Yogyakarta in the heart of Java

Ramayana is an ancient Indian epic explaining the life of Rama, the legendary prince of Kosala Kingdom. The story takes place in the city of Ayodhya in India. Yogyakarta in Indonesia has got his name after this Indian city and the importance of the Ramayana epic for the Indonesians didn’t change during the centuries. We have seen a traditional Javanese dance performance near the ancient temple, Prambanan, which explained a part of this epic. Generally the performance contains the whole story, but at full moon they play a longer version and they divide the epic in four parts during four nights. The experience was really interesting, the show, both the dance and music, was very different from what we can see in Europe. During the performance we could see in the background the beautiful illuminated Prambanan temple, we were surrounded by local families and lost in a different world. After a while the performance and the music become monotonous, it is quite repetitive, however it is still a show what you can’t find elsewhere.

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Prambanan is the largest temple site of Hinduism in Indonesia, it is dedicated to the Trimurti, the trinity of the three major gods of Hinduism, Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. The first temple was built in the 9th century to honor the Hindu god, Shiva. The story of Rama is carved on the relieves of the temple. There is a supposition that the temples were built as answer to the nearby Buddhist temples, Borobudur and Sewu and to demostrate the power of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty in contrast to the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty.

In the 10th century the area and the temples were abandoned due to eruptions of the volcano Merapi and a strong earthquake and only have been rediscovered in the 19th century during the colonization. Today it’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Legend of Roro Jonggrang explains a mythological origin of the temples, a war between two kingdoms and the built of Prambanan by spirits and demons. The story was created by the locals who didn’t know about its historical background or it may be originated from the Hindu Sanjaya and the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasties.

Prambanan is located 17 kms northeast from Yogyakarta, we arrived by taxi for the traditional show and the transport back to the city was a service which we could request as extra from the organizers of the show (request it at the counter before the show!). At the show there is a small shop to buy some drinks and snacks, but it is not suitable for dinner. I advice to have dinner before in Yogyakarta or in the restaurant next to the theatre.

Borobudur is the other attraction of the area, the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. It is really huge, full of relief panels, stupas, Buddha statues, and stairs. We signed up for the sunrise tour, but we didn’t have luck and the sky was cloudly therefore the experience was not as good as we expected. The temple is magnificant though and it is really worth to go, we could enjoy the views the most after the morning crowd left.

The temple was built following Javanese Buddhist architecture design in the 9th century, during the reign of the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty.

Similarly to Prambanan, Borobudur was also abandoned for centuries  under volcanic ash and vegetation. But unlike Prambanan’s mythological stories, about Borobudur the folks stories explained bad luck and misery.

The most likely explanation for the abandonment of these magnificent monuments is the move of the Medang Kingdom to East Java, as well the conversion to Islam.

After the temple visit we rented some bikes and explored the village, the local life and entered to some restaurants to enjoy the local food.

Most of the tourists are coming to Yogyakarta to visit the mentioned cultural heritage sites, but there is even more in the area. The beauiful hills and nature of Kalibiru or the black beaches and sand dunes at Parangtritis.

At Kalibiru there are many waterparks built around waterfalls.

On our last day in Jogja we went to the coast where we found black sand, abandoned buildings, some beaches with lot of garbage and sand dunes where we tried sand surfing.

From Yogyakarta you can visit some caves as well, which seem to be great day trips. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for this.

We don’t know the reason but the Indonesians love selfies and photos about themselves. There is a big industry built on this. We found many places on the road where they offer a stage with stunning background, so you can take selfies or get some photos of yourself in exchange of some money. Furthermore there are whole parks built for this activity.

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It is worth to spend a day in Jogja itself as well. It is very different from Jakarta, it is a big village, more 2D than 3D.

I loved the Taman Sari water castle, the place is beautiful and represents a calm island in the crowded city. It has been a royal garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, both serving as resting and meditation area and a place for defence and to hide.

The construction has European style because the architect traveled more times to the capital of the Dutch East Indies to learn about European architecture.

The area of the Segaran lake was the main part of Taman Sari, but nowadays the artificial lake doesn’t exist anymore, most of the buildings from the islands are ruins and only some of them can be visited.

The best preserved area is the Umbul Pasiraman bathing complex. The gates are decorated with birds and flowers.

Many other parts of the complex are unfortunately missing and new buildings are standing on their place.

Besides the Taman Sari water castle, you should visit the Alun Alun square and the best if you do so at the night. You will find many colourful, decorated neon cars making rounds around the square. This is the best fun for both tourists and locals. Don’t miss the food trucks neither!

Alun-alun means a large, central lawn square which is common in Indonesian villages and towns. It is usually next to the Kraton. It was a place for punishments and execution but nowadays it is used for spectacules and entertainment.

Kraton means royal palace in Javanese, and there are two alun-aluns belonging to the Kraton. In Jogja there is the Alun Alun Utara where you can access to the palace from and the Alun Alun Kidul where you can find the neon cars at night.

10 hidden treasures in Jakarta

You have some time in Jakarta and you don’t know what to do. You check on the travel magazines and blogs and all say to avoid it. Here are 10 hidden treasures which can make your day fun in Jakarta, because there are places in this city which are worth to visit!

1. National Monument

The country’s national monument can be found at the Merdeka Square. It is a 132 m high tower which symbolize the fight for the independence of Indonesia. There is a nice park around the monument with lots of flowers and trees, which gives shadow and a place to rest in the hot Indonesian weather.

2. National Museum of Indonesia

The National Museum of Indonesia is next to the Merdeka Square. On the ground floor the museum introduces prehistorical life, archaic humans and evolution of the human specie, including the Java man which has local relevance. On the above floors we can see the development of tools, transports, housing and religion.

In the garden of the museum you can see the elephant statue which the building got his name as Elephant Building and a piece from the Indonesian
sculptor, Nyoman Nuarta. You can see more works from him at the
NuArt Sculpture Park in Bandung and in Bali. Garuda Wisnu Kencana, the tallest statue in Indonesia and the 15th tallest in the world is the work of
Nyoman Nuarta as well . It is in South Bali, completed on 31 July and inaugurated on 22 September 2018. The statue itself is 75 m high but with its foundation in total it is 121 m high.

3. Kota Tua – Oldtown

Kota Tua is the downtown area of Jakarta, originating from the time of the Dutch colonization.

Here you can find European measures, the streets and buildings are not huge and you can have a nice walk. There is a big life on the Fatahillah Square, many locals and tourists are riding their colourful rented bikes, visiting museums or cafes. On the Jalan Lada street there is a food market, women are sitting on the street, selling typical Indonesian dishes and disappearing within a second for the alert of police.

4. Monumen Selamat Datang

The monument is located in the middle of a fountain in the intersection of the main roads of Jakarta, close to several big hotels and malls. Selamat Datang in Indonesian stands for ’Welcome’ and this is the gesture what the two figures of the monument express.

Originally the monument symbolized the openness of the Indonesian nation to visitors to the Asian Games IV, which was organized in Jakarta in 1962. The Asian Games are organized since 1951 in every 4 years, the most recent (18th) was held in 2018 again in Indonesia. During our holidays we have seen the preparation for the big event.

The area around the fountain is separated from the sidewalk by the road, there are not pedestrian crossings and the traffic in the roundabout is huge. Even so there was a big amount of people next to the fountain, walking, sitting, chatting and taking photos.

The atmosphere was really nice and we sat next to the fountain for a while as well. We left when we realized that two guys were trying to take photos about each other with me next to them. I really didn’t like the experience. It was way different from other experiences we had in other parts of Indonesia, when people came to us shyly asking, if they can take some photos with us together.

5. Skye bar

There is a great nightlife in Jakarta as well. We visited the Skye bar which is at the top of the mall Grand Indonesia. The bar has nice cocktails, beautiful views to the city, but it is very fancy and expensive as well.

6. Other museums

In Jakarta there are many other museums to visit as well:

  • Jakarta History Museum
  • Wayang Museum
  • Museum Bank Indonesia
  • Museum Bank Mandiri
  • Museum of Fine Art and Ceramics
  • Museum Bahari Jakarta

7. Malls

There are many huge shopping centers in Jakarta, so you can spend your remaining time with shopping or window shopping. You can find cheap, local clothes and famous luxury brands as well.

Some malls: Grand Indonesia, Plaza Indonesia, Thamrin City, Central Park Mall, Mall Taman Anggrek

8. Thousand islands

In Indonesia there are many words to express island due to the mixture of different languages. Some examples: pulau, pulo, nusa (Sanskrit origins), gili. The group of islands is called pulau-pulau or kepulauan.

Not so far from Jakarta, there is a group of islands called Thousand Islands. In case you have a couple of days in the city, you can visit them as well. Usually the Pari Island is the main destination of the travelers.

9. Good restaurants and hotels

In Jakarta many different nations’ cuisine is represented and you can find very good restaurants for the price of a normal restaurant in Europe. The same stands for hotels as well, there are many nice hotels in Jakarta with nice views and rooftop swimming pools.

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10. Sunda Kelapa

The city’s old port played an important role in its development. It has been the main trade location between the Portuguese and the Hindu Sunda Kingdom of Pajajaran. The Indonesian trading ships, the pinisis are all around in the port.

On the land of Waterfalls, Volcanoes and Earthquakes – Indonesia

Indonesia is a colourful country in Southeast Asia with more than seventeen thousand islands and many different ethnic groups, religions, culture and nature.

The islands of Indonesia lay around the Equator, this makes the climate tropical and the temperature and the length of daylight changes very few through the year. On the coastal areas the average temperature is 28 ºC, and in the mountains it can decrease until 20 ºC. The sunrise is changing between 6 AM and 6.30 AM, and the sun sets between 6 PM and 6.40 PM. In Java there is not a big nightlife, therefore we tried to adapt to the sunlight, wake up early and use the sunny hours. There are possibilities to go out in the capital, Jakarta, there are some bars in Yogyakarta and of course in Bali, but generally the alcohol is quite expensive everywhere in the country and you can only buy it in bars and specialized shops.

In Indonesia there is a rainy and there is a dry season. The monsoon generally lasts from November to March, while there is few rain from June to October, which makes this period the high season with more tourists and travelers, especially in August and September.

Wherever we go in Indonesia we can find a bit from its historical past.

The island of Java was inhabited by a subspecies of the Homo erectus, the early human fossils discovered here are also called the Java Man. Some thought the discovery represented a transitional form, the missing link between the apes and the humans while others said that it is an extinct side branch of the evolution. The current consensus of anthropologists is that it is a subspecies of the Homo Erectus, and it is scientifically known as Homo erectus erectus. Another subspecies of the Homor erectus, the Homo erectus ergaster is considered as the ancestor of Homo sapiens.

In 2003 several fossils were found in the island of Flores and they have been identified as a different, previously unknown species of the genus Homo, the Homo floresiensis (Flores Man).

You can learn more on this topic in the National Museum in Jakarta where you can see some archaeological findings as well.

The sea always played an important role in the life of the kingdoms and city-states, there were relevant trade routes towards Asia and Africa. The Buddhism and Hinduism reached the area through the same routes as well. Several dynasties raised, ruled and collapsed, letting behind such great monuments as the Buddhist and Hindu temples, Borobudur and Prambanan.

The Islam religion spread through the country between the 13th and 16th century, mixing with previous religions. By today the country became the first with the highest Muslim population (and the fourth country with the highest population after China, India and USA). Majority of the population is religious, the main religion in most of the islands including Java is Islam, while in Bali the 85% of the people are Hindus. The Balinese Hinduism differs from the Hinduism in India, simplistically because it includes local animism, ancestor worship and reverence for Buddhist saints as well.

From Europe first the Portuguese traders had permanent contact with the area in the 16th century, followed by British and Dutch traders. The Dutch established the Dutch East India Company (VOC). You can see the effects today on colonial architecture in Jakarta in the Oldtown and in the harbor and in Bali in Singaraja.

People from the archipelago started to develop a national consciousness as “Indonesians” at the beginning of the 20th century which triggered independence movements. During the World War II Japan occupied the area ending the Dutch rule. The country’s independence was declared after the surrender of Japan in 1945.

Thanks to the tropical climate the flora and fauna is very different from Europe and it gave a great experience to explore it. Our favourite day plan was to rent a motorbike and go around the area. And while there are some interesting cultural memories in the towns, the best was to leave the inhabited areas and go to the nature. In Java, close to Yogyakarta Kalibiru is worth a visit, while in Bali the waterfall hunt was very entertaining.

Indonesia’s archipelago is separated by the Wallace Line, which defines a border between two different zoogeographic realm. This means that on the western area of the country the fauna is largely of Asian origin, while on the eastern part is of Australasian origin. This difference was discovered by Alfred Wallace, British explorer, geographer, anthropologist, and biologist, co-discoverer of natural selection.
This second zoogeographic realm is also called Wallacea.

Wallace’s interest in natural history led him to be one of the first scientists to raise concerns over the environmental impact of human activity. This impact is still huge today. Luckily nowadays we can hear more about the issue and be more aware of the impact we cause especially regarding plastic waste. This is a great problem in Indonesia as well. We saw so many plastic waste thrown on the streets, in the forests, on the beautiful beaches as we have never seen before. It is very important to raise awareness all over the world, because the majority of the population doesn’t know about the consequences.

There are many sport activities which you can try in Indonesia. While at Nusa Penida and the Gili islands the snorkeling and scuba diving are popular and there are many surfers in Bali, you can do hiking in the volcanoes or sandsurfing in the sand dunes of Java.

There is a fact which shadows this amazing place and its beautiful nature and people and it is being part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Ring of Fire is a circle formed by borders of tectonic plates causing that there are many volcanoes in the area and the earthquakes are very frequent.

During our visit Mount Merapi in Java close to Yogyakarta and Mount Agung in Bali both were likely to erupt and their surroundings were closed from public. As well there were 4 strong earthquakes (6.4, 6.9, 5.9 and 6.9 Mw) close to the island of Lombok, which forced us to change our plans and to not visit this island and as well to avoid the Gili islands and long distance boat trips.

From the 400 volcanoes of the country 150 are active.
Two of the most violent volcanic eruptions in modern times occurred in Indonesia; in 1815 Mount Tambora in Sumbawa erupted killing 92,000 and in 1883, Krakatau, erupted killing 36,000 people. This eruption of the Krakatau volcano is the ever heard loudest sound on Earth which could be heard 5000 kilometers away. The eruption caused tsunami which arrived until the coast of Africa and America. One theory says that the famous painting, The Scream from Edvard Munch, Norwegian painter shows one of the spectacular sunsets of the following years after the eruption which could be seen all over the world thanks to the volcanic ash in the air.

On the place of the famous Krakatau volcano a new island rose from volcanic activity on August 1930. Recently the Anak Krakatau (“child of Krakatoa”) erupted on 22 December 2018, the southwest sector of the volcano had collapsed and triggered a tsunami in the area. The volcano lost the two-thirds of its height.

These issues are parts of the everyday life in Indonesia and still people are happy, garteful and very kind.

We visited Java, Bali and some of the smaller islands close to them. We returned to home with many experiences, we saw amazing places, but I don’t know if ever it is possible to say that someone saw everything what Indonesia has to offer. The nature is incredible, orangutans live in Sumatra and Borneo and dragons in Comodo and Flores, there are beautiful coasts, mountains, jungles and volcanoes and colourful fishes and coral reefs in the sea. You can find different cultures and traditions in each island or at the same island as well.

4-day trip in Morocco – Fes, Meknes, Volubilis and Rabat

Morocco is perfect for a getaway from the everyday life to experience the different, colorful Arabic culture and to find warm hospitality. Morocco is located in North Africa, at the Strait of Gibraltar, close to Spain. It is easily reachable from Europe thanks to the low-cost airlines, but it is hard to decide which part to visit. We chose the plain area of Fes and Rabat, but we will definitely return.

We wanted to visit Morocco for a long time because we had heard good experiences from our friends and we were interested in the different culture. Our expectations were high, but the experience was incredible. The people are very nice, the culture is very interesting and the architecture is amazing.

Last year we decided to postpone the trip because the trip would have been during the period of Ramadan and we wanted to see the daily life of the locals as well. This year we made the idea real at the long weekend of Easter, from 29 March to 2 April.

Our outbound flight went from Barcelona to Fes at the evening of 29 March and we returned from Rabat to Girona on 2 April. During our trip we spent a couple of days in Fes, we visited Meknes and Volubilis, and on our last day we went by train to Rabat.

FES

The Fes Sais International Airport has been renovated recently and it is very impressive. When arriving at the airport it is advisable to leave the plane quickly and go to the registration point to avoid waiting too long in the line. You will need to fill out a form about yourself and your visit before handing over your passport to the officer.

Our accommodation was one of the many riads in the medina of Fes. These accommodations are traditional Moroccan houses with an interior garden, turned into a guesthouse. They are really beautiful and I really advice to book a riad as your accommodation.

 

We reached our riad from the airport by taxi and after leaving our bags in the room, we went for dinner. Our host accompanied us and led us to a restaurant that he highly recommended, however at the end we chose the place next to, which looked very nice. Later on we saw our host eating at the same place as us. The restaurant was called Snack Malak. The food was delicious, we got huge portions and the guys from the restaurant were very friendly and welcoming, so we returned more times. We tasted beef and chicken prepared with different seasoning accompanied with rice and Moroccan salad, but my favorite was the Kefta Meatball Tagine.

Snack Malak
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Next day we had a tour in the medina with a guide to not get lost. The medina has several small streets, rarely following any logic and frequently ending at a door, so we didn’t have other choice but to turn back and start again. On our second day, when we had a walk on our own, we heard an expression many times from the locals: Fermé. First it sounds rude and we had the feeling that we were not welcomed, but actually they are only helping that the street was closed.

The medina is actually a big outdoor mall with many shops of different products: carpets, lamps, clothes, shoes, leather bags, objects from copper… The shops are organized by profile, therefore in a part of the medina there are leather products, in another copper workshops, and on other parts food market.

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There are two places within the medina which you can’t miss: the Tannery and the Seffarine Square.

Arriving in the Tannery you know that you are in the right place due to the smell. The leather preparation has a strong, not so nice smell, which you have to put up with in exchange of the unique experience of seeing the place. Once in the leather shop we received mint leaves to smell it during our visit.

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Being on Seffarine Square is very interesting because the process of how the coppersmiths make their goods can be followed at the entrance of their shops or at the middle of the square, it is very noisy though there.

 

 

 

We noticed that our guide had several friends around the town, and they were happy to show us their business and try to sell us something: leather products (bags, shoes, puffs, jackets), carpets, scarves. We loved it though when he showed us a school and the kids were very lovely singing for us.

 

After the tour we were very comfortable going up and down in the medina, where we felt like at home.

There is life out of the medina as well. It is not possible to visit the royal palace, but the main door itself is beautiful. The Garden Jnan sbil is a very nice park to rest a bit in a green area on the side of a lake, it is a real oasis.

Another great way to get some energy is to take a Moroccan mint tea. They offer this refreshment in every place. There are many rooftop terraces all around the medina, it is really enjoyable to take a glass of tea seeing the nice views over the town. Some nice places which we visited:

  • the rooftop of the Nejjarine Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts
  • Nagham Cafe close to Grande Porte Bab Boujloud 
  • Cafe with view to the Seffarine Square

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We explored some nice spots around the medina where there is a nice panorama from the town. They are Tombeaux Des Mérinides and Merinide Necropole, where the locals also often are a bit away from the town so you can enjoy some family time. Unfortunately some people try to make a business here giving a guide which is not asked and expecting money in exchange.

 

Inside the medina the only option to move around is on foot, but when we went out we often grabbed a taxi, as it is an easy way to get somewhere and they are quite cheap. It is important to agree about the price before and to know more or less how much is the local price and when they try to trick. We once took a taxi and the driver didn’t know the way, so we had to give him the directions! In exchange we had a nice experience due to the sightseeing we got from him.

 

MEKNES AND VOLUBILIS

Volubilis is a ancient roman city close to Meknes. There are several ways to reach it starting with the advice we received from our host: go by taxi directly from Fes. We are more adventurous than that that’s why we decided to try the public transport instead. We took a train from the railway station Gare de Fès to Meknes, where we switched to the local bus until Moulay Idriss. From here it is still possible to go walking or take a taxi.

The railway service’s quality is good, we could travel comfortable and see the green landscape. There was a big crowd on the bus, lot of people, kids and luggage. Both the locals and we were curious about each other, I guess they were really surprised seeing tourists on the bus.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Meknes, we wanted to have enough time for Volubilis, and Meknes didn’t seem as welcoming as Fes either.

 

By the time we reached Moulay Idriss, we were hungry, so we decided to have a tagine made from chicken and vegetables. We felt really welcomed, the cooker was very nice and the food was good.

Volubilis is stunning, a well preserved ancient city. The imagination has great space here, the base is there but our minds build up the rooms, houses, public buildings, streets and finally the whole city. I was impressed by the many mosaics, columns and arches. All of this is placed in a vivid green environment. We were in Morocco just after the rainy season and all along our train trips we could see so many different shades of green, the landscape of Morocco was really beautiful.

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On the way back to Meknes we joined another couple and a local man paying only 2 euros each one to get to Meknes by taxi. From Meknes we had the train tickets already paid back to Fes.

RABAT

We didn’t expect a lot from Rabat, as we didn’t find it between the main destinations of Morocco. Our surprise was even bigger when we realized that we loved it!

First impression from Rabat

We entered to the Medina through the Bab Chellah. The medina of Rabat is not as big, impressive and popular as the one in Fes. Probably that’s why I could get souvenirs much cheaper than in Fes.

Kasbah of the Udayas is a fortress right at the ocean’s coast. I think the photos can tell more about its beauty than myself.

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The Andalusian Gardens are located within the Kasbah of the Udayas and it is a nice, calm and beautiful place in Rabat, which is a must to visit. We loved to take a mint tea here, in Café Maure, mostly because of the stunning views and the nice decorations and atmosphere.

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We had lunch at Espace Hassan. The place looked really fancy from outside, then we weren’t sure whether to enter or not (we had our backpacks with us and we were concerned about high prices) or looking for another place. We shouldn’t have worried, they were very nice, the food was delicious and surprisingly affordable.

After lunch we visited the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Both buildings are very beautiful and nicely decorated in Moroccan style. The hundreds of columns of the incomplete mosque are impressive on the square next to the Hassan Tower. The freedom that they give to the visitors was really interesting, it is okay to walk around, sit, touch and even climb up to the columns!

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Rabat is amazing, and it has still many potentials as well, we did see many constructions, for example the Théâtre National Mohammed V or the Nouzhat Hassan Garden, which we couldn’t visit this time. We didn’t have time either to visit the Chellah, which is a medieval fortified necropolis in Rabat.

Our inbound flight took off from Rabat-Salé Airport, which is much smaller and has much less traffic than the airport of Fes. Unfortunately our Ryanair flight was delayed (as many other times), but luckily the transport between Girona airport and Barcelona was solved even though the late hours and in these cases, the shuttle waited for the flight and the passengers to arrive.

Budapest Map

A map of my favorite places to visit close to Budapest: monuments, museums, concerts, thermal baths, attractions, activities, fun, bars, restaurants, pastries, sport, nature and some secret places… 

If you visit Budapest for some days, or travel for a week or longer;

if you spend there your Erasmus semester;

if you live there and you want to try a new bar, restaurant or eat a good cake;

if you want to go out of town for the weekend; or

if you want to find the hidden treasures of the city.

Sri Lanka – Experiences and travel tips

Beautiful country, interesting culture, ancient ruins, Buddhist temples, amazing wildlife, nice locals and delicious food. This is Sri Lanka, where we spent 9 unforgettable days in December 2017.

The 6th and the 8th of December are national holidays in Spain. Therefore, the first week of December was a perfect opportunity for going on holidays, spending just a few days from the work vacations.

We had chosen Sri Lanka as our destination and while I was checking the flights, I realized that with few extra money and spending our last night on the flight instead of an extra night in Sri Lanka we could spend some hours in Dubai as well.

Travel

We travelled with Emirates; it was my first long distance flight, so I was quite excited. The flight was nice, the food was good, the seats were comfortable with the pillow and blanket they gave us and there were plenty of entertainment like different kind of music, many games, series, TV shows, and movies including some recent and two Hungarian ones! Despite the good conditions by the end of the flight we were happy to leave the plane behind.

 

Sri Lanka

We spent 9 days in Sri Lanka and at the beginning of the planning we thought this would be enough time to visit the country. At the end we had seen almost everything we wanted, but you can easily spend 2 weeks here as well. If you are lucky to have 2 weeks, I suggest you to travel by bus and train, because it is very nice and relaxing to explore the country by your own. You can see the everyday life of the locals and you can learn not to rush.

As we had limited time we decided to visit the main sights by car; our driver, Madushan, helped us to make all our plans come true. He has a business to create itineraries for travellers who want to visit Sri Lanka and guide them around the island by car. With him we managed to have time for everything we wanted and even more as he knows so much about the country. We were lucky to see incredible places and to have a insight into the life of the locals.

The list of places we visited in Sri Lanka was limited by time and weather conditions (the monsoon season vary on different parts of the island). There are three ancient kingdom cities in Sri Lanka: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. Due to the limited time we didn’t visit Anuradhapura and started our round trip in Polonnaruwa.

Polonnaruwa

Three types of monkeys live in Sri Lanka and Polonnaruwa is heaven for them. We met here with two types: the tufted gray langur and the toque macaque. The archaeological relic city lies on a big area, where you can move by car or a rented bike. The ruins are beautiful with detailed decoration and they tell a lot about the local culture and religions. The museum has several objects from the everyday life of the ancestors and sacral statues. Prepare yourself for the weather and cover your head in case it’s sunny because the place can be very hot. You can buy coconut milk or mango in the parking lot to refresh yourself.

In Sri Lanka the visitors of the sights are mostly locals, for both cultural and religious interest, which makes it an even better experience to see the ruins and temples.

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Minneriya national park

We spent the afternoon at the Minneriya National Park on a safari. We went to see the elephants at sunset, but there were almost as many jeeps as elephants. This was not the first time we had seen elephants on Sri Lanka (you can easily find one in your way on the road), however it was beautiful to see the herd of elephants by the lake accompanied by different birds. The trip with the jeep was an adventure itself on the bumpy, muddy road; we were lucky to not get stuck in the mud like other groups.

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Sigiriya

At Sigiriya you can find many from one of the type of monkeys, the toque macaque. You have to take care of your belongings as they are very sly. It was challenging to climb up to the top of the palace due to the humidity (drink water and rest when you need it), but it is definitely worth the effort. The views are beautiful, the palace is impressive and the amount of forest in all around the mountain is incredible. I looked around on all the directions and I imagined where I was on that island, where I had already been and which direction I was going to.

Close to Sigiriya there is another mountain, you can choose to climb that one instead of (or next to) the rock fortress and see the palace from a different point of view with significantly fewer tourists.

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Dambulla cave temple

If you want to see Buddha statues, you have to go to Dambulla cave temple, they have more than 150 and several paintings as well.

Be really careful with the monkeys, they are insolent and if you don’t pay attention, they will try to steal your flowers which you devoted Buddha with. I am serious, they really tried, but I was stronger and held the flowers firmly. The five halls of the temple, which are situated in the caves of the mountain, impressed us, but the pool of Blue water lilies was beautiful as well. This flower is one of the national symbols of the country and you can find it in many places.

 

Garden of spices

On the way to our next accommodation we visited a Spice garden, where they introduced some common local plants to us, explaining how they utilize different parts of these plants. The visit is free, but they hope that you give some tip and shop in their store where they sell spices, oils, creams and many other things.

 

Kandy

We had the feeling that we wouldn’t like Kandy and we preferred to have time for other places instead, therefore we didn’t really  give it a chance. We visited only the botanical garden, which was very nice and, of course, full of monkeys. The variety of plants is huge, and the climate makes it possible to display outdoors different species, compared to  European botanical gardens. It was very nice to see the local couples walking around or sitting on a bench, having a date in this nice park. Another highlight of the park is the suspension bridge over the river, where only limited people are allowed at the same time.

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Tea factory & tea plantation

Further South from Kandy you can see tea plantations almost everywhere, giving a beautiful view to the area. Everything is so green and the plants are aligned in perfect lines or circles on the hills. On the way between Kandy and Sri Pada we visited a tea factory and plantation. It was very interesting to learn how they pick and process the leaves, I really didn’t have idea before about all of this. The presentation however seemed monotonous, I guess they have to give the same speech and introduction thousands of times. It felt strange that they called us Sir and Madam as well and they were very polite with the visitors, customers. On our way we saw many waterfalls in the area, I think thanks to Madushan, who knew how to go from A to B and impress us with these surprises on the way as well.

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Sri Pada / Adam’s Peak

Sri Pada is a mountain at the southern part of Sri Lanka. There is a footprint shaped rock formation at the top, which is a sacred place for many religions. The opinions only vary in the owner of the footprint: according to Buddhists it is the footprint of Buddha, the hindus say it belongs to Shiva, while the Muslims and Christians ascribe it to Adam. It was my idea to go up to the Sri Pada through thousands of steps. Also it was me who wanted to give up right at the beginning when we woke up at 2 AM to arrive at the top by sunrise. The monotony of the stone steps and the view of how far the peak was made the way to the top a real challenge. Javi, my partner, was the one who kept me going and thanks to him we could see a beautiful sunrise above pretty much everything in the area, even the clouds. The other highlight of the hike was the warm tea close to the top, I needed it so much. The season to climb Sri Pada is at the winter, starting at the first full moon of December. As they say it can get very crowded at full moons and weekends due to the visit of the pilgrims, but we took the challenge on a Wednesday and therefore on the way there was a good amount of people. Not as much as at the top, where it seemed like it couldn’t fit any more. There are more trails to get to the top and back as well, so be aware of going back on the same way you came from, otherwise you would arrive to a different place (except that is your idea). We hiked from Nallathanni and after we went back to the accommodation for a shower/dip in the pool.

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Train trip

Before the trip we read that one of the most beautiful train trips of the world is in Sri Lanka across the tea fields, therefore after Sri Pada we travelled from Hatton to Ella by train. It was not an exaggeration, the panorama was more than beautiful. We had picked the cheapest tickets to the normal class and the conditions were good, the same as in Hungary. The wagon was mostly filled with tourists, I guess we were not the only ones who read about this trip.

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Ella

Ella is full of tourists, but actually the lot of backpackers give a nice feeling to the town. We spent very few time in Ella, only for a dinner, a sleep, a beautiful sunrise and a tuk-tuk ride on a dirt road. We were lucky to had previously tried this transport in Kandy, when our accommodation was on a mountain and a normal car couldn’t make it to the top. The adventure couldn’t have been complete without the pouring rain and the tuk-tuk driver who ran out of fuel in the middle of the hillside. In Ella our host’s second profession was driving a tuk-tuk, and because the normal car couldn’t defeat the dirt road, we made a part of the way by tuk-tuk. You can’t find better way to wake up at the morning!

 

Udawalawe National Park

The Udawalawe National Park is at the southern part of the island and according to Madushan, our guide, it is home for many Sri Lankan elephants. We didn’t have time to visit the park, but on our way through the country we peeked the area and even from the road we saw many elephants!

 

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is the only rainforest left in Sri Lanka. We were very excited to have a tour here because we hadn’t seen the flora and fauna of a rainforest before. And our high expectations were met unconditionally including even leeches. Yes, it is true. First it was terrifying to see the first leech on your leg, but we survived and thinking about it from the right distance (both time and space), it is not that scary anymore. The rainforest was amazing, every plant and animal was interesting from the beginning but what we didn’t expect was to see snakes, lizards and the famous giant squirrel of Sri Lanka! A part of the tour was on a dirt road in the jungle which the locals use every day to go to the next village, but then we left that road and went for a hike in the jungle. The humidity kept us warm and tired, but the reward of the tour compensated us completely: we arrived to a waterfall and swimming in the lake was beautiful and refreshing.

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Mirissa

We wanted to spend some calm time and relax on the beach, so we planned two days for this and we chose Mirissa as the location. It was a nice closing up of our trip in Sri Lanka and it allowed us to rest as well. I tried surfing first time here and really enjoyed it, though, I have to admit, it is really tiring, it requires a lot of push ups and to walk a lot against the waves, just to get back to the seaside in a minute once you are on the board. There is a nice night life along the coast with several restaurants, tables in the sand and some clubs for dancing.

On our last day in Sri Lanka, on the way to the airport, we had a short visit in Galle and we saw Colombo.

 

Galle

In Galle on our last day, we were lucky to see the third type of monkey in Sri Lanka, the purple-faced langur. Galle is a dutch fortress, which gives you the feeling how the life could be in the colonist times. It is another face of the country, again very different from the rest.

Colombo
You won’t find another city as big as Colombo in Sri Lanka. There is a big contrast between the city with its modern buildings and skyscrapers and the rest of the country. There is big movement, many people, continuous traffic, but still there is room for the religion. We visited the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, which was a unique experience. They organize every gift they receive in a big collection and you can find the most incredible items here. It’s really worth a visit. The ticket includes the entry to the Seema Malaka Buddhist Temple on Beira Lake (5 minutes walking from Gangaramaya). The place is beautiful and very peaceful, the visit was very nice. The Galle Face Beach is a coast which is the place of the locals to have a walk with their partner, friends or family. Pettah market is like any flea  market in Europe with many different items, the difference is that it is a whole district in Colombo.

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Culture of Sri Lanka

The culture of Sri Lanka is rich and very interesting for the European eyes. The main traditional cultures of the island are the Sinhalese, the Tamil and the colonial. The religion had and has great impact on the culture of Sri Lanka, including architecture, sculpture, painting and traditions. In Sri Lanka you can find ancient ruins and well preserved buildings in the areas of the old kingdoms, Hindu temples, colonial fortresses and cities with skyscrappers and modern Buddhist temples as well.