Sri Lanka is easily one of the serene countries I have seen. May be because of the calm Buddha smiling at you from every corner of the streets. This travelogue is more on how to plan your trip, what places you can cover, how many days you will need, what to eat and so on.. I being from India might compare quite a lot of things with Indian places and food. Pardon me..
Plan your holiday:
First of all Sri Lanka might look like a small island at the bottom of India and you will be ambitious to cover most of Sri Lanka in few days. This will not only wear you out but also you will land up visiting places and not actually soak in the place. To make your trip leisurely, you will need at least 6 to 9 days. If you have enough days say 2 weeks, then you can ambitiously cover lot of places. Plan your trip well in advance and book your flight tickets to and from Colombo. Colombo Bandaranaike airport is the only inlet to Sri Lanka for international flights. Tickets from Chennai are pretty cheap with Air India, SpiceJet, JetAirways, SriLankan airways flying in and out. If planned in advance to and fro ticket per person can be as cheap as 7 to 8k. Electronic visa needs to be acquired before entry into Sri Lanka. ETA visa needs to be applied online from http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/
. For Indians the fees is 15$. Once we apply online within a day or two you will get the acknowledgment. Carry the xerox of the visa while travelling. It is easier to have the itinerary planned with a travel agent and get the hotels booked well in advance.
Places to visit
: If you do enough research on Sri Lanka tourism, you will find must see places and can get easily carried away. Decide upon how you want to spend your holiday; whether you want to party or visit wildlife or beaches or cultural tour. One option is to travel towards the beach side as Colombo, Negombo, Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Galle. This is much better route if you have very less days in your hands. They are around 2 to 3 hours away from each other. If you have more days here are some more options. Colombo, Damulla, Sigriya, Polonuruwa, Kandy, Nuwara Elliya, Adam's peak or Horton's plain, Yala National park. This is a very ambitious trip and you need lot of days. Whichever is the route you choose add in Pinnawala, elephant orphanage which is 2hrs from Colombo. The elephants are large in number and they are taken to river for a bath and it is quiet amusing to see these elephants. Dambulla is a rock cave temple which is filled with Buddha statues of various sitting postures. The climb is tough but must visit. Polonuruwa ruins is about a ruined dynasty and you can again see Buddha in ruined form. Honestly, India has much more ruins which are best preserved and it did not awe me much. Considering the high ticket cost and the distance you need to travel, it can be dropped. Instead on the way we spotted Mineriya national park which can be given a visit. Sigriya, rock fortress is meant for trekkers. You need to start the climb pretty early morning to see some well preserved frescoes. It is UNESCO listed world heritage site. If you are not keen on Sigriya, it is better to stop at Dambulla and proceed towards Kandy. Beware that Pinnawala, Dambulla and Polonurruwa cannot be done in a day! Because all the tour operators will claim that it can be done! Kandy is more beautiful quaint city to visit. The sacred tooth relic temple is a must visit. Around 10am they do pooja which is worth watching. In the evening there is Kandy dance show which is very beautiful to watch. Walk around the lake and explore the place. Peredeniya gardens was another attraction. You can plan two days here. Drive from Dambulla to Kandy is 5 hours. The next stop can be Nuwara Eliya. It is a hill station with sheets of green tea estates throughout. The drive from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is 6hrs since the drive is through hill with hair pin bends. Stop by a tea estate on the way and explore the tea making process. Nuwara Eliya is more to relax than to explore. The chill weather, the lake, the greenery are worth watching. You can plan a day from here to Adam's peak. If you are pious there is a Sita Devi temple where it is believed that Sita was kept captive. Also on the way to Nuwara Eliya we visited the Anjaneyar temple where it is believed that Anjaneyar first landed in Sri Lanka. The up and down drive can be exhausting and so you will need at least one complete day halt there. Also, it is more like Munnar or for that matter any hill station you have visited with tea estates. From Nuwara Eliya to Yala national park might easily take a day travel. We did not have time to visit the place but heard it is must. Colombo! If you are from a city, not worth spending time there apart from boarding your flight. If you want to party may be it is the right place. Instead we halted at Negombo which is twenty minutes from airport. The beaches are cleaner, many more souvenir shops, lot of cool restaurants lined up at the beach.
What to Shop: If you are from India then buy one or two souvenirs and come back. For they sell Himalaya products as ayurvedic stuff. All the stuff available in India can be got there. Some said cloth is very cheap there. And one shop keeper just told me, "Madam all this is from Chennai TNagar. Every fortnight I go there and buy stuff. Why should you buy from here and go to Chennai!" So you see! No point. Tourist operators will try to take you to ayurvedic spas, spice markets, run run run! Tea is a must buy. Dilmah, green field tasted good. There is lot of variety from OP, BOP, BOPF, BOPFF, Dust - the strongness of tea in that order. Also green tea, silver, gold, vanilla, orange, pineapple, jasmine tea! Bhatik sarees are no longer found in Sri Lanka. It is very costly and it is available in India.
What to eat:
|Rice and Curry
Rice with curry is the best for lunch. Typically it is white/ red rice topped with chicken curry, dal, vegetable, lettuce, vegetable fry, fish all topped on your plate! This is extremely nutritious and wholesome. Keeps you full. Apart from that for breakfast you have rice hoppers (idiyappam), aapam, puttu with soya curry, sambol (dry version of coconut chutney), parotta, pol roti. Difference from Indian version is they are all of red rice. For dessert, Curd with kitul honey! It is buffalo hung curd with palm honey! Who ever thought this combo will be so divine. And fruits! Mango, papaya and pine apple are available all round the year. Wood apple juice is famous but I did not like it. Fish along the beach is very yummy! Try the deviled fish curry, it is sweet and tangy. Having tea at anytime is bliss. They bring pot of brewed black tea which is generally lite. It is nice to have it black. If you want milk, ensure you ask for hot milk or you will end up with cold tea.
Tips: Currency is LKR (Sri lankan rupee). Have few dollars in hand and convert them to LKR at the airport. Indian rupee is not taken for conversion anywhere, it is illegal. Lot of ATMs can be sighted at Colombo, withdraw enough. Expect to shell out lot of bucks as entry fees for any attraction. It is ten times more than what Sri Lankan people will pay. For Indians the entry ticket is half the price mentioned for foreigners but still it is costly. Have your passport handy at all time to prove your nationality. Wherever you go you will be asked for tips. Before you dine anywhere ask for price! The moment people know you are a tourist it turns into hand written bill to rip you off! It is quite safe to travel in Sri Lanka. They speak Sinhalese and some speak English. Don't open your mouth in Hindi or Tamil, it is not India! If your hotel offers free breakfast, check with them what they will serve. You don't want to eat toast! Do not estimate distance based on google maps, the roads are not good.