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Advice on itinerary and independent travel

London, UK
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Advice on itinerary and independent travel

hi there

I've read a lot of helpful advice already on these forums, so I'm sure that you will be able to help me with a few questions. We are looking to travel to Sri Lanka in June, July or September next year.

I have a reasonable idea of an intinerary - we don't want to rush round too much, we want plenty of time for relaxing. We would also prefer to spend time with Sri Lankan people, rather than trailing round the typical tourist sites. For that reason, we are wondering how feasible it is to do most of our travelling independently, or whether the best option really is to hire a car and driver/guide

Here's our idea for a two-week holiday

2 nights in Colombo (we like cities, so definitely want to spend some time here)

2 nights Kandy

3 nights Ella

2 nights Uda Walawe / Sinharaja

4 nights Unawatuna near Galle

1 night Colombo / near airport

A few questions:

1) I know we can get a train from Colombo to Kandy, and from Kandy to Ella. How could we get from Ella to Uda Walawe or Sinharaja, and from there to Galle / Unawatuna? Or do you think we would be better of hiring a driver?

2) We definitely want to take at least one rail journey. Which is more spectactular - Colombo to Kandy, or Kandy to Ella?

3) Which would you recommend out of Sinharaja or Uda Walawe at that time of year? We definitely would like to see elephants!

3) Recommendations for the best place to stay for a final night before flying home would be greatly appreciated.

4) We are planning on staying in guesthouses rather than hotels, as we would like to get to know some of the local people. Bearing that in mind, where do you think would be a good place to arrange a cookery lesson. We would love to do someting like walk round a local market, learning about the spices etc, then cook with our host and eat together.

Thanks in advance for your advice,

Mandy

x

Colombo
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1. Re: Advice on itinerary and independent travel

Hi Mandy,

1) Ella to Uda Walawe & from there to Galle only option is travelling by bus.Hiring a car will save your time a lot & then again since you are interested in interacting with Sri Lankan people a bus is a good choice for that because while you are travelling you could experience some village life etc.

2)Train journeys are always fun in Sri Lanka.Colombo to Kandy you can choose the intercity train which consumes less time.

3) To see elephants definitely it has to Uda walawe because in Sinharaja you wont see elephants.Its a bio-diversity hotspot & mostly plants,endemic birds etc.

Final night stay - Airport Garden hotel would be a best option.

4) Well most of the places you will find guest houses & they will be more happy to give you a cooking demonstration if you requested.

Have a nice journey.

Nishantha

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Destination Expert
for Sri Lanka
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2. Re: Advice on itinerary and independent travel

Hi Mandy,

Good work from Nishanta! Solely to add on 2):

Colombo to Kandy is magnificent on the last hour, from Rambukkana onwards. In our taste it ranks as the no 2. best in the country. Kandy-Ella has 2 different parts: Kandy-Eliya ranks as no. 3 (nice waterfalls but for the rest no spectacular views) but Eliya-Ella as no. 1 (views are like World's End). So as an overall answer, Kandy-Ella is the best...

Have much fun!

<Erik> & [Sandya]

PS Don't also forget that taking a bus (AC express one), from Ella to Galle in the end which is at least 1 transfer, also limits your luggage! They'll not tolerate large suitcases, and for smaller sizes (e.g. large backpack) you pay a full seat extra. Train is much more liberal.

London, UK
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72 posts
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3. Re: Advice on itinerary and independent travel

Thank you both for such helpful replies. I'm so excited about going to Sri Lanka - can't wait!

If I could just ask one or two more questions.....

What is the best way to book train tickets? We want to travel in the observation car to make the most of those views!

Same for bus tickets - what is the best way to find about routes and booking tickets? I would like to look in to the buses more, but I'm not sure if we will end up travelling by bus. Time and luggage are issues, so perhaps we might look at hiring a driver for the journey from Ella, and on to Galle.

Also, what is the time difference between taking the train to Kandy, or going by car? Advantages of going by car might be stopping off at the Millenium Elephant Foundation, and being able to stop in villages along the way. As a rough guide, what should we expect to pay for a driver/guide for one day (I presume that if we are asking them for a one-way ttip, then we should expect to cover the costs of the return journey too)? Are we better off trying to arrange something before we go, or waiting until we are there and asking wherever we are staying to sort something out? I'm a bit of a planner, so slightly anxious about the second option!

Thanks again!

Manndy

x

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Destination Expert
for Sri Lanka
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53,019 posts
190 reviews
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4. Re: Advice on itinerary and independent travel

Hi again Mandy,

Next round new chances ;-)

>What is the best way to book train tickets? We want to travel in the >observation car to make the most of those views!

For Colombo-Kandy this exists only in the Intercity Express, mentioned by Nishanta, and going twice a day.

For both stretches, the tickets and reservations can only be bought at the counters and it's safest to do it a few days in advance as seats TEND to fill up. So if you're not in the departure town at the right moment, possibly arrange it (by phone) through the tours desk of the hotel you're booked at?

>Same for bus tickets - what is the best way to find about routes >and booking tickets? I would like to look in to the buses more, but I'm not sure if we will end up travelling by bus. Time and luggage are issues, so perhaps we might look at hiring a driver for the journey from Ella, and on to Galle.

Total chaos. This info is basically only available on the spot: which routes have AC Express lines and which don't, and for some places (esp. Colombo and Kandy) also where the bus stop is as these towns are much more of a nightmare then finding the right train starting station in London or Paris! And no prebooking needed: a bus leaves once it's full (seats only), usually within 15 mins.

>Also, what is the time difference between taking the train to Kandy, or going by car? Advantages of going by car might be stopping off at the Millenium Elephant Foundation, and being able to stop in villages along the way.

About the same, 2.5-3 hours. Kandy-Eliya there IS a huge difference (2 as compared to 5-6 hours), but that is because the routes differ widely - the car can have a steeper one than the train.

>As a rough guide, what should we expect to pay for a driver/guide for one day (I presume that if we are asking them for a one-way ttip, then we should expect to cover the costs of the return journey too)?

Our rule of thumb is Rs 35/km for all-the-way with you (so some days later or same day returning same place) and Rs 50/km for one-way. So not fully paying for the empty return, but partly paying because the big RISK of an empty return. The left-behind driver will solicit for other riders on the return and might find them...

>Are we better off trying to arrange something before we go, or waiting until we are there and asking wherever we are staying to sort something out?

Pricewise, some of the local offers will be better. BUT there are quality constraints: check for car insurance, tourist board license for the driver-guide and a fixed address to complain to. With these contraints, after some (or more than some...) time you will probably still find a cheaper offer than by prebooking, but 'at the price' of all the comparing and haggling...

All the best,

<Erik> & [Sandya]

London, UK
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5. Re: Advice on itinerary and independent travel

Thanks Erik! You have been really helpful. I'll mkae sure I post reviews of anywhere we visit once we have been.

Cheers,

Mandy

x

London
3 posts
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6. Re: Advice on itinerary and independent travel

Hi,

Udawalawe is fantastic, we went there last year and had a couple of close encounters. All in all we sighted more Elephants than we did at Yala before the Tsunami.

However, maybe it's just my feelings, but getting the bus is probably 100 times worse than taking the Nothern Line Tube to work in London. This will sress you out even before you start your holiday.

Plus, in the current political climate, it would be better to avoid buses. Besides, If you don't speak the language, you are not likely to get much of village life. They are all struggling to get home in buses that are more packed than London Tubes.

Train would be better to go to Kandy or Ella. You can book tickets from the main train station, but try to do it in advance, and try not to hang around in public places with large crowds for longer than necessary.

I think, September would be better than July (when it rains a lot and sea is very rough but Crab and Lobsters are plentyful).

There are some nice little independent hotels in Sri-Lanka now, if you go on line, you will be able to find them in areas you want to go to. While you are there, you could walk around the area to get the feel for the place.

If you hire a car with a driver, you will be able to go where you want to go. It's not that expensive in Srilanka.

I understand that RedDot can do this for you. Although they are a tour company, they cater for more independent travellers and get pretty good rate with hotels. I usually arrange our own travel/hotel/car hire etc well in advance and independantley, in the past I have used Red Dot for hotel bookings etc. They are very helpful. I think they can arrange small guest houses for you too.

Alternatively, Mal-Key rent a car is a company that hires cars for tourists and for non-Srilankan executives working for foregin companies in Sri-Lanka.

They have good cars by Sri-Lankan standards and their drivers are very good. You could hire on a daily or weekly basis.

If you google Malkey rent a car, Srilanka, you will be able to get to their website.

If you are going to be in Colombo, try and go out for a meal at Beach Wadiya sea food restaurant. It's at No 2 Station Road, Wellawatte, Colombo 6. It's an institution, so any 3wheel taxi driver knows where it is. It's not actually a restaurant, tables are on the beach (under thatched umbrellas), no menus you just tell them what you want from the daily avilable fish selection and they cook it for you the way you like. Their phone number is 112 2588568, if you go Fri/Sat, bookings a must as it is very popular with the locals.

If you don't eat fish, don't go there, there is nothing else except rice and Kankun.

Also, Paradise Road Gallery/Cafe has nice food very nice house used to be the famous Srilankan Architect, Bawa's office.They also have a shop attached where you can find nice household things and gifts to bring back from.

If you want to eat typical Srilankan food, Raja Bojun on the 2nd level of Ceylinco building (opposite Crescat on the Galle Road, Colombo 3) is the best place. They have a buffet with every imaginable Srilankan vegetable and cost about £2+ drinks. It's not visible from the main Road, but Ceylinco building is.Nice surroundings with staff in traditional srilankan attire, floor to celing glass, backing on to the sea.

Airport garden is a good hotel to stay just before you fly out. Journey to the airport can be pretty bad with to traffic any time of the day.

Enjoy your trip.

7. Re: Advice on itinerary and independent travel

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