About us – Fifty-something couple living in Australia for the past 25 years. We’re quite active and travel independently at least once a year. First trip to Sri Lanka, and a big thank you to all the Fodorites who answered questions and put out some great trip reports along the way. The trip (except flights) was booked through an overseas-based agent who had a local agent in Sri Lanka handle the logistics.
This trip may not follow the norms, as it was partly a journey of discovery, partly a holiday and partly a trip to my partner’s distant roots. While it seems we were on the road quite a lot, in reality the drives were quite short (with a couple of exceptions) and we travel quite light as well. Our idea of a holiday is to mix it up with the locals, walk the markets and see the sights and eat the food. I will not describe every location in detail, but will give my interpretation and welcome questions or comments.
Day 1 – Arrival, Negambo – Dambulla – Habarana (approximately 165km)
Arrived Negambo on Sri Lankan Airline from Singapore at about noon. We had arrived the day before from Melbourne and had a short stay in Singapore before the start of our vacation. Flight was very good with excellent crew and catering.
On arrival, I purchased the “Tourist pre-paid SIM card pack” from Mobitel for LKR1,600. Good value, provides free local and international calls and SMS as well as data allowance before a recharge is required. The counter is located conveniently before the immigration counters.
Driver was waiting for us in the arrival hall. After the preliminaries, we followed him to the car which was a medium-sized Toyota sedan with tinted windows. The drive was hair-raising, needless to say, following the typical Sri Lankan driving style (that is drive with one hand on the horn, right signal on for overtaking every other vehicle in front and using opposing lane for driving whenever they can!). At least he took notice of most of the speed limits.
We headed off to Habarana, with a short stop for late lunch at the Athula restaurant, Yapagama near Dambulla. We had heard of this place in the TA forum, so asked the driver to stop here. He was quite pleased at our suggestion as he said that the food would be good in a “home-cooked” style. Indeed, this is a small family restaurant serving Sri Lankan food only. There is no menu, and the items are changed daily according to what the cook is able to purchase locally. The food was set out in a buffet-style in terra cotta pots, with 8 different mild vegetable curries; rice and pickles. We were also given a small bowl of spicy chicken curry and a place of fried local lake fish. Drinks were very reasonably priced, and you also get fresh fruits to round off the meal. Lunch was LKR1,500 for two.
Arrived at our hotel (Chaaya Village) in Habarana shortly, checked in and after a long hot shower and a la carte dinner at the restaurant, dropped off to bed to cap off a long day. The hotel was set out like an old-style village with chalets spread out at the back connected by paths. Large lotus-filled lake at the side of the hotel, and one day we saw a tame elephant on the other side of the lake! Lots of small animals roam around – monitor lizards, squirrels and the odd monkey. This hotel is located back-to-back with the Cinnamon Lodge.
Day 2 – Sigiriya (approximately 40km return)
As we were going to be in Habarana for 3 nights, we had a few things in our “to do” list – climb the “Lions Rock” at Sigiriya, hot air balloon trip from Dambulla, visit Polonnaruwa ruins, Dambulla cave temple and possibly the Hurulu Eco forest reserve. The weather, on the other hand, had different ideas and it decided to rain. And boy, did it rain! We had very heavy rain non-stop from dawn which made us cancel the hot air balloon trip. After the excellent buffet breakfast spread at the Chaaya Village, we consulted with our driver, and decided to head out to Sigiriya with hopes that the rain may ease up.
The rain continued, but we did notice a large number of people braving the wet conditions and making their way up the rock. Paid the entry fee of USD30 for two (LKR7,400 for two), and joined the crowd for the long climb (1,202 wet steps) all the way in the pouring rain (not recommended if you don’t have good all-weather shoes and are quite fit). We were soaked right down to the socks, but had an enjoyable time. Photographs were pretty good considering the rain and mist, although it was a challenge keeping the gear dry (I had wrapped my camera with a microfiber towel and kept wiping the lens and body after use).
Stopped for lunch on the way back at J&Su Restaurant which was average (tourist-style buffet), cost LKR2,000 for two. After lunch, we decided to head out for a late afternoon Sri Lankan-style Ayurvedic massage. Our driver took us to the Sigiri Dasuna massage “resort” in the outskirts of Habarana. We had a 90-minute session which includes a 60min full body massage with herbal oils, a 15min steam bath and a 15min herbal bath. Cost LKR7,600 for two. Well worth it especially after the climb and aching muscles! The day ended with drinks at the bar and an early a la carte dinner at the hotel. Tried drying our shoes with the hair dryer, gave up and went to bed listening to the rain.
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