Bentota

IMG_20180407_135226One of the many things i enjoyed about Sri Lanka was that the beaches all had a nearby lagoon teeming with wildlife which gives it another dimension. Although we did not do the river safari due to the weather, it seems like it would have been just nice to cruise down the lagoon, wildlife or not. IMG_20180407_152705

The beach was not too crowded and there is just miles and miles of beautiful beach, pretty trees and an expansive lagoon. The water sports shops near the lagoon were mainly offering 5 minute runs of parasailing or joy rides, would have paid money if they had professional wake boarding training sessions lasting half an hour or more as the lagoon looked very calm and inviting.

The town was quite local with just a handful of tourist restaurants.

Bentota had a wonderful way of helping us say goodbye to Sri Lanka with this amazing view from the train station, local cricket players by the beach on one side and railway tracks leading from the depths of the trees.IMG_20180408_080751.jpg

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Hikkaduwa

Came here for diving and found Poseidon Dive Station to have good reviews. Disappointed to find out that both dives in the morning were to shipwrecks and would have preferred at least one coral reef dive. The marine life around both shipwrecks (Conch and Earl of Shaftesbury) was really abysmal and we saw more types and quantities of fishes just snorkeling off the beach.

Amazingly there are a group of turtles off the beach just as far as the big waves crash. Guaranteed by the locals and they were right.

We ate at “Moon Light” which had a huge grilled seafood platter that was relatively worth it, and “Sentara” which was super local and VERY CHEAP. We took a bit of EVERYTHING from string hoppers to hoppers to rice and curry to random dishes we just pointed to and desert and drinks only added up to about 5 USD. However we had severe diarrhea the next day that may or may not have resulted.

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Moon light restaurant’s Seafood platter

Villa Tara had nice rooms and a clean pool and the staff was helpful.

 

Galle

 

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Fort at dawn

Initially thought we would skip this touristy sounding town, but ended up going as it was along the way. Indeed it is full of tourists and shops, but it has some charm to it with all the colonial architecture and the nearby schools and local living ensure it is still authentic.

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Lovely clear ocean view from the fort

Galle is very hot in the mid day so its best to see the fortress at dawn. Shops however open late (as in all of Sri Lanka) but they are expensive and by that sense, uninteresting. The money changers here are extortionate and a far cry from the better rates at the airport.

Museums were average, may be better off seeing the national museum in Colombo.

Food at the restaurant “Hoppers” is a good tourist/local in between, curries on the salty, non spicy side but hoppers were very crispy.

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Hoppers! Restaurant Rice and Curry

Tangalle

IMG_20180403_175329_HDRAmazing private beach at Rekawa and any hotel there has access to this romantic place. Beware the numerous sea urchins in the rock pool.

IMG_20180404_122044The turtle watch had maybe 150 people watching one turtle, which meant that you wait around for an hour before it is your turn. No where as magical as my trip to Java, Banyuwangi. Nevertheless, apparently there were 4 turtles on site laying eggs so 100% guaranteed a glimpse of them.

Take a bicycle and enjoy a trip to the lagoon. One local family took us on his fishing boat for nothing but a smile in return! Good memories about the vibes in this quaint village.

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Rekawa Lagoon

Sinharaja

Leeches is all i get when i search for information here. And they are nasty. Tiny, skinny, sticky and un-squashable. They wriggle up your shoes and into your socks without you even realizing and the next thing you know sharp pain and bleeding happens. Early in the morning every minute maybe 8 get on your shoe. Roll them into a ball and flick away fast.

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Lucky I survived by keeping my eyes peeled on my shoes much to my guide’s annoyance. I went with Badulla (biologist) from Eco Lodge (guest house was in terrible condition, broken tiles but a whopping 8.3 on booking.com, who gives these reviews?) and I think he over charges for the same kind of information or maybe even less. He is definitely able to spew all the scientific names out but most of the wild life was spotted by other guides along the way that we passed. Stick to younger guides with better eyes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Waterfalls don’t tempt me when leaches are in the vicinity. Never the less many people willingly jump into them here.IMG_20180403_103128

Saw a blue magpie and a few snakes. Many spiders but none that interest me.

The nicest part was the Tuk Tuk from Udawalawe to Sinharaja and along the way you see the jungle wake up majestically. There are 3 entrances and we took the Deniyaya one without much difficulty.

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Udawalawe

From Ella we took a train to Haputale and although there is NO information about direct buses from Haputale to Udawalawe (you heard it here first), there is ONE bus that leaves at 2.40pm and it is by pure luck we managed to catch it (after a lazy breakfast and taking the 11:56:00 train). Even the locals are not aware of this miracle bus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUdawalawe mostly has travellers on package tour, so not many trot around the city. The food is abysmal except for Common Rose Restaurant. Even locals agree and recommended that restaurant which saved me from eating salty “chicken” fried rice with very mysterious looking meat (my first night trying the “local options”- terrible choice). Their deviled fish was the most memorable and unfortunately left me with cravings that were not satisfied properly later in the trip. It was properly deep fried, not drenched in tomato ketchup in the sauce (unlike the tourist traps along the beach) and good amounts of chili kept me crying in a good way. Mouth watering even as I type this.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe safari is ok if you have not seen elephants before. I am not a bird watcher so no comments on the variety of birds there. Basically I am spoilt rotten by African Safaris so was pretty bored and 4 hours was more than enough to see everything for me.

A local later on recommended Wilpatu National Park which I will definitely try next time.

The plus side of this town is that my Tuk Tuk driver was very reasonable and offered us 6000 Rupees to Sinharaja and then onwards to Tangalle. Perhaps the lack of DIY travellers here.

 

 

Ella

 

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Ella Rock

We chose Ella to start the trip, but suggest to begin either in Anuradhapura or Kandy or Nuwara Eliya for ease of public transport options and better flow. Then again because ALL THE TOURISTS do it that way, the 7 Hr “scenic train” is jammed packed to the brim so in some way starting in Ella was not too bad.

The best thing to do in Ella is to hike and enjoy the fresh air. There are lots of tourist doing the same thing, and that can be either a good thing (lots of nice cafes and food options) or a bad thing (terrible touts and “guides”).

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On the way to Little Adam’s Peak

When going to Ella Rock we had asked some farmers for directions and they led us to a dead end. Then came running this man who offered to lead us in the right way. We had no choice and we politely dismissed him once we were back on the right route. However he insisted in taking us further and demanded 10-20USD equivalent in rupees for a 5 minute job. We did not have that (who hikes with money like that) and instead gave 1USD apologetically. Also back where we come from we don’t even earn 10USD per 5 minutes doing legit jobs (thats a whopping 120USD per hour mind you). He then mocked us for being poor and threw our money back. After that we read that many farmers are in cahoots with these “guides” and purposefully point tourists towards dead ends. Tip: Follow other tourists who know what they are doing.

Little Adams peak was comparatively foolproof, and views were great too.

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Little Adam’s Peak

 

Tourist food options in my opinion throughout the country were rubbish and not representative of the culinary feat that is Sri Lankan Cuisine. Lacking in spices and likely microwaved, if you have the guts for hole in the wall eateries, there is one in between the local provision shop and Cafe C on Wellawaya highway (A23) which locals get their lunch at for about 300 rupees. Very good and tasty. The other in-between option where white people get non-spicy but tasty curry is Matey hut.

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Matey Hut rice and curry

The next day we rented a motorbike for 1500 rupees and went to lipton’s seat. Suggest to go to Bandawarela town before turning left into the small windy roads. If you turn in any earlier than that you will take excruciatingly long. Another option is train to Haputale before taking the local bus. That is lovely too. Make sure to go in the morning, and forget about it anytime after 10am as the clouds obscure EVERYTHING (hence we dont have pictures). Food at the top was decent.

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Tea plantations on the way to Lipton’s seat

Ravana falls and the 9 arch bridge is an easy Tuk Tuk away (but we did it by bike on the same day so super worth our 1500 rupees). The waterfall was flooded with locals taking their ?weekly shower with shampoo and the works, so we did not feel the need to share their bathwater unlike a good deal of other tourists.

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Ravana (or Rawana) falls, Ella

A nice touristy start to our holiday, but if you would rather go local all the way then we suggest Haputale instead.

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Train to Haputale (3rd class)

 

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Near Haputale

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Haputale market

Sri Lanka

Ella -> Udawalawe -> Sinharaja -> Tangalle -> Galle -> Hikkaduwa -> Bentota

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Udawalawe Safari

Land of untouched natural beauty, unapologetic culture and local hospitality, this country gives good vibes in every way, and has travel options from the backpacker to the luxurious glamper. From hole in the wall local canteen eateries to sumptuous candlelight seafood by the beach. From history buffs, to beach bums, to hardcore hikers, to bird watchers.

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Around Ella

It will make you come back for more.

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Galle

Tips:

  1. Change money at the airport for the best rates we got
  2. Tuk Tuks are terribly expensive in Colombo
  3. It is definitely not necessary to book a private car, but it is worth it if you are travelling to Sinharaja and across the smaller roads of the country.
  4. Buses are prompt and plentiful, very cheap and ply the main cities on big roads. Ask at the station and you will find.
  5. Some one told me “Westerners have rollercoasters, Sri Lankans have private buses” – Truth.
  6. Locals are very hospitable and helpful. Smile and you will get the same in return.
  7. Coconut roti and string hoppers are very yummy.
  8. Food at tourist places is terribly un-Sri Lankan. If you have any Asian taste buds at all just pop into any hole in the wall local cafeteria to find the best food.
  9. Try not to do the same thing as everyone else and you will find the magical side of Sri Lanka.IMG_20180401_124736

Hoi An

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Fukian Clan, Hoi An

Hoi An is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in view of the density of temples, pagodas, ancient homes, as well as the influence from Chinese and Japanese merchants. It is my favourite place in Vietnam for its quaint riverside appeal, its traditional architecture, the special dish Cao lầu that cant be found anywhere else in Vietnam, and the scooter day trip to My Son.

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Temples of Hoi An

We found our accommodation by the recommendation on Wikitravel. “Mrs. Flower” (39 Thai Phien St) is a middle aged lady with an empty nest, and rents out her rooms to travellers. She is pleasant, keeps her house clean and tidy, and offers various other services like tailoring, motorbike/bicycle rental and tourist information. Best of all it the price of the room/bike rental was the cheapest out of our whole Vietnam trip. Disappointingly, tailoring was much better done at the shops along the main stretch.

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Hoi An town centre

The old town’s oriental charm is best seen at dusk with candles drifting along the river and glowing lanterns hanging from heritage buildings. Enter at mid day to utilize the museum tickets included in the entrance fee while the sun is at its worst. See the Japanese bridge which you don’t need to enter to appreciate. Have dinner at makeshift roadside stalls, then proceed to the bars overlooking the river for cheap ice cold beer.

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On the way to My Son ruins, Hoi An

The famous Bánh mì Phượng a.k.a Madam Phuong Banh Mi was worth running through the rain for. Toppings were generous and freshly prepared, and staff were pleasant. However it has since shifted to a different location with WiFi and is probably more commercialised. Cao lầu the most wonderful thing you will eat here, think fat, udon like noodles in thick broth topped with barbeque pork slices, fried pork rind, peanuts, rice crackers, scallions and served with lime or chili jam. Have been reminiscing and trying to find it else where but to no avail.

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My Son ruins, Hoi An

You absolutely must take a scooter trip to My Son. It takes approximately 1 hour to ride there leisurely from Hoi An, passing through some small farms alongside a river, a railway track, requiring some skilful manoeuvring through traffic, and ending up in an ancient city. Of course you could always hop on a shared minivan, but where’s the fun in that? Mỹ Sơn was a site of religious ceremony for kings of the ruling dynasties of Champa, as well as a burial place for Cham royalty and national heroes and dates back to the 4th century.

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My Son ruins, Hoi An

Da Lat

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French gardens, Dalat

The overnight bus from HCM had almost horizontal seats, however they were not cushioned and taller people might find their legs cramping up in the small space. For me it was almost a luxury compared to a few buses I have taken before. We were shivering in the 5am fog as we walked from the bus station to the main city where we rented a scooter. Imagine how rewarding the steaming bowl of Pho was for breakfast.

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Crazy house, Da Lat

Dalat is famous for its cooler temperatures, its fruit farms and its French architecture. Just biking around in search for waterfalls was enjoyable. The “Valley of love” and the “Flower park” are manicured recreations of French inspired flower gardens. There is a “Crazy house” which is more like weird, out of place architecture to bring your kids for if you have too much time on your hands. Otherwise you are better off enjoying the mountain biking, adventure trails that nature can give you.

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Pho, Dalat