The Dutch, Portuguese and British all had their turn at being the colonial power in Colombo, capital of Sri Lanka, and all left their best legacies behind in this delightful city which combines gracious European architecture with Asian colour. Like all Asian cities, Colombo seethes with life and commerce, but on holiday in Colombo onemore
Barry Hyde. Date of travel: Sep 2005
Sri Lanka – a Wealth of Beauty! Background to the trip: Over the past 10 months, Sri Lanka has suffered the aftermath of the devastating Tsunami disaster. My wife and I have been planning to travel to Sri Lanka for a number of years, and in September 2005, finally made the trip. The overriding reason for choosing 2005 was that we felt that in a small way, we could help to support the one thing that is vital to the Sri Lankan economy, and that is Tourism. We are submitting this article for two reasons. To inform travellers who are planning to visit Sri Lanka and to encourage others to experience this beautiful and diverse Island. It is a diary of events, reflecting on the sights, the people, the hotels and way of life in Sri Lanka but in an unbiased way. We merely deliver the facts and leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. Travelling to the Island We travelled With Kuoni from Manchester in the UK, economy class by Emirates airlines, a carrier that we would both recommend. The service and food on board was excellent. The flight took us to Dubai for our connecting flight to Colombo in Sri Lanka. Although we only had 2 hours in Dubai airport, it was sufficient to be impressed with both the building and it’s duty free facility. Although Dubai is renowned for its inexpensive gold jewellery and electrical goods, perfume, spirits and cigarettes are particularly cheap. A litre bottle of Gordon’s Gin converted to approximately £6 sterling. We travelled, again on a connecting flight by Emirates to Colombo. On arrival, we were met by a Kuoni representative who escorted us from the airport building to a waiting car. The experience on that short walk deserves mention. Once out of the building we were surrounded by porters wishing to take our bags to the car. I agreed for one porter to take our luggage, and as you cannot obtain any Sri Lankan Rupees outside of Sri Lanka, I would suggest that a small amount is changed at one of the many banks in the airport building. I didn’t and had to pay the inevitable tip in sterling, which cost two pounds. Tipping is expected in Sri Lanka for most service, but for small tasks such as luggage, a more normal tip would be 50-100 Sri Lankan Rupees, which is approximately 25-50 pence sterling. Travelling to the Hotel My wife and I have travelled extensively all over the world, but have rarely come across the traffic volume and shear mayhem that exists on the roads in Sri Lanka. Once you adjust to it, you soon realise that actually there is a semblance of order prevailing. Trust is the key. Although there is much horn blowing, overtaking and braking, everybody seems to know their place. Horn blowing is used, not as an aggressive gesture as in most countries but as an acknowledgement of intention. The horn is blown to advise vehicles that you are there, about to overtake, a request to move over and a thank you. It’s a little like a ‘white knuckle ride’ at first, but once you get used to the system, it’s quite exciting and safe. Travelling within Sri Lanka For reasons mentioned earlier in this article, it is not advisable to hire a self-drive car in Sri Lanka. We found hiring a car and driver is an excellent way to get around. For short journeys to Colombo, which is approximately 30 minutes drive (depending upon the time of day) would cost approximately £14 sterling, but for that you will have a car and driver for around three hours and he will take you wherever you wish and wait for you. During our stay, we made three sightseeing trips, arranging two through our Kuoni representative, who organised everything including wake up calls, as most trips require an early start. We arranged two tours, which were both exceptional, one to Kandy and Sigiriya, the other to Nuwara Eliya. The other trip was arranged with a driver who was contracted to the hotel and was a day trip to Galle. The trip to Kandy And Sigiriya The trip started with an early morning call at 5.00am. We had breakfast and were met by Lal, our driver for the trip. This was a two day mini tour of the area around Kandy and Sigiriya and included entry fees to the various sites and an overnight stay at the 4* Earl Regency Hotel in Kandy on a half board basis. Our first stop was at the Elephant orphanage at Pinawella, which was an extremely satisfying experience. The elephants at the orphanage are mainly babies orphaned as a result of poaching. The baby elephants are taken in and looked after but are never released. They number approximately 50 at present and these include some that are fully mature and very intimidating although they are always under control by their keepers. We then moved on to the Royal Botanical gardens at Peradeniya, where they have over 4,000 plant species to view. Our driver strolled through the gardens with us and pointed out the various species of tree and gave a little history behind the gardens themselves. Lal then took us to a hilltop restaurant with panoramic views over Kandy for lunch. After lunch, we went into Kandy to visit the Temple of the Tooth, an excellent site. We were then given some time to ourselves in Kandy itself to soak up the atmosphere of this important and busy city. From there, we were taken to see a show of traditional Sri Lankan dancing which we enjoyed, after which Lal took us to the hotel and arranged registration. The Earl Regency hotel is a modern hotel set on a hill with imposing views of the surrounding countryside. Our room was, large rather minimal in style, with a balcony overlooking the pool area. Having changed for dinner, we had a drink in the cocktail bar before proceeding into the dining room. The food was buffet style but not of the quality and range available in the Mount Lavinia. The service was inconsistent and not what we would have expected of this standard of hotel. This was particularly prevalent at breakfast, which was also buffet style. When I asked for two fried eggs, bacon and sausage. The egg yokes were broken on three occasions before success and the sausage was uncooked when a tried it. Lal arrived promptly at the hotel reception at 7.30 am to pick us up and we proceeded to a herb garden where we were shown many herbs and told of there miraculous curative powers. To the unwary a great amount of money could change hands if you believe in these powers. We took away some herbal teas. We next went to Sigiriya, the ‘Lion rock’ which is one of the most important sites in the whole of Sri Lanka and is to be designated the 8th wonder of the world. We picked up one of the local guides who took us through the gardens, explaining the significance of them on the way to the rock. It is essentially a fortress with access only through a garden that leads to over 1000 steps up to the summit where the remains of the fort are visible, although my wife and I only made it up to the half way point, which is around 500 steps. The remaining climb is not for the faint hearted or anyone who suffers from a fear of height. The middle level provides fantastic views over jungle and a chance to see the remains of the lion entrance to the fort. Sadly only the lion’s paws remain. We then descended the rock to meet up with Lal. The going rate for a guide was 500 rupees, which is approx. £3 sterling which I gladly gave to our guide. At this point it was suggested that we go for a massage, which is a speciality of Sri Lanka but we declined. As an alternative, my wife enquired whether it was possible to ride an elephant. Lal said yes and offered to arrange this while we had lunch. Lal took us for lunch, this time to a typical Sri Lankan restaurant serving buffet style dishes and they were delicious. After lunch we were taken for the promised elephant ride, which was amazing and fulfilled one of my wife’s long-standing wishes. The ride lasted around 45 minutes and cost £36 including a tip. We were then taken the long trip back to the Mount Lavinia where we arrived around 6.00pm. The whole trip cost £120 each and we feel that it was excellent value for money. The trip to Nuwara Eliya This trip was also an inclusive package of driver, car and half board accommodation at the St. Andrews hotel in Nuwara Eliya overnight. The driver Harry, picked us up from the hotel at 7.30am for the long trip to Nuwara Eliya, but had planned stops on the way. The first was a tea break and on to a woodcarving workshop which we felt was rather expensive and didn’t make a purchase. We were next taken for lunch at a local restaurant and had a selection of delicious traditional dishes served with rice and costing £4 sterling each including drinks. We then made our way along the steep winding road up to the tea plantations at Nuwara Eliya, which is 6,000 feet above sea level. The road was being widened and very difficult to drive on. However, once up in the mountains the contrast from the coast was amazing. The area is so lush; with tea plants as far as the eye can see. Tea pickers were working on the slopes. Harry informed us that they were earning less than £1 per day. An interesting break in the journey was a stop at a tea factory, where we were shown how tea is processed and purchased a pack of the best high grow B.O.P.F (Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings) tea. Harry continued to Nuwara Eliya, driving us through the town before taking us to the hotel. They call the area ‘little England’ as the houses and gardens are very English. The climate here is very much fresher than on the cost, requiring an extra layer at night. We arrived at our hotel, the St. Andrews at around 6.30pm, registered, and shown to our room. The room was amazing, it was a beamed duplex room with twin beds on a mezzanine and a king sized bed in the main room. The hotel was originally a plantation owner’s bungalow but had been extended and converted some time ago but maintains its English character. We changed for dinner and had a drink in the bar beforehand, which was itself reminiscent of a country pub. Dinner was a set menu but what a meal and what service. They were both immaculate. We arrive back at our room to find hot water bottles had been placed in our bed. Harry picked us up at 9.00 am, ready to make the long trip back to the Mount Lavinia, stopping for lunch on the way, which took around 6 hours. This trip cost £90 each. The trip to Galle This trip had been arranged literally the day before when we had organised a car and driver to take us into Colombo. We had expressed an interest in going to Galle and Manjuka, the driver said that he could take us for £40 and we could go the following day, which we agreed. Manjuka picked us up at 8.30 am and took us firstly to a woodcarving workshop, which was in an idyllic spot. There were many carvings to choose from, some costing in excess of £1500 sterling. We found the prices to be very reasonable in comparison to some shops that we had previously visited in Colombo and purchased a Buddha approximately 20cms high, for £13. We were also given a small carved elephant as a gift. Lunch was at a lovely restaurant off the beaten track, serving excellent food at typically no money. We next visited a turtle hatchery that had been devastated by the tsunami, killing virtually all of the turtles. They are now slowly building up their stocks. The hatchery is reliant on donations and purchases eggs dug up from beach, which are otherwise eaten. They are then hatched and kept for three days then released into the sea. We were very impressed with the work that they are doing at the hatchery and would recommend a visit. After lunch we carried on towards Galle. As we passed through Hikkaduwa, we both began to realise the devastation that was caused by the tsunami. Ten months after the event, people were still living in tents and wooden structures no better than garden sheds. A temple set on a small island 200 yards from the beach had taken the full impact of the wave and had survived miraculously completely intact. The train that had been de-railed killing over 150 people was still in view at the side of the track almost as a monument to the disaster. Amazingly through all this, the people got on with life with a smile. As we reach Galle we saw the famous fort. Manjuka escorted us part way around the walls of the fort after which we then began our journey back to The Mount Lavinia. Shopping in Colombo Colombo is a bustling extended city but has some really good shops. The following are but three that we visited and would recommend. Odel – is a department store selling clothes. Their ‘T’ shirts are particularly good value for money at £2.00 sterling each. They also sell designer clothing but it’s quite expensive. There is also a bistro where you can have a coffee or a bit to eat. They have a web site at www.odel.lk Paradise Road – is a shop selling textiles, wooden carvings, pictures and pottery. They also have a nice little bistro that serves reasonably priced excellent food. Prices generally are reasonable. There are four shops in Colombo and their web site address is www.paradiseroadsl.com Barefoot – is a similar shop to Paradise Road but has a good range of hand-made items ranging from textiles and bags to clothes and stone carvings. Their web site address is www.barefootceylon.com In conclusion, we would both highly recommend a visit to Sri Lanka. Many people that we met had arranged a 7-day tour before taking their second week at a hotel. Almost all felt that the tour was very tiring and suffered from ‘too much information’. We feel that arranging short tours from a hotel base is by far the best solution as you have time to recover and reflect before the next, and it need not be more expensive. There is also the added benefit of flexibility. You decide what you want to see and do. Ann & Barry Hyde UK Tour Operator: Kuoni
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