September 4 - October 3, 2018
Sri Lanka! It wasn't originally on our radar but our friends, Judy and Carl, had raved about their experience there so we thought hmmm... why not? Plus the photos they had sent made it look really great and they were able to give us some great ideas on places to go.
ohn and Rita dropped us off at the Cranbrook Airport so we could start our journey to Sri Lanka. Since we used the last of Paul's Aeroplan Miles to book a business class flight so we decided to take advantage of some travel perks and did multi city stops. Our first stop was Vancouver where we spent the day with Jayne. We went for lunch by where the seaplanes take off and land, then we went and explored. We took a bus out to Steveston, spent some time at one of the patios by the water chatting and relaxing, found a good sushi place and walked back down by the dikes. It was a nice way to spend the first day. Jayne took us on the Skytrain the next day to get to the airport. Next stop Seattle!
When we booked the tickets, our flight from Vancouver to Seattle was economy, which was fine because it's a short flight. I had said too bad we were charged business class but didn't get seats... within 5 minutes of me saying that we were paged to the counter. We were given business class seats so I proceed to say too bad we aren't multi-millionaires... still waiting on that result! In reality it was really no different other then we had a wider seat and were at the front of the plane.
We arrived in Seattle, checked our bags in the luggage storage and took off to find the train. Our connecting flight didn't leave until 1am so we basically had the day in Seattle. We eventually found the train, figured out the tickets and headed off to start the day with some Dim Sum at Din Tai Fung which we had in Taipei. It was okay but not near as good. After that we went for coffee and wandered around downtown. We ended up going to see one of the marvel movies since you can only wander so much before it gets a bit boring. After that we headed to Pike Place to explore some more. Apparently we should of gone in the morning since that's when all the action happens. We found a good restaurant and had a nice meal overlooking the port before heading back to the train and airport. Next stop Taipei!
We flew with Eva Air again, so were looking forward to another relaxing trip. The staff were friendly, we got our jammies and champagne, the food was awesome and it was a good flight. We hung out in the lounge in Taipei, it was 4 am when we arrived. Our next connection was to Singapore, again with EVA Air. This flight wasn't as relaxing... unfortunately one of the passengers had a stroke, thankfully she received quick treatment and there was a doctor on board that assisted. They moved the patient and her daughter to the front of the plane so she was comfortable and could continue to receive care. The available seats were behind ours so there was a mini hive of activity. Everyone did their best to be quiet and tried not to disturb other passengers while ensuring that the patient received proper treatment. I had spoken to the daughter before we disembarked, her Mom was alert and seemed to be doing better so the out look was positive. The airline arranged an ambulance to meet the plane in Singapore so they were able to receive more treatment. Hopefully she fully recovered!
We had given ourselves several hours in Singapore, we had decided to do the free bus tour offered by the airport. We found the luggage storage and went and looked into the tours. We didn't have enough time to do the night tour, no Gardens by the Bay, but we were able to get on the Heritage Tour. We were taken as a group through customs, which was neat and onto the bus. They drove us through the Colonial District and financial area where they were setting up for a Formula 500 race. Then over to the bay area where we were allowed to disembark and wander around. We saw the Merlion, Chinatown, Little India and the Malay Heritage Centre. While we were both exhausted, it was a nice way to spend the time and being outdoors was refreshing. The tourguide was also entertaining and provided good information. Then it was back on the bus, through security and customs, and waiting for our next flight to Colombo.
This segment was with Singapore Airlines and to be honest, wasn't as good. We ended up sitting behind two business men who proceeded to get drunk and were fairly loud while doing so. Paul was able to get some sleep, but me being the sleep princess that I am struggled. We finally arrived in Colombo around midnight. We disembarked and headed over to customs with all the other flights, apparently this is a popular time for flights. We waited in the large line that was fairly slow moving but considering all the people it probably wasn't that bad. When our turn eventually arrived we were in for a bit of a shock. We had applied for the visa using our British passports but I had put our nationality as Canadian. This resulted in our visas being denied and we had to go talk to the head of immigration. We found the office and explained what happened, at this point I was almost in tears... which may of helped us! The head officer quickly approved our visas and we were back in line. We finally made it out of the airport by 1(ish) to find AJ who was going to pick us up.
Negombo and Colombo
We had booked our first two nights in Negombo at Tour Inn Hostel and had requested a pick up, AJ was the owner and had agreed to meet us at the airport. After a short drive we arrived at the hostel, which was really a big house in a residential area and got our room. We met Tarz who was helping out at the hostel, he was Russian but had been living in Sri Lanka for several months. The four of us sat around a bit and then went to sleep. In the morning we had a nice breakfast, did some laundry and went on a little exploration of the neighborhood. There were high fences and it was very twisty and winding. We found a good restaurant for lunch, called Blue Ginger when we got out to the main area. We ended up eating there almost daily while in Negombo. We went to the beach area one evening for supper and the sunset.
We decided to take the bus into Colombo to catch a train north to Anuradhapura. There is a World Heritage Site there as it is an ancient site and was regarded as the area where Theravada Buddhism started. The bus to Colombo was packed but we managed to find seats and settled in for the ride... turns out we didn't get the "tourist" bus and we were on the local one. I had a little baby next to me who used me as a footrest. When we got close to the train terminal we were about to get off when the money collector asked where we were going, Paul said the train and they told us to sit. They drove right to the front of the station, like it was our own taxi, super nice of them to do that. At the train station there is a tourist help area where they tell you what train, etc. We were told to get 2nd class tickets and what gate to go to to get them. We missed the earlier train so ended up having time in Colombo.
We decided to store our luggage, basically you pay to put it in a room, and headed out. Right away we were approached by a local who told us he didn't want to sell us anything but wanted to practice his English. No idea if that was his intent or if he realized we wouldn't buy anything, but we walked with him for a while and had a nice conversation. We wondered through the Old Dutch Hospital area and the edge of the Financial district, stopping for coffee. Then back to the train where chaos ensued.
We grabbed our bags and headed to the platform... it was packed. We had no idea where on the platform we should be or even what car to get on so we asked some locals. We did receive various different answers so we were still confused, the train was also late. When it arrived people went crazy, I said it was like boxing day sales meets MMA. People were shoving others out of the way, pushing and elbowing, even the elderly weren't given any consideration. Unfortunately we ended up in the wrong car and had to push against the tide of humanity to get out. Eventually we got in the proper car, got our seats and headed north!
We were picked up by our guesthouse, Heritage Lake View, by the owner, he had kept in touch with us on the train to see when we would arrive, the train was over an hour late. The owner was great, took us to the house which was on Heritage Lake. Once there, we were seated at a large table and food was brought out. All sorts of dishes and plates of curry, rice, vegetables... more then the two of us could eat. They did communal meals here and the rest of the people had already eaten. After having some delicious food, we went and sat out with everyone. It was so much fun. There were people from Belgium, Netherlands and Tasmania. Some were leaving the next day and others staying. The owner went out and got more beer for everyone. We stayed up with the trio from Belgium till after midnight and had a great time.
The next day we all had breakfast by the lake. Again, the food was delicious and more then we all could eat. We did a tour to the World Heritage site with Bao the driver, arranged by the guesthouse. He had taken the trio from Belgium the day before. Apparently he really liked them because anytime he saw them he would take their photos... with our camera that he was supposed to use to take a picture of us! He was also funny because he had us posing all the time, no regular photos that day. Bao let Paul try driving the tuk-tuk which was a bit funny, he really liked Paul and had his arm around him the whole time. We spent the day touring then headed back in the evening for a sunset at Mihintale. Then back for more food!
We decided to head out the next day. Min, Sien and Thomas, the Belgians, were heading to north and were arranging transport. We decided to tag along with another couple from the Netherlands.
After breakfast, we all loaded into the van to head north. We had paid extra for an air conditioned van and it did have air-con but the driver kept turning it off. They dropped off the Dutch couple first but the driver got lost taking us to our hotel. We ended up having to get out and walk along the beach. All of us were staying at the same location, Orion Beach Way. It was a decent place, a quick walk to the beach and the room was okay. Strange lights around the bed though, all different colors. We spent a day on the beach, you could rent sun shelters and a bed for the day. There were cows just wandering around on the beach, no humans around. Coconut Beach Lodge had a nice restaurant on the beach front so we ate there and met the Belgians for drinks.
The next day we all arranged to head to Pigeon Island for a snorkeling trip. It consisted of a tuk tuk to the Nilevali beach, then arranging a boat to the island, then arranging your pick up and a ride back. Everything was priced quite high and prices kept changing. In the end the snorkeling was disappointing and while we saw some nurse sharks and a turtle, the overall experience wasn't as good as expected. There really wasn't much coral and what we could see was damaged. We also got sunburned... apparently our sunscreen wasn't waterproof!
We spent the next day hanging out on the beach, met up with a couple from the Netherlands for supper and then headed to a beach party. It was at one of the beach resorts, luckily further down from where we stayed since the music was really loud! Fun though. The next day we decided to stay one more night, it was another relaxing beach day after having to switch resorts. We had a pretty early night since we were leaving the next morning.
When we did our research we decided to stay away from Sigiriyia and Dambulla, they both seemed really expensive, so settled on Habarana. We booked in at Priya Vimana Resort. The great thing about Sri Lanka is that many of these places were peoples home where they had added an extra room or separate building so even though it was called a resort, it was more like a home stay. We were picked up at the bus stop by Vimal, the owner and taken to his home. We were greeted by his wife and daughters then taken to our room in a separate building. There was a footie game on so Paul had asked Vimal about watching it, so we were invited in their home. Unfortunately we were't able to get it on the channels they had so headed back to our porch to watch it on Paul's phone. Vimal came and sat with us to watch the game, bringing us tea and mosquito rackets. Mrs. Vimal made us supper and it was amazing! Everything was freshly made and consisted of chicken with lots of local veggies. I'm hungry just thinking about it! We questioned the china it was served on, turns out Vimal was high up in the military and had been gifted this when he was injured. He had since retired, ran the guesthouse and drove a tuk tuk to "keep him out of his wife's way". We had a lovely visit with him.
The next day he took us on a tour, first stop Pidurangala. After some local input from our hosts, we decided not to pay the $40 US fee to enter Sigiriya and chose to go here instead. Apparently there were less people here but it was still quite busy, that said, no traffic jam till we were closer to the top. Paul took the more challenging climbing over to the top and I waited out the traffic going the safer route through a small rock tunnel. It was really amazing on the top and you could see everything... including the metal stairs and crowds trying to get up Sigiriyia. We spent sometime up top and took lots of photos, a group of students talked to us and it was nice. We headed down, which was quite easy until I lost my footing and went down some of the rock stairs. I ended up cutting my knee, foot and hand... also injuring my pride. Vimal wanted to take us to the doctor when we got back but it wasn't that serious.
Next stop was Dambulla Caves. It was okay, lots of Buddha statues and paintings in caves. They were restoring some of the areas so we didn't get to see everything but it was cool. All the caves had stone work outside that was quite old as well. We didn't stay too long and went back to sit with Vimal. When we got back to the house, his daughter who also happens to be a nurse was waiting to look at my knee. Apparently he had called and let them know I had fallen. They were all very concerned, which was very sweet. Another amazing meal and off to sleep. Tomorrow back on the bus to Kandy!
Vimal dropped us off and made sure we got on the proper bus, it was packed but everyone was very nice. One thing about the buses is that a lot of them have loud music, massive speakers and lots of colors. We made it to the main bus/train station and arranged a tuk tuk to Hanthana Jungle View Holiday Home . The home was on the outskirts of Kandy and our driver ended up getting lost on the way. It was a nice place and friendly owner. The husband of the owner worked with the railway so said he would get us tickets to Ella on the train the next day. They drove us over to the Botanical Gardens were we spent an afternoon wandering around. We took a local bus back into town and wandered around for a while before getting another ride back for supper. Afterwards, we meet up with our Belgian friends for some drinks at a pub in the town centre, which was fun. We ended up wandering around Kandy at midnight to try and get a tuk tuk back to the house. We all had an early morning departure to get our train to Ella.
This was one of my favorite places. The train was really neat and the scenery was amazing. We went into the mountains, passing through towns and tea plantations, forests and over bridges. It was a long trip but totally worth it. We eventually found our guesthouse, google told us to go the wrong way. Here we stayed a Nimsara Home Stay they had two rooms built on the back of the house. We settled in and had another amazing meal. The next day we walked through the tea plantation, climbed Little Adam's Peak and walked the Nine Arches Bridge. It was really neat and we enjoyed wandering around. That night we met up with the Belgians as we were all heading in different directions so it was our last get together.
Our next day was a tea plantation tour, which was okay, we got to see how everything works. After that it was back to Nimsara for a cooking lesson... it started off with a power outage but we managed! We made curries, tuna, pumpkin and beet which was really good. There was also a neat tool to shred the coconut meat. While we waited for it to cook I spent some time with the owners daughter and son who wanted to practice their English. We had a very nice evening.
We took the local bus from Ella to Wellawaya where we switched onto the bus for Udawalawa. It was a longer ride but for once the bus wasn't as busy. We got out to our guesthouse, Peacock Riverside where we had a nice lunch. It was further out of the town then we expected so we really didn't have anything to do. The next day was a safari tour. We started with the Elephant Sanctuary, which was good and bad. There were a lot of people there so it was hard to get a spot for the elephant feeding. The good thing was that we weren't allowed to feed or touch the elephants, food was put out and the elephants came in from a large field. The babies were fed milk by the handlers, they put it into a large elevated tub with a hose on the end. The handlers weren't gentle using canes, some with hooks and we even saw one kick at an elephant that wanted more. After lunch we headed out on the safari that the owner of the guesthouse arranged for us. It was pretty neat, just the two of us and the driver/guide who was great. He would stop and point out birds, lizards and lots of little animals. We saw a massive bull elephant right away, walked right across the road by the entrance. There were a lot of peacocks and other birds that the driver told us about, letting us use his binoculars. We went by a lake that had a herd of elephants and some buffalo around. We saw 1 wild baby and some younger elephants. Then it was off for the sunset and crocodiles before we headed back for supper.
We took another bus to Tangalle, in the deep south. We decided to stay outside of the city and headed to Thatched Guest House where we had booked a couple of nights. It was a bit odd when we arrived, no one was there but eventually we were able to get to our room. About 5 minutes walk away there was a massive resort on Silent Beach. There was a private area and then the rest of the beach, we went for a walk down for about 10 minutes. Found a bar where we had a beer and coconut. The bar guy climbed the tree right in front of us to get the coconut. The waves here were huge so I decided not to go in the water. Paul however decided he could handle it after watching some locals, which was pretty fun. They were all tumbled around by the waves and Paul ended up with sand where there shouldn't be any. We saw some local fisherman who had caught some huge fish. That night we walked down for sunset before having a meal at our guest house. We had an amazingly wonderful meal cooked inside an old boat, on one burner. Then the "uncle" came and sat with us. He invited us to share a whiskey, which he then proceeded to drink most of. He warned us about a party in the area and said it would be loud until 10, but would be shut down after that. Nope, the music went on... all night and he didn't mean 10 am the next day because the music was still going! We decided to move the next day. We considered going to meet up with the Belgians who were at Mirissa, but we decided to try another place in Tangelle. We went down to the beach bar and walked over to another area that was calmer so we could get in the water.
The next day we headed to Hiru Villa. What a nice place, it was small two story house with a room on each floor, we were on the bottom. It was in a residential area, the owners lived across the road. There was a nice covered eating area and you could get breakfast and supper. There were hammocks and a nice sitting area, their kids would come over and we played crokinole. We were going to stay for a night, but ended up staying a week. You could walk to the beach which was nice or head over to a restaurant. There was a stray dog problem so we had to carry a stick when we walked at night as the dogs would come out of the trees in groups, growling at you with hackles raised. Dilum arranged for me to get a massage at the "fancy" place he worked... it was one of the strangest massage's I've ever had, more like a bird pecking at you then an actual massage. We wandered over to the beach, read a lot and enjoyed our visits with Pavhirtha and Dilum.
After a relaxing week, Dilum took us to the local bus stop with his eldest son so that we could get the big bus back to Negombo. The local bus was packed, people were crushed in like sardines and the driver was a crazy man. We made it to the main bus station and transferred to the "fancy" bus. It was a large bus with a/c, comfy seats and no loud music. The ride back to Negombo was uneventful and we made it back to the main bus station where we could get a tuk tuk to Natasha Garden Boutique Hotel. This was another place owned by AJ but was much fancier then the hostel. When we got there both AJ and Tarz were there to say hi, which was really nice. Natasha also owns the place and has made it into a lovely little sanctuary. She had a beautiful dog called Lady who loved hanging out by us. We had one night here before we headed off to Thailand. We went for a fancy supper, which wasn't the best we'd had and headed back to our rooms. The following day we spent lounging by the pool. Our flight left at 1 am so Natasha let us hang our for the day and shower. We had supper there and it was delicious. A great end to our time in Sri Lanka.