Sri Lanka Adventure [10 – 18 June 2010]
Part I: Pre-Trip [Singapore, 10 Jun 2010]
Part II: The Long Shuttle [Singapore – Kuala Lumpur, 10 Jun 2010]
Part III: AK255 [KUL – CMB, 11 Jun 2010]
Part IV: A Slice of Cultural Triangle [CMB – Dambulla, 11 June 2010]
Part V: Temples [Dambulla – Kandy, 12 Jun 2010]
Part VI: Into the Hills [Kandy – Haputale, 13 Jun 2010]
Part VII: Trekking to World’s End [Horton’s Plains National Park, 14 Jun 2010]
Part VIII: Retracing the steps of Sir Thomas Lipton [Lipton’s Seat & Tea Factory, 15 Jun 2010]
Part IX: Leopard! Leopard! Leopard! [Haputale – Tissa, 16 Jun 2010]
Part X: Will this journey ever end? [Tissa – Negombo, 17 Jun 2010]
Part XI: Goodbye Serendib [CMB – KUL – Singapore, 18 Jun 2010]
Part XII: Epilogue
Four weeks before the trip, Air Asia was running one of their usual offers on their website. I noticed the cheap fare between KUL and CMB (about S$200 in total inclusive of taxes, on-board food and checked in luggage fees) and recalled the New York Times article earlier this year.
Emerging from the long and bloody civil war, Sri Lanka was named as the head honcho in the 31 Places to Go in 2010. Lionel Beehner wrote:
For a quarter century, Sri Lanka seems to have been plagued by misfortune, including a brutal civil war between the Sinhalese-dominated government and a separatist Tamil group. But the conflict finally ended last May, ushering in a more peaceful era for this teardrop-shaped island off India’s coast, rich in natural beauty and cultural splendors.
The island, with a population of just 20 million, feels like one big tropical zoo: elephants roam freely, water buffaloes idle in paddy fields and monkeys swing from trees. And then there’s the pristine coastline. The miles of sugary white sand flanked by bamboo groves that were off-limits to most visitors until recently are a happy, if unintended byproduct of the war.
Among the most scenic, if difficult stretches to reach, is Nilaveli Beach in the Tamil north. While a few military checkpoints remain, vacationers can lounge on poolside hammocks under palm trees or snorkel in its crystal-clear waters. Or they can order cocktails at the Nilaveli Beach Hotel (www.tangerinehotels.com/nilavelibeach), a collection of recently renovated bungalows with private terraces.
An international airport in Matara, on the island’s southern shore, is under construction, which will make the gorgeous beaches near the seaside village of Galle easier to get to. Decimated by the tsunami in 2004, the surrounding coastline is now teeming with stylish guesthouses and boutique hotels.
Unawatuna, a crescent-shaped beach a few miles south of Galle, may be furthest along. Higher-end hotels there include Thambapanni Retreat (www.thambapanni.biz), which features four-poster beds, yoga and an ayurvedic spa. The Sun House (www.thesunhouse.com), in Galle, looks like a place where the Queen of England might stay, with its mango courtyard and colonial décor. One stylish place tucked within Galle’s city walls is the Galle Fort Hotel (www.galleforthotel.com), a refurbished gem merchant’s house run by a couple of Aussies.
Over some casual Burger King dinner after a football session with the lads, I brought up the topic of visiting Sri Lanka. There was some interest but obviously I didn’t really feel that it would culminate into a real trip. The development over the next one week or so surprised me; five brave souls (or fools) signed up with me for a week in Sri Lanka. The offer was gone by then but the return air ticket for each only added up to a reasonable S$260.
Over yet another dinner, I told them about some of my experiences in India. Being the only person who had some experience traveling on the sub-continent, I realized how unprepared those guys might be and what they are about to encounter in Sri Lanka could be really far off from their expectations. One guy was even considering to pull out after hearing my warnings. A meeting was in order and I tried to my best to prepare them. Itinerary and logistics were also discussed and decided during the meeting and we were almost ready to go.
Our itinerary for the trip was a modified one based on the two trip reports that I read on Sgbikes.com’s forum. While both trips were done on motorcycles instead of public transportation, trip reports from belgarathc and FB666Y provided me with a rough idea of where to go. Trawling through a Chinese backpacking website allowed me to discover a valuable trip report by Mr Bubu. He and his traveling partners used public transportation to get around Sri Lanka and his report provided us with really valuable and up-to-date information.
Our seven days in Sri Lanka would have the following itinerary: CMB – Dambulla – Kandy – Haputale – Tissa – Galle – Negombo – CMB. We intended to have a little of everything in our short trip: cultural sights/temples in Dambulla and Kandy, trekking and visiting tea plantations near Haputale, animals-watching at Yala National Park outside Tissa and beaches at Galle and Negombo.
The day before the trip, we went to Mustafa Centre to do some shopping for the trip. Despite remembering clearly that I owned a type D adapter (the one used in Sri Lanka), it went missing on me and I had to get a new one. The exchange rate at Mustafa (80 LKR/SGD) is better compared to what the Sri Lankan banks are offering on their websites (79.6 LKR/SGD). Rather marginal though.
Packing, as usual, wasn’t too difficult for me.
The bus to KL will leave from Novena MRT at 8.30pm tonight. Hopefully a detailed report will follow after the trip.