SRI LANKA – taking the wild train.

WHY SRI LANKA?

Honestly Sri Lanka hasn't been that high up on my list. I knew I wanted to go there one day, but with moving to Bali I set countries on my list for the next months, which are close by .

But sometimes life has different plans for you.

One year ago I met Tyler on Hawaii. We found each other through couchsurfing and went on a roadtrip on Oahu together. I went back to Vancouver and he kept on going to Australia.

One year later Ty invited me to travel through Sri Lanka with him, so we can finally see each other after one year again. Didn't take long to decide.

Day 1 and Day 2

I arrived on Sri Lanka on December 2nd (Denpasar - Kuala Lumpur - Colombo) via Air Asia and met Ty in Colombo, where he found a super nice AirBnb of a Singhalese painter. We stayed there for 2 nights, before we headed south to Galle. We actually didn't have any plans on where to go and what to see – so our AirBnb host gave us some ideas and advices on what to do.

Colombo itself isn't that interesting nor beautiful. It's hectic, chaotic, loud and dirty. We couldn't even find a restaurant or a place to eat. So we basically only went to the train station to prebook our train ticket from Ella to Kandy (For 3€ in 2nd class with reservation). And then bought some fruits at a market nearby for our trip to Galle.

I guess there is no need to say, that we were relieved to leave Colombo.

Photo: TukTuk's somewhere in Colombo

Photo: Colombo train station

Photo: Colombo train station

Photo: Colombo train station

Photo: Colombo train station

Photo: Ty @ Colombo market

Photo: Colombo market

Day 3

We took a Tuk Tuk to the train station in the early morning to get on the train from Colombo to Galle. You can't prebook those tickets, so we got them right at the train station at the counter "2nd class to Galle".

Taking the train in Sri Lanka is quite famous and probably the most popular route is from Kandy to Ella. Riding the train has been on top of my wish list and we weren't disappointed. The train to Galle has been quite packed so we actually had to sit on the ground next to the door. It's the best seat I've ever had.

Photo credit @tylerclassphotography: Train to Galle

Photo: Ty in action at train to Galle

Photo: Details of train

During our train ride a Singhalese passenger started talking to us – apparently he used to live in Munich and could speak German quite well. Unfortunately he kept trying to change our plan (going to Galle) and wanted us to leave the train on a different stop than Galle. As he started being very pushy about it and didn't stop talking about the variety of things we could do there, Ty had to be quite clear about our plans and told him, that we won't leave the train. Seconds after Ty told him, this guy disappeared without even saying goodby (although we talked to him for quite a while), so unfortunately for us it has been quite clear that he only talked to us to sell us an expensive day trip in his home town.

In Galle itself we left our bags at the train station and the guy at the baggage check offered us to find an "offical" Tuk Tuk. Turned out that he brought us to his buddy, who also tried to sell us a whole sightseeing trip with him. Well: He succeded due to hardcore rain.

So we ended up with the Tuk Tuk driver, who drove us around Galle and took us to several sights, that he recommended. To tell you right away: 3 out of 4 were not worth it.

First he drove us to a rock temple, which happened to be a "not so beautiful" one with "very old paintings" (which were only 30 years old). I didn't even take a picture of it and we left after 6 minutes.

Second stop has been an ayurvedic herbal garden. We got a super nice tour for free and Ty got rid of his hairs on his arm – thanks to garlic, ginger, and many more herbs. We were quite surprised by this nice little tour. Till the moment we were seated in an ayurvedic show room and were handed a list of cremes, oils and herbs and were asked to buy something.

Trying to be polite we asked for the price of mosquito repellent. The price was five times as high as normally, so we gave a tip to our guide and left the place. We started noticing, that in Sri Lanka it's most of the time all about selling things to tourists.

I mean I get it: That's their income, but at the same time it dampened the mood.

For our third stop we went to a turtle sanctuary, where sick turtles are being treated till they're ready to be released into freedom again. Also they collect the turtles eggs, wait till the babies are hatched and big enough for being released aswell. So this was on out of 4 "sights" that I liked. They turn money into a good cause and help the turtles to survive.

For our fourth stop we drove a long the coast line and stopped at the beach where we were supposed to see stilt fishers at their daily work.

Unfortunatley weather was too bad so the fishermen were waiting at the beach and we couldn't take one of those famous stilt fisher photos that we really liked to get.

The men offered us to get in the water to pose for us if we pay them, but we didn't feel like doing it for several reasons. First off all I don't like to pay people posing for me and second I don't like contrived photos that much.

At the end of our trip our driver brought us to "Fort Galle", which is the main attraction of Galle and UNESCO world heritage.

The fort was first built by the Portuguese in 1588 and modifications have been made in the 17th century by the Dutch. The fort itself is worth a visit. We just wandered through the narrow and beautiful alleys, sat down at a Dutch café and finally took some photos.

Photo: Fort Galle, narrow alleys

Photo: Lighthouse at Fort Galle

Photo: Fort Galle

We decided not to stay in Galle as planned and took another train to Matara for about 2hrs. I really enjoyed our train rides as there is so much going on. First of all it's a complete time travel. The AC's in the trains are just simple fans hanging from the roof. Second it's a theatre play: Locals hop on and off at the train stations to sell drinks, spicy nuts, peeled and sliced mango or black tea with milk.

What I also observed is, that the Singhalese are very open, friendly and talkative. They just start talking to strangers on the train and keep on talking for a long time.

I experienced that once in Canada, that total strangers would just start a conversation with you, but at one point the conversation ends. But in Sri Lanka they just use the time on the train or busses for a nice chat to their neighbours.

Photo: Details of the train

Photo: Train to Matara

We arrived in Matara and didn't want to make the same "mistake" as in Galle and didn't take a Tuk Tuk at the train station right away. We started walking down the main road as Ty still needed to get mosquito repellent (but not as expensive as at the herbal garden).

During our ride we checked the map and found some hotels and homestays right next to the beach. So we found Tuk Tuk driver and told him, that we are looking for a nice room close to the beach and that we already took a look at the map.

He told us that the place we found isn't as nice as we expect it to be. The hotels are at the beach, but the road is right behind them so it's actually not a quiet and nice place to stay.

Our driver knew someone who rents rooms in a nice little area close to Matara called Polhena, so he just decided to bring us there. With the experiences in mind we made this day, we struggled with trusting him, but in the end we did good with just following him.

We ended up in a bungalow right next to the ocean with our own private beach. You can imagine, we were more than happy that we trusted our driver.

We only payed 2.500 LKR (14 €) for 2 persons / 2 nights and payed 400 LKR (2,20 €) for typical Sri Lankan breakfast.

Photo: Private beach in Polhena

Photo: Chilling in the hammock in front of our bungalow

Plus the guesthouse comes with probably the best Sri Lankan restaurant as a neighbour: Bob SL! A super cozy restaurant with extremely good local food such as Currys, Roti, Kottu and fresh juices.

Looking for a nice bungalow at the beach? Check out Blue Corals Guesthouse.

Photo: Bungalow and beach to the left, Bob SL to the right

Day 4

We decided to stay in Polhena for 2 nights, so we would have enough time to enjoy the beach and explore the surroundings from there by scooter (so we won't be stuck with a Tuk Tuk driver again)

We were super lucky again as a man stopped us for a chat and for showing us his "work place" – the ocean. He does snorkeling and diving trips, and invited us to his office to proudly show us his equipment.

Photo: Work place of a stilt fisher

Photo: Probably a zebra moray (?)

We told him, that we were looking for a motorbike for rent, so in the end he called a friend who rented his motrobike to us for 1.000 LKR (5,50€) for a whole day. FREEDOM!

We just hopped on the bike on started going without any plans. Not making any plans turned out pretty well for us so far...

We drove along the coastline to Dickwella, had lunch at a beach bar and visited Fort Matara aswell.

The fort is much smaller but still quite interesting to visit. We stopped at another Dutch café for coffee and walked along the beach to the Matara Paravi Duwa Temple. A (from the outside) beautiful Temple on an Island … but absolutely not worth a visit. It might change in the future though, as the whole place has been under construction.

Photo: Paravi Duwa Temple in Matara

For having a sunset coconut we drove to Mirissa. We heard that this is the place to be, but it's also very touristy and we prefered the less touristy parts. But for a chill night at the beach it's still quite ok to hang out. Especially when you travel all by yourself it might be easy to find company over there.

Day 5

Early in the morning we took the Bus from matara to Wallalale (120 LKR = 0,66 €) and then another bus from there to Ella (64 LKR = 0,35 €). It took us 5hrs in total.

The bus ride was ok, but if you're having sensitive ears, better bring ear plugs. Besides constant honking, the driver and his assistant liked to turn the bus into a disco bus with loud local music. (Which is much fun in the beginning, but just to let you know: After at least one hour you're done with that.)

I am not sure, but I feel like there are special rules for busses. Such as: "Never brake. Always honk and oh don't forget to go as fast as you can."

We arrived in Ella "kinda safe". Ella is a really cute town, but also very touristy as probably every tourist is going there.

We walked around to find a place to stay and were lucky again: We found a nice hotel for a very fair price (Ella is a bit more expensive. And we were a bit shocked by the online prices of the hostels aswell).

The host organized another scooter for us (the motorbike became our most favourtite means of transport) and we started our discovery tour.

First we went to the Nine Arch bridge and arrived right in time to attend the spectacular moment of a train passing by.

Photo: Nine Arch bridge

You should bring proper shoes as coming down from our side of the valley was a bit challenging in flip flops. You can make it without – but I was wearing the awesome hiking flip flops made by "The North Face" and it was still slippery ;-)

Afterwards we drove to "Little Adams Peak" for a short hike up on top.

Everyone recommends hiking up to "Adams peak". But hiking up "Little Adam's Peak" is actually the better option (we think), as from it's little brother you get the best view of "Adam's peak". It takes about 20 minutes to walk up there and it's easy to access the top.

Photo: Adam's peak – view from Little Adam's peak for sunset

For dinner we stopped by at "Ella Flower Garden Resort" – a nice little restaurant at the beginning of the small lane that brings you up to Little Adam's Peak.

It looks expensive, but it's definitely not. The food was very tasty/delish/scrumptious (I learned some more words at this place for delicious) and we got the best view we could probably get.

Before our 6hrs train ride in the morning, we spoiled ourselves with an ayurvedic massage. We were taken to the back of the massage studio into a dark room, which looked like a torture room from the middle age. We found two massage tables and two wooden boxes that looked like wooden solariums. But they were actually used for hot steam baths.

The massage was very relaxing and much needed after being on the bus for 5 hrs. We were oily for three days.

Day 6

THE TRAIN RIDE FROM ELLA TO KANDY!

I've read a lot about the train ride from Ella to Kandy and that's all I wanted to do in Sri Lanka for sure (besides seeing elephants). We hopped on the 6.30 train with our prebooked tickets.

The route goes thorugh scenery landscapes for 6 hrs. I didn't get tired of the view of mountains, palm trees, tea plantations and the smalles villages.

Photo: Adam's peak – view from Little Adam's peak for sunset

Unfortunately we couldn't leave our compartment as the 1st and 2nd (reserved) class are separated from the other compartments.

So I would highly recommend to get a ticket for 2nd class but without reservation (train wasn't that packed), because then you're able to sit close to the open doors and enjoy the real ride.

I still enjoyed the train ride a lot and whenever someone offers you spicy nuts: Try them!!

We arrived in Kandy for lunch time. Kandy is the place where everyone goes...it's hectic, packed and very touristy. The biggest attraction is probably the Buddhist Tooth Temple, which is where a relic of Buddhas tooth is stored.

If you're into Buddhism this is probably a place you wanna visit. But we find that it's actually not worth the money – especially if you're traveling on a low budget. We went inside and were expecting to see the tooth – but it's stored in a big shrine, so you basically only look at the shrine. It's been an interesting place though, but a bit overpriced.

As Ty's hummus level ran kinda low, we tried to find a place where to get it. Tripadvisor suggested "The Royal Bar and Hotel - so we followed this advice and had delicious hummus at that place and probably the best tofu bean dish I've ever had. The place is a bit more expensive, but if you need to refill your hummus storage, it's a good place to go to.

We stayed in the Hipster's Hideout Lounge for the night, which has been a good choice. Walking distance to the tooth temple and just a short Tuk Tuk drive to the city center. Price was very ok for Kandy and the room was clean. (And they also have a cocktail happy hour ;-) )

Day 7

We left Kandy for Dambulla by bus in the morning. And it's been the worst bus drive in Sri Lanka (probably ever...) – Unfortunately the bus was already very packed, so I only got a seat in the middle of the bus next to the aisle. I could barely look out of the window and the bus got more and more packed. So I started getting motion sick really bad for 3 hours – I had to concentrate as long as I was on the bus and tried to find a spot to look out of the window.

When we arrived in Dambulla it took a while till I was myself again.

Dambulla was hectic aswell and not even a bit nice, so we decided to go to Sigiriya right away and find a place to stay as we wanted to do many things over there anyways.

Our Tuk Tuk (800 LKR = 4,50€) driver just dropped us of somewhere in Sigiriya and we started wandering around, till we found our place to stay. The "Sun Shine villa".

Sigiriya is a really small yet wide town. It is not too much inhabited, which gives this place a very natural atmosphere.

Photo: Wandering in Sigirya shot by @tylerclassphotography

Photo: On our way to find a hotel for the night.

Photo: Ty making friends in Sigiriya

As soon as we arrived we headed of for the sunset hike to Pidurangala Rock (the little brother of Lions Rock) – We read, that it's actually the better option as you'll have the view of Lions Rock from Pidurangala and it's way cheaper. We arrived quite late so we had to take a guide for the climb. They wouldn't let us go on our own.

You enter Pidurangala through a temple so make sure you bring something to cover your legs and shoulders, before hiking up the mountain. We paid 1.000 LKR for entrance and another 1.500 LKR for the guide. It takes about 20-30 minutes to get to the top and good shoes are necessary.

Due to cloudy weather we weren't rewarded with a nice sunset, but it was still impressive.

In the end we were happy that they forced us to book a guide: On our way back it was already super dark and the hike is more like a climb. You need to know your way around especially, when its dark. And of course they also have some poisonous snakes, which we were lucky enough to see on our way back.

Photo: Lions rock – view from Pidurangala

Day 8

Our morning fitness program started at around 4.30 – we wanted to climb up Pidurangala one more time. But this time for sunrise.

We rented a scooter again, so we were independent enough to go anywhere at any time.

Our happy guide from the night before wanted to join us for another hike and also made sure, that we didn't have to pay the entrance fee again. It was foggy and cloudy, so again no sun for us. But we could still take some pictures of Lion Rock covered in fog.

Photo: Lions rock – view from Pidurangala

Photo: Lions rock – view from Pidurangala

Day 8 has been very exciting and active. After our delicious Sri Lankan breakfast we left for Dumbulla again to check out the bus station for the next day and also for visiting the Rock temple.

We stopped at a market (close to the bus station) on our way and experienced the real Sri Lanka market. If you ever make it to Dambulla, visit the market. It's such a different world and so interesting to see. I was just standing in the middle of the market and was watching the market life for minutes. They sell everything from fruits, to dried meat, fish, clothes and kitchen accessories.

Photo: Dambulla market

As soon as the market guys detected Ty with the cam, they started posing in front of him. So I took the chance and also took a photo of them.

Photo: Market guys at Dambulla market

After visiting the market we went to the Cave Temple another UNESCO World Heritage. It's one of the largest and best preserved temple complexes in Sri Lanka. And definitely worth a visit.

By the way: We were allowed to take photos of the Buddha statues, but you are not allowed to pose in front of a Buddha for a photo, neither should you turn your back to them.

Also: Always bring a Sarong for entering the temples – and if you haven't taken care of your feet for a while, you should probably get a pedicure beforehand, as you always enter thoses places barefeet ;-) #ihatefeet

Photo: Buddha inside of Cave Temple

Time to head back, as our Safari tour was about to start at 2 pm.

Our host owned this cool and badass looking Safari jeep and they offered us to take us around Sigiriya National Park to find some "wild" elephants. (Bucket list). One thing I didn't like about Sigiriya is, that they actually chained up the elephants next to the road to attract tourists and it broke my heart again to see them like this.

When we arrived in Sigiriya National Park, we realized, that this park is very famous for elephant safaris and we weren't the only one with that idea.

The park is extremely big with 88,89 km². Enough much space for the elephants who are living a life in (almost) freedom and get protection by the park.

Although there were many jeeps around, the elephants seemed to not care to much about it and that they can still hide in the bush from the crowd. I couldn't stop watching those wonderful creatures and studying their very social behaviour.

Photo: Sigiriya National Park

Photo: Sigiriya National Park

The tour took around 5hrs and we got back in our hotel totally exhausted, but more than happy after such a long and active day.

Day 9

Time to leave for Negombo! We took a Tuk Tuk back to Dambulla and were right in time for our bus. The bus nearly left with my luggage, but without me. As I said, the busses are in quite a rush: So we loaded our bags into the bus and I tried to get in the bus in the front to get a good seat. But while I was making my way to the front, the bus started rolling and I had literally run to the front and jump into the rolling bus like a super warrior. I made it ;-)

We had to change the bus in Kurunegala and got into a nice and comfy, air-conditioned private bus.

In Negombo we stopped for italian food before finding a place to stay for my last night. After so much local food, bruschetta, pizza & pasta was very needed. Prego didn't disappoint us.

Negombo itself is good for food and touristy shopping. It also offers a nice beach. But that's it. So after walking up and down the street for 1hour, we were done with it.

Day 10 Time to leave. My flight from Kuala Lumpur to Denpasar/Bali got cancelled due to ongoing volcano activities, but I could reschedule for another flight during daytime and spent another day in Negombo. Ty already left Negombo, so it was just me and a couple that I met at the airport.

I went to the beach by myself, but to be honest I didn't like it that much as men were approaching all the time to talk to me. I had to be very rude and clear, so they would leave.

It's probably their culture, but I must admit that I didn't like the feeling so I just went back to the café.

But that's just a very small part that I didn't like. Overall I enjoyed Sri Lanka a lot. Although it's been very demanding due to my tight schedule, we experienced so many little adventures and were able to still see alot in nine days.

Sri Lanka is very "raw", very "honest" and the people are lovely. I prefered the country side to the city and driving a scooter than being stuck with a Tuk Tuk driver for a whole day.

If you ever plan on going to Sri Lanka, you should probably take more time (at least 12 days), so your trip won't be all about busses, trains and Tuk Tuk's.

Btw: Sri Lanka is great for surfing, kite surfing and also snorkeling. So take your time and experience the whole Sri Lanka feeling.


© 2018 by Annika Brandt