We began our Sri Lankan trip at the Southern beaches and ended our trip in the sands of the East coast. Four days of exploring temples and beaches in the East was the perfect ending for our month long stay.
Hinduism is actually more prevalent in this area so we were also treated to the brightly painted Hindu temples in all the colors of the rainbow.
On the short walk up to Koneswaram Temple you’ll pass wild spotted deer, stalls selling brightly painted masks and vendors offering ‘king coconuts’ to drink. The brightly colored temple is situated on a point with views of blue whales in the wide ocean.
The beautiful drive along the coast affords iconic views such as these fishing boats resting in the sand. You’ll pass villages with table after table covered in fish that are drying in the sun.
October through February is monsoon season on the East coast so prices are cheaper and there are less tourists than during the dry season. We stayed in the artistic, backpacker beachfront Aqua Inn for only $12 a night. The refreshing pool and treehouse bar were fun highlights.
We managed to keep to our budget of less than $100 per day for the entire Sri Lankan trip. That included food, transportation (buses, trains, tuk tuks and scooter rentals), rooms, drinks, temple fees and donations, toiletries and one souvenir mask that Ian is now carrying in his backpack! Sri Lanka was a diverse experience full of friendly people. A must see travel destination!
The bus from Kandy to Dambulla took 2 1/2 hours and cost 75 cents each. A quick tuk tuk to our guest house cost another $5 and we had arrived in the historical village of Sigiriya. Most tourists head there to climb Sigiriya Rock ($30 per person) and a steep, 3 hour round trip. We chose to climb Pidurangala Rock for $3.30 each, a more rigorous climb but only 45 minutes to summit. We arrived at the top for an early morning misty view.
Almost to the summit is a large reclining Buddha in a cave. Travel Tip for ladies: you can wear shorts for this hot and humid climb, just remember a sarong to wear for the two sacred sights on the way.
We rented a scooter for $10 and had a rainy day adventure starting with a trip back to Dambulla to see the Dambulla Cave Temple.
We saw lots of monkeys on the stone staircases leading through the jungle towards the actual cave temple. One quick monkey stole the entire bunch of flowers I was carrying.
Travel Tip: make sure you buy your tickets at the entrance! We didn’t see any signs until we had climbed many stairs in the rain only to discover as non-Sri Lankans we’d have to return to the bottom for our tickets to see the cave temple. So we didn’t see the cave temple after all.
We enjoyed the many sights to see by scooter including plenty of elephants, even wild ones! Sigiriya was a quiet town with plenty of wildlife and lonely roads through rice paddies and jungles. The food was great and guesthouses were affordable. A great area to explore in Sri Lanka!
To those of us who speak English there is a certain humour in the fact that the city of Kandy has The Temple of The Sacred Tooth Relic. To the Sri Lankan people the tooth relic is the actual tooth of the Buddha and whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. To worship and give offerings in this holy place significantly helps you on your journey towards enlightenment.
Masses of worshippers and tourists shuffle in line three times a day during Puja, the only time the doors are open to see the golden casket that holds The Tooth. Actually it’s seven gold caskets nestled within each other like a Russian doll, with the tooth in the smallest one.
Kandy was a bit warmer than the hill country we’d arrived from and downtown was busier as well. However we did find some quaint corners left over from it’s glory days.
The beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens were a special treat and for 1,500 rupees ($10) deserve a visit for anyone going to Kandy.
A 30 minute scooter drive through winding, quiet country roads (a relief after the traffic in Kandy) brought us to the ancient Lankatilaka Vihara Temple. The temple doors were closed but a monk was happy to open them up for us and even adjusted the lighting inside for the benefit of our pictures.
After two days we said goodbye to our lovely guesthouse in the hills above the city (surrounded by jungle and monkeys in the trees) and boarded the bus headed towards the historical village of Sigiriya.
It was a beautiful 3 hour train ride from Ella to Nuwara Eliya. Nuwara Eliya is the most important area for tea production in Sri Lanka and the coolest area with day time temperatures peaking at 68 degrees Fahrenheit in late January. Altitude is 6,128 ft with amazing vistas, waterfalls and tea plantations you can tour.
This town is known as ‘Little England’ and indeed you can enjoy a gin and tonic or a game of golf in the more genteel area.
Travel Tips: Expect a bit higher budget for hotels, meals, drinks and scooter rentals. Also bring warm clothes for the evenings in January and sunscreen for the sunny high altitude days!
On the way to the tea plantation covered hill country we went on safari in Yala National Park. We saw Asian elephants (smaller than African elephants with smaller ears), a leopard in a tree, crocodiles, too many birds to count (including the beautiful green Bee Eater), a jackal, mongoose and other critters.
We arrived in the beautiful hill country town of Ella and enjoyed some typical rice and curry with the Sri Lankan Lion beer.
Ella enchanted us with verdant tea plantations, rocky cliffsides, dreamy waterfalls and fun loving backpackers. There are plenty of hikes with different levels of difficulty where you can see monkeys in the trees, tropical flowers and tea pickers on the hillside.
While in Sri Lanka you must try the egg hoppers for breakfast! Made from rice flour and coconut milk, pan fried into bowl shapes and then a fried egg nestled in the center gets topped with sambal. Sambal is chili and spice based, and can be made with coconut meat or tomatoes as shown in the picture below.
After three days enjoying Ella we boarded the train headed for the most important area for tea production, Nuwara Eliya. The train ride was the most beautiful one we have experienced up to date!
After 26 hours of trains, airplanes and tuk tuks we arrived in Galle, Sri Lanka. Coming from snowy Moscow the change in temperature and humidity was quite noticeable. We enjoyed the Dutch colonial town of Galle and rented a scooter (1000 rupees, $7) for a side trip to have a cocktail on Unawatuna Beach, visit a Peace Stupa and take a small hike down to Jungle Beach.
We hopped on a bus and headed to the long stretch of beach with loads of guesthouses, restaurants and bars right in the sand called Mirissa. One end is party central with spotlights, fireworks and pumping music all night but you can find quiet and solitude on the East end.
We rented a scooter again (locals call them scooties, very cute) and visited a temple with a giant Buddha statue along with another reclining Buddha in the town of Matara.
After three nights in Mirissa (and seeing several other beaches in the area, some great for learning to surf, others for solitude) we took a bus to Tangalle, then a tuk tuk to our remote guesthouse in Marakolliya Beach.
Our place was situated on a lagoon that flowed into the ocean just steps away. We could watch the fish, snakes and kingfishers in the lagoon while having lunch, then stroll down the long, almost empty beach. It was serene!