Earlier this year I almost visited this island country, but the final months of a civil war were underway. In November I had another chance to travel to Sri Lanka since it was convenient to visit on the way to India. My impression is this country is almost exactly like India, except there are more bakeries and supermarkets.
The capital and the airport is located an hour to the north. On the first day after arriving at the train station, I planned on getting a train ticket, but I learned it was a holiday and all the trains were crowded. Some people tried to help in the front of the train station, but you can’t trust them. The official government tourist travel office tried to sell an expensive tour including a driver everyday. I finally was able to reserve a 1st class seat for the following morning, but I had to spend the night in a terrible room near the station. I didn’t spend too much time in this crowded city.
This city is of historical interest since it is the location of the first and longest kingdom on the island. Anuradhapura is littered with stone columns and bricks throughout forests and mountainous stupas, some rivaling the pyramids of Egypt. I decided to tour the sites by bicycle, but this didn’t work out too well since it rained most of the day and I was soaked. I thought I planned out my trip to bypass the two monsoons by going in between them, but instead I got to experience the monsoons coming from both the southwest and the northeast. I skipped the $20 ticket price by just riding past the outside of most places. (photos)
I took a side trip to Mihintale, an interesting mountain peak about 8km away from Anuradhapura. When you arrive, you see a very wide stone staircase with flowering trees hanging over both sides. Many of the local people walked up barefoot. On the top there is a good view of the countryside, few ancient stupas, and some monkey.
Next, I took a bus for a few hours to the location of the 2nd big kingdom of ancient Ceylon. The guesthouse here was surrounded by animals, including two different kinds of monkeys and a mongoose. When it came to touring the ancient ruins, I made the mistake of trusting a tuk tuk driver in an attempt to bypass another $20 ticket. He said he would show me everything while bribing the security. When he didn’t bring me to the most famous place, I paid 25% of what he asked for and walked away, checked out of my hotel, and waited for the bus out of town. After chasing me down and almost getting in a street fight, he came back with 3 of his friends to try to get more money out of me. I tried to get away by jumping on a bus, but they followed and kept the bus from leaving. This was all apart of a scam to get unknowing tourists out of money and I didn’t want to be cheated. They said they want to go to the police, but I’m pretty sure they are corrupt too, so we agreed on 50% of the original price and I was allowed to leave the town. (photos)
Another few hours by bus and I visited an old cave. I wanted to see how it compared to some of the other kind of cave temples I’ve seen in China and India. I think it was kind of disappointing for the $10 ticket price. (photos)
After a crowded bus ride, I made it to Kandy. Elsewhere it was very hot, but Kandy was a little better since it was up in the mountains. I visited the elephant orphanage, an hour or so out of the city. I was shocked to see the ticket quadrupled in price in the past couple years compared to what my guide book says. So I decided to not pay the $20 to go inside and see some elephants. Luckily, all the elephants had to cross the road outside to get to the river for a bath, so I was able to see them for a few minutes for free.
The guesthouse, Lake Bungalow, was the best room during my stay. Up on a hill overlooking the city and lake and it had a lot of wooden furniture everywhere. One morning, a lot of monkeys started climbing all over the guesthouse and looking in the windows. During my stay in the city, I visited the Temple of the Tooth. (photos)
Unawatuna and back to Colombo
It was roughly six hours by train to make it to Galle and then to a nearby beach town called Unawatuna. The trains in Sri Lanka are probably the oldest I’ve seen anywhere. It isn’t a smooth ride along the old tracks. (train photos)
At the beach I found a guesthouse with wireless internet, which was the first time in two weeks of finding this. Most of the time it was raining at the beach, so it was a short visit and then another train to Colombo to see the National Museum. The following day I had a flight to Varanasi, India.
Sri Lanka has a little bit of everything: ancient cities, beaches, mountains, and forests. But thinking of the weather, high entrance fees, and experiences with tuk tuk drivers, this country isn’t high on my list of favorite places.