To Sri Lanka and Back....

Mar 14th, 2013, 01:09 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 82
To Sri Lanka and Back....


About us – Fifty-something couple living in Australia for the past 25 years. We’re quite active and travel independently at least once a year. First trip to Sri Lanka, and a big thank you to all the Fodorites who answered questions and put out some great trip reports along the way. The trip (except flights) was booked through an overseas-based agent who had a local agent in Sri Lanka handle the logistics.

This trip may not follow the norms, as it was partly a journey of discovery, partly a holiday and partly a trip to my partner’s distant roots. While it seems we were on the road quite a lot, in reality the drives were quite short (with a couple of exceptions) and we travel quite light as well. Our idea of a holiday is to mix it up with the locals, walk the markets and see the sights and eat the food. I will not describe every location in detail, but will give my interpretation and welcome questions or comments.

Day 1 – Arrival, Negambo – Dambulla – Habarana (approximately 165km)

Arrived Negambo on Sri Lankan Airline from Singapore at about noon. We had arrived the day before from Melbourne and had a short stay in Singapore before the start of our vacation. Flight was very good with excellent crew and catering.

On arrival, I purchased the “Tourist pre-paid SIM card pack” from Mobitel for LKR1,600. Good value, provides free local and international calls and SMS as well as data allowance before a recharge is required. The counter is located conveniently before the immigration counters.

Driver was waiting for us in the arrival hall. After the preliminaries, we followed him to the car which was a medium-sized Toyota sedan with tinted windows. The drive was hair-raising, needless to say, following the typical Sri Lankan driving style (that is drive with one hand on the horn, right signal on for overtaking every other vehicle in front and using opposing lane for driving whenever they can!). At least he took notice of most of the speed limits.

We headed off to Habarana, with a short stop for late lunch at the Athula restaurant, Yapagama near Dambulla. We had heard of this place in the TA forum, so asked the driver to stop here. He was quite pleased at our suggestion as he said that the food would be good in a “home-cooked” style. Indeed, this is a small family restaurant serving Sri Lankan food only. There is no menu, and the items are changed daily according to what the cook is able to purchase locally. The food was set out in a buffet-style in terra cotta pots, with 8 different mild vegetable curries; rice and pickles. We were also given a small bowl of spicy chicken curry and a place of fried local lake fish. Drinks were very reasonably priced, and you also get fresh fruits to round off the meal. Lunch was LKR1,500 for two.

Arrived at our hotel (Chaaya Village) in Habarana shortly, checked in and after a long hot shower and a la carte dinner at the restaurant, dropped off to bed to cap off a long day. The hotel was set out like an old-style village with chalets spread out at the back connected by paths. Large lotus-filled lake at the side of the hotel, and one day we saw a tame elephant on the other side of the lake! Lots of small animals roam around – monitor lizards, squirrels and the odd monkey. This hotel is located back-to-back with the Cinnamon Lodge.

Day 2 – Sigiriya (approximately 40km return)

As we were going to be in Habarana for 3 nights, we had a few things in our “to do” list – climb the “Lions Rock” at Sigiriya, hot air balloon trip from Dambulla, visit Polonnaruwa ruins, Dambulla cave temple and possibly the Hurulu Eco forest reserve. The weather, on the other hand, had different ideas and it decided to rain. And boy, did it rain! We had very heavy rain non-stop from dawn which made us cancel the hot air balloon trip. After the excellent buffet breakfast spread at the Chaaya Village, we consulted with our driver, and decided to head out to Sigiriya with hopes that the rain may ease up.

The rain continued, but we did notice a large number of people braving the wet conditions and making their way up the rock. Paid the entry fee of USD30 for two (LKR7,400 for two), and joined the crowd for the long climb (1,202 wet steps) all the way in the pouring rain (not recommended if you don’t have good all-weather shoes and are quite fit). We were soaked right down to the socks, but had an enjoyable time. Photographs were pretty good considering the rain and mist, although it was a challenge keeping the gear dry (I had wrapped my camera with a microfiber towel and kept wiping the lens and body after use).

Stopped for lunch on the way back at J&Su Restaurant which was average (tourist-style buffet), cost LKR2,000 for two. After lunch, we decided to head out for a late afternoon Sri Lankan-style Ayurvedic massage. Our driver took us to the Sigiri Dasuna massage “resort” in the outskirts of Habarana. We had a 90-minute session which includes a 60min full body massage with herbal oils, a 15min steam bath and a 15min herbal bath. Cost LKR7,600 for two. Well worth it especially after the climb and aching muscles! The day ended with drinks at the bar and an early a la carte dinner at the hotel. Tried drying our shoes with the hair dryer, gave up and went to bed listening to the rain.

albertsebastian is offline  
Mar 14th, 2013, 01:12 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 82
Day 3 – Polonnaruwa (approximately 96km return)

The rain let up a little bit. After a late breakfast, we drove to Polonnaruwa for a day visiting the ancient ruins of palaces and temples. Drove through some beautiful countryside with paddy (rice) fields and banana plantations. We started off by driving around a large man-made lake (Parakrama Samudra or Sea of Parakrama) to the large statue of Parākramabāhu I who was King of Polonnaruwa in the 11th century. The large statue was carved out of rock in bas relief with fine detail. This statue is off the beaten track, and is worth the drive up.

The next stop was the small museum where we purchased entry tickets for USD25 (LKR6,250 for two). After a short tour of the various interesting exhibits of artefacts in the museum, we headed off to the actual ruins. We have always been interested in ancient cultures of Asia, and found the ruins of palaces, temples and common buildings very interesting.

In spite of acquiring UNESCO status, there were no signs of improvements or restorations anywhere (unlike Vietnam and Cambodia). Public amenities were lacking (for example, toilets) and information signs were not maintained, many having completely faded and illegible. The rain had softened much of the walking paths into mud causing many to resort to walking bare-footed through the ruins (yes, trekking mud in and out of the ruins as well).

After a half-day of walking through a large number of ruins, we drove to a hidden site where you could see the original “lotus” pond, a beautiful sunken structure made from solid stone, carved in large pieces and fitted together in the shape of a large lotus flower. Apparently this was the inspiration to the new modern steel structure in Colombo (concert hall). It was a third full of water due to the rain, but still very visible for photos. We were the only ones there, and our driver mentioned that “no one comes up here”.

As we were driving out of Polonnaruwa through the scrub, we saw a young male wild elephant ambling along the side of the road! Many cars stopped to take photos and the elephant ignored all of us and kept on walking. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a wood carving place where you take the obligatory tour of the workshop, show you various species of timber then take you through their showroom filled with carvings big and small. We did not buy anything as the prices seemed insane.

Day ended with a nice dinner at the Chaaya.

Day 4 – Habarana – Kandy (approximately 100km)

We had fulfilled two out of our five items in this area – Sigiriya and Polonnurawa. Hot air balloon trip was cancelled due to bad weather, and we also decided to scratch the Huluru Eco forest walk. We had intended to visit the Dambula Cave Temple on this day before heading off to Kandy, however on discussion with our driver, we decided to leave it off. The main reason being that the temple is managed “privately” by an enterprising monk (who apparently also has other business interests and runs a radio and TV station). We not keen to contribute to this commercial venture (entry fees were USD25 each), plus another walk up a very steep path put us off.

So after a nice breakfast at the hotel, we left for Kandy. To compensate for the cave temple, we dropped by the Dambulla museum nearby (entry fee LKR1,000 each) which had reproductions of many of the frescos and mosaics from the temple as well as other historical artefacts.

Before reaching Kandy, we stopped at a batik factory. We did the obligatory factory tour and showroom where we bought a small batik print of an elephant (LKR1,400). The place seemed to cater for tourists only as we had not seen any Sri Lankans actually using or wearing batik. We had some words to our driver about unsolicited stopping at these tourist traps, and he confessed that he “had to do it to get a stamp for the booking company”. He also mentioned that there would be another 3 or 4 of these along the way and that we were not obliged to buy anything. At least he was honest.

Another stop was at a spice plantation with a small shop. It was the “Spice #99” shop which is their permit registration number, we found out later. It was interesting to see the various plants and trees, however the young man who took us through pulled a fast one and said that lemon grass was “citronella”! They also present the various healing properties of the spices and various other medicinal plants and you get to try some balms and potions if you are interested. We bought a packet of black peppercorns just to shut him up in the end.

The third boring stop was at a gem factory with a large air-con showroom full of jewellery. Needless to say, this was a 2-min stop for us, much to the disappointment of the salesman who seemed keen to pull out every tray of jewels he had.

We stopped for lunch at the Honey Pot restaurant which has a nice view of the river. Lunch was a la carte from a menu that had Sri Lankan and Chinese food. We had a special cashew nut curry and a couple more dishes plus drinks for LKR3,500 for two (a tad more pricey due to the cashew nut curry which we had not seen to date).

It was late afternoon when we made our way up the windy roads to the Amaya Hills Hotel where we had a booking for the next two nights. First stuff-up of the trip, the hotel claimed that the reservations were cancelled and they did not have a room for us. A few phone calls later, they accepted that the reservations were cancelled by their head office “by mistake” and that they will provide an “upgrade” to their premium property called “The Bungalow by Amaya Hills”. This was set about 0.5km down the driveway, completely private with its own security guard, gardener and two butlers on call! There was a large 1 room chalet, and a 3-bedroom chalet in the adjoining building. A car was also on call for the short trip to the main building for meals if you need to.

While this seemed a good deal on surface, we found that the chalet lacked a lot of amenities. For example, there was no floor mats at the entrance, therefore you bring in mud from the outside each time you step outside. We got fed up of this and asked for extra towels to be place there. Inside while nicely furnished, had lots of little insects, was dimly lit, and the bathroom/shower seemed a bit unfinished (no soap dish or shampoo shelf in shower, very dim light over sink not enough for a good shave) and also bare electrical wires sticking out of the wall over the vanity! There were no clothes hangers in the robe – seems this place is sold at a premium and not inspected by management. As the place comes with butler service, there were no coffee/tea making facilities (unlike the much cheaper rooms in the main building) and you had to ring the butler to make and bring you a cuppa or even water, and this can be quite intrusive at times. The van driver comes around for a pickup 20 mins after a call, and then you have to wait at the reception for someone to find him to take you back. Given a choice, I would rather be in the main building in a “normal” room. Good thing was that we were not charged any additional for this place.

There was some rain about, although not heavy. Early that evening we went into Kandy city, drove around the central lake for a view of some very nice old buildings and ended up at the Kandy Cultural Centre for a traditional Kandyan Dance performance. The highlight was the fire walking ceremony at the end. This performance is put on by the Kandy Arts Association and is free for all. Tip: come early to get a good seat.

The next stop was the Temple of the Tooth just a short walk away. Very interesting place with a lot of buildings, themed rooms and shrines mingling with white-clothed pilgrims and visitors from everywhere. Shoes have to be deposited at the “shoe counter” for a small tip, and entry tickets cost LKR1,000 each. We were fortunate enough to have a glimpse of the golden casket containing the tooth relic which is opened periodically to worshipers and visitors alike.

Back to the hotel for a quick dinner and we dropped into bed after a long day.

albertsebastian is offline  
Mar 14th, 2013, 01:17 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 82
Day 5 – Pinnawala (approximately 84km return)

Had a decent buffet breakfast at the hotel, and drove up to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Firstly I must state that I’m against captive animals, but understand circumstances and environment sometimes make this unavoidable. I have also visited many elephant sanctuaries in other parts of Asia, and found this location to be the most depressing and sad. Let me explain – elephants by nature are very intelligent animals and have a lot of stimulation and challenges in nature. However, in captivity, they very quickly lose their spirit and appear listless if just their basic needs are met, and they do not face any challenges as part of their daily routine.

At Pinnawala (entry fee LKR2,000 each), we first went to the baby elephant feeding area. Four juveniles were chained to metal hoops, and tourists were charged LKR200 for the “privilege” of feeding these animals. Feeding consisted of holding up the bottle and the elephant sucking it dry in all of 2 seconds flat. Tourists were just touching the bottle, not allowed to get close to the elephant.

Next enclosure had two baby elephants entertaining themselves chasing the crows around them and hugging each other in desperation and loneliness.

Next we walked past the “feed the elephant” platform, where a single solitary elephant was trained to open its mouth wide, lift up its trunk and lean against a platform while tourist who paid LKR200 for the privilege of force-feeding the poor elephant with pineapples and bananas. The elephant looked fearful and desperate, as if it stopped to have a breather, it was hit by the keeper and forced to stand there with its mouth open again! What a case of animal cruelty.

Beyond that, we went to a large enclosure where the main herd of about 50 elephants were feeding and just standing around looking bored. The bull elephants were chained to poles at a distance and we were not allowed to get close enough for good photos.

The outstanding event for us was the march of the herd towards the river. Traffic on the road is stopped, and most of the elephants walk down peacefully and down the side street into the river. Once again, we were quite disappointed to see that none of the elephants were actually immersed or bathed in water. The keepers (I loath to call them mahouts) stand around with long sticks, and the elephants stand on the rocks in the river for about an hour, before they are herded upriver for more viewing from the cafes along the river.

At that point we left Pinnawala, feeling quite unsatisfied. Where are the activities for the elephants to amuse themselves? Why are they not more social and take their food from visitors when the want? Why don’t they have their own mahouts who bond with them and look after them? Why weren’t they bathed and scrubbed down to cool off under the hot sun? Why are the elephants not rehabilitated and returned into the wild? While the photo opportunities in the river look great, this is not one activity I recommend to animal lovers.

We stared the drive back to Kandy, briefly stopping to check out the famous porcupine lady. We also stopped on the way to visit some pottery shops along the roadside. Cute bits of decorative pottery available. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant called Ganga Addara which had an extensive Chinese menu. Lunch was LKR2,000 for two – maybe they charged us tourist prices!

It was early evening by the time we returned to Kandy, so we stopped at the Delight Bakery in town to stock up on some short eats for dinner for a change. We also visited a local “wine” shop and bought a bottle of local coconut arrack (Aybrook & Mason Old Reserve 500ml for LKR580) and ginger ale (excellent Elephant House brand) for our own cocktails that evening. This was a first for us, more curiosity value that anything. The liquor was 34% proof, not too strong, and a pleasant taste. But give me a single malt anytime!

Day 6 – Kandy – Nuwara Eliya (approximately 80km)

Next morning after breakfast, we set out for Nuwara Eliya. On the way, we went to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens for a quick look as well as the local university grounds. Just outside Kandy, at Gampola, we stopped at an old working tea factory called Storefield. We were given a free tour of the factory (photos allowed) and then tasting of any of the single origin teas they had, including the very expensive silver tip. Had our first proper lesson on tea with milk and sugar (BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe) and black tea (OP – Orange Pekoe). We were under no obligation to purchase any products at their store, but we ended some packs of various teas for presents to folk back home.

On the way, we stopped various times to take photos of beautiful waterfalls, lakes and reservoirs. Lunch was at a new property called the Tea Bush (not to be confused with an existing older hotel/restaurant with the same name). This property had a gorgeous view of one of the waterfalls, plus two lakes in the distance. Lunch was a little pricey (LKR2,280 for two) for a simple selection.

Once in town, we stopped for a visit to the Grand Hotel, a beautiful old hotel restored to its former glory. Would recommend this property if one wants to stay in town rather then up in the hills.

We arrived at the Heritance Tea Factory hotel (distance of about 11km from the town centre, high up in the hills) which was completely shrouded in mist, even though it was only around 3pm. This is a lovely hotel with a lot of character, and great care taken with its restoration. We had a room on the second floor, and as it was a nice corner room, the views on two sides were great, plus a lot of natural light. Also the room seemed a little larger than the other rooms we passed by.

We had a nice evening walk around exploring the surroundings in the mist, and then it was almost time for dinner. The buffet selection was very good and we had a nice long meal. Live music performance was added to by a friendly Asian tourist who was also a great singer and entertainer; he kept the crowds clapping for more. Great atmosphere.

Day 7 – Nuwara Eliya (Nanu Oya) – Ella by train; Ella to Bandarawela (approximately 14km)

Next morning after breakfast, we wondered down to the small village behind the hotel. This village is sponsored by the hotel, and consists mostly of school kids and adults who are tea pickers or market gardeners. We were told that all the produce is grown organically and used for the hotel’s kitchens. The ladies were very friendly, posed for photos and allowed us to wonder into the plantation itself among the tea bushes.

We checked out (reluctantly) at around 10am and drove down to the Nanu Oya railway station. We had tickets organised from here to Badulla, unfortunately the local agent stuffed up and had booked us only to Ella. We had bookings for the tourist (Expo) rail carriage which guarantees a seat, plus a hot lunch with water and tea. Bargain at only LKR1,000 per person. Plus this carriage had dedicated observation platforms at both ends, making it easy for photos and just admiring the scenery without the constant jostling for space.

The train arrived one hour late and this was considered normal. Once we got underway, we passed through rolling hills, deep green valleys, rivers and waterfalls. As this train was the “slow” service, it stopped at a lot of stations allowing one to witness the routines of other joining and disembarking passengers as well as quaint stations and towns.

The train reached Ella about four hours later, and we re-joined our driver and drove to our hotel at Bandarawela for an overnight stop. The Bandarawela Hotel was another old hotel, clean and tidy with old fashioned rooms and furniture. While we did not mind the rooms, the ambiance was spoilt by a number of locals who sat outside in the verandas drinking and talking loudly very late into the night. Later we were told that this happens most weekends, and as Bandarawela is off the beaten track, one supposes they need the business.

Dinner was buffet at the restaurant which was average. We enquired at the reception about visiting Lipton’s Seat and the Dambatenne Tea Factory, and they were not able to provide any clear directions to the driver (who strangely seemed unclear about these two places as well).

albertsebastian is offline  
Mar 14th, 2013, 01:20 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 82
Day 8 – Bandarawela – Tangalle (approximately 155km)

After a passable buffet breakfast, we headed down into town and enquired about directions again. This time, armed with information, we headed towards Haputale and the large picturesque Dambatenne Tea Factory (9km from town). While we enquired about viewing inside, we were told that it would cost LKR300 each (which was not an issue), however there was a bit of a wait for the next tour, plus we were informed that photos were not allowed. This discouraged us from visiting the inside, so we continued up to Lipton’s Seat (a further 3km, entry LKR140 for both). Unfortunately the view was once again completely covered by thick mist, so after a few minutes resting, we made our way back down.

We stopped for lunch at the Sri Lake View restaurant in Haputale which had good food (LKR1,700 for two) but poor service. After lunch we started our drive to Tangalle were we intended to stay for two nights at the Nugasewana Eden hotel for R&R. However the seemed to be some miscommunication between the local agent and this small hotel, and we were offered a room for only one night.

We had dinner cooked for us by the husband and wife team who help to manage the hotel, very nice and reasonably priced, LKR900 for two.

We then made a big mistake – we decided on the spur of the moment to go to Yala for a safari the next morning, and booked a jeep.

Day 9 – Tangalle – Tissamaharama (approximately 72km); Tissamaharama to Ahangama (130km)

We had a really early start (4am) to get the driver to drive us to Tissa to pick up the safari jeep. This meant backtracking approximately 65km, but due to the early start, traffic was very light.

Met the safari jeep driver at the appointed place, and joined the “cannonball rally” to the Yala park ranger offices for the tickets. There were a large number of jeeps (about 100-120, no kidding) waiting to get started. Once tickets were obtained, the jeeps rushed full speed ahead into the reserve itself.

We were quite taken aback at the unregulated nature of the jeep operators who had big noisy diesel engines and were wrecking the trails with large tyres and pollution. I suspect many animals could hear the vehicles at a great distance and simply disappear from view. When any significant animal is spotted, every jeep basically converges to that one spot for a glimpse, causing massive traffic jams, screams and shouts between operators.

In spite of this, we managed to spot peacocks, wild fowls, water buffalos, crocodiles, two elephants, one jackal, red spotted deer, wild boars, lots of other assorted birds and a shadow in the distance which was supposed to be a sleeping leopard. I think the jury is still out on the last one!

The safari ended at about 11am, and we started the drive to our next hotel (due to the incorrect booking at Tangalle) at Ahangama, a distance of 72km.

Arrived at the Insight hotel in the afternoon after a stop for lunch at a local seafood restaurant called Chanika where we had very good cuttlefish curry with rice for LKR1,700 for two, and had a good nap catching up on our sleep. This was a pretty nice hotel right by the beach. We had a nice a la carte dinner and had an early night.

Day 10 – Ahangama – Mirissa (approximately 14km)

At this stage we were literally moving hotels daily, lucky we were travelling light. After breakfast we drove the short distance to Mirissa and checked into the Paradise Beach Club hotel (not to be confused with the Paradise Beach Resort hotel a short distance away). This hotel was quite nice, the rooms large and airy with a good view of the beach. Would have loved to stay here longer (we tried, after Tangalle but they were full).

Had lunch at a local restaurant across the road from the hotel. Food was really nice and cheap (LKR800 for two). Dinner we had at the restaurant, which had a large spread at the buffet.

Day 11 – Mirissa – Galle (approximately 33km)

Next morning after early tea we went for a whale watching trip from the Mirissa harbour. The boat was large (capacity 70) and we were all issued with life jackets. After about an hour’s trip out into deeper water, we spotted a large pod of dolphins. Twenty minutes later we spotted out first whale! Large blue whale I think. During the next hour we spotted another five to six whales fairly close, providing excellent photo opportunities. In all there were about eight large boats and a couple of small ones (who in typical fashion aimed for the diving whales in an effort to overtake the larger boats). Again, wildlife spotting seemed largely unregulated as some of the boats tried getting as close to the whales as they could.

Returned to the hotel at around lunch and had a quick lunch at another local restaurant (LKR1,000 for two). We then drove the short distance to Galle, arriving early afternoon for a tour of the city and the fort areas.

Later that afternoon, we checked into the fantastic Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel at Galle. I really loved this property, beautiful rooms with a great view of the sea. We were treated really well here, for some reason the resident manager came and introduced himself, and we were given a quick tour of the hotel and grounds. This is Geoffrey Bawa (the famed architect) at his best.

We had an excellent dinner at the restaurant, and went for the free cultural performance that was organised by the hotel in the large veranda.

albertsebastian is offline  
Mar 14th, 2013, 01:23 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 82
Day 12 – Galle – Colombo (approximately 118km)

Had a really enjoyable buffet breakfast at the restaurant and we reluctantly checked out. In retrospect, we would have loved to spend more time here and cut out some of the other “one night stands” along the way.

Our driver took us on the old coastal road back to Colombo. Lots of undemolished buildings that were the tsunami casualties along the way. Stopped by the “only” moonstone mine (past the other eight mines) and shop which was a waste of time, and were assured by the driver that this was the last unsolicited stop.

We then witnessed the famed “fake” stick fishermen along the way, who were really fishing for money from tourists who stopped for photos. We too stopped, and took some photos for a small tip, as this seemed to be the only place one could see them in action.

We also had a short stop at the Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Project where we viewed turtle eggs in a hatchery, lots of baby turtles and some adult ones. A big deal was made of the fact that this centre was privately funded (albeit very well by overseas concerns) and not by the government! Entry fee was LKR300 each.

On approaching Colombo, we diverted to Mount Lavinia for a quick look at the famous whitewashed Mount Lavinia Hotel. Beautiful old Colonial building, very well restored. We found time to walk though Laksala, the Government-run gift shop, as well as the Odel department store where we had a quick lunch at the food court (lukewarm vegetable samosas).

We then checked into the Galle Face Hotel and got a shocking old room with creaking floors, rusty plumbing and over-sized furniture! This is one instance where a hotel seems to be trading on its past history and reputation and management refuse to update or refurbish the rooms to modern standards! The view out into the ocean was the best thing there.

Considering our movements the next day, we really should have checked into a nice hotel in Negombo instead.

We had a quick dinner and dropped into bed, as we had an early start in the morning for the next stage of our trip. As the driver was from the Colombo area, he was glad to go to his family for the night.

Day 13 – Colombo – Jaffna (approximately 420km)

Early start in the morning armed with a mediocre packed breakfast from the Galle Face, we headed towards Negombo, then onwards to Puttalam (along the coastal road), then headed inland towards Anuradhapura. However, before reaching Anuradhapura, we peeled off westwards and headed to the Madhu Church set in a forest sanctuary. This old church had some special significance to my partner’s parents so we had to stop for a look.

At that point, we debated either to continue our journey by known roads inland or take the unknown coastal road. Our driver assured us that the coastal road was passable, and we took his advice. This was a big mistake, as his knowledge was hearsay passed on from a “friend of a friend”. The roads were in shocking condition largely under construction. In one spot we actually got stuck in the mud, and had to be towed back onto solid ground by a passing military truck. At least the scenery was beautiful, small villages dotted the roadside punctured by intermittent fresh graves (I hesitate to think what is still happening out here). There was still a large military and police presence, manned checkpoints and one passport check.

We finally reached Pooneryn tired and intact, soon across the new causeway (replacing the old ferry crossing, I believe) into the Jaffna peninsula. Lots of fishing activity can be seen along the causeway, as well as prawn and crab traps.
Our hotel in Jaffna was the Hotel Lux Etoilles which was reputed to have good food, and decent rooms. It was a small hotel undergoing a massive expansion at the back, so obviously Jaffna is getting ready for the influx of tourists. The famed Nallur Kovil (Hindu temple) was within walking distance from the hotel, and there seemed to be quite a few pilgrims staying here as well.

Food had to be ordered ahead, and we had good crab curry, cuttlefish, rice plus assorted vegetables (LKR1,500 for two). Dropped into bed for a good rest after the long drive.

Day 14 – Jaffna

Had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel (they had a choice of Western or South Indian style breakfast). After confirming our directions via Google Maps (which the driver did not trust), we headed off to find a small village called Sillalai in the north-west of Jaffna.

Our directions from Google Maps proved quite accurate, even though the driver stopped half a dozen times to keep asking for directions (and getting us lost a couple of times, very frustrating). Once again we identified some of the houses that belonged to distant ancestors of my partner and took some photos. We visited one of the houses which was being operated as a retreat for an order of the Church. The old local church in the village is now the Cathedral of St Mary, a large open church. Obviously this area was the hotbed of missionaries from Europe when Christianity was spread in India and Sri Lanka in the 1600s.

There were quite a lot of lovely old homes in ruins in the area, victims of the civil war. Bullet-ridden walls and shattered windows were quite apparent in the buildings, and they seemed to have been simply abandoned.

Our mission of discovery over, we headed over to Point Pedro expecting to see a significant marker as the northern most point of Sri Lanka. Much to our disappointment, the Dutch lighthouse built at that location was now fully enclosed and was part of a Sri Lankan Naval establishment, complete with armed soldiers and barbed wire stretching from the road right down to the beach.

On the way back we passed small fishing communities that had salted fish drying in the sun, and sleepy little villages where time stood still.

Returned to Jaffna and had a short city tour where the driver pointed out major buildings and sights. We headed towards the Green Grass hotel restaurant for lunch, as this place has lots of recommendations in the Internet. Lunch was great with an extensive menu, and rather cheap at LKR1,000 for two.
In fact we enjoyed the lunch so much that we returned for dinner and had 4 chappatis, tasty mutton curry, vegetable kurma curry all for LKR970 for two!

Another early night in preparation for the long drive back the following day.

Day 15 – Jaffna – Colombo (approximately 420km)

After a quick breakfast, we headed back towards Colombo. This time we made sure that the driver did not take any side trips or detours. Drove across Elephant Pass towards Anuradhapura passing through Kilinochchi and Vavunia. The roads were pretty good, and traffic flowed well.

We reached Anuradhapura around lunch, had a quick local lunch (curry and rice plus vegetables for two cost LKR380) and had a short tour driving around the area. Basically we were too tired to do a proper tour of the ancient places in the city. Besides, being the eve of Poya (Full Moon), all the sites, temples and stupas were full of white-clothed pilgrims, thousands and thousands everywhere.

Left Anuradhapura and made our way back to Colombo retracing our route, and reached Colombo late afternoon.

Checked back into the Galle Face Hotel where we were given a better room compared to our last visit. This was one of the refurbished rooms in the old wing, room was about 50% larger than the old one with nice furnishings. However the toilet leaked a little water around the edge, on the floor, and despite our complaint to Housekeeping, nothing was done to fix it.

We visited the Cinnamon Grand nearby, and did some window shopping at the Crescat Boulevard. Had an early buffet dinner at the hotel.

Day 16 – Colombo

Woke up late and had a good breakfast at the Galle Face. Our plans were to explore the Pettah area (which was the main market district in Colombo), however we were disappointed to find out that this day of the Full Moon was a public holiday. Everything was closed! This was the main reason for staying the last couple of nights in Colombo instead of staying at Negombo.

Anyway this was a nice relaxing slow day for resting and packing our bags for departure the following day.

Lunch and dinner at the Crescat Boulevard food centre which was the only thing open nearby.

Day 17 – Depart

4am departure from the Galle Face for a 7am flight back. Tipped the driver for his assistance and company, and headed into the airport for check-in and formalities. We flew Sri Lankan again to Bangkok where we had a day in transit, by choice, before we returned to Australia.

albertsebastian is offline  
Mar 14th, 2013, 10:51 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,628
Thanks for your report. I'm always interested to hear about people's experiences in Sri Lanka.

We thought the Dambulla cave temples were some of the most impressive temples/shrines we saw in Sri Lanka, sorry you didn't see them.

The driver taking you to shopping stops was certainly annoying. We had a driver hired through a local agency and we didn't make any shopping stops that we didn't ask for. I hate wasting my precious travel time at forced shopping stops!
Kathie is offline  
Mar 14th, 2013, 12:01 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 82
Hi Kathie,

I suppose we focused too much on the commercial nature of the Dambulla cave temples and gave it a miss. There's always another time to "catch-up" on the places we missed, plus a whole lot more relaxing to do!

The next trip to Sri Lanka would certainly not be a circuitous route like this one was.

albertsebastian is offline  
Mar 14th, 2013, 01:05 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,380
Hi albertsebastian,

thanks for the most interesting [and honest} TR - i too love to read about others' experiences in Sri Lanka.

it sounds as if you did a similar trip to us, though we had fewer stops, and NO rain. I am very glad that we did not go to the elephant orphanage - we'd had a similar experience to yours at Yala at the Minneriya elephant sanctuary so we didn't fancy it. At Yala we specifically asked the guide to tell the driver not to chase about but to go slowly so we could see the birds in particular, and once they got the idea, that worked very well.

We too had a bad experience at the Galle Face - our room in the renovated part was very nice, perfect in fact, but on our second night there was a fire in the old part of the hotel and the evacuation procedure [what procedure?] left a lot to be desired.

another time we'd like to go to the east coast and spend more time up in the Hill country and in Galle which we loved.
annhig is offline  
Mar 14th, 2013, 01:38 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 1,277
Wonderful report. Thank you.
Our experience at Galle Face was similar but we loved the old room with creaky floor and dodgy plumbing and windows that didn't quite close.........just sooooooooo much character. Our room was the size of a small ballroom!!!!
LeighTravelClub is offline  
Mar 15th, 2013, 02:50 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 82

Thanks for your comments. Re: creaky floor at the Galle Face, we wouldn't have minded the floor, but leaky plumbing was too much to bear. Also while you may have got the ballroom, I think our room was the cloakroom for your ballroom!

albertsebastian is offline  

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