The short two and a half hour flight and a very affordable country in general, Sri Lanka was the perfect ad hoc spur of the moment choice for a weeks vacation away from Mumbai.
The travellers: my wife, our 5 year old child, and myself.
Landed at the International Airport 30 odd kms out of Colombo to find our car rental guy, post getting a visa on arrival at the port, which was quick and painless@$20 per adult and free for our kid.
At this Airport, the visitors are allowed to come into the lobby area of the arrivals, unlike India, so you should look out for your contact person right inside the lobby.
Got a local sim card with a data connection (Dialog) from the airport itself for mostly navigation and mails.
Post paper work at their office, MalKey Car Rentals, which is a short 5 km drive, we drove off towards the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in our Diahatsu Torios Petrol 4X4 Automatic.
Now, while driving, remember, the speed limit for all highways is 70km/hr and when passing through towns/villages, its 50 km/hr. Only on the expressway is it 100km/hr as of now. Never overtake on a pedestrian crossing or you will most likely be pulled over. There is a reasonable presence of traffic cops right through. I actually got pulled over, but the cops were kind enough, or maybe, I played meek enough, to let us go.
Travelling with family, as against with a bunch of guys, does have its advantages!
Also remember to get your self a IDP (International Driving Permit). Though at an extra cost, the car rental folks can get this done, but you can also have it done from your local RTO or the AA. I got mine from WAA (Western India Automobile Association) and despite some rental folks telling you that it must be endorsed by the Sri Lankan AA, as long as the list of countries mentioned on your IDP states Sri Lanka, you can get it from any AA.
The roads are mostly very good, well marked and mostly single lane, which means, given the hilly terrain and the speed limit and multiple points marked as no overtaking, you average at best 35 to 40 km/hr. Coming from India, where I’ve done 900kms in 9 hours while driving from Mumbai to Banglore, it’s quite a drag. But then, you’re out there as a vacationer, so its actually good as you’re relaxed and enjoy the drive.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is well done. I, personally am not a big fan of zoos and captive wild animals, but they seem to have got the balance between commerce and well being of the elephants very well. Try being there a little before 10 am for catching them walk in herds to a river for their bath. Its a nice sight.
Post that, we caught a bite, ignored the tourist lane with artefacts and the usual stuff and carried on towards the central province. Beautiful drive with thick tropical forest, narrow desolate roads and a over all gorgeous terrain.
We arrived at the Villa Glenlock, well marked off the highway, about 25 km short of Nuwara Elia. The villa was set amidst the tea plantations with a stunning view of the lake and the mountains, as its well up on the hill. We were there on the 1st of June, and the temperatures were ranging from 18 to 25 C.
Its a lovely property, quaint and quiet and done up with good taste. A small staff of 4 odd men, who do a great job of making you feel at home. Good location for walking around as well, as its a narrow broken road all the way up to the villa with almost no traffic.
You can walk up to just below the ridge line and enjoy the view from there.
Enjoyed our first Sri Lankan Curry Rice meal over here as well, which was well prepared and even better served, on a long well laid out table in a colonial style drawing room… we all loved the coconut milk version of the curry rice, and not so much the dark brown masala ridden version.
The next day till early evening was spent in and around Nuwara Elia. A beautiful colonial town with a very pretty lake front, where you can spend a couple of hours. It was a beautiful day with the sun and clouds playing hide and seek. Ate lunch at a recommended restaurant in town, Milano.. quirky oriental muslim food..quite enjoyed it.
Day 3 had us driving down south, leaving the central hilly region to the plains of Tissamara and the Yala National Park.. its some what like Africa, but in a miniature version!
Stayed at the Safari Hotel, which is located at the periphery of lake Tissa. Again a very pretty property and locale.
Reached by 2 pm, ordered some sandwich’s on the go, and went for a half day Safari with Ajith Safari, again highly recommended on Tripadvisor, and rightly so. A nice Toyota Hilux with open seating out back came to pick us up at the hotel and we spotted quite few animals, but the most exciting was spotting a leopard guarding his kill.
Later that evening, we had dinner at this shack called New Cabana, which looks downright “No No”, with dim lighting, plastic furniture and no other guests, but we had the best curry rice here. Fairly well priced as well, with LKR1700 for a helping of prawn starter, but all fresh and cooked on the spot.
Be patient post your order, as the owner post taking your order will go back, cook along with his wife and mother to help out… it’ll take a while, like most good things, but well worth it!
Day 4, we drove west and then north along the west coast. We decided to stay off the expressway, which would have been faster, but the coastal road has more than few very pretty spots, where it runs just by the ocean.
Arrived north of Galle, at Hikkaduwa. A sleepy beach town. Stayed at the Chaya Tranz, its bang on the tourist main street and a lovely property with the pool right by the beach. Remember to ask for the ocean facing room which comes with a balcony… the view is breathtaking.
You could just sit there, and stare at the beauty..
The hotels breakfast is very good, but their restaurant was strictly ok. We had an unlimited potion of crabs and some prawn curry rice.. average.
And whats with Lankan crabs? If a Sri Lankan crab is, lets say, Hritik Roshan, then a Goan one is Adnan Sami, before his bariatric procedure!!
(If you’re not from the Indian Subcontinent, you’ll never get this one!;-))
Day 5 was spent mostly in Galle. A very pretty colonial heritage town, encompassed with the fort walls. Lots of quaint eateries to choose from, apart from having outlets of the very popular “Barefoot” and “Odel” retail brands.
Travelling with the wife does have its dis advantages!
Day 6 had us driving to Colombo. We stayed at the Taj Samudra on the ocean front. Unfortunately, the hotel and its vibe, and the whole package was just not at par with all the other properties that we stayed in. I wouldn’t recommend it, especially considering what they charge.
Plenty of other better options.. I quite liked the Cinnamon Lakeside, where we went and ate a brilliant thai meal, at Royal Thai.
Nothing much to do at Colombo apart from shop, eat and drink… I love the latter two.
We ate at : 1. Dine More: Very nice Thali sort of a plate, extremely clean and very cheap. 2. Royal Thai: We havent had better thai food outside thai land, and a very romantic ambience. 3. Raja Bhojun: Had a lunch buffet there. At 1700 per person, very good value for money and authentic Lankan cusine with multiple options! Recommended. 4. The Bavarian : F*c*&n Mindblowing! Huge potions meet lots of well prepared loaded with cheese red meat… we order Prawns Crumb Fried, Roast Chicken with side dishes and Pork Fillet stuffed with Ham and Cheese Crumb Fried served with fries and salad=Heaven!!
You could check them all out on Zomato too, the list for Colombo.
Before I forget, for those of you into decor, Paradise Road is a must visit. Its truly a place with character and integrity in its product… we enjoyed visiting and shopping at the store and quite liked what they offered at their smallish cafe.
On day 8, early morning, we flew back….
Hope this account helps fellow travellers and maybe can serve as a seed to go and visit Sri Lanka.