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This is a list of the highlights of our recent 3 week holiday in Sri Lanka. There is so much more than this to this beautiful country-the sights, sounds and smells themselves are captivating; but hopefully this gives a taste of the many things you can do. We did visit a wonderful spice garden and ayuverdic centre also, but can't remember the name of these, although i'm sure that most of them are good
When we booked to go to Sri Lanka, we booked our flights and first hotel. We managed also to book a driver to take us from the airport direct to the hotel, but had not secured anything further. Our driver was Shehan Randil of Flywing Tours, who could not have been more helpful. Shehan took us to his office, introduced us to his son Ishara, and together we devised a tour around the island.
Flywing Tours are very reasonably priced, and Ishara was not only our driver, but our tour guide and our friend. The service we received was excellent-Ishara took away all of the hard work of finding accommodation, and never failed to find us reasonably priced and clean hotels or guesthouses. He also recommended places to eat and showed us places of local interest. When we were unsure of local customs, of how much to tip, or of what to eat, Ishara would give us sound advice.
Our holiday was undoubtedly enhanced by Flywing Tours-we managed to fit so much in, that would have been impossible using public transport. I would definitely recommend Flywing, and hope myself to use them again.
Adam's Peak (Sri Pada) is on the south western edge of the hill country in Sri Lanka. It is a dramatic scene and is a place of pilgrimage between the months of December and May (for Buddhists, Hindus and Christians). You have to climb at night, not only because of the heat, but also in order that you see the sunrise and the legendary sri pada shadow (which is a perfect triangle). My partner really wanted to do this, and I have to say I was reluctant (its around 3 hours of gruelling climb and 8000km). However, it really was a highlight of the trip, and definitely worth doing. We stayed at the Punsisi Rest which was clean, safe and spacious accomodation.
Sigiriya Rock is to the North of Dambulla, and is a World Heritage Site. Of all of the Cultural Triangle sites, this is well worth seeing. However, it is worth noting that the entrance fee is steep ($25) and you're pounced on by the eager (and to be fair extremely informative) guides as soon as you arrive (who don't tell you that their cost is in addition to the entrance fee). That said, it really is worth going. Go early, to avoid the heat and take a guide book if you're on a budget. The history and sheer engineering of the place is astounding, and much like the rest of Sri Lanka, the nature in the area is an added bonus. Also, much like Adam's Peak, the sense of achievement once you get to the top makes it all worthwhile!
Unawatuna was perhaps our favourite beach (although Mirissa and Weligama are close rivals). The bay nearest the Dagoba is best for swimming, but it does get fairly crowded on a weekend by the locals (although this in itself is fun). It's close enough to Galle to visit by Tuk tuk (and Galle is easily seen in a day or two), and has a nice pace of life. Our favourite hotel there was the Flower Garden (for cleanliness, security, and the wonderful breakfasts). However, we did go elsewhere to try to save some money (Flower Garden is reasonable-around £20 per night...but we were on a tight budget!), and found the Dhammika to also be of a very good standard.
Again part of the cultural triangle, the Dambulla Caves are full of beautiful buddhist relics, and offer a real sanctuary high up above the bustle. Again the entrance fee is steep (like the steps), but worth it when you're there.
The Amaya Lake Hotel was our first stop in Sri Lanka and a wonderful introduction to the country. It's expensive, but we knew that before we arrived. Nonetheless, it is good value for the money, and a fantastic place to relax. We used it as a base for seeing the cultural triangle, which worked really well, and the pool was a god send when returning from all those climbs!
Ella is a beautiful little village in the hill country, set amongst the lush green tea plantations. We only spent a night there, and to be honest i don't know that you need that much more, but felt really refreshed by our stay. We spent the afternoon walking along the railway line, through the jungle and along to the waterfall. We stayed at the Tea Garden hotel which had a lovely view of Ella Gap and Ella Rock; and we ate at a local bar (which i can't remember the name of but it had lots of pictures of bob marley), where the rice and curry was wonderful and the games of Karrom and drinks of Arrack went down a storm!
Pinnewala is an elephant orphanage just close to Kandy. We visited at about 2pm, as it is recommended that you arrive in time for feeding (which predictably is morning, midday and evening). The feeding itself wasn't so captivating-the elephants have to be chained up for this, so its slightly uncomfortable viewing. However, after lunch, the elephants head down to the river, through the village for bathing. This was wonderful-i could have watched for hours!
Yala is expensive. You pay not only to get in, but also for your jeep, and unsurprisingly, a tour guide. However, if you're into animals, which my partner is, it's worth it! We didn't manage to see a leopard, but he was happy with a speckled cobra!
The Kandy View Hotel itself is fairly basic, but clean and secure. The breakfasts are good, and the rice and curry recommendable. However, the highlight of this hotel is its owner-Kanchana Ranasingha. We had a few problems with one of the hospitals in Kandy-my partner dislocated his shoulder, and they tried to charge us too much. Kanchana was outraged at this, and could not have worked harder in our interests to try to get our money back. Kanchana didn't want anything for this-he is a genuinely kind hearted and wonderful man, who really does give you faith in humankind!