided to travel round the world through Europe, Asia and South America along with United States on the way home. This was our general plan for a while as we researched into each of the destinations.

Now, it may seem easy planning a long trip like ours, but I will prove to you that it was certainly not! First of all, there was the issue of my job and our budget. Next, we had applied for Shruti’s partner visa in May 2014. However, by late 2014, there was no sign of any visa. The average wait time was 13 months, and calling the Department of Immigration was pointless as they would refer you to the average wait time via their call center.

At the same time, Shruti’s dad suggested that since we were already taking time out for a sabbatical, we should go with Shruti’s family to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet, China. The idea impressed us all and even my Mum wanted to join in. This is a dream destination for many people around the world especially the religious Hindus. The issue though was that the trip could only be done between May and September.

On the other hand, My best mate got engaged in September 2014, and the wedding date was set to November 2015. This meant that we would have to get to Nepal between May and September, go to Europe and then be back for the wedding in November. It was impossible to juggle these dates, a visa issue and a budget, and put the dates on our trip.

At this stage, we decided to keep the dates in mind and look into the places of interest. Our initial itinerary of Europe included places like Scandinavia, UK & Ireland, Spain & Portugal, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Germany, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Needless to say, in 90 days of Schengen Visa, we would be travelling every couple of days to be able to visit all these places.

The same issue happened with India. Having grown up outside of India since our teens, we

wanted to explore alot of places in India. Kashmir, Ladakh, North-East, Bengal, South India, Goa and Rajasthan, all appealed to us. In addition, Shruti’s parents now live in Gujarat, my family is in Haryana and Shruti grew up in Mumbai. Therefore, we need to give some time to our families, who we won’t see much of while travelling for a continuous period.

In this case, we used the ’21 day strategy’ which meant we gave ourselves 21 days in each direction. Anything that we couldn’t fit in these 21 days would have to go. As an example, North-East and Kolkata fitted perfectly in the 21 days and we were able to organise with a tour operator for this. We are extremely excited for this leg as we get to see Durga Pooja in Kolkata.

On the other hand, It was impossible to cover entire South India in 21 days and we had to drop Bangalore and Tamil Nadu, completely. Likewise, we couldn’t possibly see our families, and travel to Ladakh, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in 21 days without some serious Altitude Sickness. We decided to leave these areas for another time.

While we were researching into our Europe trip, We discovered a little thing called the Northern Lights. They looked majestic and could only be seen in the Arctic Circle. We decided that, in this trip of a lifetime, we shouldn’t miss the lights. As you may know, they

Source: pixabay.com
Source: pixabay.com

only appear in the Arctic Winter. At first, we were quite afraid of it. We’ve both grown up in and lived in Hot climate countries. The Artic can easily be -20 degrees Celsius on a good night, but we couldn’t miss the lights, Reindeers, Dog Sleds and Snowshoes.

Moving our Europe trip to the Northern Winter aligned things perfectly into place. We could start with Nepal, travel around India for 3 months, fly to Europe and then to South America and finally, USA. As I wrote previously, we decided to buy tickets on the go. This made it easier to buy tickets as our trip progressed.

As we would travel to Europe in Winter, we would be there in the off-season. This meant that it made the trip a little cheaper but we would also have to dress and enjoy a little differently. We did a little reading into the Slow Travel movement, and decided to stay at least a week in each place we visit.

Ironically, although the title of this post is ‘final travel itinerary’, the exact places cannot be finalized until a few weeks ahead. As an example, we have a general idea on where to go in Europe, Turkey and South America, but we cannot be for sure where we will be heading until a fortnight ahead.

Seeing our experiences in the research and places to travel, here are our suggestions:

  • Travelling for a long time means you should expect frequent changes in your itinerary
  • Divide up the areas which you would like to travel to in blocks of days
  • Where possible, try to slow down your travels to feel a place
  • Book the busy tourist activities well ahead of time, e.g. North Lights, Inca Trail trek, World Cup etc.

Round the World tickets

Ever since the book ‘Around the World in 80 days’ by Jules Verne was published, a round the world trip has been the ultimate adventure for most people. Through our research, we made a decision to head west, and decided to look into tickets.

source: morgueFile.com

This is when we stumbled upon round the world tickets. The thought of one simple ticket excited us. It meant we could buy one ticket early, and be sure that we will be flying on a certain date. However, in another post, Shruti outlined that we didn’t have a fixed budget, and setting a date of departure early on would not be possible.

In any case, we kept looking into buying a round the world ticket as it seemed the best option at the time. This is when we realised the next issue with the round the world ticket. A round the world can only be used in one direction with no backtracking, e.g. If heading west from Australia, one can take a flight to Singapore then Istanbul followed by London but it may not be possible to travel around Europe and fly from Rome to New York.

At this stage, we were still set on a Round The World tickets. We could alter our plans, so we could visit India first then Europe and then South America on the way to Sydney. However, this is when we realised another detail of the RTW ticket. Adding in mileage and destination can increase the price dramatically(As much as $10,000 per person).

In summary, a RTW ticket reduces your freedom but might be cheaper and simpler. If your aim is to see a set number of cities in a relatively short amount of time, RTW tickets are perfect. Even still, RTW tickets are so complicated, that unless an itinerary matches exactly what you had in mind, you will require a travel agent.

We discussed and agreed, that this was not the kind of travel we wanted to undertake. We could see ourselves traveling to a number of cities and countries across a large area and we didn’t want to be penalized for it. Therefore, we decided to buy ticket as you go.

In addition, we decided to use our credit cards for our shopping and use the accumulated points to buy at least 1 major ticket. Most major credit cards allow you to accumulate points to buy flights and some will even allow you link them up with a frequent flyer program to accumulate frequent flyer points.

Finally, Shruti’s uncle heard about our travel plans through her Dad. Neither of us knew, that he works in the management of a major US airline. He offered us a number of economy tickets, but the catch was, that we would have to visit the US. We were ecstatic and decided to make a trip in the US to see friends, family and so many places on TV.

In summary, flying around the world requires you to think about how you would like to travel around the world. There’s no written rule but in general:

  • RTW ticket – Fixed number of destinations, fixed dates for flights, fixed direction and a certain limit in mileage. It provides one ticket in hand, but you can have limited options depending on the alliance.
  • Buy as you go – Provides freedom in terms of destinations, dates and direction, but you have to buy tickets on the road. You can use credit cards to accumulate points and frequent flyer points for tickets.