Sri Lanka Heritage area questions

Old Feb 10th, 2014, 02:14 AM
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Sri Lanka Heritage area questions

Just doing a bit of planning and as usual, would love to have more time than we have. However, this question is more logistical -

Would you recommend trips out to places such as Sigiriya, Pollonuwara and Dambulla as well as Kandy as day trips from a central location? Or moving around and staying near the sites?

Also, would the inclusion of Anuradhapura change that answer? Strong desire to see but it seems considerably further. Then again, my knees may dictate picking either Dambulla or Sigiriya but not both. Not sure yet.

If it helps: We really do find that we end up enjoying urban (well, in-town) experiences in the evening as much as we have visiting those "don't miss" attractions. Just the chance to walk around, hunt down something to eat, watch people doing stuff (and usually ending up chatting somewhere).


Side question - I really would like to take a train into the highlands. What would you recommend for an area to stay after a late plane arrival that wouldn't be too difficult the next morning to organize the train? Does that sound like a major hassle? (we'll be coming back from the south coast, so inbound seems to be the only opportunity)
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 03:52 AM
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Istaying near the sites in the cultural triangle is the only sensible option as the drive times can be a lot longer than they seem on the map. Anurahadpura is a long way from anywhere really and, after hours driving through floods to get there we really were not that impressed anyway. Polonuurawa was much more impressive.

If you have knee problems then I would avoid Sirigiya as it involves a long climb up countless steps to the top.

Kandy is a good place for your " in town" time. Lots to see and some nice places to eat around town. The " short eats" there were the best we found in Sri Lanka.

The airport is closer to Negombo than Columbo ( about 2 hours drive) so I think it may be a bit of a hassle getting to the station from there. But I suppose you could drive to a hotel in Columbo on arrival.

We took a couple of trains in SL and the best was from Hatton to Huptale.
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 04:24 AM
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Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, and Dambulla is very doable from one central location. Ideally stay in Habarana, then you re in the middle of everything and they all become half day trips. Anuradhapura is also possible from Habarana but this may take a bit more than half a day. You can fit in a visit to Minneriya to see some wild elephants - just 10 mins away from Habarana along the Polonnaruwa Rd. Many people do Pollonaruwa in the morning and come to Minneriya after lunch for an evening safari.

Will be easier to advise re train and route logistics if I know more about your route/itinerary.
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 05:25 AM
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As others have said, stay in one location inside the cultural triangle. We stayed at the Kandalama, which is near Dambulla and a great location for easy access to both the Dambulla Cave temples and Sigiriya. Polonnaruwa is a bit farther. Anurahadpura is a lot further... we did not go there.

As crellston says, if your knees are a problem, forget Sigiriya, but you should be able to visit the Dambulla cave temples.

If you want to visit Kandy, plan to spend a night there.

While Sri Lanka looks "small" and manageable to drive places from a central location, all drives will be much longer than you expect. Google drive times should be doubled or tripled.

You may find our photos and trip report useful, photos at
www.marlandc.com/sri-lanka-2007.html There is a link at the top of the page to my trip report here on Fodors.
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 01:36 PM
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Thank you all the help, I really appreciate it.

We're about 50 days out from the trip and just now trying to sort the itinerary. Just been a hectic time since buying to tickets.

Generally speaking, we know for sure we'd like to spend at least a few days in the cultural triangle... so thanks for clarifying about staying up in that area. A train ride seemed like a pleasant and well spoken of introduction to our first intended area.

Ultimately, we'd like to end up on the far south coast, a beach that's been recommended as being quiet. We'll likely reserve a whale watch with a better reputation to do while we're down there. We'd hope to stop in Galle "on the way" back around to the airport... well, more than a stop, perhaps a day and an overnight.

So we do expect that going from the center to the south will be quite a travel day. Perhaps breaking it up, if time allows, would be better.

So the middle bit is the fuzziest bit right now. Will probably squeeze out the tea areas first. The pics look gorgeous but... maybe a nice drive through while heading south will have to do. We've only got so many days there so we know we can't do it all.

ps - if anyone has a recommendation for a personable driver in any of these areas who isn't hellbent on taking you to craft outlets once your preferences are known, we'd be interested to hear about them.

Off to check out Kathie's report...
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 05:55 PM
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CC, I always recommend that people book drivers through an agency rather than hiring free-lance. By booking though an agency, you have back-up should either the car or driver nor prove satisfactory.
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Old Feb 10th, 2014, 06:46 PM
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Kathie,

Just through the standard car rental agencies? Budget, Avis, Europcar sort of thing? Is there some sort of online tick box for that you are needing a driver? (I ask because I thought I remembered seeing such a thing once... somewhere). Or do you mean an in-country travel agency?

As you can tell, we don't book a lot of drivers longer term. Or at least haven't. Mostly because we tend to make plans in an ad hoc sort of way which drives drivers a bit mad, plus we've just self-driven most holidays that involved a car (such as Thailand, Morocco, Romania). But we wouldn't be interested in driving in SL, by all accounts.

Lovely pics by the way. The day (well, month really) is crazy but I had some chance to check out those photos. Wow. Just wow. Will have a read of the report later tonight, hopefully beyond the first paragraph I've been pulled away from repeatedly!
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 07:01 AM
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CC, I have seen car rental agencies with the check box for a driver, too. I don't know that they have that in Sri Lanka, though I haven't looked. I was thinking of a local travel agency, like Boutique Sri Lanka, but I expect you'd have to book some lodging as well. I know there is a local agency that just books car and driver, I'll have to look and see if I still have the card.

We had a great driver in Sri Lanka, no problems with wanting to take us places we didn't want to go. Indeed, he'd ask ahead of time. Today we will be in a town famous for X - do you want to stop or not?
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 02:00 PM
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I cannot find the card of the agency that supplied our car and driver. I did find http://www.lankaholidays.com a website that has listing for lots of companies supplying cars and drivers.

I'll keep looking for the card.
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 02:02 PM
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I did do some checking and it doesn't look like any of the rental agencies I know have the check box for Sri Lanka. I'll go have a poke around the travel agencies as you suggest. And yes - that's exactly the sort of driver we'd hope for.

We've had a couple of one day drivers that 'drove' us batty. Half dozen times of "wait, where are we going now??" that already had been preceded by as many "We're not really interested in shopping today, please could we just get to the _____ as we agreed?" I know some really look for ways to make the commission, but I've been surprised when even when offered a higher rate to skip the shopping (understanding that people need to make money when they can), the habit seemed so ingrained we ended up heading for their usual places anyway.

Then there was the guy playing high speed Toyota-pothole chicken with another driver buddy on that SR to Poipet road (we turned off at Sisophon for Battambang which improved the road situation.

Guess you never know who you'll get until you jump in but if we'd been stuck on an overland with a couple of those guys... I'm not sure we wouldn't have leapt from the moving car. But being that it's Sri Lanka, will keep with the program. I'd actually considered sticking another (longish) train ride in from like Kandy to Galle, just to sort of "start over" in another area with another driver and all, just in case.

Hope we're lucky and get a driver(s) like yours!
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Old Feb 11th, 2014, 02:04 PM
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Thanks for the advice, btw and thanks particularly for looking for that! I'll have a look at the website though too and see if I can track down some names on it to matching reviews on the web.
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Old Feb 24th, 2014, 04:18 PM
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Mohammed - if you're still around... could you tell me what you think of Habarana as a town?

We've turned out to have a friend who has family who have a travel agency. And they've done an itinerary for us (which is *very* rare for me to go along with. It's well done and seems to have us in some lovely hotels. Many of which seem to be in picturesque, rural spots with views. That's the case for one they've suggested in our range somewhere a bit south of Sigiriya (it has distant views of the rock).

Thing is, we're really much more prone to bop out of our guesthouse and wander the village sort of people, rather than mosey around the remote gardens and look at the pool and hills and wait for dinner sort of people. We've met so many interesting people and had great conversations in places by just going out without a plan during the evening. Of course, some places are just to small to "walk around". Is Habarana sort of a wide spot in the road or is there some shops and restaurants and such? Just trying to see if it's worth it to ask for something else "in town" where we can occasionally feel like we're on our own a bit. Just not clear if there IS a town, exactly, if that makes sense. Not attractions, just signs of life.
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Old Feb 24th, 2014, 05:03 PM
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I'm not sure there are any of the places inside the cultural triangle that are what you are looking for. You may just have to do the cultural triangle differently from how you usually travel. We met and talked with interesting people, mostly at the sites in the cultural triangle.

Places that you could "walk around" include Kandy and Galle.
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Old Feb 24th, 2014, 05:16 PM
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Ok, fair enough. Places we've "walked around" in the past were often smaller than those appear to be, such as Ollantaytambo and Chinchero in Peru and Kampong Chhnang in Cambodia. Never any some sort of "official" outing and not having done a darn thing there for the most part, I remember them fondly for the time spent all the same. Sort of small town places, I guess. If Sri Lanka has no places of that size, I guess we will plan to stick to the regular tourism circuit and bring some books for evenings.
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Old Feb 24th, 2014, 06:21 PM
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Well, you may find something else when you get there... I can only report what I saw.

We are headed to Peru in November. Did you write a trip report?
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Old Feb 24th, 2014, 08:04 PM
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I have been terrible about writing trip reports! I did one for Romania once and it turned out be some Homer-esque epic (more Simpson than Greek). I am terrible at just sticking to the facts and so it rambled for literally weeks.

But I can tell you that we enjoyed Arequipa more than we expected yet missed both the condors and the Nazca lines. Machu Picchu town isn't much to look at, but functional. Cuzco amazing (or so I'm told - I had a serious med problem by then so only saw a bit). Lima is worth poking around a bit, IMO, and we enjoyed urban Peru.. but probably isn't for those who prefer the big ticket attractions. And as I mentioned around the backstreets of Ollantaytambo was a real highlight. Loved seeing how things functioned in the way of even simple things since Incan times, like drains, are still in use today.

We went the real hostel route in Peru and were happy. Not usually the type to be comparing notes on the best hotels. Fwiw, "hostel" seems to have a very different meaning in Peru and covers a lot more of the family run B&B sort of thing, and is a term used even when there are private ensuite rooms.
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Old Feb 24th, 2014, 11:53 PM
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Hi Habarana is basically a remote cross roads (two major roads cross here) and the "town" is very small, about a couple of 100m on either side of the cross roads, you will find mostly small shops/stores which sell most basic needs. Habarana is very centrally located so many bigger hotels have come up in and around this area because it is a good anchor point for the cultural triangle, however as you say the usually mean being in a enclosed artificial garden. If you like rustic places may I suggest you look at a small forest lodge run by Maulie De Saram called Galkadawala Forest Lodge, it is very intimate and Maulie is a great host, the little surrounding village can be interesting. I recall another Fodorite recommended this lodge recently too. Maulie can be contacted on +94 77 373 2855
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Old Feb 25th, 2014, 03:52 AM
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Hey Mohammed. Thanks for that. I think I've got a pretty good visual of Habarana now and can see why it wouldn't be much of much interest. The Galkadawala Forest Lodge does sound interesting (not that I have ultimate say, but *I* think so, at least). A little wrinkle with us - we're traveling with a 6 year old. Did the rooms seem capable of housing a 3rd person, you think? And the village setting (or nearby) would be good.

fwiw, we've just had an offer to stay in a small town (Ginigathena) in tea country with family of friends. Think we're going to take them up on it. We were going to skip the area but that could turn out to be fun.
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Old Feb 25th, 2014, 05:18 AM
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CC, thanks for your comments on Peru. Sorry you had altitude sickness in Cusco. I've heard such wonderful things about it, I hope we will do ok. BTW, the epic trip reports are often the most fun. Are you familiar with dogster's writings? Alas, he is no longer with us, though I am looking forward to his trip report on the afterlife.

I'm glad Mohammed chimed in with some info. He was invaluable to us in our trip planning.
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Old Feb 25th, 2014, 06:25 AM
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CC - The sort of experience that you're after [and which we like too] is a bit hard to find in
the cultural triangle area. I followed Kathie's lead and stayed at the Kandallama at Dambulla which is really a "destination hotel" - if you stay a night or two i doubt you'll be disappointed.

However, Kandy, Galle, Nurewa Eliya and Ella all have centres that can reward the curious traveller, and should suit your tastes as you describe them.

As for booking a driver, BSL seem now to have changed their policy and their website suggests that you can book a car and driver without booking accommodation through them, which was not the case when Kathie and I went. You could get round this, I suppose, by booking one hotel through them, if necessary. It is nice to know that you've got back-up - they phoned on the first day to ask if everything was all right with the driver and if we were happy, and i suppose that if we hadn't been, they would have tried to sort it out.

http://www.boutiquesrilanka.com/
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