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
We had to set off early because of the long day of travel ahead of us.
To the guesthouse’s credit, the rooms were really clean and properly maintained. However the owner was in denial again when we pointed out to him that there was a hole in one of the mosquito nets.
Then we were given the bill for our stay and dinner. We were quoted 2300 LKR nett for the triples but the bill that he gave us included an additional 10% service charge. I liked to think that it was a honest mistake but the owner was too shrewd for this error. He did waive the service charge away but I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was trying to be opportunistic there.
We decided to walk to the bus station in order to get seats for our bus. The first leg of our trip would be to Matara, approximately 106km away to the west.
The conductor told us that the bus would leave at 8:00am so half of us went to get breakfast after leaving our bags on the bus. The bus wanted to leave ahead of schedule again and those at the bakery were almost left behind at Tissa. As our backpacks were too big, we paid for additional two seats for them.
Route: Tissamaharama to Matara
Time taken: Approx. 3h30m
Mode: Public bus
Cost: 100 LKR per person
The bus was really crowded by the time it left Tissa town.
The crush only eased at Hambantota.
Hambantota is the electoral district of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. There have been criticism of the President favoring his home district in terms of development. The accusations aren’t groundless; Sri Lanka’s second international airport and an international port are being built within the district and the area appears to receive more aid compared to other districts affected by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.
Ambalangoda was the next big town that we passed by. The bus would travel mostly along the coast from here onwards.
We got to chat with a local guy who boarded from Dikwella, near the famous Ho-o-maniya blowhole. We asked him about the possible places where we can get good seafood.
When he knew that we were from Singapore, he asked about Lee Kuan Yew. Like the lawyer whom we met in Haputale, he told us about the electoral promise which LKY made to Singaporeans more than 40 years ago. “If I’m elected, I will emulate Sri Lankan economic model.” The Sri Lankan politicians are now promising their voters that they can look forward to Singapore’s style of development. The irony wasn’t lost on us here.
The bus reached Matara about three and a half hours after it left Tissa. We wasted no time in finding our next bus to Galle.
Route: Matara to Galle
Time taken: Approx. 1h15m
Mode: Public bus
Cost: 43 LKR per person
This bus was less crowded than the previous one and I sat on the left side for a good view of the sea. The waves were rough as it was the monsoon season along the south coast. Along the way there were abandoned structures along the coast. I believed that they were debris from the 2004 Tsunami.
It was half time for us when we arrived at Galle’s rather chaotic bus depot. It was scorching hot and we decided to have lunch near the bus station before deciding our next course of action. Our lunch was the usual fried rice, fried noodles and briyani; the seafood fried rice turned out to be quite tasty.
Despite the hot weather, we decided to take a look at Galle Fort since we were already there.
We had to walk pass some fishmongers on our way to the fort.
The hot weather forced us to take an extra break at a cafe near the main gate.
An elderly man on bicycle started chatting to us and asked about our accommodation. We were just passing by and immediately he offered to organize onward transportation. We assured him that we knew where to take the public buses. He wasn’t ready to give up and told us to visit some place inside the Fort. It was so hard to shake him off.
Inside the fort:
The caretaker of the church was rather cranky as we disturbed him during his lunch. He said that no photography was allowed inside and told us the minimum amount to donate was 100 LKR. Oh well. I intended to put 20 LKR into the donation box but it wasn’t appreciated at all.
Running short of time we decided not to walk to the coast and headed back to the bus station instead. A volleyball tournament was taking place near the Old Gate.
There were air-conditioned bus services from Galle to Colombo, 119km away. We chose them over the non air-conditioned ones to avoid the fumes and pollution but the seat pitch in these smaller vehicles was really miserable.
Route: Galle to Colombo
Time taken: Approx. 3h
Mode: Air-con bus
Cost: 215 LKR per person
Like public buses, the air-con ones would pick up passengers along the route. The driver seemed mild at first but got progressively crazier as we neared Colombo. He kept weaving in and out of the traffic and even went on to the opposite lane. It was truly heart stopping stuff.
It was already dark when we reached Colombo. Along the way we passed by well known surfing beaches such as Hikkaduwa and Bentota. Colombo’s bus station was messy and chaotic. Not somewhere to hang around for any amount of time.
Chiang wasn’t pleased when I told him that there was one more bus ride before reaching Negombo, our final destination of the day. A helpful fellow passenger from our Galle bus made sure that we got to the correct bus for Negombo. The air-con bus was too full so we just got on the next non air-conditioned one.
Route: Colombo to Negombo
Time taken: Approx. 1h30m
Mode: Public bus
Cost: 40 LKR per person
It was more than 12 hours since we left Tissa when we arrived at Negombo at 8:30pm. Only a short autorickshaw ride (200 LKR per autorickshaw) separated us from Jeero’s Guest House, our lodging for the night. The drivers offered to drive us to the airport the following morning for 800 LKR which we bargained down to 700 LKR.
Only two doubles were available at Jeero’s and the owner offered to put two of us at the hotel next door for the same price. Apparently both of them were under the same management. We decided to stick together and accepted the owner’s offer of placing extra bed in the room. Each triple cost 1500 LKR. The rooms were big and clean and the beach could be seen from the balcony. Too bad it was too dark by the time we reached Negombo.
Negombo Beach was easily the most touristy place that we visited in Sri Lanka. There are shops selling souvenirs and the restaurants cater mainly to tourists. June was clearly the low season for tourism as there were hardly any foreign visitors on the streets. We decided to splurge on our last meal in Sri Lanka and hoped to have some famed Sri Lankan crabs at their place of origin.
We chose the most likely restaurant which might serve decent seafood and ordered a crab each and some other dishes. To their credit our steamed crabs were really fresh but the other dishes were disappointing. The prawns used for the dish of garlic prawns were so small that they should only be described as shrimps. Like tea, the best selection of seafood are exported to overseas market and the local market is left with what’s unsold. An unfortunate disappointing end to a great trip.