I’ve been wanting to go to Sri Lanka, ever since I saw photos from my friend’s trip and also hear many wonderful stories of the place in terms of food, people, sight seeing and rich culture. So, after a few times pitching this trip to friends, finally, we decided to go end of June, during the long Raya holidays.
It proved to be a good choice. It’s indeed a beautiful country with friendly people (except the people at the Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic -stories later) and spicy food.
Before our trip to Sri Lanka, we are more worried about the arduous climb to Sigiriya Rock Fortress than anything else. We have been debating for a month if we should climb it or not. Haha. Also, since it’s a full board trip, this trip to Sigiriya is optional. Meaning, we have to pay our own if we wanna attempt the climb or visit the place. A hefty USD30! But I guess it’s good as the money will go to preservation and upkeep of the place. I see they did a pretty decent job. The place is clean and also, the mirror wall was cordoned off so that people don’t scribble on it.
Another thing I am worried about is the cleanliness of the toilets and food preparation. I guess we were all very surprised to see their toilets are super clean actually! Of coz not till as pristine as Japanese’ toilets but definitely better than Bangkok’s! Yes.. I sound like a fussy tourist but I am not the backpacking type of person… at age 41, I guess I deserved (able to afford!) to be pampered. Haha.
We were ill prepared when it comes to visiting Nuwara-Eliya, their version of English tea town (something like Cameron Highlands). So, most of us didn’t bring thick clothings. The weather dipped to about 14C at night! Even in the afternoon, it was raining throughout so things are kinda chilly so we didn’t do much, apart from having hi-tea at the Grand Hotel at only 1,250 rupees per person, which I think is really enjoyable. I don’t fancy the journey to Nuwara-Eliya though. It was long and winding! So those with car sickness – best of luck! I slept throughout entire journey to avoid vomiting!
The journeys between places are rather far, so my friend advised me to hire a driver instead of taking public transport, which is not very cheap. I understand that to take tuk tuk, it costs about 35 to 50 rupees per km. That’s Rm1.50 per km. If you go to far away places, it might not be cost effective at all. And believe me, you don’t want to travel anywhere far by tuk tuk or bus. The roads in Sri Lanka are small, they have only one highway and most traveling are done using trunk roads or if you are adventurous, you can try their trains. I still prefer to be chauffeur driven – at least, we don’t have to worry about transport.
Another surprising thing is – I think we enjoyed Sigiriya the most, despite the climb. Initially, I almost wanted to give up climbing the stairs as they were rather steep and there’s no railing for you to hold onto at the lower portion of the steps before the Lion’s paws. There were hustlers around, trying to help you up the stairs in exchange for money. But they are not hostile, you just have to nicely tell them, you don’t need their assistance. I was informed by my guide that, we usually have to pay 2,000 rupees to these helpers or worst case scenario, USD25 after the climb. Of coz, we didn’t want to take the risks!
I wanted to slowly take my time to climb and enjoy the scenery but somehow was marred by these hustlers. On the other hand, I had to thank these people because they were so annoying that I couldn’t wait to get rid of them so I basically “ran away” from them as fast as my legs could carry me, even if it means, I couldn’t even catch my breath! I told them repetitively that I won’t pay them and yet, they were ever so patient and said to me, “Never mind ma’am. We work here. We are here everyday. You see our service. We give good service, then you decide how much to pay.” So.. in the end, I gave them the ultimatum, “Sorry. I don’t need your help and I will NOT PAY YOU!” Then, they finally gave up hustling us. I managed to finally catch my breath before the steel staircase before the frescoes and mirror wall. A note on the frescoes – the spiral staircase to the frescoes is quite narrow and you don’t have to worry about unable to climb it as there will be hordes of people causing jams going up! So you have plenty of time to catch your breath!
You are not allowed to snap photos of the frescoes though. So, the frescoes are on the 50m long cave.. that was it. So I went “Cheh!” Haha. After the frescoes, you take the spiral staircase down again and you will reach the mirror wall. There’s about 100m long stretch but now being cordoned off. You can still look at the wall but there’s nothing much except stained yellow wall with illegible inscriptions. I was too flustered to read or see anything anyway. The hike up till the frescoes itself is too daunting for me.
We were really lucky because it was a windy day. So it made the late afternoon heat much more bearable. We didn’t even sweat because of the wind, it was all cooling and nice, which made the hike up and walk more enjoyable. We stopped for awhile at the mirror wall and soaked in the majestic view in front of us – not knowing that, we would be much more awed when we reached the top (if we reach that top – negative thinking at that point of time).
After the mirror wall, be prepared for a steep stair case up till the lion’s paws. We met with a bunch of friendly students who were ever so eager to engage us in conversations. We were already laboriously breathing and simply had no time or even strength to say hi. Hahaha. Some students were afraid of the steep steps though. Poor thing actually. You see them gripping on their friends’ hands while another hand holding onto their flying skirts. They should come in their sporting gear and pants instead of school pinafore if you ask me. Poor girls.
Once we reached the Lion’s Paws, we realized that we were just a few minutes to reach the top. The feeling was really great! Also, at this point, we read several notices that there are rock bees and visitors are to observe silence, otherwise, the whole place would be covered in bees. Come to think of it, it’s seriously dangerous. The day we went, it was super windy, I was so worried that it might blow the beehives down. But come to think of it, I didn’t see a single beehives nearby the Lion’s Paws. After hanging out at the area surrounding the Lion’s Paws, we prepare ourselves to go up the staircase to the top. It was not too difficult but of coz, you can stand there to catch some breath if you are unfit like me. A local bringing some foreigners asked me if I needed help when I breathed laboriously. LOL. I said no thanks and went up ahead.
Finally, we reached the top.. I think after 2 hours. My guide said usually, for young people, it will take 1.5 hours.. old people maybe 2 hours… But we took in total 3 hours to get down. Hahahahhaha! So we joked with our guide that, we actually took only an hour to reach the top but 2 hours selfie-ing and taking photos. Hahaha. Which is true by the way. Once we were at the top, fuah!!! Sense of achievement came flooding us and filled us with so much joy! The view on the top was worth the arduous climb and pain.
Shots at Kandy. The temple here is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Since my trip is a tailor made one – full board with hotels, meals and tickets, I guess you can contact the travel agency in Sri Lanka itself. I think their service is rather impeccable. The hotels need some improvement though. Since we stay in 6 different hotels this trip, we were not very bothered by it. We just need clean hotels. So far most of the hotels booked were okay, except for Senina Hotel, Kandy which is old and dilapidated and a little messy and the last hotel we stayed, Coco Royal Hotel at Wadduwa which has flies in the room! I managed to kill 4 flies in that room! Also, the food offered here were not that varied. If I ever visit again, which I think rather likely in near future to venture the North of this beautiful country, I would definitely stay in one of Geoffrey Bawa’s hotels, the most renowned architect in Sri Lanka.
The 7D/6N trip package to Sri Lanka can be found here, at Sedunia’s website. They collaborated with Jetwing – which is a Sri Lankan family owned company in Colombo. I searched their website and found nothing on Sri Lanka. So perhaps they are doing packages with our Malaysian counterpart. You can try to write to them perhaps, to bypass the middlemen’s charges. You may visit their website here or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh ya.. about the Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic, the devotees are rather pissed with presence of foreigners. So many people having a peek at the relic which housed the tooth of Buddha only from 6.45 pm to 7.30 pm and the massive crowd is crazy!! The locals shooed us away even as we lined up following the crowd to have a peek. Finally, we gave up – except my two friends who managed to bypass the annoyed aunties and took a peek. I went away with another friend to wait for them downstairs. Seriously crazy. The emerald Buddha in Bangkok crowd is not this maddening! Can visit the surrounding of the temple.. but going up to see the relic is a big no no.
For more pictures, please refer to my instagram @gingerlyyours under the hashtag #ginacsrilanka