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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.