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just back from 2 wonderful weeks in sri lanka

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Jan 2nd, 2018, 01:19 PM
  #1
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just back from 2 wonderful weeks in sri lanka

I thought I would share some info about our recent 2 weeks in sri lanka with fodorites: this was a tricky trip to plan, but we were delighted with the country and I hope this report can help.
My first difficulty was finding a reliable travel agent. I got a couple names from this forum, one never replied to my emails, and one just gave us a cookie cutter trip. We fortunately found Antiquity Sri Lanka, and were extremely happy with their services- from the planning, to the hotels, to the guide/driver, all were terrific. They listened to what we wanted, and everything ran very smoothly.
Our itinerary is below:

1. arrive negombo, transfer to Bentota- stay 2 nights at the Rock VIlla hotel
this was the best hotel of the trip. stunning, smalll, great pool, unbelievable service, and some of the best food I have eaten anywhere, not just in asia. the chef asks each day what you might like for dinner, then goes to the market to buy what you crave, and cooks it like a genius...
a wonderful place to start our journey and relax, the beach is gorgeous, there are boat rides though the mangroves nearbye- bliss
2. 1 night Galle (stayed at the Jetwing Lighthouse which was fine. Galle was disappointing, very touristy- we should have seen it in the morning and driven on for the evening to mirissa, but this is a quibble
3. Mirissa- stayed at Imagine Villa- another amazing hotel, also very small, great food and service, A real treat. We were initially unsure if we should go whale watching, but are glad we did. Saw several blue whales, lots of dolphins, flying fish etc.
4. 1 night Udawalawe (grand udawalawe safari resort- ok hotel, nothing special)
the drive to udawalawe is spectacular, and the park is amazing. lots of close interactions with elephants, and we were surprised by the amazing bird life there as well. a very lush park indeed
5. drove to Yalla for morning safari, and it was another great experience, the park was not over run as we had been led to expect, great time there
continued our drive to Ella, and stayed at 98 Acres resort- another amazing hotel, views that cannot be beat. lovely hiking here in hill country, little adam's peak is right by this hotel and is easily accessed.
2 nights Ella

6. train to nuwara eliya- this was to have been a highlight for us, but in the end I think the train was nice, but the same scenery could be had by car. It is indeed stunning scenery through hill country though. Great hiking near nuwara eliya. but only really 1 day's worth of activities here.
7. drive to Kandy, stopping at tea planttions, walking through some plantations, some amazing waterfalls and temples to be seen along this drive
we stayed at OZO in Kandy, and I would recommend this hotel. The Temple of the tooth is incredibly crowded in the evening during the tooth ceremony. if it were not for our guide there is no way we would have been able to get anywhere near it
1 day in Kandy is enough
8. On our drive north the next day, we had several stops including a spice/herb factory, which was a great stop to see how all our spices are grown, they have a lovely restaurant there as well. Enjoyed Dambulla caves, and then on to Sigiriya, stayed at the spectacular Aliya Resort. what a vista!!
stayed 2 nights at Aliya Resort
9. the next day cycled aroung Polonnaruwa, a remarkable site, as good as any we have seen in our many trips throughout asia. then an afternoon Safari to Minneriya, Wow, talk about an elephant experience, we saw huge herds, over 100 elephants, and experience I have never had anywhere including several trips to africa.
10. in the morning we climbed Sigiriya rock. Really crowded at Xmas, bottlenecking for over 1 hour to see the frescoes. but the climb is still worth it.
that afternoon we did a "village tour' which we all loved- sounded corny on paper but it was great. a short 'bullock' cart ride, then a boat to a village. then a village lunch prepared from scratch by 2 local women- we saw home they ground the rice, opened the coconuts, prepared the food, and we tried all the techniques ourselves -- it was a blast and delicious!
we then drove to Negombo- we had a 2 a.m. flight so we arranged for a hotel room for the evening til departure

Highlights- lovely people, some great food experiences, and the beautiful scenery. The game parks were amazing

We are a family of 4, have traveled extensively through the world, have enjoyed many trips through europe, africa, asia, north and south america and the middle east. we enjoyed sri lanka as much as anywhere, and I would be happy to answer any questions anyone may have!
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Jan 2nd, 2018, 02:00 PM
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that's terrific, 4bams, glad you had such a great time. Some of the food is amazing isn't it? Sounds as if your planning was very good and you weren't trying to go too far in any one day which makes a lot of difference.

thanks for coming back and telling us all about it.
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Jan 2nd, 2018, 03:08 PM
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I'm so glad to hear how much you enjoyed Sri Lanka! Ten years later, it remains one of our favorite trips. And I'm glad to hear of another local agent we can recommend.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 06:06 AM
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I think the country is poised to be a popular destination. We saw very few north americans (though lots of europeans.) some 'sites' were very crowded (kandy tooth palace, sigiriya) but we were there over christmas to be fair, and anywhere will be busy. however the rest of the time was not overcrowded at all. I think the last few years has brought some much needed infrastructure, amazing hotels and some intimate local experiences are all starting to become available, along with great wildlife, nature and of course food...I think with careful planning its a great place to visit. We really were pleased wtih Antiquity as a local agent - we have used castle and king in india, tonkin in vietnam, both found on fodors, and felt antiquity to be as good. make sure you specify what level you want to travel, for the difference in price a higher level is worth it. we had a couple nights in lower level hotels, and the difference is huge in terms of noise, bathrooms, food etc.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 06:47 AM
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Good points, 4bams and useful for me at least to have the comparison as I am looking at going to India within the next year and am trying to decide how to go; C&K is one of the agents I'm looking at so thanks for the recommendation.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 10:25 AM
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4bams, can you tell us, please, prices of your various accommodations & more details of the differences when you say "the difference in price a higher level is worth it"?

I think a trip to Sri Lanka is in my future but I'm finding a big spread in accommodations and while I usually find modest places suit me, a recent experience has me rethinking this approach for some countries. Sri Lanka may be one of these.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 11:06 AM
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Anthony Bourdain in is "Parts Unknown" series featured SL. This was a few mos. ago and it was really good. These series are I would say 20% food and 80% people and their culture. It seems that they have not forgotten the awful civil strife they had not so long ago. One of my former colleagues, an Indian nurse lost her brother who was in the Indian army in that conflict. However he notes they are trying very hard to live now and move on. Did you get a sense of that?

Thank you.

Larry. .
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 11:30 AM
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I think a trip to Sri Lanka is in my future but I'm finding a big spread in accommodations and while I usually find modest places suit me, a recent experience has me rethinking this approach for some countries. Sri Lanka may be one of these.>>

Mme P - when we went about 5 years ago, we set a limit of about £100 a night for B&B which got us the following:

Heritage Kambulla at Dambulla,

Theva Residence in Kandy,

Warwick Gardens in NE,

Chaaya Wild in Yala [now renamed I believe]

Thambapanni Retreat Unawatunna, [though we cancelled that and stayed in Galle itself, just because we wanted to be in town, not out in the sticks]

Galle Face in Colombo

They were all quite high end for us - but well worth it.

I don't know know how much they are now, but they will give you something to compare the prices you are seeing with.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 11:49 AM
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Annhig, re your first listed place above, do you possibly mean Heritance Kandalama in Dambulla--the Geoffrey Bawa designed hotel? I recall (memory may be deficient)that is one Kathie loved too.

If you make it to South india, there is a Geoffrey Bawa designed area in the Heritage Madura--that's on my "list" for a future trip
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 11:55 AM
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Thanks, annhig. As I usually travel for at least a month £100 a night is a splurge for me in Asia. Having just been on a trip where I had to make a jump from $50US a night to $150 to get a decent place last minute, I'm trying to determine if it's a similar situation in Sri Lanka. It would make a huge difference to how I plan though I think there are some ladies there in 5W that would offset the cost. Staying with fellow members some nights would help and also be a pleasure if, as it seems, I may need to spend more.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 02:19 PM
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Annhig, re your first listed place above, do you possibly mean Heritance Kandalama in Dambulla--the Geoffrey Bawa designed hotel? I recall (memory may be deficient)that is one Kathie loved too>>

Sorry yes, Calinurse, somehow I mangled the name. that is the one, and we loved it as much as Kathie did. it really set the tone for our trip, and though it was difficult for the other places we stayed at to live up to it, they mostly did in one way or the other.

Thanks for reminding me about the Heritage Madura - that is on my radar too.

Mme P - there is definitely decent accommodation available for less than we paid, it was a splurge for us as it was the first time we'd ventured to Asia so we erred on the side of caution. One crucial issue is whether you can manage without a/c - when we decided we wanted to stay in the centre of Galle rather than on the beach our driver found us a place that looked fine except no air conditioning and I couldn't manage that; it was about ¼-⅓ of the price which we then paid. I posted details of where we stayed so you could have a benchmark.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 03:00 PM
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Galle Face Hotel is one that I accept I will be splurging to experience. A friend who's been to SL a number of times loves the place and while he can afford it more than I, I will for the experience, though sorry I waited too late to meet their famous doorman.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 03:41 PM
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Mme P - I hope that you don't have the same experience we had at the Galle Face which was being woken up in the middle of the night and told to get out of our room quickly because there was a fire in the other part of the building and indeed we could smell smoke as we ran down the stairs. They were very good at getting us out but there were some who had to be woken by other visitors as they had been missed, others were given time to put their day clothes on, and there was no head count at all.

It is a lovely and iconic place and hopefully they have sorted out the wiring in the old building which seemed to be the root of the problem.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 03:44 PM
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Yikes!
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 07:50 PM
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"I'm finding a big spread in accommodations and while I usually find modest places suit me, a recent experience has me rethinking this approach for some countries."
MmePerdu, do you feel comfortable saying where and which hotel this was? I like to know now the "DO miss" as well as "Do not miss" places.

Annhig, apologies for the typo. .The Bawa designed hotel in Tamil Nadu is the Heritage Madurai in...Madurai! Glad you mentioned the AC hotel factor. For me, no AC?.. no way!

Prices all over the world in the last decade are higher for decent places, i expect, and certainly in India and especially Southern India.. My first trip to the southern part of the country ten yrs ago (not long ago compared to some of the travelers here) we could find really good places for aprox $100 USD/night or less. Now, it's harder to find an excellent place in that price range, at least with my admittedly "pickier" requirements.

Anyway, I digress.. Still, each report about Sri Lanka intrigues and entices even morel Still wondering, with limited time, if i can tear myself away from a return to India on a future trip.
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Jan 3rd, 2018, 08:19 PM
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CaliNurse, it was in Egypt. I found that because of the revolution's lingering effects on tourism, many of the modestly priced accommodations are suffering and have had no money for upkeep. For the foreseeable future it's safest to book a higher grade of hotel than one might normally. Guidebooks (the newest editions aren't up to date given the situation) recommend places that are now a bit down at the heels. But it worked out, I hadn't booked ahead for the last 10 days and made the correction, easy to do when no place is booked up.
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Jan 4th, 2018, 07:14 AM
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CaliNurse - just go. I've not been to India yet [still thinking about a trip this year or next, and need your advice at some point, ditto Mme P] but I can't imagine that you would feel short-changed by Sri Lanka.
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Jan 4th, 2018, 12:13 PM
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Mme Percdu, glad it worked out for you in the end. I'm not considering a trip to Egypt, so won't ask for the specific name as well. Thank you for the explanation of possible reasons for the
Perhaps we should all start a thread on "funniest" "worst" or "most memorable for the wrong reasons" thread on lodging.
Annhig, like Nike, eh? "Just do it!" Hoping it will work for a max 3 week (family responsibility limits) trip next winter, to include southern Tamil Nadu. Who knows, perhaps we'll cross paths! I think Fodorite Progol is also planning a trip to the region for that season.
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Jan 4th, 2018, 12:15 PM
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4bams, apoliges for "piggybacking." I enjoyed and learned much from your trip report.
Glad to learn of another possible travel agent. Good ones anywhere are a treasure!!!
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Jan 4th, 2018, 01:43 PM
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Annhig, like Nike, eh? "Just do it!" Hoping it will work for a max 3 week (family responsibility limits) trip next winter, to include southern Tamil Nadu. Who knows, perhaps we'll cross paths! I think Fodorite Progol is also planning a trip to the region for that season.>>

A Tamil Nadu GTG? Now that's an idea! [channelling Nike was not my intention]

Shall we start another thread?
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