Exploring Sri Lanka – by Angela Schooling
If you have been following me on twitter closely, you would know that I am taking part in a cheerleading competition in one week’s time. Hence, I have been very busy with all the trainings everyday.
Today, I have specially prepared a travel post by Angela Schooling (see her blog) for all of you. Angela is a social media consultant for Labrador Seafood and House by Dempsey. She is a very kind and friendly lady who loves to take photographs. When I first met her, she just came back from Sri Lanka and was raving about how lovely the country was (not forgetting the very cheap and delicious appam she ate). I thought, why not invite her to do a guest post?
So here, I present to you the guest post of Angela Schooling. Her photos are indeed lovely. Trust me, after reading it, you would want to book a flight to Sri Lanka straightaway 🙂
Preamble: I was surprised (but secretly pleased) that Maureen of the informative Singapore foodblog, Miss Tam Chiak, asked me to guest post ☺ So flattered but also afraid because I had no idea what to write about the travelogue. She reminded me of my recent visit to Sri Lanka, so here it is! A bit long but hope it’s informative for all. Happy reading!
The first time I visited Sri Lanka was in 2004 for work, which didn’t allow me time to have a good look around the island. From what I saw though, it made me want to return to this beautiful emerald isle in the Indian Ocean. I was struck by the view of the beautiful Indian Ocean and the city coast lined with coconut trees, swaying in the gentle ocean breeze as the locals played cricket on the sandy field facing the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo. That view has stayed with me for a long while.
So what prompted a visit after such a long hiatus? For one, there are no more travel warnings and news of suicide bombings and two, the very interesting 10-day Kandy Esahala Perahera festival (or the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha festival) in Kandy!
Being a recce trip of sorts, we decided to push ourselves to see as many things and places in this compressed time frame but I wouldn’t advise doing this. What seems like a short distance on paper turns out to be longer than it appears because of the winding and narrow roads as well as the traffic. Focus on a couple of places and use those as the base to explore the surrounding areas.
The trip itinerary was planned by the friendly and accommodating Sri Lanka Express team, a subsidiary of Hornbill Tours of Sri Lanka. Our 6-day tour included Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Galle and Colombo, all with a driver cum tour guide that brought us around in a lovely and spacious Toyota Hiace.
Our Sri Lanka adventure began when our Cathay Pacific flight landed in the inky darkness of the night at the Bandaranaike Airport. Smooth immigration and customs clearance saw us quickly at the airport entrance where we were swiftly greeted by Mr. Harrison, our driver. Note: It’s still difficult to get Sri Lankan rupees in Singapore so be sure to bring your Singapore dollars (or other foreign currency) and have it changed at the airport money-changers.
We spent the night at the Dolphin Hotel in Waikkala, a little town just 20 km from the airport. If you have a bit more time, spend a couple of days at this lazy resort because you wouldn’t want to miss out on the beautiful beach.
We then headed to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, which is half-way between Kandy and Colombo. The drive is a little long (about two and a half to three hours, depending on traffic) but worth the visit as you get to see elephants interacting with their mahouts (handlers), babies playing with the herd and even elephant bath time used as a backdrop for Sri Lankan wedding shoots!
Established in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife department, the orphanage is spread out on 24 acres of a lovely coconut grove. Apparently, it has the greatest herd of elephants in captivity in the world. I’m glad the Sri Lankan wildlife department has taken this step to establish an orphanage, thereby enabling orphaned babies to grow up in a relatively ‘safe’ environment, away from poachers. They also take in orphaned injured elephants and one particular elephant caught my attention for it was a victim of a landmine. It’s well looked after and highly intelligent – its trunk tapped on my husband’s bag containing besides camera equipment, three bananas! What a ‘nose’ for food ☺
The highlight of this trip was really the Kandy Esahala Perahera, or the Tooth Relic Buddha Festival. Happening in July or August in Kandy, it is a Buddhist festival consisting of dances and richly-decorated elephants. While the event begins at roughly 8 pm in the evening, we were told to be seated at 5.00 pm at our allotted seats because the roads leading to our venue would be closed to traffic from 5.30 pm. Mr. Harrison our guide mentioned that some of the locals who received free tickets would be there from 8.30 am in the morning, just to get a good view of the evening festivities.
Talk about ‘kiasu’ but I can understand why. The parade was just magnificent – fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and various other cultural dances moved along the streets. The elephants used are adorned with lavish and highly decorated garments. Normally the largest elephant is paraded around the city bearing the tooth of Buddha. I would’ve loved to be one of the official photogs as they could get in close to the action and are able to take even more behind the scenes photos like the preparation for the festivities and the Buddhist prayers.
Exhausted but happy, we awoke later than usual to scout round the hillside town of Kandy. We explored the market with it’s great cacophony of traffic, people and street vendors. I wonder if it’s just as chaotic without a festival.
That’s when we also discovered the very reasonably priced Sri Lankan food. While roaming through the town centre taking pictures, we popped into Cornhill Bakers and Restaurant (opposite the Kandy bus station) to wolf down five ‘Teh Tarik Halia’, six plain hoppers, three egg hoppers and a couple of chicken pies all for the princely sum of S$5 that fed three people! Despite being extremely busy and a self-service restaurant, the very friendly staff is conversant in English and will gladly help you choose your food.
Throughout the towns in Sri Lanka, you’ll find advertisements for spa and ayurvedic massages. Be warned though – for those who like firm massages, Sri Lanka is not the place to come for this. We indulged in a little spa treatment but found that we needed a firmer touch, perhaps because we wanted to iron out the kinks of the long journey. Suffice to say, we are unlikely to put massage high on our to do list next time we visit!
Moving further up north after two days in Kandy, we landed in the cool tea country of Nuwara Eliya. Stopping by the Mackwoods Tea Plantation before arriving at our hotel, we were given a short tour of how tea was made before sitting down, to what else, tea and cake!
Reminiscent of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, we stayed at the lovely Grand Hotel who had a long history behind it. The friendly staff showed us round the hotel and the magnificent gardens with the Victoria Golf course as it’s neighbour. Apparently the hotel also grows it’s own veggies and supplies some of it to the surrounding hotels. We were told the best time to visit Nuwara Eliya is really in March/April which is the equivalent of Spring – it’s dry and sunny with little chance of rain.
We heard from one of the staff that a foreign consortium is looking into re-building the racecourse and to ‘re-vitalising’ it. What does that mean? Crass modern buildings and a deluge of gamblers? I hope not. The place is nice as it is, with the old post office, quaint town and beautiful weather. Then again, I’m not a business person.
After one night in Nuwara Eliya, we made our way back to Galle but not before stopping to take pictures of some of the many waterfalls in this a hilly region and again, having a spot of tea. Some of them are even being tapped for hydro-electric power. I hope the government is successful in pulling off a hydro dam – it would sure make for cheaper sustainable energy as well as not polluting our poor Earth!
Galle is everything you read in travel magazines, guide books and more. A UNESCO heritage site, the town is blessed with a wonderful old fort built by the Dutch. It’s very much like a Malacca but on a larger scale. We meandered through it and felt energized by the restoration that is currently taking place. Owners are lovingly trying to restore old houses and shops to what they once were while trying to discretely incorporate modern amenities.
Every turn in the fortified city’s small streets greet you with a surprise find – a shop chockfull of treasures, a beautiful temple, a lovely smile from a worker mending a roof. My travelling companions and I all agreed that the next visit to Sri Lanka would find ourselves in Galle so that we could explore this heritage town in greater detail.
The last day of our trip found us heading toward Colombo where we indulged in the Singaporean trait of shopping! On route to Colombo you’ll see fishing boats and fishermen bringing in their catch as well as stalls selling fresh produce. This happens both in the early morning and late evening and families throng to buy mackerel, tuna, prawns and squid to make their seafood curries. You might be lucky enough in the early morning to catch the sights of stilt fishermen!
Being pressed for time, we made a stop at Barefoot who sells a good variety of household items (tables, chairs and soft furnishings) as well as clothes, books and knick knacks. It’s deceiving entrance belies the fact that the shop house is three stories tall with a beautiful basement that rolls out into a deep garden courtyard.
I hear there is also a Noritake outlet that sells ‘seconds’ or discontinued ranges to the general public. Hm…perhaps one should get a business class ticket when visiting Sri Lanka!
We missed out seeing a few places but that means we get to visit something new on the next visit to this big island – it’s a nascent Bali and should be enjoyed before it becomes too crowded and commercial.
1. Sri Lanka has a lot to offer to both families and independent travelers, from wild life reserves to sandy beaches and cool mountain retreats, all promising stunning views. Schedule only two (or three places) per visit so as to enjoy your surroundings better.
2. Schedule shopping to the last couple of days in Colombo as the capital seems to have shops that cater to the international traveler. Some shops even arrange shipping for you.
3. Bring motion sickness pills if you are prone to motion sickness. Going to and coming down from the tea plantations are through some pretty winding roads!
4. Bring citronella/insect repellant spray if you are going to heading to the beach as it wards off mosquitoes and sandflies.
5. They have two monsoon seasons but I’ve been told the best time to visit Sri Lanka is between November – March when it is not so rainy and also cool.
About the Author
Angela is a freelance social media consultant/photographer/marketer who’s enjoying her freedom from the corporate world. She is also an experimental cook and avid traveler and always looks forward to the next trip as it usually isn’t for work! You can catch her on her blogpost, VisualBanquet.wordpress.com