Sri Lanka: Kandy, Sigiriyla, Trincomalee – Week 1

WiFi availability has been awful for our first week in Sri Lanka, so I have decided to write a weekly blog, rather than place by place.

Getting here
We left our homestay in Bali at midday even though our flight was not until 22.00. Unfortunately, we had to fly via KL so it meant going back on ourselves. Our flight arrived in KL at just after midnight & our connecting flight to Colombo wasn’t until the morning; therefore a night at the airport was in order!

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Hello Sri Lanka

Colombo
We arrived in Colombo at about 10am & made our way to the station to get a train to Kandy. From what we saw of Colombo, we were not impressed.
We arrived in the middle of a 4 day public holiday (celebrating the birth of Buddha). Unfortunately, there were no trains available apart from 3rd class & we decided standing for 4.5 hrs with the many Sri Lankan families might be a bit much in the heat after such a long journey here.
A Chinese lady who was rather overwhelmed by the crowds & hassle attached herself to us & asked if she could travel with us (Jenni). In the end, Colin worked wonders on the tough taxi drivers & got one down from $60 to $45. We piled in a tiny ‘fridge on wheels’ for a frantic ‘edge of your seat’ ride to Kandy (squashed in the back with Jenni’s suitcase & our small rucksacks – there was no boot).

Kandy
We arrived in Kandy with our lives intact (just) & our driver dropped us off at the homestay which was high on the hill above Kandy. Our hosts were a lovely couple who mothered us somewhat during our stay. We couldn’t face going back out, so the owner cooked us, & an Australian couple, an amazing SL banquet (we haven’t been able to get such decent SL food since unfortunately). Breakfast was equally amazing with our new favourites: Hoppers (fermented rice flour patties), Pastis (spicy chilli pasties), sweet pancakes (filled with coconut & honey) and string hoppers topped with eggs, fruit or vegetables, chutneys and sambals (especially coconut sambol, a paste of ground coconut mixed with chili peppers). As I said earlier, we haven’t been able to get Sri Lankan food since!

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Breakfast at our homestay

See Hanthana Jungle View

What to do
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
The temple houses one of Buddha’s teeth & is a site of huge religious importance within Sri Lanka.
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Containing the sacred tooth relic

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Decorated for the festival celebrating the birth of Buddha

The Botanical Gardens
Definitely worth a visit
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The Great Lawn

Habanara & Sigiriyla
After 2 days in Kandy, we were keen to head up to the cultural triangle; home of three of the UNESCO heritage sites. We choose to visit Sigiriyla (Lion Rock) as we have seen many temples & Buddha statues on our trip, so decided this would be something different.
Yet again train tickets proved elusive, so we were advised to catch the public bus. These are old Lankan-Leyland buses, reminiscent of our ‘chicken bus’ experiences of last year. However, they are incredibly cheap with four hour journeys costing under £1 (if you don’t mind sitting on plastic covered seats in incredible heat, under the armpits of the masses of locals squeezed on board) 😉
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We stayed in nearby Habarana. Apart from a couple of up market resorts, there is not much there; in hindsight Dambulla would have been a better option.

Sigiriyla
The name refers to a site dominated by a massive column of rock, nearly 200 metres (660 ft) high. The site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 –495 CE) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes.
We set off at 7.30 to try & beat the heat, but it was already stifling by the time we got there.

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Aerial shot

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Our view from the entrance

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Our climb begins

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Halfway

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Cave painting midway

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The final & most frightening part
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View from the very top

Our next stop: Trincomalee
Once more by public bus we set off on the 3hr jouney to Trincomalee. Trinco is famous for the nearby beaches of Uppuveli (6km) and Nilaveli (12km) north of the town. Trincomalee itself is not that spectacular; the beach is small & unfortunately strewn with rubbish. The town & surrounding area was hit hard by both Civil War & the tsunami. It is apparently getting itself back on the tourist foothold. However, we appeared to be the ‘only tourists in the village’ which created a bit of attention 😉

Nilaveli was a nice strip of pristine beach, opposite Pidgeon Island, with the occasional exclusive resort dotted among the palms, but otherwise featureless.

We discovered Uppuveli beach later in the afternoon. A more visually pleasing bay, dotted with beach bungalows & dive shops. We wish we had found it earlier in the day & could have spent more time there.
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Next week … We have managed to buy the elusive rail tickets from Kandy across tea plantation country. The Kandy to Ella rail trip is considered one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. We will need our cardis & rainmacs as we head for cooler, wetter climates.

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