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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Tea, Elephants and Cool Lion Beer in Sri Lanka

SRI LANKA | Friday, 4 April 2008 | Views [862]

As soon as we arrived at the airport we jumped in a taxi and headed straight up to Kandy to our first treat. the Mahaweli Reach Hotel.  The road up to Kandy was even slower than we remembered it being but then we realised that there are a lot more private cars on the roads these days.  It was very rare that you saw only one or two people in a vehicle.  Obviously it doesn’t help that no money has been put into the infrastructure in that area and in places the road was no better than a wildlife safari track.  The Mahaweli was nice and on the river as we’d expected but what we didn’t realise was there was a busy road just the other side of the river.  I’d always pictured the place as being much more secluded.  We weren’t too disappointed as we had a lovely room with a river view.  The main problem was the weather wasn’t too good so we couldn’t even go for a dip in their lovely pool.


We’d had cash point woes in the airport so decided to go for a wander around Kandy until it was time to meet up with our friends.  We eventually tracked down the HSBC bank – I don’t know what gives places the right to move!  Armed with cash we went off for a walk around the lake.  Well that was our plan but the weather had other ideas and indeed it started raining.  Nothing for it but to retreat to the pub slightly earlier than planned and wait for various friends to arrive.  Steve and Dave were on their way up from Hikkaduwa and Pam and Sascha were at work in Kandy.  We’d expected the lads to get there first but they ended up quite late as they had many transport problems and also hadn’t realised just how slow the drive would be.  It was lovely to have a bit longer to catch up with Pam and Sascha, as we’d not seen them since leaving Bangkok. 


The next morning following a huge buffet breakfast we jump into the van we’d arranged to take us up to Rangala House in the Knuckles Range.  By the end of the previous evening we’d persuaded Steve and Dave to join us too so we took a little detour to pick them up.  Their guesthouse might have been very basic but it afforded some lovely views of the Mahaweli and the surrounding hills.  Steven Miles was doing his usual dithering and not knowing whether or not to stay in such an expensive place even though it would only be for one night.  Steve M not being able to make a decision became par for the course throughout the holiday!  It was still cloudy but the drive up the hills and through the tea plantations was great.


Rangala House has to be in our top ten of places we’ve stayed in.  Basically it’s an old tea plantation manager’s bungalow and the views down the valley over to Kandy and way beyond are fantastic – once the cloud lifts.  We were shown the rooms and since we were definitely staying I declared that we should get first dibs!  Our room was huge with a massive bow window giving us the view I’ve just told you about.  Steve was still dithering but once he’d chilled on the balcony with a pot of tea and tucked into the fabulous spread they put on for lunch he’d decided to stay.  Luckily the clouds had begun to lift so we all set off for a walk around the tea plantation.  Not a difficult or strenuous walk but most enjoyable and especially so for the lads as they’d not been up to the hills before.  It also gave us a lot of time to catch up with each other’s news.


The Sri Lankan curry spread that was laid before us that night was immense and of course very tasty.  Just as well we were only staying for two days as at this food consumption rate we weren’t going to fit into our wedding togs!!  I know you don’t have to eat it but it’s rude not to when it tastes so good, in a very fine setting and with great banter.  We even had a living room area for our use – there was no one else staying there and I think there are only 3 rooms – so we managed to watch City on cable TV to nicely end the day and they even managed to beat Spurs!  The lads didn’t really want to leave but decided financially to move on and the weather had taken a turn for the worse so the beach was calling them again.  To be honest we had a pretty lazy morning and then in the afternoon did a slightly different walk through the tea plantation.  The tea and coffee seemed to be constantly flowing and it wasn’t until we got our bill at the end that we found out this was all part of the service.  It was expensive but we felt it was extremely good value and believe me you’d love it there.


Since this was a holiday of luxury accommodation and we had much more gear to carry around than usual we didn’t scrimp on the transport either.  We’d pre-booked a van to take us down to the Galle Face Hotel and for our next bit of colonial charm.  The weather hadn’t improved and we were beginning to worry about how we would have to change things for March 24th.  Still that was still a week away and with the full moon coming up we were pinning our hopes on the weather improving after that.  On checking in at the Galle Face the lady told us that due to the rain they were having problems with the rooms and asked us if we would mind moving into the new wing.  Now we’d seen on the internet that part of the hotel goes separately as the Galle Face Residency and we’d also seen how much more expensive it is.  Would we mind changing – certainly not!  The room was fab – with all the mod cons you associate with top hotels and none of that colonial roughness to the edges.  This is the part of the hotel where if you are standing on the huge chessboard, facing the sea the wing is on your left over by the pool.  It had always been basically abandoned but they have obviously invested huge amounts and they’ve done a great job without changing the colonial ness of the outside.


We didn’t do much in Colombo, as we were only there to pick up some supplies for the wedding - 2 cases of wine, some more spirits and lots of snacks.  That evening we popped along to the Cricket Club for old times sake and one of the waiters was still there and instantly recognised us.  The next morning while we were waiting for the van we’d pre-booked through G.G. we enjoyed watching people in all their finery attending various weddings and homecomings.  We were also congratulating ourselves on not putting each other through the horrors of having a professional photographer making you pose, pose and pose again!


The plan had been to stop in Hikkaduwa for a couple of nights but the weather still hadn’t improved so we texted the lads on the way down and said we were heading straight for Unawatuna.  We’ve always preferred Unawatuna anyway and especially when the weather isn’t so good.  Plus I was beginning to think that maybe we should touch base and make sure everyone down there was ready for the big day.  The lads decided to pack their bags and take advantage to the lift we could give them further down the coast.  Since we were a couple of days early we decided to stay in one of our old favourites, The Rock House.  They all remembered us and we got a great room at a bargain price.  I’d wanted to stay there in the hope that the purple- faced leaf monkeys would come through at some point.  Not only did they potter through they seemed to spend most of their time hanging around that area.  The next morning I was almost face to face with one while I was sat out on the balcony.


Our first sight of the beach didn’t cheer us up – it had virtually disappeared so our plans for walking down the beach from one venue to the other were straight out of the window.  We popped to see Ajith to find his place didn’t have any beach left at all and we were thoroughly disheartened.  Ajith could sense our disappointment and assured us he would have the end sanded terrace ready for the party and in the end it all worked out just fine.  We weren’t going to let it get us down too much as we were aware that there was nothing we could do about it and felt that our guests were all of the nature to pitch in and deal with any change of plan.  Plus here we were back at one of our favourite spots in the world, with some great mates, sand between our toes and a lovely tall cool Lion.  Plus we’d been so warmly welcomed back by so many people – it’s amazing how many people remember us so well and after so long.  I think Steve and Dave were quite surprised but kind of enjoying the local family style atmosphere.


The next morning we decided to go and introduce ourselves to The Villa’s manager and check that he was ready for our special day.  He had all the details there – all my e-mails and it looked like they were prepared to do all I’d asked for.  In the end the buffet spread was not only superb but exactly what we’d asked for.  You can’t expect better service than that and all at a very reasonable price per head.  We also had time to discuss how we would like the tables arranged and organised using their ceremonial oil lamp.  It looks like I’d wasted my energy worry about things and that things were under control and any little extras would not be a problem.  In fact they even took one task off our list and offered to sort out the cake for us.  We simply told them what we wanted and the approximate size and I’m sure you’ll agree they came up trumps.  The presentation of it was all there doing.  Left to us it would have been cut up in the kitchen and dished out!!  In the end it made another very nice significant part of the ceremony.  Like I said excellent service.


The manager then told us we would need to go to see the registrar to get the paper work rolling and he would organise that for the next morning.  That was fine by us as we needed to go into Galle to pick up some last minute bits and bobs.  That left us with the afternoon to go for a walk up to the temple on the headland and go for a walk up the jungle track.  It was so good to be there again and the animals didn’t let us down – we lost count of the number of lizards and monitors we saw.  The walk ended up being much longer than anticipated so following a very late lunch we went to find the lads to join them in chilling out on the beach.


Throughout the next few days it was lovely waiting for the next friends to arrive and catch up with them.  I’d not seen Jason for years and of course had never met Genie.  It was great watching the group gradually getting bigger but at one point we felt very torn between different groups and were beginning to find it difficult to know which friend or family camp we should be in.  We just hope we spent the right amount of time with everyone although I’m sure we all would have wanted more time in each other’s company in an ideal world.  By the time everyone was there it was looking like 25 was just the right amount of people for the venue and the event to run in the relaxed way we hoped for.


I had an unexpected trip back into Galle to help Michael to get some things as his luggage hadn’t accompanied him on the plane and to be honest it wasn’t what I was expecting to be doing the day before my wedding.  I’ve not been clothes shopping with Michael for years and never outside of Liverpool or Newcastle!!  On the actual morning of our wedding we ended up having to sort out the Hunphreys/Sonczaks transport for the next leg of their journey.  All tasks we could have lived without having to perform but it kept our mind of the big day and therefore  kept our nerves at bay.  We were very pleased to sea the sun shining and the sea looking calm and inviting on the big day and even I went for an early morning dip – it was the only ‘present’ I could think of for Steve.  To be honest bobbing about in the Indian Ocean on the morning of our wedding has to be an auspicious start for us.  See the separate journal for details of the day’s events so straight to the mini honeymoon then.


The accommodation at Arunya Lodge near Lodge turned out to be more basic than we’d expected.  Now eco-friendly I’m all for but having fundamental things like attached bathrooms and coffee can’t be too much to ask for considering how much we paid for this experience.  The tree house proved to be way too high and the thought of having to scale down the ladder in the middle of the night in the pitch black to go to the loo instilled us with fear.  For once inclement weather was our saviour and an almighty thunderstorm was enough of an excuse we needed to get our gear rope and pullied back down and into a ground level room. 


To fill in the afternoon we asked to be shown where the lake was we’d read about that you could walk to.  Being the cautious souls that they are they sent one of the kitchen boys, a local to the area, to show us the way.  Just as well as there were all manner of little tracks for us to get lost down.  Just as we got to the edge of the lake the weather blackened considerably and the rain started to fall.  It wasn’t too heavy so we didn’t immediately turn back.  Lucky for us as just then we spotted a crocodile cruising around.  We simultaneously realised that people were foolish enough to be stood up to their waists in the crocodile infested water fishing with a rod and line.  The wind picked up and the rain really started to fall and you guessed it the storm arrived.  It was way too close for comfort and as we were crossing a stream and fork of lightening landed in the paddy field directly behind us – a little scary to say the lease.  Did this added danger see the fishermen lowering their lines and retreating to safer territory?  NO!!!  We were soaked by the time we got back and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the storm and thanking our lucky stars we’ve moved to a ground level room.


Against the odds the staff had contacted someone who could take us on safari the next day and he duly turned up.  Even more amazing they’d been to the shop and bought some coffee so at least I could warm up with a nice brew.  Anyway we arranged a time and price for the following morning, had a stone cold, miserable, tasteless dinner and retired early to bed.  We’d taken a bottle of wine with us to have a nice quiet celebratory drink following the wedding but we didn’t feel like opening it.  Luckily it was dry the next morning and the jeep and driver reappeared so we were all set for the safari.


I’ve always enjoyed simply watching the scenery go by in Yala but of course it’s always better if you see lots of animals too.  It was very different from the last time we were there – very lush and green so of course the animals could stay more hidden.  Nonetheless we saw all the usual suspects like buffalo, deer, mongoose, monitors, tortoise, hare, huge crocodiles, loads of birds and our first ever snake. By lunchtime down at the edge of the river it was beginning to look like we’d come away feeling slightly disappointed since we’d not seen leopard, bear or elephants.  Following lunch we set off again and the driver was trying very hard to find the leopards – but to no avail.  A little later we came across a big group of elephants and the huge male walked right past the side of the jeep.  Anyone of us could have reached out a hand and touched it – we didn’t of course but it shows just how close he was.  We were sat watching the group for about 15mins and they were simple doing what elephants do and were not concerned by our presence at all.  There were a couple of smaller ones (around 3 – 5 year olds) playing and the range pointed out how pleased they were to have a young make tusker.  Suddenly we realised that one of the females had a very young baby with her – only about 10 days old.  We assumed we would only ever get fleeting glances of it between the adults’ legs but then the herd decided to cross the road right in front of us for a pond on the other side.


Once in here it was great watching the baby trying to get his trunk work to spray himself and the others were giving themselves a wonderful bath.  There was quiet a steep bank on the other side and this proved to be a favourite scratching point.  It was wonderful watching all of this natural behaviour from such a close vantage point and for about an hour old told.  When we were ready to move on the adult male decided he wasn’t going to let us go past him.  This led to a bit of a stand off and it looked like he might even charge at one point.  Instead the driver opened his door to make the vehicle look bigger and challenged the elephant with the jeep.  I wasn’t 100% sure it was going to work but we managed to get past him and on our way without further incident.  What a highlight watching such a young elephant in the wild and most of the time it was outside the protection of the legs so we got some great photos.  It’s been very difficult to choose which photos to print as we could have filled a whole album just with elephants.  We were rejecting perfectly good shots just because we had another even better.


In the end a very enjoyable safari but of course we’d have loved to see the leopard and / or the bear.  Shouldn’t be greedy should we?!  Back to the worst and most expensive place we paid for all holiday and boy were we looking forward to getting back to Unawatuna and relaxing in Bruno’s cabanas!  I have to say we enjoyed lazing around by the pool and catching up with travel tales with the remaining wedding party people. Once the Davison clan were on their way it was time for us to move up to Hikkaduwa to spend some time with Steve’s family before we had to go back to Colombo.


The hotel we’d recommended for them turned out to be a huge hit all round.  There were heaps of squirrels and some monitors in the garden, which was huge, the pool was good and the staff were great at organising things like table tennis and stuff for the lads.  The biggest bonus is that the hotel is right on the beach by the only really safe swimming area.  Plus of course the rocks are just off the coast and we knew a glass bottom boat and snorkelling would feature at some point.  We were staying the The Curry Bowl and had already seen turtles bobbing about in the sea.  There were more than we remembered, some of them were pretty big and we were getting really good sightings of them.  Obviously we told the lads to look out for them and then the next thing we know we’re all in the sea with two huge green turtles swimming around our legs.  Even Kathryn and I got the snorkels on and went for an aquatic view of them.  They really are huge and it’s a little disconcerting when you round a corner to come face to face with one.  Not that they’d hurt you but they are obviously naturally very strong.


We spent ages with them and of course snorkelling for other fish too.  At one point I spotted a small sea snake but I couldn’t find it again to show the others.  There were a few fish but no corals so we had to go out to coral island.  That was the end of snorkelling for Kathryn and I.  Matthew is very brave and leapt in even though the water is very deep.  The lads, Gino and Steve were the only ones prepared to get wet again and Steve said the fish and corals were pretty good so a great first experience for Matt.  That was enough excitement for one day so we arranged to go for a nice meal that night. We all went to a seafood restaurant called Refresh as Gino fancied lobster and the lads enjoyed the novelty of choosing you victim.


The next morning it was time for us to set off back to Colombo so after bidding a final farewell to the turtles – oh yes – and all the Humphreys and Sonczaks we jumped in a van bound for the Galle Face.  No upgrade this time but the old colonial room we had was huge and actually gave us the space we needed.  We were fairly shattered by this point and other than trying to do a bit of shopping didn’t really feel up to doing much.  Odel didn’t let us down and we bought a huge bag full of clothes.  Unfortunately Bearfoot didn’t have any more of the photo albums we like so we’re going to have to try to find a new source.  We did pick up a lovely little stone elephant for our collection though.  Other than that we lazed around by the pool watching the antics of the squirrels In the evening we wandered down for a Lion beer on the checkerboard for sunset.  Not the most stunning sunset but we were happy and it was a lovely end to the holiday.

Travel Tips

we booked a lot of our accommodation through www.reddottours.com

In Unawatuna there are loads of places to stay, the Villa and Bruno's Flower garden are excellent but more expensive, you could try Upils (definetely have a meal there ) or Rock House which is jungle side.


For travel and tours around Sri lanka, call into Happy Tours at the junction of the 2 lanes near Hot Rock and chat to GG.

[email protected] tel. 0094912232838


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