Spread the love
Imagine arriving at the international airport with your e-tickets in hand and being told that your tickets have been cancelled? This is what happened to us on our recent TripADeal 14 Day Sri Lanka & Maldives holiday. Although our 7 days in Sri Lanka didn’t start off on the right foot, we enjoyed our first visit to this country formerly known as Ceylon.
We departed Brisbane mid morning for our domestic flight to Melbourne to catch our late afternoon international flight to Colombo in Sri Lanka and were excited about the prospect of seeing this amazing country. It had been a long time coming as we booked this holiday almost 12 months ago. Once we got to the front of the long queue for checking in our flights to Colombo we were informed that our tickets had been cancelled. You can imagine our dismay!
We waited for over an hour whilst the Sri Lankan ground staff phoned their head office and we phoned TripADeal’s office trying to sort this mess out. We were the only passengers left at check-in and the announcement that our flight had commenced the boarding process came over the PA. It was not looking good for us and I started to feel sick. After what seemed hours, eventually our tickets were re-instated and we sprinted towards security and our departure gate, only just making it in time!
Sri Lanka is an island country lying in the Indian Ocean separated from the peninsular of India by Palk Strait. It’s a reasonably small country with a length of 432 km and a width of 224 km. With its close proximity to India it is culturally influenced by the sub-continent, but also has a mix of other Asian civilizations. After being ruled by the British for 150 years it became an independent country in 1948. It changed its name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka in 1972.
Sri Lanka is densely populated with a population of 21.44 million. To put this into perspective, a vast country like Australia only has a population of 25 million. There are three ethnic groups—Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim—making up more than 99 percent of the country’s population. The majority of Sinhalese are Buddhists, with Hindus, Muslims and Christians making up the remainder of religious affiliations.
The majority of its people are poor, live in rural areas, and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Crops include tea, rubber, rice and coconuts. Sri Lanka is rich in mineral resources with gem mining being the most important, producing high-value gemstones such as sapphire, ruby, and topaz, in addition to a variety of semiprecious stones.
Geographically the island consists mostly of flat to rolling coastal plains, with mountains rising only in the south-central part. Sri Lanka’s climate is tropical and warm, due to the moderating effects of ocean winds and enjoys good rainfall with the effect of the monsoon winds.
My first impression was that it was a lot like Bali because of its warm and sultry climate, its predominance of Buddhist temples, the mish-mash of villages and the poor infrastructure. However we were to discover culturally it’s a lot different.
We arrived at Colombo airport in the early evening, where we were met by our tour guide at the airport who checked off our names, and got us all aboard the bus for about a 45 minute drive to Negombo and the welcome sight of our hotel. Our tour group consisted of 22 Aussies and we were all looking forward to a comfortable bed after the 10 hour flight.
The next morning we awoke to beautiful views from the balcony of our hotel room, the Goldi Sands Hotel over Negombo Beach. This resort town is a great place to stay either pre or post flight into Colombo because of its close proximity to the airport.
After one of the many buffet breakfasts we were going to eat in Sri Lanka, we set off for a walk along the beach. We were intrigued by the amount of fishing boats with sails flapping offshore and eventually stumbled upon a small fish market where the fish were being hauled into shore by local fishermen and cleaned.
Unfortunately time did not permit us to explore this beachside town much further, but we did hear that it has some great restaurants, beachfront resorts, a colonial-built canal, traditional fishing villages and the ruins of an old Dutch Fort.
After a long day travelling by bus from Negombo to Kandalama, with a lunch stop along the way, we eventually arrived at our accommodation in Sigiriya. The Kassapa Lions Rock Resort was set in the countryside in the small village of Digampathaha. Our digs comprised of a spacious individual bungalow with an open air bathroom and more than adequate facilities. The resort boasts two swimming pools, in-house day spa, barbeque area, landscaped grounds, open-air restaurant/bar and magnificent views of Lions Rock in the distance.
After a good night’s sleep we visited the nearby Sigiriya or Lion Rock Fortress in the early morning before it got too hot outside. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sigiriya Rock was the 5th century rock citadel of the fugitive King Kasyapa. It is said that this king had over 500 concubines, so he was a very busy man indeed! Maybe he needed some entertainment whilst he sat high up on top of his rock!
To reach the top of the rock it entails 1200 stairs that wind upwards with breathtaking views as you go. Highlights included, stepping through the gigantic ‘Lion Paws’, the symmetrical royal gardens, hand-painted frescoes that relate to Gupta style paintings found in the Ajanta caves of India and mirror wall.
If you are fit enough to reach the top you are rewarded with the excavated ruins of the palace, a large swimming pool and 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside.
After a cooling swim back at our resort and a hearty lunch we set off late in the afternoon on a jeep safari to Minneriya National Park. Spread over 8800 hectares, it’s a sanctuary for elephants and home to herds of deer and ample birdlife, but its biggest drawcard are the large herds of elephants found here.
We set off in our jeep over rough tracks through savannah type terrain. It was a bone shaking expedition but once we caught sight our first herd of elephants all was forgotten.
We had the opportunity to see herds of elephants – one by one – roll on to the grass covered banks of a large reservoir, to feed on the green pastures. Interestingly this is the largest elephant gathering in the world (over 300 at a time), and we experienced it all! It was absolutely spellbinding seeing these huge beasts in the wild.
We left Sigiriya for Dambulla early on day 4 on our way towards Kandy City. However we had a few places to stop and see along the way.
We scaled the 400 or so stairs to the top of the rock where we visited the Dambulla Rock Cave Temple that houses some of the most unique drawings in the magnificently constructed five cave temples flanking the golden temple of Dambulla.
We observed the exquisite cave paintings along walls that shelter 150 statues of Buddha. The famous rock temple dates back to B.C. when it sheltered the king during his 14 years of exile.
Afterwards we walked back down the stairs to the gigantic golden Buddha statue glittering in gold and the Golden temple, which today is the spiritual centre for Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
Next stop was at the Ranweli Spice Garden, an Ayirvedic herbal medicinal plant garden where you can see, touch and smell real spices. After a stroll through the gardens with the doctor, he gave us a demonstration of the various products and remedies that they produce here. We even got a complimentary head, neck and shoulder massage! Naturally there was a shop here selling all the products and we didn’t come away empty handed.
There is also a restaurant here where we all enjoyed lunch overlooking the beautiful gardens.
We arrived in the sacred city of Kandy nestled amidst low hills and looped by Sri Lanka’s largest river, the Mahaweli. It’s renowned as being the home of arts and crafts, and music and dance that flourished during the reign of ancient kings. This bustling city boasts the Temple of the Tooth Relic (the sacred tooth of the Buddha), which is a famous pilgrimage site.
Since the terrorists bombing in April 2019, this temple is surrounded by extreme security and it was a mission just getting in here. According to legend, the tooth that is housed in the temple, was taken from the Buddha as he lay on his funeral pyre. It was smuggled to Sri Lanka in 313 AD and immediately became an object of great reverence. Many Buddhists bring offerings of lotus flowers and pray before the holy Relic of the Tooth.
The tooth relic is removed from its shrine only once a year, during the Esala Perahera, a 10-day torchlight parade of dancers and drummers, dignitaries, and ornately decorated elephants.
After our visit to the temple we had to make haste to walk a short distance to the YMBA Hall to experience the Mallawarchch Cultural Show. With beautiful colourful costumes, a variety of Kolam masks, Kandyan drumming, traditional dancers, daring tumblers and brave fire walkers, it was an enthralling performance.
After a long day it was time to check into our hotel, the Hotel Topaz, set high above Kandy city up a long, narrow, windy road, with spectacular views.
We had no idea of what we had in store for us the next morning. The panoramic views from the rooftop terrace of our hotel were breathtaking to say the least. We could see Kandy city and beyond – rolling green hills of tea plantations. It was a beautiful vista to wake up to.
After a leisurely breakfast we got back on the bus to take a tour through the picturesque city of Kandy that sits on a manmade lake. We saw some of the famous buildings including the Queens Hotel, Royal Palace, St Paul’s Church, Kandy Railway Station and the Bogambara Prison. Then it was time to hit the shops! Of course the women were excited and credit card ready – but the men were looking a little grim!
All of the places we visited had shops where you were able to purchase the goods, that we all discovered were a little expensive.
Sadly we had to leave Kandy and make our way towards our next stop Galle. We wound our way down the central highlands through lush greenness, farmland and interesting little villages to Pilimathalawa. Along the way our tour guide pointed out a mountain in the distance called Bible Mountain, where M. Ashraff, leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Minister of Ports Development, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation was killed in 2000, along with 14 others when the helicopter he was travelling in hit the mountain due to poor visibility.
Geragama Estate is located at Pilimathalawa, one of the premium and the oldest tea plantations in Sri Lanka. We embarked on a tour of the tea processing factory where we learnt how tea is picked, the whole processing procedure and how different types of teas are created. Afterwards we enjoyed a refreshing cuppa and were able to purchase some of the teas in their shop.
Our bus journey continued to Galle on the south western tip of Sri Lanka where we were to spend two nights in this ancient fortress city.
We arrived into Galle just before sunset and were lucky to experience the sun dipping into sea to the west from the old fort.
Preserved for more than three centuries, the Galle Dutch Fortress still has its original ramparts and bastions
Beyond the old gate baring the British coat of arms you will see the Zwart bastion, the lighthouse and the Point Utrecht Bastion.
After walking the fort walls we ventured into the old Dutch Hospital with restaurants and bars, and a few souvenir shops.
We were all tired after a big day and were looking forward to checking into our hotel, the Long Beach Hotel, about 10 kilometres out of town at Koggala.
With a long stretch of golden beach, peaceful inland lagoon, fascinating folk museum and famous airfield, Koggala is a great alternative to staying in Galle. Although we never got to explore the beaches in this area due to the inclement weather we were able to snap a few pics from the bus.
Our hotel was located within a stone throw to Koggala Beach, one of the longest beaches in Sri Lanka. There is a beach at Galle Fort which is accessed down a set of stairs. But there are many other beaches that you should visit near Galle. Unawatuna is the most popular beach in Galle for swimming and water sports. Hikkuduwa is a picture perfect long beach popular for surfing, that is fringed by coconut trees and food and drink stalls. Further along are the beaches in Bentota, with long expanses of sand on a small peninsula at the mouth of the Bentota River.
On our second day in Galle we had a free day to explore this coastal city. However the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was raining heavily. Our bus dropped us off in the centre of the city so that we could walk around the shops and markets. However after getting thoroughly soaking we headed towards the fort area of the city and prowled some of the shops in this upmarket area. We lunched and settled in for the afternoon at one of the restaurant bars at the old Dutch Hospital.
On our way to Colombo we drove along the east coastal road witnessing the total devastation that the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami caused. There is still evidence of the ruins of schools, shops and houses on the beachside that were annihilated by the tsunami.
Almost 31,000 people lost their lives in the tsunami, with 1,700 of these being aboard a train from Colombo to Galle. There are two markers of this tragedy: a Buddha Statue built to the same height as the tidal wave and a memorial for the people who lost their lives on the train. It was a very emotional morning aboard the bus driving down this particular stretch of the coastline.
We arrived at the Ambalangoda Mask Factory & Museum where we were given a tour of the factory and the museum. The mask museum has many displays of masks and other items such as primitive tools used to make masks. Though the entire collection of 120 masks cannot be displayed due to lack of space, two entire collections belonging to the Sanni Yakuma ritual, and the Kolam Dance are displayed here. They were exquisite.
As an added bonus we got the opportunity to stop at the Galbokka Sea Turtle Hatchery & Rescue Centre at Kosgoda. We walked through the giant turtle building, that is actually an aquarium, out of its bottom to where the sea turtle pools are located. We learnt about how sea turtles are hatched from eggs and then released into the ocean. We also saw some injured sea turtles that were rescued and taken to the centre to recover. I even got to hold one of the sea turtles!
It was pouring, and although we were looking forward to visiting our next point of interest, the Lunuganga Gardens, we were hesitant to leave the bus. So we braved the rain and got into tuk tuks that took us down the narrow laneway to the gardens. A tour guide took us through the gardens that were formerly a rubber plantation over a 6.1 hectare property located on the banks of the Dedduwa Lake, in Bentota.
Lawyer turned Architect, Geoffrey Bawa bought it from its owner intending to convert the estate bungalow into a weekend house and create a tropical version of a European renaissance garden. Bawa continued to develop the house and gardens at Lunuganga for 40 years, until his death in 2003.
At every every turn and every bend in the expansive garden there is an interesting experience – with many exotic plants and trees and views to take in throughout the distinct homes and garden. Although we all got soaked under our umbrellas and shoes that were soaked through, I enjoyed our stroll through this glorious estate. It now provides adults only accommodations with a restaurant, a shared lounge and of course the gardens.
Once we reached Colombo we did a short drive around the city where our tour guide pointed some of the points of interest of this port city. Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, has a long history as a port on ancient east-west trade routes, ruled successively by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. That heritage is reflected in its its architecture, mixing colonial buildings with high-rises and shopping malls. It definitely exceeded my expectations and is indeed a sophisticated city.
Highlights of Colombo are the old colonial buildings in the Fort area, the old Dutch Hospital, Pettah Market, Viharamahadevi Park, National Museum, Cricket Ground, Raja Maha Viharaya Temple, The Gangaramaya (Vihara) Temple, Galle Face Green, Independence Square and Jami Ul-Alfar (Red) Mosque.
In Colombo we stayed at the Fairway Hotel that was located in the heart of the city adjacent to the Old Dutch Hospital, with an exclusive range of shops and restaurants, the World Trade Centre and with lovely views over the cityscape.
Our week long tour of Sri Lanka had drawn to an end after a full-on itinerary of the wonderful sights and delights of this beautiful country. Next stop was The Maldives where we were about to have a well earned and super relaxing 5 days of bliss!
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
Comments are closed.