Sri Lanka

15 Feb

With the festive season out of the way and not much happening in the UK in January poker wise it seemed like a good time to head on a new travel adventure:)

The criteria for this trip was pretty straightforward; It had to be a destination with lots of sun, nice beaches and with plenty to explore; also it had to be a country we have not visited before.

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Negombo Beach

After some thorough online research and some tips from friends we decided to settle on two different countries. We picked Sri Lanka for its multi-cultural heritage and the wildlife and Maldives for its beautiful beaches.

We started in Negombo –  the beach resort in Sri Lanka located only 10 km from the international airport.

Although it’s meant to be the 4th largest city in Sri Lanka, I found the place rather small & quiet; there seemed to be only one main road with a few restaurants, shops and mediocre spas which opened later afternoon and were shut before 9.30pm.

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John prior the cricket game:)

Day time was all about the sports, music and relaxation by the beach. It was a perfect first Sri Lankan stop for us though, where we could ease our way into the new time zone (5 hours ahead) whilst catching up on sleep & still enjoying the relaxing surroundings.

We wandered around and explored a little in the daytime; got involved in some cricket games with the locals on the beach & got to try Sri Lankan cuisine for the first time which mainly consists of assortment of seafood & vegetable curries + rice. (Spicy !!)

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Stray dogs were everywhere! (beach restaurant)

Later we discovered Rodeo Pub across the road – a lively sports bar which played great music and served tasty cocktails till 12 am;)

On the 3rd day of our trip, we jumped on a public train from Negombo to Colombo. That was a fun ride!

It was not too busy but with 30’C outside and no air- con on board it felt pretty humid on the train. Conveniently for the locals and tourists alike the train doors did not shut and provide much needed breeze for the travellers.

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The train with no doors:)

Crazily enough no one seemed to be bothered about the locals hanging out of the open door on a moving train- to be fair they don’t speed along but still…

Also there were a number of random Sri Lankan food sellers hopping on & off at the stops (moving train) selling the most bizarre food snacks such as dried/smoked fish pieces, colored peanuts and popcorn 🙂

I was very excited about Colombo – the largest city and the commercial capital of Sri Lanka – and was looking forward to exploring its cosmopolitan culture and historic colonial architecture.

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Colombo  – walking down the Galle Face Green

We were off to a good start when we stumbled across this very highly rated B&B online called “27” Spathodea & booked it as our hub for the stay in Colombo.

Here’s a shout out to the owners of this little gem – Glenn & Fiona – who not only provided us with a very stylish & cosy room in their beautifully decorated home but also gave us lots of great local recommendations which made our stay in the city so much more fun & memorable:)

We spent one of the days strolling along and admiring the views of the famous Galle Face Green which is an urban park that runs parallel to the seafront.

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Temples, floating market & the traffic

Then we headed to the floating market for some shopping and light lunch. The rest of the afternoon passed by visiting various temples…

We got stuck in a traffic on the way back and our tuk-tuk driver was getting more impatient than us…he was taking the shortcuts by driving down the pedestrian paths and pulling out in front of cars driving in the opposite direction. It was a bumpy ride but we came to learn very quickly that this kind of driving is pretty much a norm in Sri Lanka.

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Temple on water

We had a wonderful dinner at The Gallery Cafe that night. It’s a beautiful outdoor restaurant which is set inside the former offices of the world renowed Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa and is connected to an actual gallery displaying the work of the local artists.

The food, service and surrounding were top notch and this was easily the best meal we had in Sri Lanka.

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Dinner at the Gallery Cafe surrounded by art

Our final day in Colombo we spent navigating our way around the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, which was fascinating and well worth a visit.

It had like 15 different rooms containing random (I mean really random!)  items; there was a room full of sofas and chairs for example.

It had a number of well-maintained outdoor gardens too and meditations areas, also there were hundreds of Buddhas of all sizes and shapes were scattered all over the place.

Despite feeling rather peaceful & calm, the venue felt more like a museum rather than a temple.

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Gangaramaya Temple

Whilst on our wanders we discovered a casino and headed there in the evening.

Unfortunately there were no poker tournaments and just one cash table with a punchy 5% uncapped rake, not to mention a long wait for a soft looking table, so we headed for fun on the roulette table.

We met some interesting people around the table including a private jet pilot from the US who worked out of Dubai- explaining that multiple trips and remembering which wife was which (the sheikh had a few) tended to test his memory:)

We even found a way around the bar closing by persuading the bar to serve us beer disguised by being in tea-cups!

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Beer in a tea cup action:)

Next up was Kandy- the old ‘capital’ of Sri Lanka where the king had originally resided.

To get there we had the enticing promise of a picturesque two and a half hour train journey. As seems to be standard in Sri Lanka this didn’t really turn out to be the case.

After discovering the engine wasn’t powerful enough to get up the last 45mins hilly climb, we had to wait for 2 hours for a more powerful one. Darkness fell and with it the prospect of the best views….sigh….

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Air Con + Cabin TV = Super Luxury Train:)

Kandy itself had a lack of decent hotels, ours had questionable wi-fi, broken TV and clueless receptionists- and this was one of the better ones… The centre itself had zero good restaurant choices and no discernable night life.

Consequently, we ended up in a Chinese restaurant where they had 100 seats, we were the only customers and there were 9, yes 9 staff! To be honest the cricket was on so I think they were all hanging around to watch that really 🙂

The next day was a trip to the famous Tooth Temple (this was average to be honest) some local bakery and then off with our driver to Sigiriya.

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Tooth Temple

Our driver happen to be a very friendly and chatty gentleman called Ravi who did a lot to educate us on the vagaries of Sri Lankan life and was unfailingly polite. Do give him a shout if you require a private driver in Kandy (ramanathanm621@gmail.com)

We arrived in Sigiriya in pouring rain. After a couple of months with hardly any rain we were somewhat unlucky. The hotel itself was really nice and we explored the local area sampling hoppers in local restaurants and managed to find a designated wine shop with our new Taiwanese tourist mate so that was an evening in sorted.

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Sigiriya rock

The next day was constant rain so- indoor movies and chilling. The following day the sun was finally back and we headed out to tackle Sigiriya.

A huge rock which had been the home to sprawling monastery on the top. People just love a challenge and building this must have been some feat.

After a somewhat hairy ascent we were rewarded with amazing views and that feeling of satisfaction on climbing quite so many steps (nearly a 1000)!

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We then stopped for lunch in a local and small eatery. The father and daughter couldn’t do enough for their only customers ( the place had 3 tables) and it was as local a dining experience as you could hope for.

Leaving ourselves in their hands there were 6 dishes on the table, then up to 9, then finally 14!!! We felt bad getting nowhere through them… The £6 bill seemed crazy so we left a healthy tip and very, very full.

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Sri Lankan lunch feast!

The afternoon consisted of an elephant hunt in the local national park. I mean, not literally- we just wanted to see some! Finally we discovered a family in the wild chewing away at trees and we were 40 metres or so away.

After some photos we remembered we were only in a tuk-tuk and they are huge and I imagine scary if disturbed so we headed back to the hotel.

We went on the search for a restaurant in the evening- it was a Saturday but most were empty or shut so it proved fruitless and we decided to head back to the hotel. On the journey back the tuk-tuk driver had to swerve suddenly, there was a wild elephant just strolling down the dark road. Not something you see every day on the streets of Camden 🙂

The following day we headed to the airport for our flight to Male and to begin our Maldives adventure in earnest. All of that and some poker in my next blog…

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