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Published: June 12th 2017
Ah, back in the tropics once again
The beautiful Bentota beach, palm trees galore.
It's been a while since my last blog, that pesky thing called work got in the way for a while but having dispensed with Corporate life for a few months over the summer, it was time to hit the airport once again. Destination of choice this time was the tropical isle of Sri Lanka.
On arrival at Colombo airport we were firstly impressed by the splendid choice of arrival duty free. It seems in Sri Lanka that the airport is the place to buy your domestic appliances, there were many shops full of fridges, washing machines etc. I did toy with the idea of picking up a new microwave but thought I’d leave it for now. After meeting our driver, we drove south through the suburbs of Colombo and then hit the new Southern Expressway heading for our first destination, the beach town of Bentota.
My first impression of the island was how beautifully lush and green it was, the island was swathed in palm trees and other flora. We arrived in the small coastal town of Bentota and checked into our beachfront hotel for a few days relaxation. The hotel we stayed in was one of the many
Bawa in Bentota
Our hotel designed by Geoffrey Bawa, a famous Sri Lankan architect. One of the main forces behind what is know as 'Tropical Modernism', very stylish indeed, I'm a big fan.
on the island designed by the renown Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa known for championing the style of ‘Tropical modernism’. I confess I hadn’t heard of him before I went to Sri Lanka but as we travelled around the country we would come across many other examples of his fine work.
After settling in it was time to relax and a lot of time was spent just lazing by the pool or walking along the beach and of course partaking in a few refreshing G+Ts at sunset. There isn’t much more to do in Bentota apart from the usual beach stuff, but as that is what we were after it was lovely. However, one afternoon while trying to nap I was rudely awakened by a very loud chirping noise which I first thought was a bird, but on closer inspection of the nearby Frangipani tree I noticed a chipmunk who was making the loud noise. Christening him ‘Brian’ we were delighted with our new friend and even more delighted when every time we checked into a new hotel, Brian would pop up and say hello, how sweet.
After a few days relaxing it was time to move to
We met Brian the chipmunk in Bentota and were pleased that he seemed to have followed us around the country as we saw he at all the other hotels.
our next location. En route we stopped in the town of Ambalangoda to visit the Ariyapala Mask museum. This interesting little museum also has some workshops where locals still make masks and a rather good gift shop. The masks are traditional to the Karava people who live in the south and the west of the country and are used in traditional Kolam dances. Also, more interestingly to me, they have many masks used to treat illness and disease. Certainly an alternative therapy if ever I heard of one! For example, if you are suffering a bad case of Furuncles (that’s boils to you) someone would put on the mask specific for curing furuncles and do a dance outside your house to drive away the evil spirits causing them, interesting…
With our mask education complete, we got back in the car and headed to our hotel. We had booked to stay south of Galle but on arrival at our hotel it turned out there was a leak in the swimming pool. Initial disappointment soon disappeared as we were offered an alternative hotel just north of Galle which turned out to be a much better hotel and location, result! The new
Bentota beach stretches on and on
hotel was also designed by Geoffrey Bawa and we even saw Brian within a few minutes of arrival, he was good at navigation that chipmunk!
The next day we took a tuk tuk and headed into Galle for an explore. The town comprises the old Dutch quarter which is within the fort walls and then the new town outside of the ramparts. We were dropped off by Galle International Cricket stadium which is located just outside the main gate of the fort. Our tuk tuk driver informed us that the English supporters known as the ‘Barmy Army’ usually invade the fort and sit on the walls to watch the games. I have to say, having seen the ground I would love to go back one day and watch a game there, it is a beautiful ground next to the fort and Indian ocean.
Cricket appreciation ‘over’ (get it?) we headed through the main gate and took a walk around the fort and town. The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1589, then the Dutch took it over and extended it in 1640, then the British were in charge after 1796 and now it is back in the
The mangroves provide some welcome relief from the hot sun
hands of its rightful owners. The fortifications were certainly well built though, they a saved the old town during the tsunami and so most of it is very well preserved.
We took a walk through the old gate and around the many ramparts which surround the fort. At the southern end of the fort there is Flag Rock where locals jump off the high rock into the sea for the entertainment of the tourists. There is also a light house at Point Utrecht and if you walk around to Triton Bastion you will usually catch locals playing a game of cricket on the green.
After a lovely stroll, we ended back where we started at the main gate having circumnavigated the fort and so by this point we headed into the town for a look at the shops and some refreshment. The fort is absolutely lovely with many fine examples of Colonial architecture, lovely shops, beautiful hotels and yummy restaurants, I loved it. We finished the day with a lovely curry in a cute little rooftop restaurant overlooking Point Utrecht, delightful.
The next day after a morning swim, we headed south of Galle to the more touristy
If only I were on Instagram #YogaOnTheBeach
This would be the perfect place to pose for some yoga shots if you were that way inclined.
town of Unawatuna. The small town is about as close as we came to a backpacker town with lots of bars and restaurants lining the beach. The beach is usually famed for watersports and snorkelling however we were on the west coast at the wrong time of the year and so the sea was a little wild for swimming. After a few hours, we headed back to the hotel, by this point we had already established ourselves as regulars in the ‘Coat of Arms’ bar in the hotel they were offering us discounts on our gin for cash, nice.
We had decided the next morning to visit a turtle sanctuary five minutes walk away from the hotel. It wasn’t a large operation but the work of one family who are trying to help conserve the turtles who lay eggs on their bit of beach. The Sea Turtle Hatchery Centre in Mahamoda is worth a visit if you are ever in Galle. They look after a range of different types of turtles, some which have been rescued and some which they have hatched from eggs ready to release them into the sea. They also look after some turtles which can’t
be released back into the wild. The owners were really sweet and informative and if you want you can hold the turtles. Although we didn’t, if you go at sunset you can help them release the baby turtles into the sea, well worth a visit.
Sri Lanka is famous for its Ayurvedic medicine and spa treatments so in the spirit of ‘When in Rome’ I thought I better give it a go and booked myself a treatment in the hotel spa. I opted for the ‘Lepana’ treatment which claims to ‘use herbal properties to draw away impurities, exfoliate the skin and leave the skin cleansed, toned and revitalized’. After a rub down with some oils, the therapist then rubbed on some seasoning, wrapped me in Clingfilm and a towel and left me to marinate for about half an hour. I have to say after the treatment my skin did feel much nicer and it was very relaxing, I definitely lost 2 stone and looked 10 years younger after it. We headed back into Galle for the evening and had a drink in the beautiful Galle Fort Hotel, the swizzle sticks in the G+Ts have elephants on them (of course
I stole one) and they bring you free chicken nuggets with your drinks, awesome!
Before going out to Sri Lanka, a Sri Lankan friend of mine had given me a list of foods to try and on the list was Kottu Roti, a dish made up of leftover bread, chicken and other things. So that evening I tried the dish and OMG!!! It is absolutely delicious, I stuffed myself stupid with it, I think I almost like it as much as I like chicken fried rice, if you ever see it on a menu, give it a go. Sadly our time in Galle came to an end, hopefully one day I’ll go back and watch a cricket match there, it is such a beautiful place. We now had a long drive to our next destination, Nuwara Eliya in the central tea country. We had hired a driver and had a seven hour trip ahead of us heading north then east and finally climbing up to around 1800m and our hotel in a converted tea factory. Although a long drive the trip was interesting and there was always something to look at. Most Sri Lankan school children look magically pristine
Bow to the King and Queen
The King and Queen costumes of the traditional Kolam plays of the south. Seen in the the very interesting Ambalangoda Mask museum.
in bright, white school uniforms, I’ve no idea how they keep them so clean. And if you are ever bored in a car in Sri Lanka it is always fun looking at the different slogans that adorn the backs of the multitudes of tuk tuks in the country such as one I saw ‘Don’t squeeze the cheeks’, what that means, I’ve no idea..
The landscape slowly changed from lush, tropical palm trees to something akin to Snowdonia and eventually to the neat, green, tidy rows of the tea plantations. The town of Nuwara Eliya is known as ‘Little England’ and was established by the British in the 19th
century as a place to escape the heat and humidity of the rest of the island. We weren’t actually staying in the town but in a converted tea factory which is now a hotel, located about 30 minutes drive from the town.
Arriving at the tea factory wasn’t a disappointment, although it is hidden away down a long track the position is absolutely stunning, perched high up in the mountains overlooking the Hethersett tea plantation. As we checked in we were offered a nice cup of tea and asked if
In memory of the tsunami
Paid for by the Japanese. The huge Buddha statue, known as Tsunami Honganji Vihara, is in the hamlet of Peraliya, north of Hikkaduwa.
we wished to book the railway car restaurant for that evening as there were limited spaces. The hotel is beautiful and they have retained many of the original features of the tea factory including lots of the factory machinery which is switched on for half an hour each day before dinner, it’s quite a sight.
Dinner that evening was in a converted 1930s third class railway carriage known as ‘TCK 6685’ located at the rear of the hotel. Boarding starts at 7.30pm sharp and the journey cannot commence until all passengers are seated in the carriage, so don’t be late! The fine dining experience starts with the chef talking your orders and then the waiter is dressed as a railway guard and takes you on your culinary journey for the rest of the evening. The guard/waiter was absolutely hilarious and played his part to perfection, even pretending the carriage was moving as he poured the wine and served the food, you really felt like you were on a train, it was such a fun experience and I think the guard enjoys it as much as the customers do, all aboard!
After a delicious breakfast the next morning we
I don't like cricket, oh no, I love it.
Galle International cricket stadium viewed from the walls of Galle Fort. What a wonderful place to watch cricket, I must come back one day for a game.
headed into Nuwara Eliya for a look at the town, it is a very odd mix of houses that wouldn’t look out of place in Surrey and Sri Lankan buildings. It was quite pleasant to be in a cooler atmosphere and I can understand why it is a popular place to relax, there are many things to do such as golf, horse racing, hiking and a boating lake. Being in tea country means that you should take a tour around a tea factory. Over the last couple of years I’ve visited a lot of coffee plantations on my travels and so it was a nice change to be in tea country. As we were already in a tea factory, we opted to do our tea tour and tasking back at the hotel in the afternoon rather than visit another tea factory. The hotel has a mini working tea factory on the grounds and of course lots of tea so we signed up for the tour. As it began we were taken to the factory and ushered into a side room and presented with our tea picking outfits, I chose a lovely green sari and with a lot of help, started
Welcome to Galle
The Old Gate of Galle Fort, seems we Brits left our mark on the old fort walls with a coat of arms still above the gate.
to look the part of a tea picker. Presented with our baskets to wear on our heads we were given some instruction on which are the best leaves to pick (the top three light green leaves make the best tea) and let loose on the bushes.
I think I was starting to get the hang of it but the hard part is throwing the leaves you have picked over your head and getting them into the basket, those people who have played Korfball with me will know I never did have the best shot and this was no better, I missed quite a few. In the end I did manage to pick a reasonable amount and once the guide decided we had all worked hard enough we were allowed to stop and heading inside to the tea factory to see how they process the leaves.
In any coffee producing country I have visited, each one claims they make the best coffee in the world, in the same vein Sri Lanka claims it produces the best tea in the world. I’m not qualified to judge but the tea in Sri Lanka certainly is very nice and after our tea
The Dutch Hospital
Now a bit of a fancy shopping area but the buildings still look lovely
picking we had a lesson in tea tasting. The key to tea tasting is basically slurp it as loud as you can, not too hard really, one can easily forget one’s table manners if required. We tasted four types of tea produced on the estate and all were very tasty although I think I’ll be sticking with my cheap tea bags for now.
The next day it was time to leave tea country and head to the city of Kandy, on checking out of the tea factory we were presented with a package of tea that we had picked which was a nice touch. Fortunately, we had decided not to drive to Kandy but instead were catching the train. The station serving Nuwara Eliya is called Nanu Oya and is located a short drive from the town. The journey is just under four hours long but is one of the more spectacular train journeys in the world. I had booked first class tickets as it was an air-conditioned carriage. However, the second class carriage is probably better to sit in as the windows are much bigger and you can open them and enjoy the view more. Also, going from
The Port Utrecht bastion
With the Lighthouse and Meeran Mosque close by. The fort was built by the Portuguese, then the Dutch arrived then the British took it over, a complex history but I'm glad the Sri Lankans get to enjoy it now.
Nuwara Eliya to Kandy rather than the other way around, the train was a lot less busy so you could move around easily if you want to.
The journey itself was lovely, the train slowly meanders down the mountains through the tea plantations, stopping at tiny little hill stations which are beautifully kept. The views are stunning and the landscape slowly changes from tea to pine forests and then finally back to tropical palm trees as you enter Kandy. It was a very enjoyable trip, very cheap and easy to do, I’d certainly like to take more trains if ever I went back to Sri Lanka. Arriving in the city of Kandy, we had a quick transfer to our next hotel and guess who was there to meet us? It was Brian, frolicking on the roof by our hotel, he does get around.
The city is nestled among lush, green hills and radiates out from Kandy lake and the Sacred Temple of the Tooth, one of Sri Lanka’s most sacred places. Our hotel was perched on a hill opposite the Temple of the Tooth and gave great views over the lake and also in the distance to the
The Moon Bastion and clock tower Galle
According to our Tuk tuk driver, the Barmy Army (English cricket fans) are to be found sitting up here watching the game, howzat!
Knuckles mountain range, so called as it looks like a clenched fist and for once this is an accurate description as it really does look like a fist.
After an excess of temples and Buddhas in Myanmar last year, visiting temples and Buddhas was not high on the list this year but as we were so close to it in Kandy a visit to the Temple of the Tooth was in order. The temple houses the most important Buddhist relic of Sri Lanka, the Buddha’s tooth. The temple is located in the heart of the city and next to Kandy lake. The tooth arrived in Kandy in 1592 and has been there ever since. It’s not possible to see the actual tooth as it is housed in a gold stupa like casket but you can get a glimpse of the gold casket at certain times of the day. There is also a stuffed elephant on display, Raja, who used to carry the Tooth Relic during religious ceremonies for 50 years, in honour of his service they stuffed him. On a happier note we did see some living elephants in the grounds of the temple, I wonder if they are
The Galle Library and Amangalla hotel within the old fort walls, lovely.
on the same career path?
Later that day we decided to take in a bit of culture and went to watch a Kandyan dance show. The show started off with some magnificent drumming and then lots of amazing dancing, beautiful costumes and even some plate spinning. The finale was a demonstration of fire walking which was quite impressive but I’m glad they didn’t ask for volunteers. The show finished at gin o’clock so we hightailed it to the Queens hotel for a drink at their lovely bar, Sri Lanka has a lot of very nice hotel bars which are perfect for your evening G+T, well you have to up your quinine intake in the tropics.
The next day I’d booked a car to take me to Sigiriya Rock, also known as the Lion Rock. The rock is about 2 and a half hours drive from Kandy, just north of the town of Dambulla. The advice is to get climb the rock early however I couldn’t be bothered to get up that early and so arrive there about 11am, just in time for the midday sun! Getting out of the air-conditioned car I realised that it was a lot
Another day another beach..
Unawatuna beach south of Galle. A bit of a back packer haunt but worth a visit.
hotter in Sigiriya than it had been at Kandy, probably about 35C, just as well I had my hat on. The rock rises 200m out of the jungle and is rather spectacular. King Kasyapa built a fort on top of the rock in AD 477 to hide from his half brother (families eh!). The rock was decorated with a brick lion but now only the paws remain, it must have been extremely impressive at its peak.
To get to the top of the rock you have to climb 1200 steps, not so bad but then in such heat, it was a little more trying. The route takes you past the Mirror Wall, which used to be polished to a brilliant shine and then if you navigate the scary spiral staircases you can see a selection of frescoes dating from the 5th
century. I carried on up and finally made it to the summit and it was well worth the effort, the views were amazing. By now it was rather hot and all the sensible people had gone home but that meant the fort on the top was practically empty so I could enjoy the site and the sights. Heading
Best bar snack ever!
They brought us chicken nuggets with our cocktails at the Galle Fort Hotel, yes, chicken nuggets, what a place!
back down was a bit easier and I made it back to the car to enjoy the AC and a nice rest on the journey home and then more delicious Kottu Roti for dinner that evening.
We were nearly at the end of our journey but had a couple of fun things left on the agenda. We had to get back to Colombo and so intended to do so in style. We were taking a sea plane from Kandy to Colombo, a quick 30 minute hop as oppose to a 4 hour car ride. Take off was from the Polgolla reservoir just outside of Kandy and as our taxi approached the airport I realised there wasn’t going to be any duty free. It was basically a jetty and a bench, thankfully it wasn’t raining so we didn’t get wet waiting for the plane. We checked our bags in (they weighed them by hand) and along with our fellow passengers (there were 6 of us) boarded our Cessna 208. I love flying and so this was a particular treat for me and it did not disappoint, it was so much fun taking off on water and as I was sitting
A hawksbill turtle at the Sea Turtle Hatchery Centre in Mahamoda just north of Galle. A great little place dong lots of good work to help the turtles survive.
behind the pilot I got amazing views. It really is a marvellous way to see the country although we did run into a bit of cloud at one point but we had a smooth landing in Colombo, I was grinning the entire flight, it was fantastic.
And so our last night in Sri Lanka, still we were staying at the Galle Face Hotel, one of the finest in the city and with many great traditions. The hotel is in the Colonial style and at dusk a piper starts to play as they march to the flag pole on the edge of the Indian Ocean and take down the Sri Lankan flag for the day, the place to be at dusk in Colombo, even Brian made it. A great way to end the trip, Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, lovely people, lovely food, lovely beaches and they love cricket, what’s not to like, oh how I miss the Kottu Roti.
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