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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Sri Lanka – 5 days in Trincomalee

We are currently in Sri Lanka, enjoying the sun, water and air! If you are surprised about our change of plans, read find out why we aren’t in Nepal.

I must say the last few days have been was AMAZING.

Suyash at TrincomaleeBefore we get into the details, we want to thank Suyash, my brother, for organising the trip. Due to the last minute change, Manish and I were could not plan the trip. We basically booked our flights, arrived in Sri Lanka and followed Suyash’s plan.

We landed in Colombo on 17th August, afternoon. The western part of the island gets monsoon at the same time as India so Suyash planned on taking a train to eastern town, Trincomalee, on the same night. We made our way to the railway station and bought train tickets. We then killed the next 5 hours grabbing dinner, checking out food eateries outside the station, playing Uno and just catching up.

Tip: The Colombo International Airport is outside the city. If you want to save some cash, there are shuttle buses available from the airport to the Central Bus Stand in Fort, Colombo, approx. every 30 mins, for about LKR 110. Otherwise you can get taxi service too for about LKR 2000.

Also, we weren’t aware of the elections happening in the country. Most of the shops were shut and there weren’t many people on the roads for the first two to three days we were here.

Btw, in the previous post we mentioned about claiming for Nepal flights and guess what, the Insurance guys are settling the bill :) Really great news for us considering we are on a budget.

Train Ride

Manish and I slept the previous night in the flight from Hong Kong and at the Kuala Lumpur airport. It wasn’t very comfortable so we thought we will get First Class Berths on the way to Trincomalee, hoping to catch up on some sleep. We were wrong!

Train from Colombo to TrincomaleeBeing an Indian and having traveled in Indian trains a lot, I have to say – this train wasn’t the most comfortable for the over night ride. It appeared to us as though the trains haven’t been upgraded for decades. The train was an old style, appeared to be straight out of a 60s movie. On the bright side, we got a private cabin for 2, which definitely eased all our concerns about our and the luggage safety. Before we slept, we had a couple of drinks :)

Train from Colombo to Trincomalee

Day 1

Upon reaching Trincomalee train station at 6:30 in the morning, we negotiated with the tuk tuk driver for the ride to our hotel, which was in Uppuveli. The hotel was basically a big house converted for home stay accommodation. We showered and made our way to Nilaveli Diving Centre where Manish and Suyash were supposed to take their theory class. I sat through most of the session just refreshing my memory. Nilaveli Beach in evening, TrincomaleeOnce the boys were done, we headed to the Nilaveli Beach for a quick swim and walked towards to main center.

Upon reaching the main center, we realised it was pretty much a dead town due to the election. We grabbed Lion Lager at a beach resort and decided to head back. As we stepped out to find a tuk tuk, we came across a small local eatery. Turns out it was run by a Tamil family and we sat down to have some sappad (rice & curry meal).

Tip: sharpen your bargaining skills. The tourists are usually charged higher for tuk tuk rides so it is best to know what a local would pay for that ride and negotiate.

Day 2

Diving buddiesThe boys were scheduled to do their confided dive. The dive master, Lakshaman, decided to take them out to the sea for their confided dive session instead of the swimming pool. I stayed back at the beach, swam, sun bathed, slept, blogged and took pictures along the beach.

After lunch the boys had to continue their theory class so we managed to wrap up the day around 6pm and headed out for dinner. We met Muhammad from Lebanon and Bernhad from Austria. They had just arrived in Trinco and were staying in the same hotel. We had a good time chatting and enjoyed dinner.

 

Nilaveli Beach, Trincomalee

Day 3

We got up early and headed to the Diving Centre for our first dive together! We managed to dive twice, hit the depth of 16.5m. The sea was slightly choppy but that didn’t affect us much underwater. The underwater world is so calm. The fish and corals living in harmony. We saw a massive sting ray, it was chilling on the sea bed. The boys also spotted two eels. We were definitely very happy and tired after the dives.

Padi Open Water Diving Course After grabbing some lunch we had to head back to the Diving Centre to complete the final section of theory class. The boys had to do a final exam of 50 questions. It was a laborious task considering we were tired and the sun was strong, but we managed to get through the day. We reached our hotel around 7pm, relaxed a little and then headed out for dinner with Muhammad and Beinhart. Muhammad is very talented – he translated an Arabic poetry and played the flute while we waited for our dinner to arrive.

Friends in Trincomalee

We called it a night after dinner and decided to wake up early for sun rise.

Day 4

Manish and I got up early to walk along the beach for sunrise and managed to click a few good photos as well. On our way back, we heard a tuk tuk playing ‘mere sapno ki rani‘ tune on repeat. We were curious to find out what was he selling and turns out it was variety of fresh bread. We bought about 5 breads for LRK 120 (really cheap!) and enjoyed that for breakfast along with tea.

Sun rise, Uppuveli, Trincomalee

We then headed to Trinco city. Koneswaram Temple, TrincomaleeOur first stop was Koneswaram Temple. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and it has his massive statue just at the entrance. The temple has a lot of history and some of the deities are from Chola Period, i.e., 2000 years old! The temple sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean a little away from the main city. The original temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 17th century. The new temple was reconstructed in the 20th century.

Deer relaxing in Fort Fedrick, TrincomaleeWe then walked down the hill to Fort Fredrick. The area houses Gajaba Regiment of the Sri Lankan Army. It was amazing to walk casually among the midst of army. And, the area is a natural reserve for deer. They were randomly chilling around the fort. The area is surrounded by ocean on 2 sides and is very beautiful!

We then walked to the Trinco main street. Along the way there was a small community of fishermen. Dried Fish, Fisher Men Market, TrincomaleeWe interacted with the locals and clicked lots of photos of the people and deer (yes, deer here as well).

Finally, we decided to walk to Dutch Bank Cafe to grab some beer. It was a long walk but we enjoyed the clean roads, temples and churches along the way. We also passed a prison. We spent the next few hours chatting and enjoying our drinks till we were really hungry.

Om Akshjaya Bawan Saiba Hotel, Custom Road, TrincomaleeI remembered seeing a small restaurant, Om Akshjaya Bawan Saiba Hotel, on the way to the cafe so we decided to check it out. Turns out, they made fresh dosas! Being a South Indian food lover, we decided to sit down for dinner. And, OMG, the food was amazing. I am not sure if it was the beer or our hunger, but we thoroughly enjoyed the dinner.
The address is 182 Customs Road, Trincomalee.

On the way home, we bought the local liquor – Arrack. It tasted great with both water or sprite and we chilled out listening to music.

Day 5

Like the previous day, Manish and I headed out early to grab some local brekky. We picked up a couple of vadas, rolls and rotti. While we enjoyed the brekky in the balcony, we decided to head to Pigeon Island for snorkeling. We got on a boat from Uppuveli Beach. The boat ride is about 30 mins to the island.

Pigeon Island

We were mesmerised by the island. The shore was full of dead white corals that looked really pretty but hurt our feet as we walked barefoot. The water was blue and transparent and the sky had occasional massive clouds that shaded us from the scorching sun. We snorkeled on either sides of the island and spotted boxy fish, eel, sword fish, ‘fashion disaster fish’ (I think it is called parrot fish) and lots of other pretty fish that ranged from really tiny to half meter. The island also houses black tip reef sharks. Among the three of us,  Manish was the lucky one to see it. We then headed back to Shiva Resort, grabbed some lunch and came back to our hotel for shower, rest and packing up.

In the evening, we made appointment for full body massage at Ayurvedic Center. The massage, with the ayurvedic oil was so relaxing. We walked out, had hoppers for dinner (finally!) and hit the sack as next morning we head to Kandy.

In Summary

Highlights – Uppuveli Beach, Nilaveli Beach, Pigeon Island, Koneswaram Temple, Fort Fedrick, local eateries

Transportation – Tuk tuks are very common in Sri Lanka. Tourists should bargain the price before boarding the vehicle. We didn’t spent more than LKR 1000 daily on tuk tuk. This cost can be further reduced by chosing the right location for our resort.

The other option is renting scooters. They are available for LKR 1200 per day. Once again, if your resort is at the beach, you would need transport to the city only.

Weather – August is the perfect time to be in Trincomalee. We had great beach days everyday.

Accommodation – There are plenty of resorts available along the beach which are approx USD 65 per night. There are also cheaper home stay / hotels available along the main road, Nilaveli Road which cost between USD 35 – 50 per night.

Cost – Usually you are likely to spend LKR 1400 per day for lunch and dinner at any resort. If you eat at local joints, you are likely to spend around LKR 600 per day.

Recommendations – Pigeon Island, Hotel Trinco Huts for dinner (74 Nilaveli Road, Trincomalee), Om Akshjaya Bawan Saiba Hotel (182 Customs Road, Trincomalee)

Final Thoughts

Trincomalee is an untouched rural part of Sri Lanka. This region was affected by the war till 2007-2008 and so there haven’t been much developments here. Usually the resorts can assist you with all your needs, such as activities, entertainment, etc, but I highly recommend stepping out and interacting with the locals. They are very welcoming. We ate at many local outlets and they were very friendly.

Trincomalee Gallery

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