What a difference 1.5 hours makes. Upon arriving in Sri Lanka we were greeted by the loveliest taxi driver ever, were presented with a modern car that wasn’t filthy and clapped out, and a pristine country that was clean, green, and gorgeous. Our first impression of Sri Lanka (country number 46 on our long long list) was the best first impression of any country we had ever been to!
Our first stop was the historical city of Kandy, about 2.5 hours train ride from Colombo, where we stayed the first night as our flight arrived late in the afternoon. We had planned to go to Nuwara Eliya first, however thanks to booked out trains we had to swap our plans around.
The train ride was stunning. We had booked 250Rs 2nd class seats as we had heard that you could fully open the windows and get a better view, which was entirely true. The green scenery flashed past and the trip was over in no time. A quick 200Rs tuktuk ride from the train station got us to our hotel, which was about a 25 minute walk from town, and featured amazing views across the valley.
Kandy is quite a pretty city, with a large man made lake to one side that provided a very picturesque setting. There were a couple of attractions, most of which we avoided due to the outrageous costs (by Sri Lankan standards) such as the Temple of the Tooth for 1500Rs each. We were keen to visit the museum, but it was closed for 3 months. But fortunately walking around town and exploring the streets and markets kept us very entertained for 2 days. We also took a quick trek up a hill to a giant buddha statue that gave great views over the city.
One attraction that we did pay for was the Rs 1,100 botanical gardens. They are located about 6km from Kandy and provided a much needed quiet space full of different species of plants, trees, grasses and birds. Scorpions, snakes and bats were also present, making us somewhat aware of sitting on the grass. One of the long pine avenues acted as a nesting area for the huge bats, resulting in a deafening sound while walking through. The trees were covered in them, and a worker at the gardens decided to show them off by making loud noises causing hundreds of them to fly around. We decided to get a local bus back, as our attempt at walking there failed due to the heat making us flag down a tuktuk to take us the final 3km. At Rs15 it was comfortable and cool (thanks to the fans and open windows). Much better than tuktuks at 10-15 times the price plus aggressive drivers/touts trying to sell you everything as they take you to your destination!
There were 3 things that surprised us most about Sri Lanka. One was how clean it was, especially after coming from Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The second was the abundance of delicious bakeries. They were everywhere, and always stocked full of varying pastries, sandwiches and bread related goodness. And finally the Sri Lankan curry and rice was totally unexpected. Unlike its Indian equivalent, it was a bed of rice with varying toppings that you mixed in and ate, but unlike Indian it had very little sauce.
On our final day we decided to take a trip to Sigirya, a large rock with an old fort on top. It took 2.5 hours to get to Dambulla by public bus, a town closeby. It was then another 30 minutes bus ride to the rock. But unfortunately the buses only ran every hour, and we had just missed one. So, despite feeling rather ill after the bus trip, we had a quick lunch and decided to visit the nearby rock temple instead (a decision that was justified as the heavens opened and trapped us in the temple for about an hour!). The temple was beautiful…located in a hill and built into a cliff face, there were several rooms with old statues of buddha and lots of paintings on the walls. It was a beautiful place, as long as you don’t leave your bag unattended so that it gets ransacked by the monkeys!
Other than the extreme heat and aggressive touts (they really were awful, and would chase you down the road sometimes demanding you use them as a guide, or to go into their shop) we enjoyed Kandy. It was very picturesque, and our hotel with a lovely rooftop and private balcony provided just the relaxation we needed. Next up was Nuwara Eliya, billed as little England with tea plantations and cooler climate. But more importantly: a spectacular train trip!