Tea, temples and so much more in Sri Lanka

We hadn’t thought to include Sri Lanka in our plans, but when we realised it was a good place to apply for Indian visas and we could take a cheap flight from Kuala Lumpur and head on to Southern India, whilst hopefully meeting with our friends from Penang who had put us up for 10 days in December. We booked our flight and then discovered our Bali friends were on the same flight too!

 

Sri Lanka!

Sri Lanka!

The early morning wake up, the sad but quick goodbyes with Oma, and our departure from KL is thankfully appeased by the excitement of seeing the Pearces at the airport and trading seats to be with friends on the plane.

Friends at the airport and on board.

Friends at the airport and on board.

 

It’s a 3 hour flight to Colombo and the time flies almost as fast as the plane! On arrival, after a comical delay, as Martin gets taken off for questioning when his name pops up on the Interpol list. He`s rather glad to be released pretty quickly and our two families head our separate ways. We meet up again several times during our two weeks stay – it’s so much fun spending time together, the kids always asking ‘Will we see the Pearces today?’

First stop for us is Kandy, via a hair-raising introduction to driving in Sri Lanka. The standard technique is to push up as close as possible to the next vehicle, honk your horn dramatically, hovering as a far out as possible to see the first vague opportunity of a gap to push through. Apparently the driver sees gaps that we, foreign passengers, with a wildly different perspective on driving styles, cannot see, or he pushes forward anyway but has to hard brake back or simply gamble that the vehicle coming towards us will pull over enough that we can pass in the middle. Most drivers are honking their horns most of the time.

Aggh!

The roads are windy, I have no idea how Ben does not throw up? Or me for that matter! There are plenty of ‘new’ things to notice when you’re not too traumatised by the road conditions or distracted with screens! Like suddenly slowing down (surprising) when a water lizard crosses the road, seeing so many lady road workers and endless ‘showrooms’ selling second-hand car and van seats!!

On the road to Kandy - water monitor, roadwork and screentime!

On the road to Kandy – water monitor, roadwork and screen time!

We arrive to the exceptionally warm welcome of George and his lovely family in their Kandy Guest House. We have two back rooms with balconies overlooking the river and the old but still functioning rail track. Ceylon tea and cake is served for us on the balcony in best china and we start to get a sense of what remains of a colonial British era! They also serve us a wonderful Sri Lankan feast for supper which Martin and I devour although the kids are a little unsure!

afternoon tea - very welcome!

afternoon tea – very welcome!

Next day, we are served another delicious feast for breakfast. String-hoppers (a kind of steamed noodle) curry and eggs. The beginning of getting used to curry three times a day.

George takes us for a day of exploring – it’s a relief to have a safe driver! We visit the Millennium Elephant Foundation where the kids wash an elephant in the river then hop onto it’s back for a ride! It’s a bit of a overpriced touristy conveyor belt set up and a far cry from our experience in Sumatra but forgivable given that it’s a non profit elephant sanctuary. We stop at a bridge to see the fruit bats and stumble upon a snake charmer.

Millenium elephant  sanctuary, riverside fruit bats and roadside snakecharmer.

Millennium elephant sanctuary, riverside fruit bats and roadside snake charmer.

Lunch is at a great restaurant just outside Kandy at the Tea Fortress. Superb mix of Sri Lankan and English options with exquisite silver service and a shop downstairs selling speciality tea to tour groups passing through! We discover lots of older British holiday groups on Sri Lankan tours.

We spend the afternoon at the impressive botanical gardens before heading to a traditional dance show with the highlight being some impressive firewalking and wrap up a busy day with supper in the Really Chilled Lounge with sunset views over the river and giant Buddha on the hillside.

Tall trees, cannon trees - planted by George V, sausag trees, a few thousand bats and an orchid - Kandy's Royal Botanical Gardens

Tall trees, cannon trees – planted by George V, sausage trees, a few thousand bats and an orchid – Kandy’s Royal Botanical Gardens

 

Overlooking the river at the  botanical gardens

Overlooking the river at the botanical gardens

Over the rest of the weekend we do some admin, school work and prepare the complicated paperwork for our Indian visa applications. The kids play and explore along the river and try to fish.

 Exploring back of Kandy Guest House

Exploring back of Kandy Guest House, train passing at the top

Monday morning we head into town with Chance, a friendly tuk tuk driver and the next five hours are spent back and forth between the Indian visa office and the photocopy/printing shop , finally getting our visa applications in but will have to wait till 6th of Feb to get them… If we’re lucky! This was longer than we thought and we have just booked flights out to the Maldives for 7th so it’s all going to be a bit touch and go!

Once through that palaver, there’s still time to fit in a visit to the Temple of the Tooth. We have a kindly guide who fills us in on the history of this place which is fascinating!

When The Lord Buddha died in 543BC a canine tooth was retrieved from his funeral pyre by a monk and given to the King where it was kept in city that today is called Puri. A belief grew over time that possession of the tooth gave divine right to rule the land. Wars were fought for its possession and attempts made to destroy it because it was said people stopped believing in God and were worshipping a tooth.

800 years after the Buddha died, in the 4th century, a prince and princess, named Dantha and Hemamala escaped with the relic to Sri Lanka to keep it safe, with it hidden in her hair! There it has remained for 1600 years, moving from place to place until it came to rest in Kandy where the temple was built to house it in the 17th century.

The Lord Buddha had apparently declared that Sri Lanka would be a safe haven for Buddhism for 5000 years. Buddhism is the principle religion in most of Sri Lanka today and making a pilgrimage to the temple at least once in a lifetime is absolutely critical to a Sri Lankan Buddhist.

You can’t actually see the tooth, which somehow makes the visit all the more mysterious and I can`t help think the relic might be rather a let down!  It is housed in a golden stupa inside a special shrine, though you can peer through the doorway and lay flower offerings outside. VIPs are occasionally invited inside the shrine for a closer look and our guide tells us about the visit from Prince Charles and Camilla last November. He also explains a lot of the symbolism about Buddhism and shows us the many pictures inside the temple telling the long story of the tooth relic’s 2,500,000 year history! Another building houses the enormous stuffed remains of Raja, the renowned 75 year old Temple Elephant who died in 1988 and fittingly, has one of his giant teeth, separately on show!

The Temple of the Tooth, the Buddha's tooth is housed behind the ornate doors, the famous elephnt and his tooth are on display, with painting of the Prince and Princess who brought the Buddhas tooth relic to Sri Lanka, flower offerings and th water lily, national flower of Sri Lanka

The Temple of the Tooth, the Buddha’s tooth is housed behind the ornate doors, the famous elephant and his tooth are on display, with painting of the Prince and Princess who brought the Buddha’s tooth relic to Sri Lanka, flower offerings and th water lily, national flower of Sri Lanka

After leaving the temple, we visit the big white Buddha on the hillside, climb the stairs behind him and make a little offering at one of the little shrines within his great belly!

 

Big Buddha

Big Buddha

Lara gets herself a go flying the massive kite that we could see from aross town flying above the giant Buddha statue

Lara gets herself a go flying the massive kite that we could see from aross town flying above the giant Buddha statue

 

I imagined Kandy to be a peaceful cool colonial town, but just before we flew to Sri Lanka, I read another family blog that told us it was big, dusty, manic and grubby and they were massively disappointed. This really reset our expectations and I think it helped us enjoy it all the more. It is a small but sprawling city, it’s cooler than the coast but still fairly hot, definitely dusty and full of traffic, but it has a lovely lake, with the temple of the Tooth and Royal Palace just beside it, and some great views as soon as you get up to higher grounds.

Next day, we hop on the train and enjoy the wonderful winding railway trip into the mountains and through the tea plantations to Nureya Eliya. Well, Martin and I do, the kids enjoy the movie they show in first class!!

Distracted by a movie in first class till they discover there are thrills to be had at the end of the carriage

Distracted by a movie in first class till they discover there are thrills to be had at the end of the carriage

An overnight here and a visit to Mackwoods tea estate is really interesting to learn all about tea production and have a taste. The landscape is divine! But we feel chilly for the first time in ages here, we stay in a cheap hotel on the lakeside, perfectly ok for our needs but have to beg for more blankets as we shiver our way through the night in a cold, damp room! This area is known as Little England and I must say it’s fitting from a climate perspective and we see fruit and vegetables not seen for a good while, but I really don’t like feeling this cold!

Learning all about tea

Learning all about tea

 

Passing 'english' veggie stalls going to visit Mackwoods Tea Estate

Passing ‘english’ veggie stalls and a great visit to  Mackwoods Tea Estate

Tea picker

Tea picker

Strawberry heaven for Zoe at Strawberry Farm Cafe

Strawberry heaven for Zoe at Strawberry Farm Cafe

We board the train again the next afternoon – this time second class where the windows are open and we can see out properly or sit and dangle our legs out in the doorways (the first class choice yesterday was a big mistake!) Luckily this stretch of the journey is the most beautiful.

Gorgeous highlands and tea tea tea!

Gorgeous highlands and tea tea tea!

Wonderful train journey, Lara takes a break for some maths!

Wonderful train journey, Lara takes a break for some maths!

We head further into the highlands on the lovely old train to spend a few days in the delightlful village of Ella with more lovely hosts at Raveena Guest house where we hike, play and enjoy good food and company as we are joined by the Pearces for a day or two.

Beautiful Ella rock - the view from our room

Beautiful Ella rock – the view from our room

Dad and Zoe's big hike to Ella Rock

Dad and Zoe’s big hike to Ella Rock

 

Meting friends at the station, our villa, with us downstiars and friends upstairs, and delicious food!

Meting friends at the station, our villa, with us downstiars and friends upstairs, and delicious food!

Next we head south down to warmer, lower climes and the Uduwalawa National Park, and a night of luxury camping in a posh tent with real beds and en suite bathroom! The safari was a real highlight, spotting many elephant, crocs, buffalo, birds, but not as lucky as the Pearces who chose Yala and spotted leopards too!

 

Udawalawa National Park

Uduwalawa National Park Safari

From there we enjoyed the southern beaches, were reunited with our friends once again and the kids loved body surfing.  The weather seems lovely but the winds make waves rough so whale watching and swimming with local turtles is off the agenda but two days of fun on the beach with their buddies is more than enough consolation for the kids!

Beautiful Mirissa Beach and the view from our hotel with typical Sri Lankan breakfasts - hoppers, string hoppers and an interesting sample of baken - which came with eggs but apparently isn't bacon:)

Beautiful Mirissa Beach and the view from our hotel, with typical Sri Lankan breakfasts – hoppers, string hoppers and an interesting sample of baken – which came with eggs but apparently isn’t bacon:)

 

Lots of fun on beautiful Hikkaduwa beach at our hotel with our friends.

Lots of fun on beautiful Hikkaduwa beach at our hotel with our friends.

the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami hit hard here and Martin and I  see alot of the personal   stories and photos during a visit to a little museum. The images are harrowing and we're glad the kids stayed at This is the close up of the memorial above a mass grave for the 1500 souls who died aboard a train - engulfed by the wave. In all around 50,000 died here - almost impossible to comprehend.

The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami hit hard here and Martin and I see alot of the personal stories and photos during a visit to a little museum. The images are harrowing and we’re glad the kids stayed at the beach. This is the close up of the huge stone above a mass grave for the 1500 souls who died on a train – many jumped aboard trying to escape when it was engulfed by the wave. In all around 50,000 died here, the Buddha memorial remembering those lost, built on the spot where the train was lost.

In our final days we rush back to Kandy to get those India visas! They keep us hanging on! We have to hand our passports in at 9am and wait till 5pm to see if we’re in luck but enjoy cafes and restaurants in the city as we wait… eventually, Yeehah, success!

Our shiny tuktuk, a lovely place to wait  in Natural Coffee Cafe, surely the best chocolate cake in Sri Lanka, and gorgeous tee shirts given to the kids by our lovely hosts at Kandy Guest House

Our shiny tuktuk, drivers looking a little young, a lovely place to wait in Natural Coffee Cafe, with surely the best chocolate cake and coffee in Sri Lanka, and gorgeous tee shirts given to the kids by our lovely hosts at Kandy Guest House

And then we race again (more life-in-our-hands driving) back to Negombo, on the coast and near the airport, to meet up with our Penang friends, the Tuscano family and a big get together with them and the Pearces. A lovely way to finish our fortnight here:)

 

 

A fabulous afternoon in Negombo with two of our favourite travelling families:)

A fabulous afternoon in Negombo with two of our favourite travelling families:)

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Chris Lambah
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 13:23:48

    I’m in India – working 30k outside Delhi – from the 20th to the 24th of April and the 18th to the 21st of May if you are anywhere near? It would be good to see you

    Reply

    • Mo
      Apr 10, 2014 @ 14:36:48

      Hi Chris, that’d be amazing but I don’t think we will get back to India till late June/July – might you have any return visits then?

      Reply

  2. helenhanford
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 18:42:08

    Thank you for this – I am planning on taking my two children here early next year so it was really helpful to see what you got up to. I have made notes!

    Reply

  3. helenhanford
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 18:44:21

    Thank you for this – I was waiting to read what you got up to in Sri Lanka. I’m thinking of taking my two children here early next year so it was really helpful to see the things you got up to and places you went. I have made notes even!

    Reply

    • Mo
      Apr 11, 2014 @ 02:51:33

      Hi Helen, thank you, that’s great, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your visit:) hope you also get to see whales and turtles! We found it quite mind boggling to figure out our itinerary. It was somewhat dictated by our visa application timeframe! Our friends went further north, one family went up the coast from Negombo and the other did what’s known as the cultural triangle north from Kandy. Their blog is at pearceintheworld.com – you might want to take a look. Happy to send you more info and tips if you have questions 🙂 One point I meant to share in this post was about my original expectations of Kandy as a cool romantic colonial hill town. My expectations were reset by someone else’s blog who described it as hot and smelly and dusty, which is true. We probably enjoyed Kandy all the more from knowing this in advance! It was nice that the guest house we stayed at was 2km outside the city centre:) most of all we were struck by how friendly the Sri Lankan people are with kids. I forgot to mention that too!!

      Reply

      • helenhanford
        May 10, 2014 @ 19:23:49

        Thanks Mo, just found the Pearces’ blog as well so have subscribed to that too.
        Can I ask re. Sri Lanka, how busy you found it travelling Jan/Feb time? Everything I read says it’s high season then and you have to book ahead etc etc. Did you find that? Jan-Mar is a good time for me to travel work-wise but I am a little put off by what I read of it being ‘high season’ in Sri Lanka then, and the need to prebook everything from accommodation to travel. I don’t really like prebooking…

      • Mo
        May 11, 2014 @ 00:50:33

        Hi Helen, we were booking a day or two ahead at most, often the same day. We had no problems, there was plenty of capacity:)

  4. Mike McNISH
    Apr 11, 2014 @ 07:20:56

    I hope you are ahead of schedule!!!
    I was told today the cherry blossoms were In full bloom last week in Tokyo ….guess you cannot see everything
    Continue to have fun
    Mike

    Reply

    • Mo
      Apr 12, 2014 @ 04:37:12

      Hi Mike, nah we’re going to miss the blossom! Boohoo! Still in Siem Reap but we ARE going to celebrate Khmer New Year here this week! Just like Songkran, we’ll be buying some water pistols this afternoon. Hope you’re doing well – loved meeting up with you in Bangkok.

      Reply

  5. Mike McNISH
    Apr 18, 2014 @ 06:54:29

    From your latest bews I do not know whether to put Sri Lanka or Cambodia on top of my wish list?
    What do you recommend for this old cohdget?
    So glad I missed new year in Siemens reap!,,,I hiberbNated here in Bangkok over this period…what a wimp I am!!!!
    Mike

    Reply

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