Sunday, April 27, 2014

Taste of Sri lanka

 Tamil Tiger terrorists, third world poverty, refugees, boat people, corrupt governments and chaotic polluted cities all within a tiny country devastated by 30 years of civil war and the effects from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.   This is a mental picture I suspect many people will have of the island nation Sri Lanka.
Not surprisingly our friends would say this description sounds perfect for yet another of Chris & Robyn's less than salubrious holiday destinations.
The following blog links to our most recent travels would suggest our friends are probably correct in their evaluation;
With a track record of frequenting these and many other "crap hole" countries, the aforementioned friends have cruelly branded me a "tightarse" with an unenviable reputation for under indulging and bullying the lovely Robyn in to numerous unrefined "cheap and crude" holiday adventures.   
             But I digress.  Fragile sensitives aside, let's visit Sri Lanka.

Robyn and Chris
Actually Robyn and I had the great pleasure to discover Sri Lanka for ourselves back in 2009 and in stark contrast to my bleak introduction we soon fell in love with the friendly people and amazing beauty of this diverse island country (and let's not forget the most delicious food we have ever experienced).

With fellow foodies and long time travel buddies Paul & Robyn Barrett we re-establish the old firm to make Sri Lanka our 2014 travel experience.
"The old firm" Chris & Robyn and Paul & Robyn

Brisbane to Sri Lanka via Singapore map
After a 2 day stop-over in Singapore to whet our appetites and season our taste buds we continue on to our destination of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka route map

Following the blue line route on the map above, we plan on a course from Negombo on the west coast, traveling up to the central north and zig-zagging our way through the country before emerging on the south coast and beach hopping our way back to Colombo.    Well that's the rough plan let's hope it pans out as simple as it looks on a map.


We use Negombo as our introduction to Sri Lanka, close enough to the international airport and far away from the chaos of Colombo.  Our stay here is only brief and after a day of sightseeing around the seaside town drinking coconuts and sampling rice & curry, we're refreshed enough to take on what the island has to offer.

We farewell our friendly Negombo hosts, Hilary and Malinda at the Serendib Guesthouse and prepare to take to the road with our prearranged driver Lakshman (Lucky) Bolonghe .
Lakshman (Lucky) Bolonghe shares the same barber as Chris

Researching numerous travel websites (including Tripadvisor) lead me to this highly regarded driver and guide.  Lucky has over 35 years experience in the industry and we immediately feel comfortable with his pleasant manner, happy disposition and safe driving skills.


Two hour drive from Negombo we arrive at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and gives us our first experience at seeing a large herd of elephants at close quarters.  Forty two of these magnificent beasts are on display today as they frolic and laze in the cool river.

After a session in the river the Pinnawala Elephants stroll back through town

Of course there are mixed reviews regarding the ethics of such places but generally the elephants look well cared for and we are pleased to spend some time with these gentle giants.


The "Cultural Triangle" is a must visit region on everyones Sri Lanka itinerary.  This central north province boasts a rich ancient buddhist history that is roughly bordered by the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy and dates well before the period of Christ.

We arrive in Anuradhapura at the end of our first driving day, wander around the nearby tank (reservoir) and prepare for our cultural induction.
Sunset over tank and Anaradhapuras ancient stupas.
With a base the size of half a football field, these stupas are most impressive.
National flower- Blue Water Lily
Almost templed out and it's only day one
Respite at the Thilaka Holiday Home.
We're ready for bigger and better things so after two nights at the very comfortable Thilaka Holiday Home we repack our bags and hit the road.


Sri Lanka was once called the Island of Serendib and it's easy to see why.  If serendipity is the art of making accidental happy discoveries, then Sri Lanka was well-named.  Today our happy discovery is the most impressive, Aukana (sun eating) Buddha.  We're feeling quite privileged and selfish, with no other tourists on site we enjoy our serene encounter with this 3rd century masterpiece all to ourselves.
Aukana looks reasonably impressive from a distance.....
.....but wait till you get up beside him!!
Roadside elephants

A few miles down the road we experience our second serendib discovery for the morning.  Bathing in the river by the side of the road we spy an elephant enjoying a midday dip with his handler.  So the girls donate a few rupee to Mr Mahout and a short while later are entitled to add "elephant scrubbers" to their already impressive resumes.

Be sure to wash behind the ears

After a satisfying and eventful day we arrive at the east coast city of Trincomalee.  Only a few years ago this region was a no-go zone with much conflict and civil warring with the Tamil Tigers.  Today life has returned to normal and we can spend a couple of days relaxing on the beautiful beaches and watch the locals go about their daily routines.
We treat the girls to some flash beach accommodation and stay at the Sea Lotus Park Hotel on beautiful Uppuveli Beach (don't let them know it's only costing about $55/night).

Sea Lotus Park Hotel
View from our beachfront bungalow
Lots of hard work as dozens of fishermen...
retrieve hundreds and hundreds of metres of net...
for very little reward
Trincomalee back streets

One of the highlights of our stay in Trinco was spending an evening in front of a restaurant TV with a bunch of enthusiastic locals watching the Sri lankan cricket team defeat India to become T20 World Champions.  As you may be aware Sri Lankans are cricket fanatics, so to share in their excitement for their cricket teams achievement was great fun, and of course a few beers were consumed in celebration.


Rejuvenated after a couple of relaxing Trincomalee beach days we head back to the Cultural Triangle region and the impressive Sigiriya Lion Rock.   With an outstanding view of the rock from our accommodation, we are very comfortable at the Melrose Villas.

With a fascinating history dating back to before the 2nd century, this mini Ayres Rock (for Australian readers) was once an impregnable fortress.  Imposing and rugged, access to the top of the rock is gained through climbing several spiral staircases and what must be thousands of steps. 

The "Dork family" at Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya Rock viewed from Pidurangala
View of Pidurangala Rock from Sigiriya

We spend two days climbing both Sigiriya and Pidurangala Rocks soaking up the history, culture (and sweat) and enjoying stunning views across the jungle canopy.


Time for another culture fix, and they don't come much bigger than Polonnaruwa.  This place is one of the "big 3" on the cultural triangle circuit and we spend a day visiting numerous historic sights and taking in ancient stone carvings and monuments that compete with craftsmanship and history of the Egyptians.

Polonnaruwa ruins

Stunning Gal-Vahara carving, Polonnaruwa
Wild elephant along the road 
Finished off the day with another serendib moment as we encounter a wild elephant grazing by the road on our way home. 


Scrubby bush country changes to lush jungle as we drive south from the hot dry central north plains and head for the cooler hill country and the city of Kandy.  Mango, papaya, guava, banana and every imaginable variety of fruit tree thrive in the fertile soil, including adjacent to the narrow roadway.  I use the term "roadway" loosely as the bitumen is shared with pedestrians, tractors, dogs, cows, monkeys, buffalo, elephants and anything else making its way from one village to the next.  Fortunately the countrys maximum speed limit is just 60km/h and we see very few serious accidents.

Rural road accident
Long avenues of sprawling Rain Trees are a regular feature of our drive and they provide an impressive canopy and much needed shade for the weary traveller.

Until the city fell to British rule during the early 1800's Kandy was the old cultural capital and today is Sri Lankas second largest city.

Temple of the tooth relic
Tooth relic ceremony
Here is home to one of the Buddha's teeth.  The "Temple of the tooth relic" is one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world.

Kandy lake
Strolling around the city's man made lake is a very pleasant morning routine and in stark contrast to the gridlock and traffic chaos only a few minutes away.

Kandy is rumoured to be approx 72 miles from Colombo
Interestingly in the early 1800's, Sir Joesph Banks of Captain Cook and early Australia fame played a significant part in the redevelopment of Kandys botanical gardens.

Avenue of erratic Cook Pines
Kandy botanical gardens


Adding a few extra kilometres onto todays drive we've chosen to detour from the usual tourist route, raise the adrenalin levels and cool down with some white water rafting at Kitulgala.

Kitulgala rafting

We've encounter some beautiful towns with delightful sounding names, Anuradhapura, Polonnuwara, Tissamaharama, Bandarawela and Haputale to mention a few.  Well they sound delightful when the names roll off the tongue of a local.  However we absolutely mutilate the complicated multi-syllable pronunciations with our monotone yobbo Australian drawl.  So we thought we couldn't possibly get it wrong when we arrived in the lovely little hill town of Ella.  But alas even this 4 letter word proves difficult for the linguistically challenged, and again our mate Lucky has to provide tuition so we can achieve satisfactory results.  Apparently one should sing and hold the El and emphasise and shorten the La.     Elll-la.

At 1400 metres the cooler climate of Ella is a welcome relief from the usual 35°C days we've been experiencing.  With stunning views down a 20 kilometre valley Ella is strategically situated at the top of this rugged mountain range.  Views through Ella Gap to nearby waterfalls, tea plantations and rolling cloud formations are stunning from our Laura Guesthouse.

Old boilers giving english lessons on Ella station platform
Sri Lanka train journey - Ella to Haputale

We spend a pleasant morning traveling the scenic 1 hour train journey to Haputale through tea plantations and waving to the friendly enthusiastic locals along the way.

Railway tracks are the preferred pedestrian option when traveling in and out of town and is a great way to see the local culture first hand, so we adopt the "when in Rome" philosophy and stagger the unevenly spaced sleepers 30 minutes out of town to Ella Falls and keeping a visual and listening watch for approaching trains.

One and half hours leisurely trek through tea plantations will deliver you to Little Adams Peak and the spectacular views of Ella Rock and the valley below. On a clear sunny day you can see the south coast of Sri Lanka 80 kilometres away.

Arugam Bay

18 kilometres of continuous downhill hair pin bends as we complete the descent through Ella valley to the low country and head east on todays 3 hour road journey to Arugam Bay.  Sleepy little Puttuvil town at the northern end and a world acclaimed surfing point break to the south make up the 2 kilometre sand strip that is Arugam Bay.

Sleepy little A-Bay and famous point break in the distance
Like much of the east and south coast of Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay was devastated on Boxing Day 2004 when the Indian Ocean Tsunami slammed into this innocent country.  First a smaller wave, then a 10 metre monster crashed through the coastal regions carrying homes, fishing trawlers, cars, trains, thousands of people and all manor of flotsam and jetsam up to 500 metres inland.  Estimates of over 35,000 soles lost, with another 1.5 million people displaced, not surprising everyone we meet during our travels has a heart wrenching tsunami story.

Tristar Hotel the only place in town with grass (of the lawn variety)
Happier times are here now as this remote community continues to rebuild with A-Bay still relatively unspoilt by tourism and is what Bali was 30 years ago.We're staying at the Tristar Beach Hotel in a quieter beachfront area away from the throb of beach parties and late night music.

Dodgy knees, reconstructed shoulders, crook backs and arthritic hips prevent Paul and Chris renting surfboards to try out the famous point break, so we settle for the more geriatric friendly shore break on bodyboards.  Still, Paul manages to lose some skin and spill some blood when he face-plants into the ocean bed and proudly exhibits his A-Bay war wound for many days later.

A face only a mother could love and the Master of the  A-Bay face-plant

Birthday pampering
Our stay in A-Bay happens to coincide with Robyn B's birthday, so whilst Robyn N pampers the birthday girl with a beach front massage, Paul and I are most pleased to have another reason to celebrate and indulge in more refreshing Lion Lager.

(you work it out for yourself)

...been doing a little population pondering....
Sri Lanka and Australia have similar populations (approx 23 million).
Sri Lanka and the Australian island state of Tasmania have similar land areas.
So considering Sri Lankas population's like squeezing Australias total population into Tasmania.........mind boggling!

Speaking of populations, we've arrived in Embilipitiya and one of the less populated places on our itinerary.  We come seeking elephants and UdaWalawe National Park comes highly recommended.
Pavana Resort provides comfortable accommodation and arranges our safari requirements.

Rain is bucketing down and we're initially feeling a little disappointed that our elephant experience may be a non-event.  But far from being a wash out, no sooner have we entered the national park than elephants are emerging from the scrubby country and wallowing in the newly created puddles and mud baths.

Someone loves her elephants.
Despite the inclement weather, Embilipitiya and UdaWalawe national park turns out to be our best ever elephant experience.

After 14 days with our ol' mate, Lucky has to return to his family in Negombo whilst we choose to continue on our travels independantly by local bus and tuk tuk.  This happy chappy has been a real find and added so much value to our Sri Lanka experience.

Chris & Robyn share a final joke with Lucky

We've been on the road for a couple of weeks, covered about 1300 kilometres, ticked most of the items off our itinerary list so now as we emerge on the south coast it's time to engage an extra low gear and slip into super-relax mode (if that's possible).  Staying at the Octopus Garden House we are waited on hand and foot by the the lovely housekeeper, Concy.
The lovely Concy invites the "2 Madams" to Easter Sunday church
Tangalle markets
Easy riders touring the south coast Sri Lanka
Bus travel between Tangalle and Matara
Relaxing after surviving the motorcycling and buses.


During the 1500's the Portuguese sailed upon this tear drop island hanging off the bottom of India and realised the little fishing village of Galle on the south west coast would make an ideal location to establish a trading port in their rapidly expanding spice route empire.   Recognising the great strategic location and finding little resistance, the Dutch moved in and overthrew the original colonials and quickly set about fortifying their newly acquired prime real estate.  
By the 1660's Galle Fort and harbour was already an impressive bastion and threatening deterrent to would-be in interlopers.  During the 1800's the Poms stepped up and flexed their colonial and ocean super power dominance and took control of the region and this magnificent stronghold.  Fortunately the fort and its heritage buildings still stands in all its grandeur.  Galle Fort is now a UNESCO listed site.

Galle Fort (photo courtesy of Mr Google)
Galle Fort
Early morning stroll around the fort ramparts

Local cricket game from our Seagreen Guesthouse
Safe and secure inside the fort walls
Did I mention it's HOT, DAMN HOT!!!
Our stay inside the fort at the Seagreen Guesthouse is first class and an easy stroll through the historic streets, dutch buildings, Galle cricket ground and nearby bus and market area.


After naming the blog a "Taste of Sri Lanka", you'd think I would have mentioned something of the food by this late stage in our travels.  I can only put it down to alzheimers because the food has been truly amazing and memorable.  Daily I've been waking and looking forward to see what special breakfast curries the guesthouse cook has prepared.  Much to my taste buds delight it's usually a fish curry, vegetable curry, dhal, sambal, hoppers, egg hoppers and string hoppers followed by a selection of fresh fruit.  Not surprisingly, we rarely venture out around midday in search of a lunch menu.

Typical Sri Lankan breakfast spread


Packing our possessions into tuk tuks we travel 15 minutes to our final destination of Unawatuna and settle into our absolute beachfront accommodation, Pearlys Dream Cabanas .  
Warm days, cool breezes, swimming in sheltered ocean pools, beachcombing, sunset beach strolls, starry nights and sampling tasty foods at nearby restaurants....Ho Hum.

From the comfort of our beach chairs and without expending too much energy, we spend many hours excitedly watching dozens of turtles feeding on the reef only 20 meters off shore.
Pearlys Dream Cabana

Time for the author to take a well earned break

-Taste of Sri Lanka-
- Do try it -