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Just back!

St Austell
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Just back!

Well, all too soon the adventure is over. We got back last night after our latest 3 week trip to glorious Sri Lanka. Saw some amazing sights, met some wonderful people (and one who definitely was not!) We were robbed twice, crushed on a train and on one particularly horrendous bus trip and have come home totally exhausted, but once again, Sri Lanka has amazed and thrilled us.

Lots to tell everyone. Many recommendations to make and a few tales of caution too, to help other people get the most out of this wonderful country and hopefully, at the same time, avoid a couple of mistakes that we made.

Still unpacking, but will relate all as soon as I've surfaced from the mountain of washing!!

Sue

St Austell
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11. Re: Just back!

PART TWO

From our base at the delightful Landa House we had a full day to visit a special friend of ours who lives in a remote location some miles from Balangoda. It was one occasion when Lucky was travelling along roads that even HE didn't know!

This was a fantastic day. We met all the family who live in a very modest home with no electricity but with views to die for. We headed to a local bathing spot, a wide stretch of river fed by waterfalls and everyone dived in .. it was quite a party with over 20 of us joining in; men, women and children and one providing entertainment with the bongo drums that seem to be an essential requirement to any party in Sri Lanka. We returned for a marvellous feast of traditional Sri Lankan food at a relative's house. This was a perfect and idyllic day in every way.

The following morning, it was time to say our fond farewells to Lucky. He was heading back to Negombo; we were going to the south coast at Tangalle. There are regular buses to the south from Ratnapura; they are less frequent from Balangoda. Lucky established that the best route for us was to get one of many regular connections to Embilipitiya from Pelmadulla junction, then the Matara bus from there, which passes through Tangalle en route. Good road, good journey. The first bit took 1.5 hours, the second a bit less.

Our base for 2 nights at Tangalle was Coconut Beach Cabanas. Having stayed at Palm Paradise Cabanas in the past, we thought the cabanas would be similar, but at Coconut Beach, they are much larger and one is easily big enough for 4 people. The price was Rs3500 per night, room only basis, so with 4 of us sharing, this was very good value. They are new cabanas and have a well equipped shower room too. Nice location in every way .. right on the beach with the fishing harbour a five minute walk one way and the town about 5 minutes walk also. Tangalle is a nice place. There's local life here that for us seemed to be missing at Mirissa and I think it is a far nicer choice out of the main season. We enjoyed wandering around the market and shops, eating cheaply at a great little hopper shop etc., although there's also a restaurant at Coconut Beach. We had a very enjoyable evening here with good friends, Melanie and Matt, whom I met through TripAdvisor. We were the only two guests at the time.

For those of you interested, there's a sheltered, reef-protected area of beach in Tangalle allowing calm, safe swimming year round (I would not recommend swimming in the sea around Tangalle at the moment .. quite rough and the beach shelved steeply in many places). From the town, follow the road to the resthouse, past a little Buddhist temple and just right of the fishing harbour. This is the beach where the locals swim. There's even a nice little grassy area with areas for changing.

After 2 nights, we caught a bus to Tissa where, at last, we left the unsettled weather behind. The bus from Tangalle to Tissa takes 2 hours and is a beautiful journey, costing just Rs75 each. The cost of public transport is so cheap in Sri Lanka that it is hardly worth budgeting for it; it makes no dent in your holiday spending at all. It's also great fun, meeting local people. We have made so many friends this way. You can't guarantee getting a seat, but by beginning your journey at the main towns, there's a good chance you'll get one. The back row is best as there's much more space for your luggage.

We had just one night at Tissa, staying at Lakeside Hotel which, as the name suggests, is right beside Tissa Wewa. This was a lovely place. Rooms cost Rs2000 B & B for 2, there was a small swimming pool and an excellent restaurant. Rooms were basic but clean, with a fan and cold water showers. I think there are more luxurious air con. ones available too. It was about a 10/15 minute walk from Tissa town, a minute to the lakeside where locals were swimming and having boat trips, and about a 5 minute walk to a large stupa and Buddhist temple. We had a swim in the lake with the crowds this evening, although it was slightly disconcerting because I'd seen a water snake there earlier and the water was full of floating prickly plants which kept attaching themselves to us and felt like something attacking us!

Wish we'd had longer at Tissa, but we were off again the next morning by bus to Kataragama (30 minutes, Rs25 each) where we'd reserved 2 rooms at the Ceylon Tourist Board Resthouse in the centre of town, close to the sacred precinct. We've stayed here before. It's a locals place so you are unlikely to see any westerners and the food is totally vegetarian and Sri Lankan too. I've resisted curry for breakfast until now, but here I had to eat it!! It's cheap, basic, but friendly and clean at this place. Double room with en suite (cold showers) costs Rs900, breakfast is Rs125, dinner is Rs175 each ... yep, rice and curry, rice and curry ..... Monkeys scamper over the roof and into the surrounding trees and it's a peaceful place, despite being in the town.

It's a five minute walk to the sacred precinct which I could wander around for ever. Puja time from 6pm is the most exciting, when the place comes alive with thousands of people every night, bringing offerings of fruit and flowers to the various temples, lighting coconuts to smash with a wish, elephants parading and everything lit up like Disneyland. There are various Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim temples here in this one area and it is completely free to wander around. There are no entrance charges anywhere in Kataragama. For the first time ever, we explored the delightful Muslim temple which is on the right just after the bridge at the start of the sacred area. You do not have to be a Muslim to come in, neither is it restricted to men. We had the warmest of welcomes at this place and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Kataragama. It is a magnificent place, both inside the mosque and the surrounding grounds.

The following day we took a bus to nearby Sella Kataragama which set us back a hefty Rs14 each!! Wow, this was another great find! It's another pilgrimage centre with daily pujas but there's little evidence of what is there as you drive past. There are huge numbers of stalls selling temple offerings and general nick-nacks and the main hindu temple is a five minute walk down between them. It has something of the flavour of Adam's Peak in the pilgrimage season. From the beautiful temple which was crowded with people, a flight of steps takes you to a terrace where you find the Buddhist temple buildings and stupa. Flags line the route and you will be walking alongside cows. This place is a feast for the senses. I think it must be completely unknown to western visitors because there is no touristy aspect to this place at all. Back at the road, a five minute rural walk brings you to another fascinating place .. the Lakshmi Devale. It has a sort of theme park quality to it .. lots of separate ornate gardens with ponds, statues and "grottoes", for want of a better word. This was a completely fascinating day. We chose not to take the bus back to Kataragama and walked the 5km instead, following a picturesque road past rural dwellings and along a lake where we spotted a crocodile. Why more people do not make the Kataragama area part of their holiday amazes me. It is always a holiday highlight for us and each time, we find something more incredible than the time before. Sella Kataragama was the find of this one.

Time for breakfast ... Part 3 will follow

St Austell
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12. Re: Just back!

Leaving Kataragama after 2 nights, we decided to have a look at Monaragala (promounced Mona-RAH-Gala .. no one knew what we were talking about until we got that right). To get here, we took a bus to Buttala and another one to Monaragala; both easy, good rides. We checked into Wellassa Inn Resthouse where a double room with cold shower and fan came to just Rs850. Breakfast was an extra Rs275 each. Food was reasonably priced in the nice restaurant and it was a pleasant place to stay. There are no western tourists in Monaragala either. They race through on their way to the beach at Arugam Bay and it's a shame because this is a nice town to explore. There's also a beautiful walk up into the rubber plantations and mountains with huge boulders surrounding the town. We were eyed with curiosity by the locals here. The hardest sell we encountered was a man selling cones of fresh peanuts for Rs7!!

From Monaragala we caught a bus to Badulla (again, correct pronounciation helps .. it's Ba-Doo-La) the following morning. It was a beautiful if twisting journey, costing just Rs78 each and took almost 3 hours. I've already mentioned Badulla briefly. It was such a surprise to find such a large and bustling town. I honestly expected something a bit larger than Ella or Haputale but Badulla is completely different. Having spent 2 days here, enjoying the shopping and being left alone to do it, I found the hassle in Kandy really annoying. Here you are not constantly asked for money from beggars, nor are you bothered by touts or asked stupid prices for goods. I know it's all part of the shopping technique in Sri Lanka, but it all gets rather tiresome in the end in places like Kandy. Badulla was much more straightforward and I can see why Rod_B likes it so much. It is also the start of the hillcountry train line. In our opinion, the most beautiful part of the journey is the bit from Badulla. It's stunning.

We checked into the relatively smart Riverside Holiday Inn where we could actually have a hot shower again. Rooms were generally rather shabby but the service was good and we loved the terrace restaurant where they specialised in Chinese food at very good prices. Also owned by the same management, is the smarter Onix Hotel just a short distance from the town. We had a look round here aswell. Here a double room with breakfast is Rs3000 and it looked very nice. At Riverside, room prices varied from around Rs1500 to Rs2000, on a room only basis.

We enjoyed a trip to the nearby Dunhinda Falls immensely. The falls are breathtaking and so is the beautiful walk to reach them. Don't miss this if you are in Badulla. In the town itself, aswell as the excellent shopping opportunities, there are 3 fascinating temples. There's a very impressive Buddhist temple with a resident elephant at the southern end of town, plus an ancient Kataragama Devale in the centre, and also a highly ornate Hindu temple in the same area. We were warmly welcomed here and shown around .. even up onto the roof terrace to see the brightly carved and painted roof at close quarters. Yep, Badulla was great.

Leaving Badulla after 2 nights (which was not long enough here) we had the train ride from hell, already mentioned, and arrived in Kandy. Headed straight to our old favourite, the Olde Empire Hotel and had a warm welcome here .. they actually remembered us! We knew we were unlikely to be able to walk in and get one of the two en-suite rooms, so had to settle for rooms with the shared washroom facilities. Our room cost just Rs520 for 2 and was perfectly clean and adequate, but that shared washing area is pretty disgusting to be honest. One night of that was more than we could bear, with people using the shower to clean their teeth and what sounded like throwing up in aswell. Yuck. The following morning we were able to take one of the en-suite rooms and all was well. Still only cold water and you need to remind them to supply top sheets and towels (no towel is provided in the other rooms by the way) but for just Rs1350 for a place in this prime location in Kandy, it's unbeatable. I'll never get enough of staring out over that first floor balcony, watching the flower sellers and Buddhist monks making their way into the Temple of the Tooth next door. You are also ideally situated for everything in Kandy town, from restaurants to internet cafes and shops.

We had two nights in Kandy before getting a bus to Dambulla and checking into a very nice place called Pelwehera Village Resort (a few km outside of Dambulla on the road towards Sigiriya). We were in need of a couple of nights of relaxing, a bit of luxury and comfort. We paid Rs4500 for 2, half board here. We had a huge air conditioned room, there was a fantastic swimming pool and the food was marvellous. You don't see the variety of wildlife that you get at some of the cultural triangle hotels. I was disappointed about this, as I love seeing lots of monkeys, lizards and other things, but having encountered lots of undesirable wildlife along the way too, like cockroaches, endless mosquitoes and the occasional leech, this place made a pleasant change. We paid Dambulla Rock Temple a brief visit, having not been there since our first trip to Sri Lanka a few years back. We had loved it then, but since then, we have seen so many other places, less well known and actually far more impressive in our opinion. Dambulla is okay, but places like Mulkirigala Rock Temple near Tangalle are much more interesting, don't have the crowds and are much cheaper to visit too.

We were planning to head back to Negombo for our final 3 nights, but when our bus got to Kurunegala, we decided to stop off here for a night, simply because no one else ever seems to. Once again, we found it to be a very interesting place and the shopping here was excellent. Big shops, no hassle. Nice. Sandwiched between our shopping experiences in Kandy and Negombo, this was a definite winner. It's also a good base from which to visit some of the lesser known cultural triangle sites, such as Yapahuwa. We didn't have time on this visit, but will do so in the future. Accommodation in Kurunegala is probably its worst feature. It's all overpriced and not really geared at tourists. We picked what was considered to be one of the best options, the Ranthaliya Rest House by the lake, but at Rs1600 for a room which was decidedly grubby, this was not good value. The town, however, was great and we ate in some of the many good restaurants which are available here.

And finally (everyone must be breathing a sigh of relief by now ...!) we caught an air con. bus to Negombo for Rs120 each. The journey took under 2 hours. We checked into Oasis Beach Resort (already mentioned) which was a great end to our holiday, despite me not really liking Negombo as a town at all. It serves a purpose, being close to the airport and is great for a first and last night, but not any more than that. If you are looking to use this hotel and want to get there by tuk-tuk, just remember that the locals pronounce it "O-AssIs" and haven't a clue what you are talking about if you pronounce it the way you'd imagine!!! Oasis is right next to Rodeo bar and opposite an excellent seafood restaurant called Kamlo which I can highly recommend; not just for seafood.

So that's it. Until next February!

Znojmo, Czech...
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13. Re: Just back!

i could have read a lot more .youve inspired me .whilst i do take the local buses and trains i,m guilty of not really getting off the beaten track,i will make an effort next time and check out some of those places you went.

last year i spent a week in kandy at the olde empire whilst my wife recovered from a nasty chest infection .i must have walked every street and i loved my time there and spent hours strolling around and apart from being overcharged in the fruit market for a huge piece of delicious jackfruit and one guy trying to befriend me ,i had no hassles at all and walked unhindred everywhere,but then i never seem to get hassled anywhere in asia..

St Austell
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14. Re: Just back!

Hi there musicsavedmylife

Yes, I enjoy your comments too .. I think we like the same places in Sri Lanka!

Don't get me wrong .. I like Kandy and I can't say that any of the hassling was worrying. It was just constant after being able to mingle with the locals in places like Badulla without endlessly being asked if we wanted a taxi or a trip to the elephant orphanage!!! And there was one really annoying bag seller who trailed us around the town all morning, gradually coming down on a really silly price that he had initially quoted on something. Several hours later, we'd lost interest in the bag completely but he still wouldn't let up!! I found it a lot worse this time than in January, when I was there with just my daughter. Maybe they see a family of westerners and home in .. I don't know. It was also really busy wherever we went this time, being smack bang in the middle of the holiday season for Sri Lankans. I don't know what the situation was like in the tourist hotels for accommodation, but local places were extremely busy indeed. For all that, Kandy is a great town. For any first time visitor, attractions like the botanical gardens and the Temple of the Tooth are wondrous places. Add to that the colour and bustle of the town itself, the choice of places to eat and shop and it should feature in all holiday itineraries. I just think there are bigger treasures out there for the independent traveller or for anyone on subsequent visits to Sri Lanka.

Fredericia, Denmark
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15. Re: Just back!

Hi Sue,

Sorry to hear about your mishaps. I thought an old hand like you would not fall for the train trick.

Interesting to read your reports. And you are quite right about the hassle free shopping outside the main tourists towns. I hate all the hassling in Kandy.

Sella Kataragama is not quite unknown to westerners. I visited there in early May when I went on a 3 day trip to Kataragama and Yala with my Sri Lankan "family". Indeed an interesting place, but rather hot for the feet to walk barefooted around the place.

Hans

Rome, Italy
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16. Re: Just back!

i didnt think i needed to tell you about how nasty the sri lankan public tranportation is, or i would've warned u never to take the local bus or train, unless u wanted to get elbowed and crushed and "grinded" and get off the bus feeling raped!

Ouch susie, being robbed sucks! and yeah, sounds like the Roi guy conned u big time. u should never trust anyone that hasnt reccomended to u. Sorry you fell for that. Big hugsxxx

Bridgwater, United...
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17. Re: Just back!

Hi Susie, What a Great write up , i always enjoy reading your reports . Sorry to hear of the troubles you had. I Have to say i have been 6 times now and off again for chistmas and have not come across anything bad. It Happens everywhere and at least it has not put you off such a wonderful country.

Keep up the good work here on TA and hopefully your next trip you wont have any problems.

Maria

Chatham, United...
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18. Re: Just back!

Hi Susie

THANKS for your fabulous reports. Have you considered publishing a book? I just reached for my usual travel bible (Insight Guides ( others are available...))and found nothing on Badulla. Your chapter ( :-) ) has inspired me to try to persuade my party to head that way on our forthcoming visit. Sounds great! Also all the prices are a great help for all others to avoid the tourist mark up.

Can't wait for any further updates now and in the future. Maybe one day in the future my Cornish wife and I will meet you in either of the "home countries".

Best regards

Steve

Ahungalla, Sri Lanka
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19. Re: Just back!

Hi Sue...

First of all Happy Birthday !!

Great to read report of your exploits, would seem that you had a packed adventure, and this must really have taken some planning to do too, so well done for getting your homework right!, and of course an inspiration to others looking in on TA too.

As you know, that sort of trip is not for me, not because of the travelling around, but the accomadation i like is somewhat a little more upmarket, i would have been reaching for phone (assuming there was one in room) to complain about lack of hot water and towels for instance !, but, it was your holiday, and i am sure by reading this that you enjoyed it immensely, well apart for one or two things of course, just trying to think who trained who, you trained Rod or other way round, as this is something like he and Val would be doing right now, hmm, lucky them right!

So, once again, Happy Birthday, have a good one, maybe a smuggled bottle or two of Arrack??

Regards

Dave

Rome, Italy
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20. Re: Just back!

ohhh its ur birthday? then HAPPY BIRTHDAYYYYYYYYYY!!!

and glad u had a great time and glad u are holding on to the good things of that country and not the bad. but i have to agree with Dave, its not my kind of holiday either. Sri Lanka is one of the places that i can afford luxury so everytime i go its always the tops. :)

But reading what u wrote looks like u really really enjoyed it. so i am glad for you :)