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What I Learned From a Week's Travel in Sri Lanka –

SRI LANKA | Friday, 8 August 2014 | Views [3984] | Comments [2]

Where am I now?

Where am I now?

Let’s start with the fun location-based travel first:

 

Pinawalla Elephant Sanctuary

Pinawalla Elephant Orphanage: There were many places that touted elephants and elephant rides. Our organizers picked the orphanage for one very specific reason – it is an orphanage and I would rather give my money to a sanctuary for elephants. It has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world and a great place to stop by if you can find the transportation to get here. I had a nice time taking photos of baby elephants and buying tourist elephant poo postcards (yes, I act like I’m 5 years old sometimes). The entrance fee will run you around $20 US, I believe, but it is worth it. Locals only pay maybe $1?

Types of tea grades.

Tea tours (Kandy): From Pinawalla my group headed into Kandy to take a tour of a tea plantation. Alas, as the day was waning we couldn’t find anywhere that was still technically open. However, one nice man gave us a tour anyway a bit after closing and we tipped him appropriately afterwards. It was pretty fascinating seeing rows and rows of tea leaves drying, to the machinery that sorted tea into various grades from tea dust (think Lipton tea) up to BOP (broken orange pekoe) and various tipped leaf teas. We were able to find a tea shop and stock up on gifts for home. Unsurprisingly Ceylon tea is just amazing in Sri Lanka. Drink up!

Temple of the Tooth

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Kandy): The end of that day brought us to the Temple of Buddha’ Sacred Tooth in Kandy. This temple was one of the reasons that Kandy became a UNESCO world heritage site and I can understand why. The temple itself is gorgeous if a bit barbaric with tooth-related sacred items and wall hangings with rows of locals in white filing into a line to get close to the tooth as it is the most sacred relic in Sri Lanka. Outside you can light candles and watch this lovely open building aglow in tiny pinpricks of candlelight. There were definitely less tourists here but I suspect that was more due to the timing (evening) than anything else.

Dambulla Golden Temple

Golden Temple (Dambulla): This was a unique temple built into the side of a cliff wall though you might not notice that at first. You are greeted by a giant golden seated Buddha adorning a dragon-like creature’s face which is the entryway to the small Buddha museum. Skirting the building you head left and walk up a good number of uneven stone steps until you come to the cave walls. You pay an entrance fee to get in and then you find yourself surrounded by singing wind and tall cliffs with dark rooms painstakingly carved with more Buddha statuary inside, including some rather large reclining Buddha figures. I popped into the museum afterwards which had small Buddha statues from around the world but it wasn’t really worth the time to go in. The caves are the important place to go.

Looking toward Pigeon Island

Pigeon Island (Nilaveli): Taking a few days of respite we piled into our van and headed off to the Pigeon Island Beach Resort. This is a great place to pull up a beach chair and just relax with a king coconut and a good book to keep you company. You can also buy a spot on a tiny boat that will drive you out to Pigeon Island for some snorkeling. Be forewarned that there is no shade so bring lots of sunscreen and water.

Koneswaram Temple

Koneswaram Temple (Trincomalee): This is a classical-medieval Hindu temple that is a well-known Hindu pilgrimage site devoted to Shiva on the opposite side of Sri Lanka from where we started out (Columbo). It has a lot of beautiful statues and unique flourishes that caught the eye. I especially liked going through a gate onto cliffs with crashing waves below and mini shrives to various entities. The temple itself seemed to have an ongoing ceremony which I felt a bit odd interrupting but everyone there took it in stride – I guess they are used to foreigners meandering about their temples. It was quite lovely if far away from other touristy sites.

Polonnaruwa ancient ruins

Polonnaruwa Ancient City: This is the second most ancient city in Sri Lanka and a World Heritage Site. It is a fascinating architectural relic site that is just so incredibly vast and full of palatial ruins, algae-laden bath houses, statues, temple stupas and so many more building foundations crumbling away. There is a lot to see here and it is all so spread out. It is incredible thinking of this as a bustling city at one point in time in the distant past. Really amazing and worth checking out if you can find your way here!

All in all I had an enlightening time in Sri Lanka. It was not a particular pick of mine to go to but with a group of friends and the right price it turned out to be a fascinating trip. I am glad I had a chance to go.

 

Some of the boring but important bits if you are thinking of going to Sri Lanka:

Tourist Visas: A necessary evil. Most people can apply online and 99.9% will have absolutely no trouble getting a tourist visa within the next day or two. I, however, had to deal with Immigration for numerous weeks to get my visa because according to their website my credit card payment didn’t go through (my credit card statement says otherwise). My visa status remained pending all the way through until the day I left for the airport 5 weeks after I applied. I spent a lot of time on the phone with Immigration and my visa was finally cancelled the morning of my flight so I could reapply and have my payment go through. I was accepted two minutes later. Yay. Finally. Visa in hand I could go to the airport with a much lighter heart.

Airlines: I flew in on a combo Etihad/Sri Lankan Air in and Sri Lankan/British Air on the way out. Both of my non-Sri Lanka flights were great; I had window seats with lovely people beside me, the food wasn’t awful, the leg room wasn’t the worst, and the planes seemed quite new. Both Sri Lankan flights were two of my least favorites ever; I had problem people sitting beside me, both flights had screaming babies, the food was atrocious, the seating was far more cramped than the other flights, and the planes seemed old. This is not a reflection on the staff, who were quite nice and competent, but I cannot in good conscious recommend anyone to fly in on Sri Lankan Air. If you can get any other airline flight in do it.

Transportation: Unsurprisingly everyone will try to stiff you at any point of the journey. I took mostly taxis and tuk-tuks when I was not in our share van and had problems just about every single trip. Some advice would be to make sure that you take a metered taxi or tuk-tuk and visually look for where it is and what the price is. Be as clear as possible on your location or you will end up somewhere else completely and the tuk-tuk will get money or gas coupons or something for dropping you off. Not cool. So anyway, be careful not to get ripped off too much. It will happen – it did happen – but do your best to be alert to scams.

Food: The food here is amazing and full of heavy curries and fried foods. I was a big fan of the egg hopper and all of the local veggie curries. The tea is amazing unsurprisingly. The local alcohol of choice is Arrack (distilled from coconuts) and I'd recommend that you give it a try, though perhaps cut it with something first. Eat as much fruit as you can cram in; it is all tasty from the king coconuts to the rambutans to the flavorful watermelons. All good. But speaking of liquids, bring a water bottle; the water is not safe to drink and even the locals drink bottled water.

And my final bit of advice: Take whatever I say worth a grain of salt; I did not do any travel research beforehand, nor did I pick the destinations, the transportation, or the accommodation. For the first time in my life I just flew in and the trip was already prepared and there for me to embark on. Lucky, I know.

 

On that final note, happy travels!

Tags: ancient ruins, beaches, colombo, elephants, kandy, koneswaram, polonnaruwa, sri lanka, tea, temples

Comments

1

That is the second interesting and helpful i see it today because i will plan to travel sri lanka and spent holidays with adventures.

  Andre Rasquinha Aug 8, 2014 2:10 PM

2

if you get to colombo you must go to the sri lanka cricket club. it is fabulous. full of wonderful memorabilia and they have a bar, lunch etc. it has been run by two generous australians for over 20 years who made us all very, very welcome. loved it.

  shirley Jul 2, 2015 9:40 AM

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