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Trip Report Sri Lanka in 12 Days

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A friend and I (both in our 60's, active, well-traveled) spent 4 days in Kolkata, 8 days in Bhutan, and 12 days in Sri Lanka. We like good food and wine, want to see the major sights, experience the culture, and stay in a few great hotels. Kolkata and Bhutan are in a separate trip report. This covers the Sir Lanka portion.

We arranged this portion of our trip with Doris at Tropical Travels (Boutique Sri Lanka). She booked all hotels and provided a driver/guide + car (Toyota Allion). Our itinerary: 1 night in Negombo, 2 nights Anuradhadura, 2 nights Dambulla, 1 night Kandy, 3 nights Tea Trails, 3 nights Galle. Doris was very efficient and responded to our e-mails promptly.

We arrived in Negombo/Colombo in the early afternoon on Sri Lanka Air from Kolkata. We took a government regulated taxi to our hotel, the Jetwing Beach Negombo (1600 rps). The taxi desk was inside on the right as we exited immigration. ATM’s were also in the same area. We had opted to meet our guide and start the tour the following morning. The cost for this tour was $2,550 pp excluding airfare, most meals/drinks except breakfast (Tea Trails was all inclusive), tips and sight entrance fees. We paid by credit card on her secure site which added a 3% surcharge.

My impressions of Sri Lanka: scooters, good 2 lane roads, humid, tropical, coconuts, teak trees, rubber trees, ancient sites (Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa) stupas, caves, beaches, Portuguese in 1505 to Dutch To Brits to independence in 1948, ayubuvan (greeting), crazy driving with tuk tuks/cars/buses/scooters – always passing slower vehicles, Hindu and Buddhist temples, beautiful tea country, Galle Dutch fortress, current President vs. corrupt/scandalous past President/family, Colombo to Galle toll road/highway, sapphires.

HOTELS
Negombo – Jetwing Beach Negombo: great location on the beach, good food, 30 minutes from airport, nice room, beautiful pools

Anuradhapura – Ulagalla – what a treat!, beautiful setting, golf cart to villa, large secluded villa on stilts with bedroom, bathroom, living room, deck, dipping pool. Good food, enjoyed 1 hour horseback ride even though the heat was a killer, beautiful main pool, great service. It didn't apply to us, but a romantic place. Unforgettable.

Dambulla – Heritance Kandalama: large hotel, standard room, not close to town, great food – we opted for fine dining instead of the buffet due to the weekend crowd/kids. Much ado about the architect, but I was not that impressed.

Kandy – Secret Kandy: in the city so very noisy, call to prayer at 5:00am, nice room, great service, good food. We needed two beds, so they merely added a cot/twin bed which was very uncomfortable.

Hatton – Ceylon Tea Trails, Dunkeld Bungalow: my favorite. We originally booked 2 nights here and 4 in Galle. After a few hours, we decided to add another night here and shorten Galle – great decision and Doris arranged it immediately with no cancellation charge for Galle. All inclusive, fantastic food and wine, wonderful high tea, comfortable room/bathroom/dressing area, exceptional views/scenery, very relaxing. It is a bit pricey, but worth every penny – I will never forget our days here! There is a tea factory tour which was worthwhile, but too long at 2+ hours. There are hiking trails through the tea fields - I did a 1 hour walk which was beautiful. There are also mountain bikes available - I tried, but the roads were a bit too rough and steep for me.

Galle – Tamarind Hill: 18th century mansion converted to hotel – charming atmosphere. Nice room, bathroom not air conditioned which was very uncomfortable, good food, nice staff, 15 minute tuk tuk to the fort area, a/c restaurant and bar, although you could eat outside. Again, second bed was a cot/twin bed which was somewhat uncomfortable.

FOOD
As already mentioned, we generally ate all of our meals at the hotels with no complaints. We ate lunch when out and about with no memorable experiences. When in Galle, we had lunch at Kingfisher Restaurant, Unawatuna Beach – relaxing, on the beach, fantastic fish and giant prawns.

SIGHTS
Anuradhapura – active religious site with tree from Buddha – recommended
Sigiriya – cloud paintings, lion gate/paws, great views at top, climb the rock all the way to the top – highly recommended
Polonnaruwa – newer ruins than Anuradhapura, but in good shape – highly recommended
Dambulla caves – it is another climb, but interesting Buddha relics in the caves, although there used to be an entrance fee, there is none now – recommended
Temple of the Tooth in Kandy – drum ceremony worth it – highly recommended
Galle Dutch Fortress – great strolling thru the town, good shopping.

GENERAL

We were in Sri Lanka April 20 – May 3. It was very hot (90’s) and humid except in tea country where the weather was pleasant (70’s). It rained in the afternoon at Tea Trails but the rest of the time the weather was sunny and clear.

Electrical adaptor type G worked in all places although most hotels had built in adaptors or you could borrow at the hotel.

We used ATM’s (all over) and paid cash outside of the hotel. Credit cards were used at the hotels. When used, we never let our credit cards out of our sight as we had read there could be problems.

We tipped our guide/driver 500 rps per day for both of us per advice from Trip Advisor. Seemed to little to me, but advisor was emphatic.

The Colombo airport is something else. When you exit immigration, it is a shopping mall, complete with appliances! We purchased wine at the duty free shop – not cheap, but it was convenient.

We had a great tuk tuk driver in Galle. He lived near our hotel and drove/waited for us during our two days of exploring the fortress and Unawanatuna. We paid him 3,000 rps each day for 4-5 hours of his time: Manju, ph no. 778671775, m.prabthekanayaka@gmail.com.

I purchased sapphires in Sri Lanka with little experience/knowledge. Our guide recommended Sifani Gems in Kandy – you never know with this type of recommendation because the guides get a commission. I preferred Lihiniya Gems in Galle which was recommended on Trip Advisor. I haven’t had the gemstones appraised yet, so I don’t know if I got a deal or ripped off – I’ll report back here when I do. I do know that I had a great time looking at gemstones. I bargained at both places, Sifani started at almost double what I ended up paying; Lihiniya 20-25% off initial price. Mr. Lahir at Lihiniya was a pleasure to do business with.

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