A quick glance at Sri Lanka's cultural capital

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Asia » Sri Lanka » Central Province » Kandy
August 2nd 2018
Published: March 15th 2019
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When you're on a tight schedule and you want to pack in your itinerary as many places to see as you can, you do need to try to save some time on travel at least. That obviously can have a bit of an impact on your wallet. And so it did this time. We didn't really set a daily spending budget, but secretly I hoped we wouldn't go over 100NZD a day... well that private driver we got from Negombo to Kandy cost us 125NZD, so there went my secret budget! We were here for two weeks only though, not to mention that most likely that was THE holiday for that year, so we (meaning I) didn’t complain too much about it this time. We would just do a slightly fancier backpacking, splashing on taxis here and there. 😉

Having a private driver definitely had its advantages... For one we could decide what time we wanted to leave at as there were no tight schedules to stick to this time. It also meant we didn't have to rush through our amazing breakfast. I got some fish curry, dhal, veggie fried rice, followed by an omelette, fruit, a couple of sweet pastries and two cups of coffee... That should keep me going for a while. 😊 I could get used to these breakfasts... With all bellies full, now we were ready for our journey through the countryside.

Kids passed out almost as soon as we drove out of the hotel. As much as I enjoy travelling on public transport, on a hot day like that one I really appreciated the car with an aircon though. It wouldn’t necessarily be a much faster journey, but at least we could do a little detour and stop by an elephant orphanage on the way to Kandy. The journey was going relatively fast until the kids woke up and immediately started getting bored... After that every minute seemed to have dragged on forever... thankfully a few snacks kept them occupied and soon after we were at Pinnawala Orphanage Centre.

We weren't surprised to see two ticket prices but the difference in price was quite an eye opener... 110LRK for locals and $3,000 LRK for tourists.... So with our wallet slightly lighter we were ready to explore. If only it wasn't soooo hot! We sprayed our bodies with a mix of sunscreen and mosquito repellent and now were truly ready to explore. Poor Daniel was sweating even from his eyeballs! Millie was too excited to notice how hot it was. She just wanted to see some elephants... It didn’t take us too long to find them as they all were out in a large open area... Millie was very happy and so were we to see them walking around so freely. As at first they did seem to be free, wandering around in this vast open space... Then I noticed that they were 'guarded' by a few mahouts with sharp sticks in their hands... And then out in the distance I saw a few elephants hidden under small shaded structures. Their movements were quite limited, there was no doubt they were chained... I couldn't help but feel slightly underwhelmed by this place. Its name would suggest that it was a conservation area... I’ve read that it was founded to care for and protect orphaned elephants wandering around the nearby forests. It started with a few baby elephants and grew with each year. At some point the project was extended with a breeding programme and now the Orphanage prides itself for having the largest herd of captive elephants in the world (even Wikipedia says so)... And yet one word that immediately draws my attention is 'captive'... Wouldn’t they aim eventually at releasing the animals back into the wild? Still I do want to believe that this place serves its purpose and indeed improves the lives of orphaned elephants.

We walked around exploring the place, but were done in no time at all. As excited as Millie was about seeing elephants at first as quickly she got bored... Same, same... Somehow we missed the biggest attraction of the centre as well – the elephant bathing and I’m still not quite sure how that happened – wrong timing, dry season, misinformation and general misunderstanding I guess... At least Millie got to feed an elephant though. Overall we left with slightly mixed feelings... I would like to get back here one day and give this place another chance though... One day...

After the visit to the Elephant Orphanage we hopped back into the car and drove to Kandy. Millie was a bit bored so we gave her tablet to watch a few cartoons... Big mistake! With the road so curvy and bouncy, poor thing got motion sickness... just as we drove into Kandy she said 'mummy I don't feel well', looking very pale... I knew what was coming but there was no way of stopping it... poor little thing threw up all over herself and the back seat of course too. Sorry driver! Quick stop on the side of the road and a gazillion wipes later and we were back on the road again. We zigzagged a bit before we found our hotel but finally we arrived in Kandy.

Room wasn't much but we weren't planning on spending much time here anyway so it would do. It was getting late in the afternoon, so wasting no time we reorganised our stuff and went for a walk by the lake. Despite the noise from the hectic traffic, it still felt quite peaceful strolling by the lake. We read before that you can spot a few animal species around, so we played a game with the kids who would spot something first. Mum, dad and Millie were actively participating in this game while Daniel was just cruising in his pram. Millie was really excited to point out different kinds of animals - duckies, herons and other birdies, turtles, goannas... we even saw bats and monkeys! Next we went in search for food... Strangely and funnily enough we couldn't find any places to eat! All we could see were shops! Typical – when you're not looking for something it seems to be on every corner, but when you are actually searching for it, it's nowhere to be found!

Finally at some side street we found a little local eatery. A guy by the counter waved us in and after a quick look at the menu, we decided to give it a go! As long as there were some non-spicy dishes for the kids on the menu, it would do! The food was ok, didn't exactly blow our minds, but the kids loved their noodles, so it was a good choice after all. If only the kids didn't make so much mess again! As usual I got told off by the stuff about cleaning up, but there was no way I was leaving the place in that state! On the way back 'home' we stopped by McDonalds (oops!) but only to get some ice creams 😊 now we were ready to call it a day.

When I was booking our accommodation I made sure breakfast was included in our stays. One thing less to worry about in the mornings I guess... and most of the time it did the job. This time it almost did too... As even though we got plenty of fresh fruit, toasts, butter & jam and eggs, I still wished for something more out of the ordinary, some local delicacy! Next place perhaps? It would do for now. Grant organised a tuk-tuk to take us on a short Kandy tour that morning. First a visit to the train station though! We knew it was very last minute but were still hoping to get tickets to Ella for the following day... Not this time... Tickets were sold out... Apparently our only chance to get on the train was to show up at the station on the morning of the departure and hope there would be more reserved tickets released. If not we could just buy tickets without seats... I guess we had until the morning to figure out what we wanted to do...

It was time to get on with our tour then. First we headed to the botanical gardens. We seemed to have approached the gardens from a back entrance, and after paying a slightly inflated ticket price, we walked through a suspension bridge to the park. Our pram barely made it through and yet it didn't stop some people from walking straight at us and then doing some very weird manoeuvres trying to pass us by! Ah well...

The gardens seemed very popular among tourists but as it turned out it was a popular spot for school trips as well. It was another hot day and we were quite thankful that big parts of the gardens were shaded. We did quite a big loop around the garden, passing by a few monkey spots in between. Millie was really keen on seeing the monkeys but for me it felt like the worst nightmare. They are vicious little things and will do everything to get some food off you. I've heard way too many stories of people being attacked by them so knew not to approach them. Try to say it to a toddler though! So like a hawk I was ready to protect my breed from these little evils. Once I saw one monkey showing her ginormous teeth, that was the end of it... from now on 20metre distance seemed like the best idea!

We enjoyed walking around the gardens and it was a good idea to let both kids run around for a while but it was time to head back. This time we had to wait a bit to cross the bridge as a big group of people was slowly walking through it... very slowly... as they were stopping every two seconds to take pictures. One couple squeezed in before us, huffing and puffing from frustration that they had to wait that long. Finally as the group passed us by we were ready to cross the bridge. You'd think that since that couple was so impatient, they'd be speeding across it. On the contrary! Now they were the ones stopping every two seconds and wanting to take pictures... Not sure why they pushed through the very front of the queue then? Sorry but there wouldn’t be any stopping now, just keep on moving please... Suddenly they realised that maybe they should've let us go first... just keep moving...

Next we drove to the big white Buddha statue overlooking the lake. We got a few raindrops on the way but the rain stopped almost as soon as it started and sun was melting everything around once again. We had to take off our shoes before we started climbing the stairs, also mum had to put some long pants on, thankfully I came prepared. 😊 Millie was very excited about running around barefoot, I on the other hand, not so much... It was like walking on burning coals! We walked around the giant statue, checked out the view from the top and were ready to head to another stop. Quick stop at another viewpoint and it was lunch time already. I had it covered this time. I was reading some blogs the previous day and found a big playground by the lake with a highly recommended eatery next door. Score! It turned out to be a good choice - kids really enjoyed another portion of noodles while I had a chance to try some local delicacies - roti and another nice curry. Tasty and so cheap! Yum!

After lunch we headed straight to the playground. Even though I've read some good things about it, it actually exceeded my expectations. How about that? Who would've thought that they would have such a nice playground in Kandy? The kids absolutely loved it. At one point Millie climbed up the big slide but was a bit scared to slide down, thankfully other kids were more than happy to help. It was nice to see Millie interact with them - no common language required. We were happy the kids had a chance to use up some of their energy. Millie fell asleep almost as soon as we left the playground.

We continued our stroll around the lake. At one point we were stopped by an older, toothless guy trying to sell us tickets to one of the dance and drum shows. I wasn't too sure whether he really was trying to sell us tickets or whether he was trying to scam us, either way we still weren't going to take part in that show as much as we wanted to. We had a long day ahead of us and I doubted the kids would let us watch the whole show or even a part of it. It was past their bed time anyway, so unfortunately we'd have to skip it this time.

We followed the path by the lake until we reached the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which as its name suggests houses the tooth of the Buddha. During the daily offerings called pujas everyone can see the casket where the tooth is being held in. Grant and I both read quite a bit about the pujas and the temple and how crowded it could get and in the end just decided to skip it too as the kids were simply too small to appreciate this experience. I guess we’ll have to come back here one day...

Not going to the temple turned out to be a good idea as Millie woke up quite cranky and super hungry too. We realised we could’ve done with a drink too, so it was time for afternoon tea then. Again it wasn’t that easy to find something straight away – when Millie is hungry she needs to eat right then. Thankfully we got a few snacks left in the backpack and that kept our starving children going for a while. As for finding a place to have beer, not an easy task at all. Apparently they weren’t selling any alcohol before 5pm, we still had an hour to go then. Finally we found a bar, which funnily enough was called ‘The Pub’. Grant hoped they would go easy on him and let him have a beer before 5pm but rules are rules, so no can do Mister. That didn’t stop me from having a coffee and a Sri Lankan dessert though. I am more of a cake person, but thought I would give curd and treacle a go... I did enjoy it but again if it was competing with a cake, the cake would win any time of the day. At 5pm Grant was finally rewarded with a pint but only managed to take a few sips out of it as Millie decided to add a bit of ketchup to dad’s drink. If you can have fries with ketchup, why not beer and ketchup as well? Dad wasn’t too impressed, but another beer quickly fixed that up though...

We were contemplating whether we should do anything else that evening but decided to get a couple of beers home and call it a day. Now only to find a place that sells booze. We followed the instructions and went behind the grocery store, through the car park until we found a back entrance and next to it an alcohol counter. I found the whole ‘secrecy’ to be a bit bizarre if not comical... Men one by one were leaving the counter, wrapping little bottles in a piece of cloth, paper or a bag and sliding them in their pockets... Now nobody knew what they just bought here... 😉

Even though we missed out on Kandy’s big attractions, we had a really nice time here. We easily could’ve stayed a few more days and explored Kandy a bit more but at the same time we were happy to be leaving all the noise behind. We were looking forward to spending some time in slightly smaller towns and being closer to nature – a couple of days in the mountains and then off to the beach. First we were hoping to take one of the most scenic train journeys of this world though... If only we go the tickets... Next stop: Ella!

Additional photos below
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16th March 2019

Traveling with Children
The two of you are great examples of how families can travel. You really have it figure out. Sorry you missed the elephant bath.
6th April 2019

Travelling with Children
I wouldn't go as far as to say we have it all figured out... as there is always room for improvement. But we're slowly getting there, learning from our mistakes. Still don't know how we managed to miss the elephant bathing... next time!
17th March 2019

Temple of the Tooth
Excellent call on not taking the kids to the Temple of the Tooth, especially at prayer time. We barely coped with the crush of humanity, so I don't think the kids would have enjoyed it at all. Definitely worth experiencing at some point though, even if just for the unique Kandyan architecture. We struggled with finding eateries around the lake too... with so many people visiting the Temple, I thought there would have been heaps of restaurants and street stalls in the vicinity! I share Daniel and Millie's love for Sri Lankan fried noodles :)
6th April 2019

Temple of the Tooth
Exactly our thoughts! With so many people around, you'd think there'd be plenty of eateries around. The kids were addicted to noodles! So good! :) I got addicted to curries and that incredible coconut sambol! Yum! Thankfully our taste buds got used to the heat in Sri Lankan dishes in no time at all and we could fully enjoy them. Loved the food! Temple of the Tooth next time for sure! Would love to go back to Sri Lanka and do a bigger loop around the country. One day :)

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