Places to go in Sri Lanka
Places to go in Sri Lanka
Originally called Sihagiri (Remembrance Rock) and later dubbed Sigiriya (Lion Rock), the rock mass is actually the hardened magma plug of an extinct volcano that long ago eroded away.
Up at 6.30am on vacation isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but we had a date with Sigiraya, 3 hours north of Kandy. Sigiraya or The Lion Rock is a unique landscape city created in the 5th century and is well worth the visit ($30 entry though!). I had been in 2009 and although it was quite out of the way I felt it was essential Aida visited. The day started off poorly as it was raining heavily, not what you require when visiting a UNISCO site. Weaving through the roads to the north, dodging dogs and tut tuts was another experience but we arrived safely, the rain eased off and we set off on the trail, which takes about an hour to the top depending on how busy it is. Stuck behind the Chinese hampered our progress especially as they wanted photos taken every 5 steps.
2. Nurawa Eliya
We headed south to the picturesque town of Nurawa Eliya, passing all the tea fields that adjourn the area. Stopping off at a tea factory on the way we got to see how tea is produced and then more importantly got to sample some along with a piece of chocolate cake.
Arriving in the village of Nurawa Eliya you could notice the drop in temperature, certainly not cold enough to be wearing the winter wear which most locals and even tourists were wearing but cool enough nonetheless. They call this place ‘Little England’ due to some of the buildings including Three red telephone boxes and brick Victorian post office. Nurawa Eliya (City of Light’) was the favoured cool-climate escape for the English and Scottish pioneers of Sri Lanka’s tea industry.
3. the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple – Kandy
The most sacred place in Sri Lanka ‘The Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic’. As with all temples it was pretty impressive, but never before have we seen a huge elephant wondering through the grounds. The story of the tooth is pretty far fetched but the locals flock from far and wide to visit. The grounds are pretty large and the entrance fee is about $7.50 each.
During puja (offerings or prayers), the heavily guarded room housing the tooth is open to devotees and tourists. However, you don’t actually see the tooth. It’s kept in a gold casket shaped like a dagoba (stupa), which contains a series of six dagoba caskets of diminishing size.
The entire temple complex covers a large area and as well as the main shrine there are numerous other temples and museums within the complex.
The views are magnificent. The main attraction in Ella is to trek to Mini Adam’s Peak, which as the name suggests is a smaller version of Adam’s Peak, a 10km hike and peak not too far away. A mini hike was more to our liking and we headed off on the 1 hour walk to the top. I wore flip flops so you can tell the walk isn’t difficult which suited me fine as my trainers were rubbing and I couldn’t be wearing them again. We were pleasantly surprised at how stunning the views were, and the fact that hordes of dogs join you all the way, with no hassle from any of them was truly great. The dogs acted like Lassie, a sort of guide making sure you find your way ok, especially as when the clouds come in, it can be a little daunting. We got chatting to some Brits, Germans and Koreans at the summit about this, that and the other, which was quite a surreal location to chat with such views on every side of you.
5. Yala National Park
We were picked up by jeep which including entrance was $110 for the two of us. Again some pretty scenery on the way to the Park (about 15 minutes) including a huge Pagoda. The dogs here are even more brave/stupid than the rest of the Country. They literally lie in the middle of the road and don’t move even when cars beep at them. How there are no dead dogs scattered along the road is a mystery as they certainly don’t leave much room for error.Having only just been to a National Park in Namibia, Chris didn’t know how this would compare. we were hopeful that it would be productive so we got to see animals in their natural habitat. We did see two leopards but firstly there were about 20 other jeeps there jockeying for a view and secondly they were not the easiest to spot so photos were only good if you had a super zoom on your camera. There were plenty of peacocks, water buffalo and deer. If its on your way and your are keen to visit then by all means take a look, just don’t expect too much in terms of close ups with anything other than a peacock or water buffalo.
Mirissa is also a surf beach so if that’s your ‘cup of tea’ then head there for a few days.
There was no charge for using the sun beds on the beach as long as you ate or drank in the bar that owned them, which we duly did. There are lots of tourists here as you can imagine, many English and French. On the evening we enjoyed the local dish Rotti, not what I envisaged but nice nonetheless. whale watching is what Mirissa is most renowned for and costs 6000 Rupees ($45) each to go on the boat. You spend about 4 hours out at sea, 90 mins going out, an hour ‘following’ whales and then 90 mins back. We spotted a school of dolphins within 15 mins of being out of port, they really are remarkable creatures and swimming with dolphins in the wild is still on my bucket list. Once you reach the area renowned for whales you are met by another 6 or 7 boats (less than I had imagined). Once a whale is spotted the boats all follow (to within 100m) and you can observe and take photos. The photos certainly don’t look like they do on the posters!!
We saw 4 blue whales in total but with the price, the sea sickness and the distance the whales are away from you, I’d say its not totally worth the money, for me its not the once in a lifetime experience quoted on our boat. Mirissa is more like El Nido than Phuket, once you have eaten there is no real party place apart from Friday and Saturday evenings.
We spend time in the city at the impressive Old Dutch-colonial buildings Fort before moving onto our accommodation and then the beach. The beach area was certainly a lot livelier than Mirissa and more in the Thailand mode with bars and beach parties.
Galle is easily to reach as a day trip from Colombo and is a quick drive from the nearby beach towns of Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna and Mirissa, but to really enjoy the place, stay within the atmospheric walls of the Fort.
As most of south east Asian big cities you have options of visiting temples, museums, trying local (sea food), getting massage and doing shopping.
The Gangarama Vihara is one of the most venerable temples in Sri Lanka, decorated with beautiful stone carvings.
But for us the only reason to head back to Colombo from Kandy was to watch the first ODI Cricket Test between Sri Lanka and England meant that the rain was an added source of frustration. At $7 a ticket we were happy to see a few hours of play but the rain gods obviously like cricket and it stayed away for the whole duration of the game. A few $1.50 beers always help when watching cricket, it’s not my favourite sport and this was Aida’s first (and probably last) game. England won the toss and chose to field first. The crowd started to get bigger as people realized that the rain was staying away and as many finished work and they got louder and louder as the Lions started to rack up a big score. 317 after 50 overs meant England had lots to do and sadly they came up 25 runs short. We left after 15 overs of England’s innings (about 9pm) as we had to get back to Kandy, which would take just shy of 3 hours. A great experience to have, just wished it was 20/20!
9. Elephant Sanctuary – Kandy
An Elephant Sanctuary is located about an hour outside of Kandy where they treat sick and injured elephants. There are over 6000 wild elephants in Sri Lanka but only 8 here at the Sanctuary. When we arrived you are given 4 options, you can just go inside but not ride an elephant, or you can also ride one for 6, 9 or 12 minutes. The price varies for each. When we got in we could see 4 elephants lying in the stream. The guide told us by law they had to keep them locked up but either way, I don’t find it pleasant to see. We went in the water where we found out that they actually where just sleeping. Also in the Sanctuary was a 60+ year old elephant, which they had rescued from a nearby village. It was very skinny and lanky and was in need of some TLC.
10. Peradeniya Botanic Gardens – Kandy
At one time these beautiful botanical gardens were reserved exclusively for Kandyan royals. Today the largest (60 hectares) and most impressive botanic gardens in Sri Lanka is open for public visit.
The many highlights include a fine collection of orchids and a stately avenue of royal palms. Another big hit is the giant Javan fig tree on the great lawn. Covering 2500 sq metres, it’s like a giant, living geodesic dome.
If food is more a priority than love, you’ll find an overpriced cafeteria (mains Rs 550 to Rs 1000) about 500m north of the entrance, serving Western and Sri Lankan food on a roofed verandah.
The gardens and trees are impressive and walking round will take you between an hour and 90 mins, depending on how much of the gardens you wish to visit. Watch out for the local lovers fondling in Cooks Pine Avenue!!