05.01.2016

TWO WEEKS IN SRI LANKA

TWO WEEKS IN SRI LANKA, Beyhan Ünal | 05.01.2016

Have you chosen Sri Lanka for a vacation? You have made the right decision! You are about to go to a unique country that has beautiful nature as well as fascinating people and culture.

First of all I should give you a few details about the country.

Sri Lanka, which was previously known as Ceylon, was a colony of the Netherlands until close to the end of the 18th century, having previously been under Portuguese control, and lastly Great Britain’s colony from 1796 until the country achieved independence in 1948.

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, which was founded on an island south of India in the shape of a teardrop, has a land area of 65,610 km2, and a population of almost 20 million.

Sinhalese, Tamil, and English are the languages spoken in the country, English being the language widely spoken in the bigger cities.

The country, which is thought to be the place where Buddhism was born and from where it spread throughout the world, is 70% Buddhist, 15% Hindu, 8% Christian, and 7% Muslim. The literacy rate within the country is 81%.

Sri Lanka is famous for its textile industry, tea, spices, and precious and semi-precious stones. You can buy precious stones and especially blue sapphire, which is famous in the island, for affordable prices. The economy of the country is more dependent on agriculture. Tea, rubber, and coconut are the main sources of income. The country is the world’s third-largest producer of tea. Another important product is rice. The currency of the country is the rupee.

The island has a tropical climate which is hot and humid; however the effect of this is lessened due to a constant breeze. Average temperature during the year is between 27-31 degrees. There are monsoon rains in the northeast between December and March, and in the southwest between April and June.

Almost the whole island is covered with tropical forests. In the forest areas elephants, leopards, bears, several species of monkeys, deer, wild boars, antelopes, crocodiles, pythons, cobras, vipers, and many types of birds can be seen. You will get to see iguanas and monkeys everywhere during your trip.

The country has good land and sea-based transport links Numerous international air flights arrive to and depart from Colombo.

While thinking about where to go for my winter vacation in 2014, because I am a fan of nature and culture I chose Sri Lanka, which I had heard was a beautiful and untouched island, and began my preparations for the trip... I was on my own doing my research as I did not know many people who had been to this beautiful country. I will share with you everything I know as well as my opinions, so you are not on your own as I was.

Do not worry if it is safe to travel to Sri Lanka. The effect of Buddhism is felt intensely in the island. The people are generally trustworthy, cheerful, and very calm, but of course do not forget about taking precautions.

You do not need any vaccinations before your trip as you will not encounter too many flies or insects.

Even though you will be mainly packing summer clothes in your suitcase, if you are going to go to high places like Nuwara Eliya and Kandy you should take a few long-sleeved tops and full-length pants with you.

You can take either euros or US dollars with you You may exchange your currency at the airport as there aren’t that many exchange offices around elsewhere and the rates do not vary too much.

You may take some candy and some clothes that you would like to give away during the trip with you. You will see many destitute people and children on the island; you may want to make some of them happy.

I would advise you to enter a few homes, see the living spaces, and talk to the locals with your guide. Most of the people know enough English to make themselves understood, they are warm and kind-hearted and they do not have many taboos or prohibitions.

I would also advise you participate in a funeral and a marriage ceremony with the help of your guide. You will very likely get to see some because the population is so high.

In the funeral ceremony that we attended thanks to our guide, we were welcomed very positively and cheerfully. They were not bothered by us taking photographs, they even liked it. The deceased was to be kept in this room for two days for visitors, then the body would be cremated and the ashes would be delivered to the family. After saying our prayers, we left the funeral.

The food is generally spicy and hot but it is definitely very tasty, you should try it. Because the hotel that you will be staying in will have world cuisine, you can eat very delicious food there either a la carte or banquet service. The hotels are generally bed and breakfast, and the breakfasts are very satisfying.

If you are not going to go to Sri Lanka with a tour or through agency I would advise you to firstly find a local guide and a driver. This is due to the fact that even though the roads in the country are good, they are not two-way roads and the traffic drives on the left, which means that renting a car may not be the best idea. Also you can rent drivers and guides for very affordable prices. Many hotels let your guide and driver stay at the hotel free of charge. The guide that you arrange can take you from Colombo Airport, be with you for the whole trip and then leave you at the airport on your last day.

There are nine regions and 25 cities in the country. The cities that I visited and ones I would advise you to go to are Colombo, Habarana, Nuwara Eliya, Yala and Beruwala or Bentota on the coast. I would advise you to stay at the Cinnamon hotels which are around the whole island; they are very clean and beautiful hotels.

You can have your trip planned shortly like this:

COLOMBO (1-2 DAYS)

On the first day, after landing in Colombo, which is Sri Lanka’s capital and one of the biggest artificial harbors in the world, take the time to see the city. Among the places you should see in Colombo, I would say the Harbor comes first, then the Clock Tower, Parliament Building, York Avenue, Chattam Avenue, and Galle Road follow after that. You may visit the large wood and batik stores to buy souvenirs here. There is a 20% room for negotiation in most stores; however some larger stores do not haggle. O-DEIL is a chain of stores which you can find most things in. You will see many of these stores, in which you can buy country-specific souvenirs, throughout Colombo.

There are large restaurants where you can enjoy great food in the city. The Gallery Cafe is one of them. Colombo is an ideal spot for entertainment and nightlife. You can have some fun at the Zanzibar or Clancy nightclubs.

If you wish to stay in the city you should keep the beautiful Cinnamon Grand Hotel in mind. You can witness a wedding every hour during the week in this hotel and get to see Sri Lanka’s local dances in these weddings.

Sri Lankan women generally wear the sari, which is made of a long cloth that is wrapped around the whole body, while men wear the sarong which is a type of skirt made of a shorter cloth. Even though the people are generally poor, their clothes are very colorful.

Outside of Colombo, the people generally live in colorful and cute single-floor houses that have sculpted wooden windows and doors which were built by the residents themselves in gardens. On all your trips between cities you will see these houses in the forests. Do not be fooled by how beautiful these houses look from the outside, the interiors are not as rich and elaborate as the exteriors. They pay more attention to the exteriors and their gardens compared to the interiors. Next to most houses there are the tuk tuks, which are the transportation vehicle of the locals. :)

HABARANA (2-3 DAYS)

Habarana is a car journey of around 3.5 hours from Colombo. Habarana is very close to the important ancient cities of Anuradhapura (60min), Polonnarawura (45min), Sigiraya/Dambulla (30min), and Ritigala (10min).

Do not let the length of the journey put you off; the roads are so green and beautiful that with your air-conditioned car you will not even notice how the hours go by. Travel with a vehicle that has a driver and/or guide, because the buses are not very good, they generally have the Tata-type old buses. Because fuel and manpower is not too expensive you will not pay too much for the car and guide, plus this person will stay at your hotel free of charge.

During your trip, you should definitely stop at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage to see how baby elephants are fed in a natural environment and how elephants live. In this area you may ride an elephant to have a new experience and even feed them while there.

During your stay here you should also most definitely visit the Sigiriya Fortress. The fortress, which was built on a very high rock in the fourth century and is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, was used as the palace of the kings and Buddhist monks’ religious center for years. After passing through several ditches and water channels that are surprising for their era, you can climb the fortress with 1999 steps. Definitely see the mirror wall and the preserved murals. Do not be frightened by this climb up, because the climb is gradual you will not get tired. A glorious view awaits you at the top, it is worth the effort.

Another name of Sigiriya is “Lion Rock”. You will see the entrance decorated with lion feet in this photo.

During your stay in Habarana you can take a jeep safari in the Minneriya National Park.

The hotel I would advise you to stay at here is The Cinnamon Lodge. When you walk around the hotel, which is situated in a beautiful lake and forest, you may see countless monkeys and different types of birds. The monkeys are generally harmless but if you try to feed them they may attack you to take what is in your hands.

KANDY (1 DAY)

You can start your trip to Kandy after Habarana. On the trip over you can visit the Dambulla Cave Temple, which was used as a shelter during the first century, and enter another spice garden to see Sri Lanka’s unique spices and even see the cocoa tree, whose fruit grows directly on the tree trunk and branches. You may have a nice shoulder massage at the garden (people will come up to you and start massaging you without asking;  you may tip them around 500 rupees) and buy spices such as natural ginger, cocoa, and saffron from the shop. As I do not know too much about the ingredients of herbal medicines used as alternative medicine (there are herbal medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol), I cannot give you any advice, I will leave the decision up to you.

Even though it is not the most lovable city, you can stay at Kandy for a night as a stop on the way. The Mahaweli Reach Kandy Hotel, which is situated next to the Mahaweii River, is an enjoyable hotel with a fine view and a swimming pool.

You can also see the Sri Muthumari Amman Hindu Temple near Kandy.

NUWARA ELIYA (2 DAYS)

On your way to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy, you should absolutely visit the Royal Botanical Gardens, which is right next to the road. The 147 hectare garden, which was founded in 1374, is an interesting and worthy place to visit with 5000 types of trees and plants, an orchid garden, and big eagle bats there.

The baby monkey was almost born next to us;  its head was still wet when we saw it. :)

Nuwara Eliya is the city I liked the most throughout the whole trip. Sri Lanka’s highest mountain, Pidurutalagala (8282 ft), is in this city, therefore it is a mountain city and it is much colder compared to other regions. I told you before to take some long-sleeved tops and full-length pants for this region. This city is the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea production, due to the fact that half of all tea production in the world is done here. Everywhere you look you can see tea terraces and it has a glorious view.

Tea is collected here almost every four days for the whole year. Only the tea sprouts are harvested, therefore the best tea in the world is here. I would advise you to buy some tea from the tea factory that you will visit, if possible go inside the factory to see how it works. I heard that a tea worker earns 400 rupees for every kilogram of tea that he/she collects.

In Nuwara Eliya my advice is for you to stay at the Grand Hotel, which is a historic hotel decorated with a British style founded in the 1800s.

Our next destination is Yala, which is roughly 190 km away.

YALA (2 DAYS)

Yala has the largest national park in Sri Lanka. The park has all kinds of wild animals. You should definitely safari with a jeep during your stay here. On the safari you will see leopards, foxes, crocodiles, thousands of different species of birds, deer, elephants, wild boars, badgers, and dozens of others animals.

The hotel I would advise you to stay in for this city is the Cinnamon Wild Yala which is right next to the National Park. In the evening they will ask you to go to dinner with a hotel employee, because when it gets dark a wild buffalo, wild boar, a deer, or an elephant may come to the garden of your bungalow. There are no dangers unless you break the rule to not walk alone during the night. You may also see geckos, a type of a small lizard, on the walls of the hotel rooms. Do not be frightened, they are very cute animals which make nice sounds and bring luck. They will not leave the wall during the night and they may even eat any small flies in your room.

The stairs on the last photo are the stairs that lead down from the hotel pool and you may see crocodiles a little bit further away. Yes, yes, this crocodile.:)

BERUWALA (3-4 DAYS)

After this begins your days of rest. We go down to the southwest to the seashore and get closer to Colombo, from where we will make our trip back. After a 250-km long trip which is comfortable as always with great views, we reach Beruwala.

Beruwala has a beautiful and long beach with a great view where you will go for walks in the mornings and in the evenings. You should not miss the incredible sunset at the beach in the evenings. The sea here is warm and beautiful even though it is a bit wavy... The air is warm but windy, and is still pleasant.

You will find many different types of fruits here as well. However do not go and buy the fruit yourselves, have your guide buy them, otherwise you will be overcharged.:)

In this city you should take a boat trip on the Bentota River, which is close to your hotel, you will be very impressed by the mangrove trees. It is said that these trees are the remedy to landslides and tsunamis besides being homes to crabs and small fishes.

If you take walks on the seaside early in the morning or late in the evening, you may see fishermen trying to fish on poles in the sea, a tradition indigenous to Sri Lanka. These fishermen have become the symbol for the country, when you browse the internet by typing Sri Lanka you will see the photos of them straight away. Also do not forget to enjoy the amazing pool at your hotel, the water is warm at all times during both the day and night.:)

Yes, this is all I have to say for this incredible country that is still mysterious to most of the world. I want to go back there a lot and I wish you a lovely vacation in the colorful Sri Lanka with its amazing nature. I hope that you will like it as much as I did.