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Suggestions for a First-Timer?

Old May 23rd, 2011, 01:58 PM
  #1  
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Suggestions for a First-Timer?

I am considering a trip to Sri Lanka and started doing some initial research. I thought it would be worthwhile to simultaneously try to get input / advice from folks here to try and put together a possible plan of action.

In my trip, I am interested in getting a good taste of what the country has to offer and would really like a sampling of several experiences. I enjoy history, culture, and nature.

Right now, I am thinking about flying in and spending a couple of days in Colombo, heading down to Galle, and then going north to Kandy followed up by the cultural / historical sights in the Sigiriya area. I would love a few days walking, hiking, etc, somewhere. I understand that there are some good tea plantations sprinkled throughout the country and would enjoy a couple of days visiting one. And last but not least, I would very much like to visit a few Buddhist temples / sights as I am Buddhist too.

I am looking at approximately two weeks, either in November or December, if one is better than the other.

Also, what is the best way to get around Sri Lanka? Costs? And is a malaria regime recommended for travel in the areas mentioned?

Thank you. I look forward to hearing what you have to say and cannot wait to read about others' experiences visiting the country.
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 02:50 PM
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Hi SL, the first thing to do is look for trip reports in here. Go up to the view by country box just above and start reading. These reports will answer many questions.

Are you traveling on your own? Up-market or down? You sound like a boutique hotelo kinda person. The big chain hotels are pretty ordinary, despite what some of the trip-reporters in here will write. Nov/Dec is the 'season of greed' in Sri Lanka. Be prepared.
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 03:08 PM
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We loved our time in Sri Lanka and intend to return. Follow dogster's advice and read some of the trip reports. The boutique hotels in Sri Lanka are marvelous.

The best way to get around is to hire a car and driver.

There are three recent Sri Lanka reports: Femi, crellston and LeighTravelClub
There are three older reports that are pretty comprehensive: Robbietravels, Craig, and my own report.

Read these, pick up a guide book, and start asking questions.

dogster, are there big chain hotels in Sri Lanka?
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 05:16 PM
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Yeeup. You just had the good sense not to notice them. By big chain, I mean Indian chains, not Hiltons. My terms are somewhat misleading. The hotels are still horrible. Shudders. Let's not go there.

The OP needs to tell us a budget. Sri Lanka can cost $500 a day, easily - or $50. How much is Tea Trails now?
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Old May 24th, 2011, 03:42 AM
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As ha sbeen said click on the trip reports and you will get a lot of info. We were for a month in Feb.
highlights for us were many and varied but included;

Kandy - for the Temple of the Tooth, the most important Buddhist site in the Country - greta ceremony in the evenings.

Adams Peak - A comparatively hard climb in the middle of the night to see the Buddhas/Adams/Shiva's footprint(depending on your religious persuasion!) . Very worthwhile.

Train rides - To & from Kandy etc. through the tea country provide a unique perspective and are are a great way to see the countryside, (takes about the same time as driving)

Pinnewela Elephant orphanage - not really an orphanage anymore but a great place to see elephants up close.

Galle - much nicer than Columbo which I found singularly unimpressive. Some really nice places to stay in Galle and some great restaurants at all levels.

Sigiriya and the cultural triangle - a must for most visitors

If you really want to splash ut then i would research the Tea Trails bungalow. There are some nice beaches on the south coast.

The best way to get around is probably to hire a car and driver either directly or via a tour operator. The difficulty is finding a good one! The problem with hiring directly is that is if things do go wrong then you are pretty much on your own. Not normally a major issue but if you are on a tight timescale then it could cause problems.
As others have said search for the trip reports and you will find a lot of info.

hopefully, Mohammed, who live in SL will pick up on this thread as he is a mine of useful info.
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Old May 24th, 2011, 04:40 AM
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Thank you to everyone for your comments. I will be sure to look for and read the trip reports.

Dogster, you are correct that I prefer boutique hotels, especially ones that really reveal the character of a location. I am thinking up to 120-150USD a night for a hotel room, not including food, and will be travelling with three others, so two rooms.

Kathie, is there a particular guidebook you would recommend for Sri Lanka?

Crellston, thank you for those tips. I am making note of each of them.

Thanks again everyone. I will read the reports and check back here from time to time.
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Old May 24th, 2011, 05:51 AM
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Dogster, you are right, I didn't notice them.

We used the Lonely Planet as it was about the only up-to-date guidebook when we went. Go to a bookstore and browse.

Also, use some of the travel agent websites for Sri Lanka. I'm someone who normally books everything myself. In Sri Lanka, it paid to have a local agent do it. We used Boutique Sri Lanka and were very happy with them. The three Fodorites who went to Sri Lanka this year used Red Dot and had varying amounts of difficulty with them. Both websites will give you lots of info about things to see and places to stay.

Tea Trails is an amazing experience, about $425 a night in high season. It includes everything - all meals and high tea, wine and apertifs, laundry, etc. It was a wonderful splurge for us.

In the cultural triangle, all of the sites have licensed guides available. For about $3, they will give you a wealth of information. I'm not usually one to hire guides as I like to study up before I go, but in Sri Lanka, we were visiting sites about which not much information is readily available. We used guides recommended by our driver at each of those sites and were glad we did. It was the difference between looking at a lot of stones vs being able to see the stories of the sites. People whose drivers "guided" them usually the magic of the sites.
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Old May 24th, 2011, 06:56 AM
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Thanks Kathie. And you are so right about browsing travel agents' website. I usually book independently, but use those sites frequently to at least get an idea of what is possible, how much time to spend at a place, distances, etc.
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Old May 26th, 2011, 05:48 AM
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I've had some time to read and comment on some of your trip reports. You really provide us with a wealth of information that I find very helpful as I start thinking.

A recurring theme I noted was the use of cars and drivers. Could you let me know what the average cost would be for four people? I know it will vary depending on size of vehicle, etc., but wanted an idea. My itinerary and length of time will be similar to Kathie's 2007 trip.
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Old May 26th, 2011, 08:11 AM
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I'm sorry, I don't remember how much we paid, but I was surprised by how inexpensive it was. You'll want a van for the 4 of you.

You'll want to work with a travel agent to get teh best prices on hotels and to hire the car and driver, so if I were you, I'd contatc one now. They can give you an estimate, then refine it as you firm up your plans.
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Old May 26th, 2011, 08:50 AM
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Thanks Kathie. May I ask which vendor you worked with, and if was in the U.S. or Sri Lanka?
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Old May 26th, 2011, 09:51 AM
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IMO, I think you are better off to work with a Sri Lanka agent than a US agent. We worked with Boutique Sri Lanka and thought they were excellent. When we return to Sri Lanka (probably next year) we will use them again. I feel that the best recommendation I can give.
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Old May 26th, 2011, 10:52 AM
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Thanks Kathie.
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Old May 26th, 2011, 11:17 PM
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Be warned, you may find it extremely difficult to elicit any sort of response to email enquiries to any of the SL agents. When you do, be VERY specific about what you want from them in terms of places to stay, sites etc. Beware the 150 km per day mileage allowance which seems to apply to all of them.
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