Month: February 2018

A day and a night in colonial Galle

A day and a night in colonial Galle

Don’t ask me how it happened, but near the end of the trip, we realized we had one more day left than we thought. So the night before we were to leave Tangalle and head toward Colombo with a brief stop to see Galle, instead we booked a night there. And what a great decision that was, as the bus ride was a bit longer and less comfortable than we had expected.

Away from it all on the beaches of Tangalle

Our homestay in Galle

The bus station of Galle is just outside the old citadel, a short stroll or cheap tuktuk ride around the cricket stadium and you’re there. Hotels in Galle seemed to be quite pricey compared to other places we’d been, but there are cheaper options even inside the citadel. We chose to stay at Thenu Rest Guest House, a homestay with a couple of rooms on the top floor in a family home, with a restaurant and tea shop out front. The room was large and bright, and there was an outdoor space with sofas between the guest rooms. We especially loved the relaxed and filling breakfast outside, watching the town wake up. So much better than just a quick stop on the way to Colombo!

Is Colombo worth your time?

What to see in Galle

Galle was like no other place we’d seen in Sri Lanka. The old citadel was built in the colonial times by the portuguese, and all the buildings are low and white, the streets narrow and not much traffic. It’s possible to get up on the old city wall and walk around it. From up there, we saw a swimming school for the local kids. There is a small beach, but I think it’d be nicer to make the short trip over to Unawatuna for visitors who crave some beach time. It’s also possible to look down into the cricket stadium from up the city wall, if you’re not prepared to go inside to watch a full game.

We enjoyed strolling around the old streets, popping into the little shops and galleries. Much of the old center is set up for tourism, but we did need to get some souvenir and postcard shopping done so we quite enjoyed it. Especially after dark, the places lit up and there was music in the streets, and we got some very expensive ice cream and just looked at everything. Pretty neat.

Kids playing cricket in Galle

The best kuththu I had

There are so many restaurants in Galle that look really good, and I could’ve stayed longer just to try some more of them. It should be said that we didn’t find any really cheap places in the citadel, so be prepared to splurge.

Being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka

We had lunch at a nice-looking place called Galle Things Roti, part of Galle Fort Hotel. The food was not too expensive, but drinks, water included, were about the same as food for some reason. We had a kuththu and a roti dish, and both were really really good. I would highly recommend this place for the food, but service was not good. There was one guy waiting tables and a few more cooking behind a counter, but the waiter could not have been less interested in doing his job and the others seemed to try and cover for him whenever they weren’t too busy in the kitchen.

Street in Galle

Would I recommend a stop in Galle?

Sure I would! Although, if you’re on a short trip and won’t be seeing much of Sri Lanka, you should know that this town is nothing like the rest of it. We felt like it was nice to eat westernized food and shop for souvenirs at the end of our trip, having recently recovered from a light food-poisoning, but it is a bit of a shock coming from out in the sticks. I did really appreciate that we still managed to get the homestay experience inside the citadel.

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Here’s our two week itinerary!

Lighthouses in Galle, Sri Lanka
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Away from it all on the beaches of Tangalle

Away from it all on the beaches of Tangalle

When you read about the beaches of Sri Lanka, Tangalle might not always be at the top of the list. However, that only means that everyone else that read the same articles aren’t also going to be there when you arrive, doesn’t it? I’m notoriously bad at actually ending up at the beaches of the beach destinations I go to. There’s something about the mountains that always seems to catch my attention, and all of a sudden the vacation is over and I get back to the office without a trace of a tan, not counting the burned up nose and lips that high altitude will bless you with.

When we planned the Sri Lanka vacation, we knew that we would have to schedule a few beach days in there at the end, and so we arrived without a plan for where to go along the coast, that’s sprinkled with beach destinations. The obvious ones seemed to be Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa and Mirissa, but we were in peak season and simply decided to play a game of Booking.com roulette and let availability at a top-rated yet affordable property decide for us. And I’m so glad we did!

Bus on the road

Getting to Tangalle from Udawalawe

Close encounter with elephants at Udawalawe National Park

We’d spent the night before in Udawalawe, waking up before dawn for a safari, and returned for a very late breakfast just before noon. Then we were ready to work our way toward the coast, which turned out to be very easy. The nice manager of our hotel helped us stop a bus on the main road, and we made the short half-hour hop to Embilipitiya, the nearest larger town which also serves as a transport hub. We didn’t see a bus for Tangalle, but a friendly attendant at the station pointed us toward another connection to Galle that would pass through there.

As our accommodation was a short hike out of the center of town we stayed on the bus past the station in Tangalle and were lucky enough to be dropped very close to where we were headed. I’m sure a taxi could’ve done the job much faster and less sweaty, but I find the busrides in Sri Lanka genuinely enjoyable, not to mention a lot cheaper.

Our homestay in Tangalle

When we started looking for accommodation on the coast I was a bit disappointed, as all of the recommended places from the guidebooks were already fully booked and prices for average-looking bungalows were insane compared to what we had paid in other parts of the country, and, frankly, what they probably should’ve cost. But since we didn’t have a preferred location, other than near a beach, we could search for anything. And what we did find was Dinuri Villa, a newly built addition to a family home, that offered two or possibly three homestay rooms. If you’ve never had the chance to stay at a place that has a 9.7 average from 35 reviews on Booking.com, this may be it, because it’s also one of the cheapest places we could find.

The family that runs it was so friendly and attentive, and really happy to explain the local customs or answer any questions that we had. One question I asked almost every day in Sri Lanka was the dinner time regular “what vegetable is this?”, because there was no end to the new flavors. And Dinuri Villa was no exception, because the dinners there really were something else. We would get so many different bowls of curries and vegetables, and they were all so good that we had way too much and didn’t save room for, you guessed it, the desserts. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I failed to take a picture of any of this, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Same with the breakfasts, all delicious and SO much.

One of my favorite things was that we got to have dinner together with the other guest that was there at the time, a Japanese woman traveling alone, and those encounters always add something to the trip. I cannot recommend this place enough, and as they were adding a few more rooms to the homestay when we were there, I believe more people will get the chance in the future. All in all, we paid just over 18 000 LKR (at the time around 115 USD) for three nights in an airconditioned double room with private bath, three massive dinners and breakfasts for two people, a load of laundry and a lot of snacks in between meals. Not bad!

Check if it’s available when you’re going

Beach in Tangalle

The beaches of Tangalle

On the east side of town, there’s a long stretch of beach that’s lined with hotels and restaurants without seeming overly exploited. There’s a good mix of fishermen and tourists, and no massive package hotels but small ones with a few rooms each. Along part of the beach, breakwaters made of large rocks have been put up for a better swimming experience. We stayed on the west side, which also has a really nice beach, but it’s completely different.

There are a couple of local restaurants along the Pallikkaduwa beach, but for the most part it’s completely deserted. No one will bother you, and if you turn a corner, you’ll have it all to yourself. The waves are quite strong, as is the case all along the coast, but swimming is not a problem if you take it easy and don’t go too far out. There are many locals coming down here to swim, so just do what they do.

Monkey jumping in Tangalle

What else is there to do?

To be honest, we didn’t do much at all during our two days in Tangalle. Most of the guesthouses on the east side of town seemed to offer tours, such as whale watching in Mirissa and a safari day trip to Udawalawe, but we had already been to so many of those things, and needed to just kick back for a bit at the end of the trip. Instead, we just stayed on the beach, reading books, and taking long walks through town and out along the beach on the other side. It’s so nice to just have that time to pay attention to the surroundings, and stop to watch a pack of monkeys jump from tree to tree for half an hour.

I haven’t been to any other beach destination in Sri Lanka, but I would still recommend this one if you want a taste of local life along the coast and don’t need cocktail bars and surf shops.

Planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Check out our itinerary for two weeks

Pinnable image of Tangalle beach
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Close encounter with elephants at Udawalawe National Park

Close encounter with elephants at Udawalawe National Park

We had no plan as we left our homestay in Ella, but when we got down to the road a man approached us to offer a shared taxi to drop us at the door of our next accommodation. As the alternative had looked like three public buses, connecting at various major crossroads, we didn’t think twice about it. It took a couple of hours, which I’m guessing is a lot faster than the buses, giving us the afternoon free.

What to do on a day out in Ella

Udawalawe elephant orphanage

We had seen a sign on the road pointing toward an elephant orphanage, so off we went to get there by the next feeding time. There was one at noon and one at 3 pm, but probably one in the morning as well. Between feeding times visitors aren’t allowed, and even when they are, they will look at the elephants from a distance so that they don’t get disturbed.

Baby elephants

We watched the orphaned baby elephants eat and play, and also got to see an injured elephant with a prosthetic leg! The orphans are raised in the orphanage right next to Udawalawe National Park and released into the park once they’re old enough to take care of themselves.

Udawalawe safari truck

Safari: the main attraction

We spent the night in Udawalawe to be able to go on a very early safari. We got up before 5 am the following morning and were picked up by a driver who worked for our homestay. It was a pickup truck with covered seats in the back, and we didn’t share with anyone else. I think you probably can arrange a shared tour through a tour agency to save money, but most people we saw were alone in their truck.

We drove to the park in darkness and entered at 6 am when they opened and the sun started to rise. The first elephant we met was still half asleep, standing in the middle of the road!

Elephant on the road

We drove around the park for several hours, and the park is big enough that we were alone most of the time. The drivers talked to each other whenever they met another truck to exchange information on where to find animals.

We saw a lot of elephants up close, water buffalos, jackals, monkeys and lots of pretty birds that I don’t know the names of. We returned to the guest house after four hours, tired and happy and ready for a late breakfast before checkout!

Where we stayed

I would highly recommend our accommodation in Udawalawe, Mansala Safari Resort. It sounds fancy, but it’s really a homestay run by some lovely people. The room looked new and was very clean, and a steal at $20. This did not include meals, but they were happy to serve a delicious dinner and a huge local breakfast with eg hoppers and all you could wish for. We also arranged the safari with them on our arrival, which was very convenient.

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Here’s our two week itinerary!

Elephants in Udawalawe national park
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What to do on a day out in Ella

What to do on a day out in Ella

We spent a few days in Ella, and while we found the town itself a bit overrun by tourists, the countryside around it was just lovely. The views from just about anywhere are nothing short of spectacular, and you’ll meet friendly people anywhere you go. Here are some suggestions for what to do around Ella in one or several days.

The scenic but busy train ride from Kandy to Ella

Climbing Little Adam’s Peak

We set out after breakfast to climb the smallest peak, also known as Little Adam’s Peak, not to be confused with the actual Adam’s Peak located elsewhere on the island. It’s a very easy hike, the start of which is located on the Passara road going out from Ella. We were staying a bit out of town in that direction, but if you’re not, you may want to take a tuktuk.

You’re unlikely to be alone one the walk, so just follow all the other people and a few signs pointing toward the summit. The walk passes through tea plantations, and we saw a lot of trash that had been left behind by tourists, and some tourists that were walking up really close to the workers taking pictures of them. That seemed terribly disrespectful, please don’t be that person.

View from Little Adams Peak in Ella

The views over Ella Rock from the top were really great, and we also got some good views from the way up. We would’ve liked to climb the big one, but as it had been raining a lot in the days before we were worried the trail might be too slippery. I’m sure your accommodation or a tour operator in Ella can tell you about the conditions.

Lunch with a view

When we got back down to Passara road we wanted to get lunch, and sat down at the excellent Adam’s breeze restaurant, on a large porch overlooking a valley. The food was cheap, good and filling. I would especially recommend the koththu roti.

Being a vegetarian in Sri Lanka

Tea factory visit

We went to the tea factory closest to Ella Town, Newburgh Green Tea Factory, which offered a factory tour and a tasting for 500 rupies. The tour was a bit of a whirlwind through the factory, by a guide who seemed to be doing the same thing hundreds of times in a day and didn’t seem very passionate about it, to say the least. And for the tasting, we were pretty much served a cup of tea in the factory gift shop and that was that.

I can’t say this came as a complete surprise to us, and if you really want a quick idea of what a the factories might look like on the inside, this is a good option. I did however read some better reviews about other places around Ella, so maybe if you’re really into tea you could try one of those out. My favorite thing about the tea plantations is the view over the bushes from a hill overlooking them, which you can get anywhere around Ella. Just go for a walk!

Colorful hindu temple

Walking to Demodara Nine Arch Bridge

The Nine Arches Bridge is reached from another turn-off from Passara Road, a little bit longer out of town but not far from the way up Little Adam’s Peak, by a very pretty roadside temple that lets you take pictures for a donation.

Follow the road downhill until it ends in a path, and continue going down toward the bridge. The path gets very slippery when it’s wet, but there are trees to hold on to so just take it easy. There are some cafés up the hill that claim to have the best view of the bridge, we didn’t check it out but I’m sure there’s some truth to it.

There aren’t so many trains passing, so it’s safe to walk across the bridge to the other side. We also continued through the tunnel and along the tracks on the other side, all the way around to Ella station in a half hour or so. It’s easy to walk along the tracks, most of the time on the side, just make sure you listen for trains! Do note that it’s not allowed to walk on the tracks, although many people do it.

Demodara Nine Arch Bridge

Where to stay in Ella

Before we arrived, we really struggled to understand in which area we would like to stay. Most accommodation is spread out around the town, so we decided to stay along the Passara road toward the start of the hike to Little Adam’s Peak and other attractions. I’m happy we did, as that saved us time in the morning, and we were still close enough to the center of town to walk there for dinner and shopping. There are plenty of homestays, and I’d recommend to book in advance in the busy season as most places seemed full.

We stayed at Mama Cottage, a homestay with a few guest rooms run by Mama, who is quite the character. She doesn’t speak a lot of English, but she still talks a lot, and she does serve great tea and breakfast in the morning. Rooms were $30 for a double with breakfast.

From Ella, we went on to Udawalawe National Park for a safari

Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Here’s our two week itinerary!

View over Ella
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