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Sri Lanka planning - advice sought.

Old Jul 17th, 2017, 07:43 PM
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Sri Lanka planning - advice sought.

Our flights are booked to Sri Lanka. We arrive in the morning on Saturday 14 October and depart Sunday 29 October. We'll have a car/driver booked for the first 7 or so days, (via Camlo Lanka Tours) and thereafter organise a car/driver via our accommodation to get us to the next place. Our interests are food, culture, architecture, temples, natural beauty, cities and of course people. We know it will probably rain a lot.

My rough plan looks like this:
14 October stay Negombo
15/16 October stay Ancient Cities area, where ?
17/18 October stay Trincomalee
19/20 October stay Ancient Cities area, where ?
21/22 October stay Kandy
23/24 October stay Ella
25/26 October stay Galle
27/28 October stay Colombo

For accommodation I plan to use guesthouses or family run places to immerse ourselves into the Sri Lankan way of life, and hopefully enjoy some home cooking. We don't need or want a five star hotel experience, just a clean, comfy room with private bathroom (a view would be a bonus).

I need help mostly with the ancient cities area. We want to visit Dambulla Caves, see (but not climb) Sigiriya rock fortress, visit Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, and other temples or sights you might suggest. No National Parks this trip, next year Africa !
Trincomalee breaks up our time in the Ancient Cities area because 18 October is the public holiday for Diwali. We'd like to be in a city with a large Hindu population to experience this.

Should we knock a day off the AC area and add one to Kandy or Galle ?
Where to stay to maximise our sight seeing opportunities in the AC ?
Any local markets/towns worth stopping or detouring for ?
For those who've read any of my trip reports, other suggestions for things we might like to do or see ?

As always, thanks in advance !
sartoric is offline  
Old Jul 18th, 2017, 02:45 AM
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Hey Sartoric. Glad to see Sri Lanka on your itinerary - and Africa following it! We had a similar travel agenda in 2015 and 2016.

Because of the temples and ruins, the ancient cities areas are IMO the most interesting parts of the island. I would absolutely keep it on your itinerary. Between Negombo and Trincomalee my suggestion would be to base yourself in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. With two nights, you would be able to fully explore the temples and stupas that for the area, many still functional. Also take a side trip to Mihintale from Anuradhapura. There is a road that goes from Negombo straight to Anuradhapura and onward to Trincomalee.

Coming back to the ancient cities area base Dambulla would be a convenient base as it is on an intersection of roads coming from Trincomalee and another heading south towards Kandy. You could also stay near Sigiriya Rock or Polonnaruwa. Spend a large part of your day in Polonnaruwa; you will be glad to have the time to wander among the ruins. I also wouldn't miss the Dambulla Caves and Sigiriya Rock. If you have time, you can also visit Ritigala; the ruins take some imagination but the jungle-like setting is unique and you will likely have the place to yourself. If you are able to add a day here, I would do so.

If you are pressed for time Kandy would be where I minimize my time. You could even visit the Temple of the Tooth and be on your way if you really wanted to. There are a few medieval temples outside of Kandy that are worth a look but skip it if you are going straight from the ancient cities to Tea Country. If you do go straight, then consider staying in or around Nuwara Eliya rather than going all the way to Ella as it would make for a long day on the road.

Between Nuwara Eliya, Ella, and the coast is where you will find a collection of interesting towns with markets. This region is home to a mix the Buddhist Sinhalese as well as Hindus and Muslims. Given your interests, this region may be worth more time. And Tea Country is a good place to slow down, relax, and perhaps take some walks in the hills.

From Ella is only a couple of hours to the coast and onwards towards Galle and Colombo. I enjoyed Colombo and 2 nights is a good amount of time to get a decent feel for it, but you could shave a night off if you need it elsewhere. I haven't been to Galle so I am unable to provide you feedback there.

My trip report is now a couple of years old but take a look if you like. Happy to answer any other questions as you give more shape to your plans.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Old Jul 18th, 2017, 10:20 AM
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I love tripplanner's advice to you as it is exactly the advice I would offer.

I think you will love Sri Lanka - we still talk about returning.
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Old Jul 18th, 2017, 11:25 AM
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TP, thank you so much, Anuradhapura seemed like the logical choice for those first two nights, glad you've confirmed that. I clearly have more research to do for the rest of our time in SL, although am inclined to leave some parts wingable. I've read your excellent TR (more than once), Ministry of Crab is the reason for our stay in Colombo !

Kathie, I think we'll love it too. I'm a bit concerned doing this trip so soon after our successful Southern India sojourn, but choosing SL was a product of that !
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Old Jul 18th, 2017, 12:40 PM
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Ministry of Crab is well worth the trip; we still think about the excellent meal we had there. Consider making a reservation when you get to Sri Lanka as it often books up. Nearby is the Pettah neighborhood; very fun to wander around if you enjoy markets. Be prepared for noise, foot and cargo traffic, and a certain level of chaos, but you are probably already prepared for it in India.
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Old Jul 18th, 2017, 06:02 PM
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I am leaving in six weeks for Sri Lanka, and I have spent the last year, on and off, planning my itinerary. I realize that your interests are a bit different than mine, but I would suggest putting your entire Colombo stay at the beginning of your trip, perhaps two nights total, and having a driver take you from Galle directly to the airport on your departure day. I believe that is what susiesan, a regular here, did. She used a driver for the first part of her trip, said good bye, and then he came to get them in Galle, and took them to the airport on the same day.

I do believe that the ancient sites in Sri Lanka are extremely important, so you should spend as much time as possible in the Cultural Triangle. Here is my itinerary--I thought maybe it might give you a few ideas. I decided to stay in Dambulla for the first four nights since Kathie suggested doing that, and she's rarely wrong.

Fri Sept 1 - Arrive Colombo (via HKG) at 11:15 PM,
Airport pick up by Steven, my driver for the next nine days
Sleep in Negombo

Sat Sept 2 - 8 AM driver pick up, go to Dambulla, see the caves, arrive at Popham Arboretum at 3 or 3:30 PM, tour the place in daylight and then go on the night safari
Sleep in Dambulla

Sun Sept 3 - Visit Dambulla Sunday Market, then day trip to Anuradhapura, Mihintale, and Kaludiya Pokuna
Sleep in Dambulla

Mon Sept 4 - Day trip to Polonnaruwa, and dusk game drive in Minnerya
Sleep in Dambulla

Tues Sept 5 - Visit Dambulla Wholesale Vegetable Market, then day trip to Sigiriya Rock, then Ritigala
Sleep in Dambulla

Wed Sept 6 - Drive from Dambulla to Nuwara Eliya,
Stop in Kandy, and see the Temple of the Tooth, and one or more of the following, as time permits:
Garrison Cemetery, Udawattekele Sanctuary, boat ride on Kandy Lake, view from Bahirvakanda Buddha.
Arrive in Nuwara Eliya at dinnertime
Sleep in Nuwara Eliya

Thu Sept 7 - Early morning departure for Horton Plains, do some hiking,
If time permits: Drive to Pidurutalagala, and visit Lover's Leap waterfall.
Sleep in Nuwara Eliya

Fri Sept 8 - In the morning, see some sights around Nuwara Eliya, some possibilities include:
British Cemetery behind golf course (grave of Major Rogers), covered market on New Bazaar Street, Holy Trinity Church, 1 mile walk to Single Hill Tree.
Arrive at Deniyaya at dinnertime.
Sleep in Deniyaya

Sat Sept 9 - Hiking in Sinharaja with a guide
Sleep in Deniyaya

Sun Sept 10 - 4 AM departure to Colombo for short city tour (Colombo fort) and lunch, 2:05 PM flight to Kochi, arrive 3:25 PM
CaliforniaLady is offline  
Old Jul 19th, 2017, 01:30 PM
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Thanks CL, I was hoping you'd chime in. I don't think the Colombo idea will work for us. It would mean departing Galle at 5 am, as we have a mid morning flight and then a very long day/night getting home. Lots of good ideas in your itinerary though, which I'll insert into mine !

I fondly remember a poster called gpanda who allocated penalty points for late trip reports. Hope you have a fantastic journey, and tell us all about it in a timely fashion (hint, hint).
sartoric is offline  
Old Jul 20th, 2017, 07:10 AM
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Gpanda - a real gentleman and character and sorely missed on this forum. We met up with him, his wife Beth and Bob and Karen rhmkk, in Boston many years ago and had a great time. Someone should bring back the penalty points!

Anyway, I can recall not being that impressed when we visited Anuradhapura a few years back. Possible because we were there in the middle of some quite serious floods - so that may well have coloured our impressions somewhat! However, I do recall comparing it with Polonnuwara which really did impress, even though it was similar in many respects.

It was a while ago but I posted a fairly detailed TR here @ there may still be some relevant stuff there.

As I recall we felt that we did move around too much in the Cultural triangle and could have done with staying in the one place, probably Dambulla.

Galle was very pleasant and a nice change. It took us over six hours to get to Negombo from there, but I believe there is a new fast highway now so it is a lot quicker- maybe a couple of hours?

Colombo, I could take or leave. The best part for me was the Pettah, but I do love markets.

I would second tripplanners suggestion of Ritigala, we found it fascinating. Also in the vicinity is Namal Uyana Conservation Forest and its rose quartz mountain.

Kandy, I really liked, especially the evening ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth, one day would be enough though.

Any way you could squeeze in a train ride? Maybe from Kandy to Ella?
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Old Jul 20th, 2017, 06:13 PM
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Thanks Crellston, I have just re-read your report. I will brush up on my cricket knowledge (one of the few sports I can tolerate) and yes, Galle to CMB is now 1.55 hrs according to Rome2rio which I'm told is fairly accurate. Ritigala is now on the list.

There will be a train ride for sure, perhaps Haputale to Ella.

I hope they've gotten over the "westerners don't eat spicy" by now. My plan is to invade some guesthouse kitchens so I can ensure we get the real deal (might regret that)....
sartoric is offline  
Old Jul 21st, 2017, 07:48 PM
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First time on this site. My husband and I just returned from Sri Lanka our first trip. So no experts, we spent 9 days our itinerary below, we like the beaches and water so spent a few days along the eastern shore. Less developed and gorgeous! No time in Colombo, don't care for large cities. Tried to do most our sight visiting early morning when it was cooler. If planning on climbing the rock go early around 7 otherwise it's very hot to climb. We just stopped along the way for fresh fruit and
Food. The local food is delicious however very, very spicy. I love spicy food but had to ask for milder version. Safari was brilliant saw seven leopard sightings , very lucky! Sri Lanka is a pearl in the Indian Ocean. Will go back!

We used a company called boutique Sri Lanka ask for Chamila Kodisinghe
Boutique Sri Lanka
+94 112699213

Chamila was excellent and responded very quickly. We told her what kind of accommodation we wanted , smaller boutique hotels , guest houses and price range and she did not dissapoint us. She arranged a driver as well , who spoke amazing English, knew his history , roads etc. Mr Priyantha. Drove safely.

22nd June Arrive Colombo 6:00AM Sri Lanken Airlines
Driver meets us at the airport
Pick up food (takeout) for car picnic before leaving airport
Transfer to the Sacred City of Anuradhapura – approx. 5hr drive – Leave airport
. See RuwanwelisayaDagoba, Temple of the Sacred Tree
(Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi), RatnaPrasada or Jewel Palace, AbhayagiriVihara Monastery, Moonstone of AbhayagiriVihara, AbhayagiriDagoba, etc
Overnight Heritance Kandalam

23rd June
Transfer to Dambulla Cave Temple – approx. 1hr – Leave 6am - Arrive 7am
Visit the Temple for 1hr (approx. 7am-8am)
Transfer to Sigiriya Rock Fortress – approx. 20 minutes drive
Climb the Sigiriya Rock Fortress and picnic at the top– allow 3hrs (approx. 8:30-11:30)
Transfer to Water Garden Sigiriya – approx. 30 minutes – Arrive 12Noon

24th June Transfer to Potonnaruwa – approx. 1/12hrs drive – Leave by 6:30am
See Gal Vihara, Quadrangle, the Lankatilaka Temple, RankotVihara Temple, etc
Transfer to Uga Bay, Passikudah – approx. 2hrs drive – Arrive 12Noon

25th June All day -swimming beach , went snorkeling
Overnight stay at Uga Bay, Passikudah

26th June Transfer to Kollukal Beach House, Arugambay – approx. 4hr drive –Arrive 11am More of a surfing beach but beautiful

27th June Transfer to Chena Huts, Yala – approx. 3hr drive – Arrive 11am
Lunch at chena hut
Evening Safari yala National Park – Dinner at Hotel
Overnight stay at Chena Huts

28th June Morning and Evening Safari at Yala National Park
Overnight stay at Chena Huts

29thJune Transfer to Mas Villa by Fox small guest house , after passing through NuwaraEliya –approx. 6hr drive - Leave 6am – Arrive approx. 12Noon, tea plantation etc.

30th June Transfer to Temple of the Sacred Tooth, Kandy – approx. 11/2hrs drive
Depart 7am so we arrive in time to see the Puja Ceremony at 9:30am
Visit the temple for 1hr (approx. 9am-10am)
Transfer to Heritance Negombo for overnight stay – approx. 4hrs drive – Arrive approx. 2pm
DRIVER RELEASED. Overall great trip. Will go back!
ahmo is offline  
Old Jul 22nd, 2017, 06:52 PM
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Thanks ahmo and welcome to Fodor's. It sounds like you had a great time, and good fortune to see the leopards ! Luckily we are also early risers, as it seems the best way to cope with the heat.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2017, 09:51 PM
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Sigiriya Village was a pretty reasonable place to stay in that historic area. It was a bit more removed than we usually pick and I was worried it was going to be too "resorty" but it wasn't. It didn't let us walk around a town or anything in the evening but it was the one area I didn't really see a town that called to me anyway. Clean, comfortable rooms that weren't cramped. Prices from around $100, which isn't lux for Sri Lanka (prices are not comparable to SE Asia) Mad up of separate buildings with a few rooms each that were spread out a bit. It had a big outdoor dining pavilion (mix of Lankan and Western food) and a pool. Good view of Sigiriya from the grounds, about 15-20 minutes to Dambulla.

Suspect you're going to want A/C in Galle. Interesting and worth visiting, but I think maybe the hottest, sweatiest place I've ever been in my life. We were just at a little hostel in the walled bit (outside that little area, Galle is quite modern), but was lucky to have a room with a split system.
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Old Jul 25th, 2017, 08:06 PM
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Sartoric, not sure of you are looking for hotel recommendations but having traveled to Sri Lanka in 2014, I recommend looking at the hotels designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. The Heritance Kandalama in Dambulla is breathtaking, built into a rocky hillside where inside and outside merge seamlessly and the rooms have vine covered balconies with a sweeping view of the countryside and Sigiriya Rock in the distance. Club Villa in Bentota, a colonial building on large lawns leading to the ocean may not be on your itinerary unless you stop enroute from Galle to Colombia, but close by is Lunungara which was Bawa's home and well worth a tour along with viewing its exquisite gardens. We didn't stay at Jetwing in Galle but it looks like another Bawa gem. None of his hotels are over the top price-wise, and they add a unique dimension to a Sri Lankan visit.

We also enjoyed Kandy House (lovely ambiance)for an overnight peacefully just outside of Kandy and Tea Trails which is of course pricey but left us with rich memories of meandering among tea-covered hills, watching the pickers unload their baskets, thunderclouds building from a distance and later candles lit for dinner on the verandah as the rain came in.

Sri Lanka is a wonderful country, a feast for the senses, you will find so much to see and do.
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Old Jul 27th, 2017, 02:36 AM
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Thanks CC, I'll look at Sigiriya Village. We expect heat and high humidity all over Sri Lanka, it won't be pretty, but we'll manage, and aircon will help.

Thanks also victoriac, I've just started reading about Geoffrey Bawa, we have an amateur interest in architecture, so his home sounds well worth a detour. Your evocative words about Kandy House make me want to splurge on one nights accomodation
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Old Jul 27th, 2017, 03:29 AM
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It's a great country, sartoric. Enjoy the trip. (confession) I only mentioned Galle and the heat as I saw "AC" in your post. lol. Ancient Cities, Air Con... which ever, lol. Just made me think of how much hotter Galle felt than the interior. Even put Bali to shame.
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Old Jul 27th, 2017, 10:51 AM
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Hi Sartoric. Sounds like a fantastic trip! I am jealous.

As a point of interest, you were quite near one of Geoffrey Bawa's designed places in Madurai--the Heritage Madurai Hotel.
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Old Aug 25th, 2017, 02:12 AM
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Looking forward to following your travels to Sri Lanka, sartoric. Looking to do a S. India + Sri Lanka trip in early 2019 -- after I retire! At least, that's he hope and plan for now ..
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Old Aug 25th, 2017, 10:57 PM
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Thanks for the prompt Paule, I've been really slack this trip, done nothing except book airfares (and we'll be there in seven weeks). Must pull my finger out.

CaliNurse, if only we'd be able to stay at The Heritage in Madurai, as you might recall we stayed at the garish JC Residency.

I plan to write a live report, so hope you both can pick up some tips.

CC, lol indeed. The humidity concerns me, but I'm hopeful we'll survive !
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Old Aug 27th, 2017, 02:05 AM
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I'm sure you'll pull your finger out (!) and pull it together (!!)and create a wonderful trip. You always seem to manage somehow!

And I'll be following along when you do!

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Old Oct 5th, 2017, 03:07 PM
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Bookmarking for a hoped-for trip in March 2018
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