Sri Lanka trip report - 16th April 2014 (we are a couple ages in our late 20's from Australia and this was our first trip to Sri Lanka.) we were getting 120 rupees to the Australian dollar from ATMs and money changers.
Day 1 - we arrive at midnight, straight to paradise hotel (terrible hotel, refer to my review) at negombo. 1500 rupees from airport in a taxi, easy to organise. Also money changers and ATMs at the airport (we had issues trying to get Sri Lankan rupees in Australia so this was important for us.)
Day 2 - off to pinnawalla (driver & guide one way to habarana) 10,000, rupees, stay at cinnamon lodge for the next 2 nights, upgraded to a suite (bonus!) buffet dinner is huge and excellent. 2500 rupees per person.
Day 3 - sigieria and pollonaruwa 4500 rupees in a tuk tuk for the day, guide 2500 at sigieria and 1500 at pollonaruwa, must hire bikes or tuk tuk for Pol, its too large and too hot to walk. Saw wild elephants on road on the way back to Hotel. rains in this area every afternoon about 4-5pm so plan your day accordingly. Dinner at bar at cinnamon lodge, just ok.
Day 4 - drive to nuwara eliya, via spice garden and kandy for lunch (we planned to stop at helgas folly but it was closed for lunch), kandy very busy and lots of traffic, avoid staying here if you don't want to see the temple. $14,000 for driver. The grand hotel nuwra eliya for 1 night, everyone must do dinner at the hill club, lots of fun and foo was actually quite good, sinhalese new year was on, road closed due to car race, very busy and so was difficult to drive anywhere. Make sure you stay in the town to get the English vibe. Not sure you would get this if you stayed out of town?
Day 5 - caught train from NANu oya to Ella. Train trip is amazing, a must do. Views are spectacular. Road from nuwara eliya to train station is under construction so allow a lot of time and would advise against a tuk tuk.
Cafe chill in Ella has got the travellers bar vibe downpat, excellent mojitos 550 each and great western food. Zion view spectacular, and dinner very good there.
Day 6 - did the Ella gap walk. 4 hours all up, would definitely suggest a guide, 1,500, as Paths are confusing. Worth the effort, little old man up the top serving tea and biscuits, amazing! Went to recommended Ayurveda spa in lonely planet, suwamadra on Passara road, it was no good, $3500 each for 1 hour but it was not 1 hour, girls talking the whole time and leaving the room for periods of time, requested us to get changed by an open window where people were walking past, and wanted us to have tops down and bottoms out! Very inappropriate with a large open window, I had just waved to the people walking past not 10 minutes earlier. Then they asked if we were satisfied and we said no and they still requested a tip of which we gave a small one, the massages were not good, it felt like they were making it up as they went! Not sure if maybe the other treatments might be better but I definitely do not recommend this place. (Later checked reviews on TA which were all terrible so should have checked first!) Booked in for dinner at jade green tea house (#1 on trip advisor) and it was so good! Possibly the best meal we had in Sri Lanka, and only $900!
Downtown rotti hut perfect for lunch, vege and cheese roti and banana/Nutella and hazelnut roti so good!
Day 7- Zion view also organised tea tour, $1000 in a tuk tuk. Highly recommend and then in the afternoon organised our safari to uda Walawe and transfer to our hotel in Tangalle. $21000 but exy but saved us the effort of organising ourselves so were happy. 2 hours to uda Walawe and then off on our own private safari, we saw elephants, spotted deer, mixed domestic and wild water buffalo, crocs, hornbills, monkeys and eagles. Guide was ok, seemed more interested in his phone, wasn't a huge deal as we got to see a lot of elephants which was why we went but they were pretty obvious, like I don't know how we would have gone if he had to actually find some wildlife for us. Another 1 1/2 hours to Tangalle, to turtle bay resort. Had done a heap of research on this area as seemed likea lot of choices for each beach and not too much in the way of sort of nice 4 star hotels that were a reasonable price. After spending the night at turtle bay, we decided to leave in the morning. It's a lovely hotel, and the rooms are very nice but way to isolated for us, especially as food is such a huge part of our a trip, the restaurant is just ok and not really heavily focused on Sri Lankan to think we would have to spend 3 valuable dinner times there made us nervous. Resort is actually 16 Kms out of Tangalle down a dodgy road so very very isolated. Would be perfect if you liked to be completely stuck in one place and not leaving. restaurant needs some work,food too expensive and not good enough to be your only choice for a few days. Staff are excellent though. The beach is not good at all.
Day 8 - after spending 1 night at turtle bay,, we checked out early, there was no cancelation fee to do this, the resort's manager was very understanding. Overnight we have managed to secure the next 2 nights at the frangipani tree in Thalpe (near unawatuna) which was on the wish list originally but deemed to expensive but for only 2 nights we thought it was ok. ($250 usd per night.) turtle bay organised a driver for us to go from Tangalle to thalpe for6500 rupees. As soon as we got into the town of Tangalle and for then on all the way to Thalpe, the beaches are much much better than turtle bay. I had thought that all the beaches would be like turtle bay given the time of year (late April) being extremely rough and the water not a nice colour due to being all chopped up etc, but from Tangalle onwards, the beaches are gorgeous, lighter coloured sand and that lovely aquamarine water, still too rough to swim in some places but a lot prettier to look at then the turtle bay beach. After about a 2 hour drive we checked into the frangipani tree and this place is absolutely heaven. Super luxurious rooms, and amazing pool and while we can't swim out the front, it's a gorgeous beach and there are little turtles swimming in the water - amazing. There are 9 rooms here and the staff tell us that there is a a couple getting married that night with dancers from kandy and fire eaters. The dinner menu looks awesome so we stay there for dinner, Sri Lankan curry with lobster!! Dinner there is fantastic and lovely to watch the wedding ceremony from a distance, the dancers are a fun touch for us to watch over dinner. We both agree moving to this hotel was an great choice!
Day 9 - spend the morning at unawatuna beach, hire sun chairs, drink fesh coconuts and relax. The beach is lovely and not very crowded, but of a small shore break that makes it a bit hair raising getting in and out of the water but once in, it is perfect. Lunch at the roti hut in unawatuna, very cheap but no where near as good as roti in Ella. Book in for a 1 hour massage at the sanctuary on the advice of trip advisor and it is heavenly, good to have redeemed the bad experience from Ella. Very clean and excellent masseuse in a lovely setting. Highly recommend. Decide to have dinner in unawatuna (it's only 5 mins away from our hotel in thalpe) an decide to visit number one place on trip advisor, kokos, and it was terrible. I have posted a separate review on trip advisor and the owner has requested it be removed so also not a good sign,. Overall we thought unawatuna reminded us a bit of patong beach in Thailand but with a much better cleaner beach however without good food and cocktail locations. We went in hunt of a nice place for a drink before dinner and came up with nothing. Both agreed we should have prob had dinner at frangipani tree again (and they have excellent cocktails there too)
Day 10 - we have to leave frangipani tree today - so sad! Husband wants to get some surfing in, so we grab a tuk tuk to ahangama, costs 1000 rupees for a surfboard for 2 hours, he says surf was good but his lack of fitness not so much. Transfer to galle in the afternoon, 600 rupees in a tuk tuk, to Art Deco on 44 hotel. Hotel is lovely and staff excellent, it is very very hot in galle so we are thankful for the shady pool and good aircon! Watching the sunset from for fort walls is a must. We had lunch a crepeology, excellent! Chiller drinks they have are so refreshing. Dinner at number one on Trip advisor which is lucky fort. Sri Lankan curry with chicken for 950 rupees for 2 people. Think this is number one due to the cost being so cheap as much as the food. The curry was good (jade green tea in Ella still better though) and the curry is not made to order. But it was still quite good and of course excellent value. We had some pre dinner cocktails as amangalla - mango bellinis are excellent, about 1200 rupees each, not cheap in Sri Lanka but a lot cheaper then australia :) and in a lovely colonial setting.
Day 11 - too hot to hang in galle fort all day, so we head off to jungle beach, 500 rupees in a tuk tuk. The beach is down a bit of hill but very easy to manage,anyone could walk it.beach itself is stunning, lovely aquamarine water, little gentle lapping waves, excellent for kids, and free sun chairs. Highly recommend a stop here. Lunch at allora Italian, right neat Art Deco on 44, very good wood fired pizzas! Spend the afternoon pottering around museums and some retail therapy (the only place in the whole of Sri Lanka where we bought anything!) highly recommend barefoot for gifts, and stick no bills for cheap vintage poster prints. Bought a silver ring, with some small sapphires which they resized and dipped in white gold for me so it matched the rest of my jewllery from Lihiniya gems based on trip advisor reviews. Owner was excellent to deal with, paid about $200 Australian dollars. So many gem stores in galle, definitely do your research if you want something as the sapphires are definitely very cheap but the prices vary wildly from shop to shop. Went to crepeology for our final nights dinner, sad our trip is nearly over!
Day 12 - check out of Art Deco (was about $200 usd per night) was it worth it? I want to say no but everything in general is a lot more expensive in the fort so probably is if you factor that in. Transfer to the airport is 8000 rupees, takes 2 1/2 hours on the new highway. Flying to the maldives for a few days of relaxation now so it's not all bad news I guess :)
We are so sad to be leaving Sri Lanka, we have really enjoyed it, we both agreed we liked it more then vietnam, Thailand and Bali and we hope more Australians come here to experience it themselves (we saw hardly any Aussies on our travels.)
I was really worried about getting ripped off or having to deal with dodgy drivers taking us places we didn't want to go before getting here and I have to say that our experience has been so positive, we felt completely safe and happy at all times with our drivers, most were extremely friendly, and enjoyed chatting about their country, pointing things out etc. I got many quotes initially from company's like jetwing and aitken spence for getting a driver for the whole trip including accommodation. I then worked out that the accommodation would be cheaper to book myself directly online which I did. And then got a quote just for drivers which still seemed expensive to us and we weren't 100% on the itinerary and didn't want to lock everything in each day and plus worried about getting a driver who we didnt like and then being stuck with them. So waiting until we got here and just taking different drivers from each location worked perfectly for us. And it worked out the same if not cheaper then the quotes I had initially for 1 driver for the whole time. Usually we just walked out the front of wherever we were staying and could locate either a driver or a tuk tuk driver who had car or a friend who had a car etc. we always agreed on the price up front and off we went, no issues. Hotels could also organise drivers and I always got a price from them too just to see, but they were always significantly more expensive. But a good option if you can't be bothered walking and finding a driver (like we did at Zion view.)
In regards to tipping, we usually didn't tip drivers if we had agreed on a round number and this was never an issue. We usually tipped a small amount at a restaurant, more if the service was good. The only time we got hit up about a tip the whole trip was at that awful Ayurveda spa in Ella. And also when we stopped to photograph the fisherman at weligama, I knew we had to tip so had a 500 rupee ready to go, took a few photos gave him the tip and he very forcefully told me that I should give him 1000 rupees, he even proceeded to try and stop me from closing the car door, I told him no way and that if he expected a set amount, he should have told me up front and we drove off. Our driver told us he hates stopping there as the same thing always happens. I hope this sort of cheating behaviour does not catch on, as it is this sort of thing that could give travelling in Sri Lanka a bad name.
All in all, we loved our trip and can't wait to go back some day. Please do PM me if you have any questions, I'd be happy to help :)