Sri Lanka: an island of many contrasts (Part 1)

I have to admit, after arriving to Sri Lanka (especially from Dubai) I experienced a bit of a cultural shock. This escalated when in the morning of Day 4 we discovered an uninvited “guest” (i.e. a huge cockroach) on the INSIDE of the mosquito net over our bed.

We divided our 8-day itinerary into two parts – 4 days of sightseeing and 4 days of relaxation at the beach 🙂

Luckily, we arranged a driver and accommodation for the first four days through the tourist agency  Why not getaways (which is run by a very nice Slovene girl named Anja and her husband Rusiru), so the driver picked us up directly from the Airport and took us to our first stop.

The first thing you should know about Sri Lanka is that the roads are very (and I mean VERY) bad, the traffic is crazy and it takes ages to cross even the smallest distance. Thus, after arriving at the Airport around 9 PM, there was still a 5-hour drive in front of us to reach Sigiriya.

Tip: Opt for renting a car with a driver for the sightseeing part of your holiday. It is not a big cost (we paid around 48.000 LKR for four days) and it is definitely more convenient than other means of transport. 

PS: all the prices will be written in LKR (Sri Lankan rupees) as the exchange rate changes drastically.

After arriving at our first accommodation, the exhaustion and the aforementioned cultural shock kicked-in and the prognosis for Part 2 of our honeymoon did not look very promising. BUT, after some sleep and a typical Sri Lankan breakfast (eggs & fruit) everything started to look better and we were ready to experience Sri Lanka in all her greatness. My mood was immediately lifted up by the cutest “little” elephant passing by our car and walking down the road!

Also, I must say, if your taste buds do not tolerate spicy food (as is the case with mine), the food choices in Sri Lanka are not exceptional. My meal choices were roughly limited to Roti, Kottu Roti and Fried Rice, emphasising the importance of “No Chilli, no Spice” with each order.

However, there is a gazillion of fruits you must try, my all-time favourite being the delicious Mango and Passion Fruit…

…and believe-it-or-not also some that you should pass on, like the foul-smelling Durian.

Nevertheless, do not let anything of the above discourage you from further reading, as Sri Lanka turned out to be pretty  a w e s o m e.

 

day 1 – Sigiriya Rock & the Golden Temple (Dambulla)

Sigiriya or Lion Rock is the ancient capital and one of the must-visits in Sri Lanka. The ticket costs 4.200 LKR/pp, which is quite expensive (as goes for most attractions in Sri Lanka).

The ancient city of Sigiriya was declared a world heritage site (WHS) by UNESCO in 1982.

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Our driver left us in front of the entrance and then picked us up on the other side after our descend. It will take you approx. 1200 steps to climb the rock and roughly 1,5 or 2 hours to walk up and down. Be patient, Sigiriya is a very popular tourist site and the narrow stairway can get very crowded.

Tip: Don’t forget to bring plenty of water!

At the top, we experienced our first encounter with one of the many cute little monkeys in Sri Lanka and amazing views over the surroundings.

Tip: Take care of your belongings as monkeys can be pretty treacherous 🙂 

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Our next stop was the Dambulla Golden Temple (UNESCO WHS since 1991), where we first learned that shoes should by all means be taken off in Buddhist places of worship. The huge golden Buddha statue overlooking the temple was very impressive.

This was also our starting point for the Dambulla Cave Temple (entrance fee 1.500 LKR) – again it involved taking a significant amount of steps – which was a nice introduction to Buddhism (Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any Buddhist county), yet it was not as memorable as I had expected it to be. The Cave Temple comprises 5 caves and an astonishing number of 153 Buddha statues (the lying Buddhas being the most interesting).

On our way to Kandy, where we spent the following 2 nights, we also passed a colourful Hindu temple (Hinduism is characteristic for the Tamil minority) in Matale and that was a wrap for this quite exhausting day.

Not-so-fun fact: the Sri Lankan civil war between the government and the rebel group Tamil Tigers lasted for almost twenty-six (!) years, ending in 2009.

day 2 – MEF, Peradeniya Gardens, Dalada Maligawa, Kandy

Day 2 started with a visit to the Millenium Elephant Foundation (MEF), which I did not enjoy very much and would not really recommend, so I will not dedicate a lot of blog space to this “attraction”. Bathing an elephant in the river and feeding an elephant was a great and unique experience but seeing all elephants chained up (on their owners’ demands, not the foundation’s, I must add) and a bit sad looking was not. Also, the entrance fee itself is not cheap, yet once inside, each worker basically demands a tip – do not get me wrong, I am all pro tipping, but these guys were just plain rude and “aggressive”. In conclusion, we only spent half an hour here – it was definitely not worth the drive. It was interesting to see the neighbouring factory, where they transform elephant dung to paper 😁. Do not worry about skipping this sight – you can see a lot more elephants in a much nicer environment during the Safari in Udawalawe or a similar national park (check out day 4 of our itinerary).

The day went on and our driver drove us to see the Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya (2000 LKR/pp). And Royal they are. We only had a bit more than two hours, which wasn’t nearly enough to see more than just the highlights of the Gardens (the total garden area is spread on 0.59 square kilometers) – the Orchid house, palm trees reaching to the sky, hundreds of bats sharing a tree – all in all, very interesting and beautiful. You can grab a meal in the restaurant inside or have a picnic on one of the vast meadows. In front of the entrance there are also some food stands, which offer a variety of very cheap and delicious fruits.

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Next stop for day 2 was the Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Buddhist Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, located in the city of Kandy (entrance fee 1500 LKR/pp). According to the legend, the tooth relic (one of the two remaining teeth of Buddha) was smuggled to the island from India by Princess Hemamali and her husband. In front of the temple, where you must take off and leave your shoes, you will find a number of very persistent self-proclaimed “guides” wanting to buy the ticket for you and to show you around. As the temple is not very big and the whole tale about the relic is written on the wall of the temple (at the 1st floor, where the tooth is kept), you can easily manage without a guide. There is a mandatory dress code for both men and women, i.e. long trousers or skirts and respectful clothing.

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The city of Kandy was the last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka and was declared a WHS by UNESCO in 1988. We attended the local dance show (the ticket costs 1000 LKR/pp), which is a must-see. The Kandyan Dance Performance features men and women in different native costumes, performing various dance forms from this area. The grand finale – fire walking!

After the show, we were joined by our driver Madushe (a big shout out to him – if you plan a trip to Sri Lanka, you can arrange a tour with him through Why not getaways or check his FB page) for a walk around the lake, where amongst other things he explained about the history of Sri Lanka, the civil war, the British occupation etc. Kandy Lake, also known as the Sea of Milk is a man-made lake, which is partly surrounded by the beautiful Walakulu Bamma or the Clouds Wall.

 

day 3 – Central Province

Day 3 was sort of dedicated to t e a. Tea is a huge thing in Sri Lanka, as it is one of the main sources of foreign exchange. A tea plant was first brought to Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) by the British from China and was planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya for non-commercial purposes. Tea production started in the mid-19th century and nowadays you can enjoy delicious green, black or white Ceylon tea around Sri Lanka. We stopped to see the lovely Ramboda falls, on our way to the tea factory, where we have learnt about the different grades of black tea (OP – orange pekoe is the mildest, BOP & BOPF – broken orange pekoe and broken orange pekoe fanning are our personal favourites).

Around 2 PM it was time to board the train at the Nanu Oya station and continue our journey towards Ella. The blue train will take you through amazing scenery, hills, valleys and tea plantations of the Central Province. Unfortunately, it was raining and drizzling most of the way (after four months of draught!), so some of our views were foggy. Our driver picked us up in Ella and left us at our accommodation and then it was time for a relaxing ayurvedic massage, followed by dinner & drinks in the vibrant and very touristic city of Ella.

day 4 – Mini Adam’s Peak & Udawalawe Safari

On our “last” day of sightseeing, we climbed the Little (or Mini) Adam’s Peak, which offers stunning views over the Ella Rock (which you can climb as well). It was a really nice, easy hike through some tea plantations. We wanted to observe the sunrise at the top, however, we had to wait for the sun to come up and dry the path, as the rain was pouring the day before. Nevertheless, this is a must-see. On our way down we treated ourselves with a King Coconut at the cutest cafe.

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Quickly it was already time to leave Ella and continue exploring Sri Lanka. We stopped at the famous Ravana falls, which are the widest in the country. You can even go for a dip here and the area is full with the cutest little monkeys. 🐒

Our last stop for the day was the safari in the Udawalawe National Park. This involved a three hour drive through the huge park on a jeep, passing loads of elephants and other animals. 🐘 It was truly a great experience and to me personally much nicer than the Elephant Reservation (MEF). The safari is not very budget friendly, but if you ask me, totally worth every cent!

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We had to say goodbye to Madushe, as he left us at Unawatuna, and it was time for the more relaxing part of our holiday.

In the next post, you will be able to read more about Unawatuna, Mirissa and other beautiful places yet to come.

 

 

 

 

 

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