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Trip Report Trip Report for Sri Lanka

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I visited Sri Lanka for two and a half weeks in September/October, 2008, and for just six days in July, 2009. [For those of you who read my earlier post, I erred on the day Aug. 8.] I used the Lonely Planet guide for the first trip and the brand new Bradt guide for the second. Bradt is better, although an awful lot of it is geared to train travellers. In Colombo, I have stayed multiple nights in three hotels: Galle Face, Mt. Lavinia, and Cinnamon Grand. I prefer Mt. Lavinia (setting on the water, swimming pool, good food served on outside terraces), but Galle Face is nice, too. Cinnamon Grand is a huge, impersonal city hotel but it has good restaurants, a beautiful pool, a lively social scene, and celebrities (SL soccer stars, etc.) walking through the lobby. Bring $$ for all.

For ten days last October, with my driver, I went to Dambulla, Anuradhapura, and Kandy to see the principal Buddhist historical sites. We drove farther into the hill country around Nuwara Eliya, Ella, and on past Uda Walawe National Park to the coastal city of Hambantota, and worked our way west along the coast back to Colombo. My sole purpose for going to SL in July was to attend a wedding (at the Cinnamon Grand), so I made only a two night excursion to Nuwara Eliya to visit the tea estates again.

Sri Lanka is definitely the destination for anyone interested in Buddhism, but, in my opinion, go somewhere else, if you want a good beach. The fort and old area of Galle are fascinating, the hill country with tea estates is beautiful, and Sri Lanka, overall, is like a Garden of Eden, but subtracting from these national assets are run down, moldy buildings, poor insfrastructure, crowds of pedestrians jostling for space, jammed highways and streets, and a festering problem of inequality among classes and ethnic groups.

Just a short mention of other hotels. Two I can recommend are Geoffrey Bawa's Kandalama Hotel at Dambulla and the Tea Factory Hotel at Nuwara Eliya. Each is so unique that you will be amazed.

I am happy to write, in conclusion, that the national mood in Sri Lanka is entirely different now than it was last October. With the defeat of the Tamil Tiger insurgency, citizens feel as though they have a new beginning and they are optimistic. People with whom I talked smiled when they told me that the IMF has so much confidence in Sri Lanka that it has just given them more money than they asked for (they got $2.6 billion). It is a good time to go to Sri Lanka. The north is opening and I'm told that the beautiful beaches are up there. ZZ

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