After using this forum to help plan my trip I decided I should give a report back that others can use.
Our Sri Lanka Trip May 2011
We arrived Colombo at 3 in the morning after a long series of flights. We were greeted by our guesthouse driver who swifty conveyed us to our lodgings. Serendib Guesthouse in Negombo is next to the beach and close to the airport. It is very good value. It is a pleasant place with comfortable rooms and a small pool in which to cool off. We had a lovely English breakfast.
There is not a lot to do in Negombo but it is easy enough to get around and to relax before heading off on our trip. The guest house is down a number of small streets so it can be difficult to fine, and the lack of signage is unhelpful. Our first impression of the local inhabitants was their friendly manner, where they always greeted you with a smile.
Day 2 Habarana
We were warmly greeted by our driver and guide Jally, who was to look after us for the next 15 days. We headed to Habarana which is in the Cultural triangle. The 5 hour drive gave us time to get to know Jally. He speaks very good English, and told us he spoke it at home with his family. His car was in good condition and kept vey clean. He drives vey carefully. Lunch was at a nice restaurant in the country overlooking a pleasant river scene.
When we arrived at Habarana, Jally suggested we book a safari for that evening, as I was keen to see wild elephants. We stayed at Jay Holiday Resort for 3 nights. There were lots of interesting birds about the resort, and we saw our first Peacock, the first of many.
We had a quick swim, in the resort’s nice pool then headed off to Hurulu Eco Park. Our park jeep driver said it would be the best place to see elephants at this time. The elephants move around between several parks in the area so you can never really be sure where they are. Jally came with us, as he is interested in wildlife and turned out to be a good guide. We saw a few elephants but we were outnumbered by Sri Lankan tourists in other jeeps. Following convoys of jeeps, trying to find elephants is not ideal, but watching the behaviour of Sri Lankan families on holidays was interesting.
They didn’t seem very interested in sitting quietly, observing elephants, but more interested in being with their families and noisily heading off for the next adventure! After 3 hours bumping around in an old jeep we headed back to the resort for another swim and dinner. I was a little disappointed because I think we saw about 15 or so elephants and not much else.
Day 3 Sigirya Rock
After string hoppers for breakfast we headed off to Sigirya Rock before it got to hot – I thought it was already bloody hot! We went on a back road to the rock and saw a hyena on the road and lots of birds.
When we arrived at Sigiriya, Jally took us to buy a 3 day pass for cultural triangle and then to see the museum before we climbed the rock. The museum is fairly new and well worth seeing before you head off up the rock – it gives you some good background and history of the place.
We walked down through, what is left of the original gardens, before we ascended the rock. There are 2 sections – the first is the climb to the painting gallery and the mirrored wall. I really liked the paintings but couldn’t really see any old graffiti on the mirrored wall.
The next stage is to the palace ruins at the top. The ascent up the face of the rock is through lion paws carved in rock. The stairs are not that difficult to climb, but due to the direct sun, 37 degrees C, and high humidity, I dripped in sweat. The views from the top were magnificent. There is not much left of the palace but you can get a feel of what it may have looked like. It originally had gardens and a swimming pool. It is hard to understand why you would build a palace on a rock!
Sigiriya was one of the highlights of our trip. The rest of the day was spent around the swimming pool and watching the birdlife back at Jays Resort.
Our plan was to go to Polonnaruwa but Jally advised us against it as politicians and VIPs were headed there to open a temple. The area would be crowded with full on security. Instead we headed to Anuradhapura for the day.
The trip there took about an hour and we saw lots of pilgrims heading in the same direction. It was the 2600th birthday of Buddha. Streets everywhere decorated with beautiful paper lanterns that blew in the breeze, and were lit up at night. There was a festive mood. Free drinks, and on occasions free food were offered to passing motorists, which were readily snapped up.
At Anuradhapura we visited the ancient city which is a significant site for pilgrims. It has the biggest Stupa in the world and a Bodhi tree which they say is the oldest Bodhi tree in the world. We mingled with the tens of thousands white dressed pilgrims, paying their respects to Buddha and his birthday.
It was another very hot day. Around the temples the ground was so hot, I couldn’t stand still on my bare feet (socks is a good idea). People and families rested and picnicked under the large trees. Many pilgrims were offered free food. Back to the resort for a swim.
Day 5 /6/7 Nilaveli
We headed off to Trincomalee and Nilaveli beach for 3 days. On the way we were lucky and saw a wild elephant as we passed national park.
The road is good for the first half, until the lake where it becomes very narrow and potholed. While the quality of the main roads are generally good, there is only single lane each way. Buses, trucks, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, cows and dogs all mix together, so travelling is slow. Fortunately Jally is a good and patient driver.
As we neared Trincomalee the signs of the recent war became more evident, with bunkers and soldiers every so often. However there were no road blocks and the atmosphere was not threatening. To us as tourists the people of Sri Lanka seemed to be well adjusted considering that the war finished only 2 years ago.
We stayed at the Nilaveli Beach Resort which is the best place in the area, but prices were up due to local holidays. We had a beachfront room which was comfortable and we spent our time on the beach relaxing. The resort is by no means 5 star, barely 4 stars in my opinion, but a good location on a nice beach. Because of Buddha’s birthday there was no alcohol being served but the barman gave us a gin and tonic because it didn’t look like an alcoholic drink. We visited Pigeon Island for some snorkelling where we saw 1 big and many small sharks amongst the coral. Our highlight meal of the trip was crab curry at the resort beach cafe. We were informed that a 600 bed resort is planned for next door, with more to come as all the neighbouring land has been sold to developers.
Day 8/9/10 Kandy
An early morning swim, then off to Kandy via Dambulla to see the caves. The entrance price to the caves had recently had a sharp increase, which was similar to most of the other attraction we visited. The price of hotels rooms had also increased significantly over the last 6 months.
Another hot day to walk up a rock! Inside the caves it was cooler. The caves are highly decorated and full of Budda statues. There were many paintings which told the story of Budda. I especially liked the hairy devils!
The drive from Dambulla to Kandy was scenic, through rolling hills and small villages. We stayed at a Villa Sandalwood, a B&B located 7 kms out of Kandy on a top of a hill, with terrific 360 views from its rooftop dining area. You really need to have a driver to stay this far out of town. Nice place. Good food. No driver accommodation though.
The next day we walked around the lake at Kandy, and included a stop at the Tooth Temple, which is interesting but don’t expect to see the tooth. There is a museum and other buildings that are also interesting but not a must see. After a curry for lunch we then wondered around the town before going to the dancing in the evening. Jally had got the tickets early so we sat in the front seats. The performance was a combination of dance, acrobatic tricks, singing and ending with firewalking. We really enjoyed the drumming. Overall it was an entertaining way to spend an hour.
Next morning we visited the botanical gardens, just out of Kandy. We spent a pleasant morning wandering the large and well developed gardens – some of the trees are very old and there are lots of lovely avenues of palms. The price of entry had more than doubled in the last 2 months.
It was time for another swim so we went and collected our swim gear and then headed off to a nearby smart hotel that had a very good pool. We had lunch, then a free swim and pool lounging for the rest of the afternoon. We had dinner with Jally in town at a good, cheap, Indian restaurant
Day 11 Ella
With an early start drove to Ella via Nuwara Eliya. This is a very scenic route, with tea plantations and pretty waterfalls. We stopped at Mackwoods for a cup of tea, and a short guided tour of their processing plant. We sat out on the terrace where they served us a large pot with beautiful orange pekoe tea.
Lunched in Nuwara Eliya in a local and busy eatery. I had a beef curry and wondered what the hard leather like bits were. It was the beef. We moved on to one of the old English looking hotels in town that had beautiful gardens and inside many old photos, mostly of historical scenes relating to tea. We arrived at Waterfall Homestay late in the day, just before it started to rain. It was our first rain for the trip.
Day 12 Ella
We had a lovely breakfast on the balcony looking through gum trees at a large and pretty waterfall. Afterwards we headed off for the walk up Ella Rock. The walk starts along the railway track, then crossed the river just above the top of the falls. There area a number of tracks, that eventually takes you up the mountain. A very kind local man who we encounted on the way, helped guide us to the top. It was very hot and sweaty work. Good views, but it is better to go early before the clouds descend. Had a relaxing afternoon at our homestay and watched the late afternoon rains. Kamal cooked us a delicious dinner.
Day 13 Ella
For breakfast Kamal cooked us egg hoppers building us up for another walk, this time to Little Adams Peak. It’s the bookend of Ella Rock that forms Ella gap. It was a fairly easy walk, and at the top it provided fantastic 360 views. Back in Ella for lunch we had a lovely pizza and salad with a couple of beers to wash it down. The rest of the day we relaxed back at the homestay, followed by another enjoyable dinner.
Day 14/15 Tissamaharama
It was a nice drive from Ella to Diyaluma waterfall, the second highest in Sri Lanka at 220M. Next we passed through an interesting tank with its birdlife, as we approached the ancient ruin at Buduruwagala. Here we found large relief rock carvings of Buddha. At Hibiscus Garden Resort we spent the rest of the afternoon around the pool, followed by a massage. Dinner was at the resort.
Jally arranged our safari for 5:30am start. Our resort provided us with awakening coffee and a freshly prepared breakfast package for our safari through Yala MP.
We hoped to encounter leopards, but they were elusive. We did see lots of birds and crocodiles often mingling close together, a lone elephant wading in a lake, water buffalo and a range of other interesting creatures. We had a very nice lunch at the nearby Priyankara Hotel before another afternoon at the pool.
Day 16/17/18/19 Tangella
This was our last day with Jally as the rest of our trip was for long stays is readily accessible places. Jally had made our trip stress free. He was a thoroughly nice man so it was particularly sad to say goodbye. He was easy to make conversation with. His English was excellent and his knowledge and understanding were both worldly and relevant. His car was always clean and completely reliable.
Our next 4 nights was at Moonhill house , at Goyambokka , just a couple of kms out of Tangella. A traditional styled architecturally designed house perched on the hill overlooking the beach. The beach was rough the first day but OK after that. We were the only ones staying there so we spent the next 4 nights relaxing, swimming and eating some good curries. We did wonder off one day to the nearby Amanwella Hotel (5star) and had an excellent lunch that included a glass of quality wine, the first for the trip. Afterwards we had a complementary swim in their very large pool. Then the rain came. Moonhill was picturesque, but I felt that the accommodation experience didn’t quite live up to this image.
Day 20/21 Galle
After arranging a car and driver with the manager at Moonhill we headed off to Galle via the blowhole. Even after arranging with the manager for a car in good condition, we were confronted with a rather old, rattly van with bald tyres that probably would not get a roadworthy anywhere else. Fortunately it didn’t rain while we were on the road.
On the way we detoured to the blowhole. It was a complete waste of time and wasted our money on another highly inflated entrance fee. The sea was flat and the visitor centre display equally similar.
We stayed at the lovely Galle Fort Hotel. It was the best place we stayed in all Sri Lanka. Galle Fort is a delightful place to spend a day or so exploring.
Day 22 Towards home
We organised a driver and van through our hotel for the day’s excursion that would end at Colombo airport late that night. We followed an itinery suggested by our hosts. First, a morning swim in the pool.
We stopped at Lunuganga gardens owned and lived in by well know architect Geoffrey Bawa. A guide to show us around the lovely gardens that overlook the river, some outbuildings and the home.
We did not stay for lunch, but went to Villa Bentota, a Bawa designed resort. In Colombo we did some shopping followed by a great Indian curry at the Mango Tree.
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After using this forum to help plan my trip I decided I should give a report back that others can use.