I just can’t believe everything has passed so fast and it was almost one month ago I was doing our Sri Lanka itinerary and writing the article about all the things to have in mind when planning a vacation in the tea-growing country.
Yes, we’ve done it! Did I like it? No, I didn’t. I LOVED it!
And I need to be honest here and admit we were actually impressed by what we saw on this island country and it had far exceeded our expectations. OK, I know, I’ve read all that cool articles in CN Traveller, but let’s face it, everything looks fairytale-like in this magazine and I couldn’t ever afford such an accommodation as the ones recommended by them. But even so, I must admit it was an epic holiday.
Our Sri Lanka itinerary – what to see, do and eat
Let me start by asking you to pay attention to your plane ticket (or even better, before ever purchasing it) if you are flying with Fly Dubai. We’ve started our vacation with a critical moment when we first arrived at the Bucharest Otopeni airport and that is mainly because we didn’t read everything that was written on the ticket and also because we purchased our vacation through a travel agency.
When it comes to credit card payments (or debit cards for that matter), Fly Dubai seems to have a specific policy for tickets to Sri Lanka (and a few other destinations as below):
– If you paid for your booking online or via our call center using a credit card, you’ll be asked to present the same credit card at check-in.
– If your booking was paid for with someone else’s credit card, we’ll need to see a photocopy of the front of the card and a photocopy of the cardholder’s passport.
– If you are unable to present these documents, you won’t be allowed to travel and we won’t be able to offer you a refund.
– A credit card CAN’T be used to pay on behalf of someone else traveling to or from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and South Sudan.
And of course, we had a problem with this. We were allowed to board the plane only a few minutes before it took off and we were actually lucky to do so. You can imagine it was not particularly a fortunate start to our long-awaited vacation only to be shortly followed by a 2-hour delay at our Dubai layover. Moral of the story? Try avoiding flying with Fly Dubai, especially to one of those destinations.
Moving forward to our Sri Lanka itinerary, we first touched ground in the tea country, at the Bandaranaike international airport, only a few kilometers away from Colombo. Tired after the whole plane story, 15 hours on the road mostly during the night, without food, the last thing we wanted to encounter was yet another problem.
Yes, you’ve guessed it, the driver that was supposed to wait for us was not there anymore. Luckily, in Sri Lanka, you will never run short of transfer or transportation offers, thus someone promptly offered us a ride to the hotel (we stayed at Ozo Colombo and the ride from the airport for 3 people was $25).
Once we had everything set up, luggage in the trunk, we started our long ride towards the hotel. I’m not sure whether it really was so long or we were just very tired and had our nerves stretched to the limit, but it sure took us well over one hour to get to the final destination.
Ozo Colombo, it sure is a great place to spend a few nights in the hectic city. Right on the ocean’s edge, our room on the 9th floor offered an amazing view over the city and the ocean. On those rare moments of tranquility, when I had a few minutes to myself I liked to stay on the comfy chair next to the window and watch a train drifting by every now and then, living the waves on one side and the crazy traffic on the other.
What I loved most about the hotel was what everyone knows it for its rooftop pool and bar. The perfect place to spend an afternoon, a whole day and also a cool Wednesday night.
So what did we do in Colombo and you should add also to your Sri Lanka itinerary?
Start the day just right with a hearty breakfast at the hotel where you will find everything from Sri Lankan dishes to European ones, to fresh, king coconut or fresh juice. Grab a cup of black tea with just a drop of milk and enjoy the view, which is only one addition to it all.
Then start your Sri Lanka itinerary with a walk on the cool streets of Colombo. Note that you can always take a tuk-tuk and offers will be all around (just don’t be surprised if the drivers will only ask you once and won’t insist if turned down).
We preferred walking around and allowing ourselves to get lost in the hustle and bustle of it all, stepping inside only to visit a temple or two (Ashokaramaya will wow you with its colors and lack of tourists, the free entrance being also a plus, while Gangaramaya is not to be missed since here you will find maybe the most Buddha statues you’ll ever see in one place, thus the 300 rupee entrance fee might just be worth it).
Head further and pass by the many schools and children running around in their crisp white uniforms, and stop at the Colombo Museum. If you choose not to enter, it’s sure worth to pass the sumptuous white colonial building by if only for a picture.
If you have the time, go see the locals go by their daily lives in Pettah Market, take a walk in Victoria Park and spend a few bucks on souvenirs Laksala, the state-owned souvenir shop. If you’re not in it for the shopping quite yet, enter Barista, the coffee shop where you will drink the best passion fruit ice tea there is.
Where to eat in Colombo
I have to admit we weren’t all that fun and stayed really close to the hotel, mainly because of two facts: the food was amazingly good and at a good value for money at the Red Orchids Restaurant (especially the soups, which come in really really big portions); we tried to book a table for dinner at the famous Ministry of Crab restaurant, but couldn’t get in (it is my advice to make a booking several days in advance).
After just two nights in Colombo, we moved further in our Sri Lanka itinerary and headed 115 km away, to Kandy. It might not look so far away on the map but bear in mind that if you are leaving as we did at 11 a.m. you will be in it for a surprise and expect to spend around 4h and a half on the road.
The drive to Kandy was not that impressive, but we got to see an elephant walking on the edge of the road.
Kandy is a beautiful small city, built on the hills, around a lake. We stayed here for two night at the beautiful OZO Kandy hotel, making the best out of its rooftop pool and delicious food.
What to do and see in Kandy?
One of the most important attractions in the city is, of course, the famous Temple of the Tooth or Sri Dalada Maligawa located in the royal complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy. According to Sri Lankan legends, when the Buddha died, his body was cremated and his left canine tooth was retrieved from the funeral pyre by his disciple, Khema and now, years later, the box with the tooth is kept in this temple in Kandy. What you should know is that various rituals are performed three times daily: at dawn, at noon and in the evenings, thus making it a rather crowded place to visit.
If you’ve done that and are ready for a more relaxing experience, jump into a tuk-tuk and head to the Royal Botanical Gardens where you will be overwhelmed by the power nature has. The setting is huge and you will need to dedicate at least 2 hours to it, but you will have the chance to see a lot of beautiful flowers and plants you most certainly haven’t seen before.
Another experience you might find interesting is something similar to what we’ve lived in Zanzibar, but with a focus on Ayurveda: visiting a Spice Garden. Here, you will get the chance to see a whole lot of interesting plants, from which spices and different ayurvedic medicines are made. You will get to see how things like cardamom, ginger, cloves, pineapple grow and are being harvested and used, together with their healing properties.
Take a ride also in the city center, walk around the Kandy lake and admire the wildlife, and visit the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue you will see looking back at you from up on the hill.
When afternoon comes, allow one hour to attend a Kandyan dance performance and learn a little bit more about the local dances, drum beats, costumes, and traditions. Don’t worry, you will be joined by many more tourists, as curious as yourself. Everything will end with an impressive fire walk and flame eating episode.
Head for dinner at the Slightly Chilled Lounge bar, where you will be delighted not only by the food served here but also by the amazing sunset view from the top of the hill.
With a sunset like this one in your heart, head right to bed and get ready for an early wake-up call and a ride to the Kandy train station, from where you will take the 8:47 train to Nuwara Eliya (or Ella if that is your choice).
What you will need to know about the train ride:
- you can buy a ticket directly at the train station, but you will most probably have to choose between the 2nd and 3rd class only since the 1st class tickets are sold out way in advance
- if you will want to book a 1st class ticket (with seat allocated and AC) you will need to find a way of doing it way in advance. What I found useful was booking through this website one month before the actual trip. Everything was smooth but you will have to pay extra attention when making the online payment and use a card that you don’t normally use or keep money on because I got frauded.
- trains usually are late – we had a delay of 1 hour and waited patiently until the train was there
- trains are usually slow and stop in a lot of stations – but that is not such an issue when taking the train on this route because you won’t even know when the time has passed since the view is amazing and you will want to take tons of pictures
- coming from Romania, I might say the trains in Sri Lanka are not that bad. Also, you will have plenty of chances to buy drinks and snacks from the people coming to sell things onboard.
- traveling by train in Sri Lanka is the cheapest way to do it and there are plenty of routes to choose from, but the most scenic one is definitely the one between Kandy and Ella
- if you want to spend a few days in Nuwara Eliya, you will have to get off at NANUOYA train station