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Trip Report 10 days in Sri Lanka - Travel Report

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Hi,

here you find a summary of the 10 days I spent in Sri Lanka (yes, really not enough...), and a list of the mistake I made so that you avoid them for yourself ;-)
You can find more details on my blog: http://grandescapades.net/travel-guide-to-sri-lanka/,
including a budget breakdown with all expenditures: http://grandescapades.net/grand-escapades-budget-guide-to-sri-lanka/#more-9478
and a selection of pictures: http://grandescapades.net/sri-lanka-a-selection-of-47-pictures/#more-9561

Do not hesitate if you have any question.
Cheers, Gilles

Itinerary And Time Of The Visit
Never have we bought a long-haul plane ticket 6 days before departure… But when a window of opportunity of 12 days aroused, the decision was quick. With only 10 days in Sri Lanka, we had to make some bitter choices, as this is not nearly enough for a country that would ideally require 3 weeks or more… Beaches were immediately out of focus, as was soon wildlife watching, because of the lack of time.
We spent 5 days on the Northern Cultural Triangle (Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya & Dambulla), which was the bear minimum to be able to somehow discover those places. Then followed 3 days to get a glimpse of the Highlands and the Tea Plantations (Kandy, Nuwera Eliya & Ella). Last but not least, we headed south for one and a half day rest on the beach in Mirissa and to discover Galle.

Why Travel To Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is probably the easiest destination to travel in Asia we have experienced so far:
• Distances are short and roads are in (very) good condition;
• The travel infrastructure covers all needs: there is a wide choice of accommodation, from basic hostels / guesthouses to luxury boutique hotels; means of transport range from public buses to relatively affordable chartered taxis; trains offer a different perspective on the country…
• People are extremely friendly and helpful (we couldn’t believe our eyes when a Tuk Tuk simply stopped to give us directions when we seemed lost on our bikes)
• The country is extremely clean and hygiene is excellent, much better than most places in Asia
The country also offers a large number and a great variety of highlights:
• Unique cultural sites (several listed as UNESCO World Heritages);
• Beautiful landscapes (stunning beaches, breathtaking highlands and tea plantations…)
• A rich and diverse wildlife, in National Park and for scuba divers
• And last but not least: friendly & relaxed people, eager to help you discovering their country in the best conditions

Challenges Organizing The Trip - What Would We Have Wished To Know?
Of course, it would have tremendously helped to have more time to organize the trip… We definitely made quite a few mistakes because we were not prepared enough!
• Sri Lanka is deservedly a very popular place, both among Independent Travelers and Tour Groups. With limited time, it was challenging to escape the crowds, yet it is absolutely possible! Getting up early when visiting popular sites is critical!
• Two weeks is a minimum if you want to somehow enjoy Sri Lanka, and 3 weeks would be about perfect, to have the necessary flexibility to discover the country more in depth and travel somehow away from the masses.
• If you decide to hire a car with driver (a very convenient option, a quite pricy one though…), try to directly negotiate with a driver, if possible. Agencies take most of the money, and the driver ends-up living almost solely from tips, savings on gasoline, and especially commissions from hotels, restaurants & shops where he takes the tourists. This can lead to misunderstandings or even to disappointments, as the driver will push towards the highest commission and not the best travel option. Moreover, when booking a hotel, always ask if they offer (complimentary) accommodation for the driver, else you will have to pay approx. 10 USD per night for your driver…

What Would We Do Differently?
A lot! We did quite a few (major) mistakes (due to the lack of time to sufficiently prepare the trip)!
• Plan Sufficient Time
10 days is of course better than nothing, but not nearly enough to even get a first glimpse of Sri Lanka. We would recommend at least 2 full weeks to get a good overview (and you will travel at a high speed), and ideally 3+ weeks to experience the country differently and more in depth…
• Book Your Train Tickets Way Ahead
You can book a train ticket up to 10 days before departure. Especially the leg Nuwera Eliya to Ella is extremely popular amongst Tour Groups, so this leg should be booked as soon as you reach Sri Lanka at any train station. Note that 3rd class is perfectly fine… And anyway, you will most likely end-up in a car reserved for tourists!
• Do Not Go Whale Watching in Mirissa!
Let’s put this straight: this was the most disturbing and anti-ecologic experience we made in years… Around 30 boats rushed at see searching for the Holy Grail at sunrise. First dolphins were spotted and repeatedly surrounded by this small army. Then, after more than 3 hours search, the so much expected Blue Whale (a single one) was found. As soon as it came to the surface, an army of boats rushed at full speed and surrounded the poor animal, sometimes closely approaching her. Several times, when the Blue Whale reappeared, the rushing and surrounding was repeated, until she finally dived for good.
• Stay Overnight In Galle
There is something really special about this very well restored Colonial City that invites you for long strolls in the small streets lined with beautiful, low colonial buildings. The flair is absolutely unique, and we truly regret that we did not stay there overnight and did not experience the city at sunset and sunrise, when all those tour groups are gone…
• Do Not Stop In Nuwera Eliya If You Have Limited Time
At 2.000 meters above sea level, it is easy to understand why first English settlers liked this area, away from the heat and humidity of the Coast, and so endlessly green that it might have reminded them of rural England. This place, with its English village feel and its colored cottages, is currently unfortunately boomtown and being disfigured by large hotels under construction. We actually found little to do in and around this busy tourist hub.
• Take The Train From Haputale to Ella
Yes, the leg from Kandy to Nuwera Eliya is scenic. But we have been repeatedly told that the really breathtaking part is from Haputale to Ella. Actually, the best option is to take the train from Kandy to Ella early morning, and enjoy the 7 hour drive through ever changing landscapes. The best place on the train? Seat at the opened door and enjoy the landscape, your legs hanging leisurely outside.
• Go To The Temple Of The Tooth (Kandy) In The Afternoon
There are 5 “Opening Ceremonies” during the “Puja”, the daily prayer, when the Shrine is opened and the reliquary with the Tooth of Buddha is displayed to the pilgrims. The morning ceremony is the one all tour groups are heading to… So if you do not feel like being in a temple with hundreds of other tourists, then choose one of the afternoon ceremonies!
• Rent A Moped Or A Motorbike On The South Coast
The South Coast is very pleasant and abounds with beautiful and quiet beaches. No matter where you stay, rent a scooter (or moped or motorbike)! Traffic is extremely quiet and safe for Asia. This is the best, cheapest and most flexible way to discover the coastal area and: Access deserted beaches (check if you can swim, the current on some beaches is said to be extremely dangerous); Observe those fishermen on stilts (you have to pay to take pictures); Meet fishermen coming back in the morning, carrying their boats on the beach and selling their catch; Join surfers on the best spots, …
• Be Ready If You Decide To Visit One Of These “Spice Gardens”
Somehow we let curiosity take over and accepted to stop at one of those “Spice Gardens”, saying openly our driver we would not buy anything. We hoped for at least some explanation about the various spices and their culture, but were taken in for a ride through all those wonderful creams & lotions that let you wonder why anyone on this planet still suffers from any kind of disease… When we refused to purchase anything at the shop (prices approx. 10 times the un-negotiated prices at the market) but tipped the guide instead, we were met with very unsatisfied looks…
• Beware of TripAdvisor
The recommendations we found on TripAdvisor were especially misleading in Sri Lanka, and we made a few mistakes in the choice of accommodation. Always double check with other sources of information!

Highlights Of The Trip
Check my website for more information: http://grandescapades.net/grand-escapades-travel-guide-to-sri-lanka/#more-9576

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