| Our Itinerary
||12th June, 2012
||Train to Sydney
||13th June, 2012
||Sydney 10.55am to Kuala Lumpur 5.30pm
||14th June, 2012
||Kuala Lumpur 6.15am to Colombo 7.15am to Sigirya
||15th June, 2012
||Sigirya to Polonnaruwa
||16th June, 2012
||Polonnaruwa to Kandy
||17th June, 2012
||18th June, 2012
||Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
||19th June, 2012
||Nuwara Eliya to Arugam Bay
||20th June, 2012
||21st June, 2012
||22nd June, 2012
||Arugam Bay to Unawatuna
||23rd June, 2012
||24th June, 2012
||Unawatuna to Negombo
||25th June, 2012
||Colombo 8.15am to Kuala Lumpur 2.30pm. Depart Kuala Lumpur 11.40pm
||26th June, 2012
Tuesday 12th June, 2012 Sydney
Lauren picks us up from home at four o’clock and drives us to Hamilton Station. We kiss our darling girls goodbye – we don’t want them to see us off on the train because the Dolly became so upset when we went to Bali in March. As soon as Lauren drives away we realize that the station is closed because of track work and we have to ring her to come back and drive us to Broadmeadow.
Dolly had been okay when we left her at Hamilton but when she realizes we’re saying goodbye at Broadmeadow she starts crying and we can hear her screaming as poor Lauren drives off down the street. Oh Abi, we love you, That Girl. We’ll be away for two weeks this time – hate leaving Lauren – I wish they were coming with us.
The train trip is the usual two hours and the weather is dark and raining by the time we reach Central. From here we catch another train to St James then walk in the rain to Jillian’s in Wooloomooloo. Luckily she’s already ordered pizzas so we don’t have to go back out again on this horrible night. We have a lovely time catching up before heading for bed at 10.30am.
Wednesday 13th June, 2012 Sydney to Kuala Lumpur
An early start to have breakfast with Jillian and by 7.30am we’re walking across Hyde Park to St James Station. We don’t have to change trains at Central but go straight through to the International Terminal. Here we do our usual airport routine – check in our bags, pass through immigration, eat McDonalds and buy duty free cigarettes and Bacardi (just one bottle because I have visions of myself going easy on the fags and the booze for a change – dumb idea and I’m sure I’ll regret it).
At 11.15am we fly out on Air Asia on our incredibly cheap tickets. When we were booking for Bali in January, Mark found this flight from Sydney to Sri Lanka for $500 each return, including taxes! We do have to stay overnight in Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia’s hub) on the way over and for ten hours on the way back but we don’t care – all an experience and we’ve made plans on how to fill in our time instead of just hanging out at the airport.
Anyway, back to the plane. Mark has a window seat and I’m in the middle of him and a nice Indonesian man who I share my lollies with. After take-off, I check out the back of the plane and find two empty seats – heaven. Now I can be comfortable, reading and sleeping for a few hours while Mark works on his laptop. I chat with a young Muslim couple with their fat baby girl called Tabitha – I want our little baby!
Arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 5.30pm their time, four and a half hours behind Sydney. KL has two international airports: The Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and the KL Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT). Air Asia monopolises the LCCT, so this is where we arrive and where we’ll depart for Sri Lanka in the morning. The flight leaves at 6am so we’ll need to check in by 3am.
This means that we’ll either have to stay at an airport hotel (sounds boring and a waste of money anyway) or crash out in the airport (sounds fun and something we’ve never done before). A few weeks ago I found a great website called Sleeping in Airports where I picked up some good advice about KL. The only problem is that we need to get to KLIA as we can’t sleep here at the LCCT for some reason.
So to get to KLIA, we need to catch an airport shuttle bus outside the busy terminal. By now it’s after six o’clock but it’s still thirty degrees and very humid – just how we like it – wonderful to be in the tropics again. Asian restaurants and fast food outlets are full while buses, cars and taxis are dropping off and picking up passengers. We like it here and feel very excited to be starting another adventure together.
The shuttle soon arrives and we pay only 3RM for the twenty minute ride to KLIA. The terminal here is much bigger and modern but lacks the buzz of the LCCT. Up escalators to the fourth floor we look for the food hall as we’re starving by now. Inside is a semi-circle of food outlets, each with a different name but all the food looks exactly the same. It also looks disgusting so we pass and decide to go up a floor.
On the fifth floor we see signs for airport accommodation and decide to check out the cost – if we can get a really cheap room we may as well take it. Of course it takes ages to find out – Mark stays with the packs while I head off on a wild goose chase from desk to desk, and up and down escalators. Eventually I’m told that we needed to book weeks ago and anyway it’s over a hundred dollars – not paying that especially for just a few hours.
Even hungrier by now, we find McDonalds and pig out till we’re feeling sick. Funny sitting here watching very excited teenage school girls and their parents.
So now we wander around looking for the best spot to make camp. We’re following the info I’d found on the Sleeping in Airports blogs but things must have changed because we can’t find any benches in the spot they recommend. We ask some of the friendly cleaning staff about other places to sleep. One lady thinks we should go down to the third floor so off we go down in the lift yet again.
Finally we find two long benches facing each other in a remote spot that should be quiet but still close enough to the shops to be safe. Mark locks our packs to the trolley that he parks in between the seats. With our bed pillows that we always bring with us, blankets we’ve pinched off the plane, ear plugs and eye masks we settle down about ten o’clock. I love this and feel very comfy and secure. Manage to get about four hours sleep.
Thursday 14th June, 2012 Kuala Lumpur to Colombo to Dambulla toSigirya
Mark’s alarm goes off at 2:30am – both very happy to be on the move again. And also very happy that we ended up sleeping in the airport – a great experience as well as being free. Now we’ll have no worries about doing it again in the future.
Outside we find a taxi to take us back to the LCCT as the shuttle buses don’t run in the middle of the night – a shame because it costs us a lot more – 62MR instead of 3MR. Arriving at 3am at the LCCT, we’re surprised to see how many people are around already. We try checking in but there’s some confusion about our Bacardi which they want bubble wrapped. We’re not paying for that so we pretend to do it and just wrap it in some clothes and book through our packs at another counter.
With two and a half hours before takeoff, we order breakfast with coffee and tea at Old Town White Coffee then, through immigration, I sleep for an hour while Mark checks out the shops and watches a bit of Euro 2012 on tv.
We leave on time at 6:15am with – joy of joys – three seats each. The flight is only three hours but, with room to stretch out, we both sleep most of the way. We’re excited to get our first glimpse of Sri Lanka, prettily described as a little teardrop shaped island just off the southern tip of India. As we cross the coastline, dark clouds obscure the land below us and, at 6.50am, we land at Colombo airport in the rain.
We quickly get our visas and clear immigration easily. Mark talks me into buying a bottle of Bacardi – I’m to be very thankful for this later. Bag pickup is easy as well and at customs there’s no-one to be seen so we just sail through. While Mark gets out some money from an ATM (130LKR to 1AUD), I have a ciggie in the garden. Lovely here – hot and humid with the tropical rain pouring down around me.
Now we have to work out how to get to Dambulla – by bus or get a van and a driver. At the information desk we’re told that there aren’t any direct buses so we’ll have to go back into Colombo and get one from there. But since Colombo is an hour away in the opposite direction it would add two hours onto the journey – doesn’t make sense so we decide to go for the van/driver option despite it being a lot more expensive. Outside, the terminal is chaos as hundreds of people are getting in and out of taxis and buses and vans.
After bargaining with a few touts, we agree with a handsome, young man called Madu that he and his friend will drive us to Dambulla for 7,500LKR. Surely we’re being ripped off but we haven’t got time to muck around as we’ve got a lot of ground to cover in only twelve days. Our plan today is to get to Dambulla in the centre of the island, check out the famous caves then get a bus to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
Anyway it’s still only nine thirty by the time we leave the airport. We love the look of Sri Lanka already even though it’s still raining. The vegetation is thick, lush and green and, amazingly, we pass two trucks with elephants on the back! I ask Madu if they’re being taken to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage which is only a couple of hours from here. He says he can make a side trip to the orphanage for a mere 4,000LKR extra. We say ‘no thanks’ but he doesn’t give up.
Actually, he’s already been driving us mad trying to talk us into having him as our driver for the whole time we’re here. No matter how many times we politely say ‘no thanks’ within a couple of minutes he’s on about it again. He tries all sorts of angles – ‘I very cheap’, ‘I very safe’, ‘I very good guide’, etc, etc …
Despite Madu being a pest we do like him and really enjoy the trip especially as the rain stops after the first hour. About half way we stop on the side of the road so that Madu’s friend can get out and leave money at a Buddhist shrine for good luck. We also visit a lake where Madu says they found an ancient golden coach on the bottom only a few years ago.
Later we stop at one of the many roadside shacks that sell coconuts, fruit and corn on the cob. An old lady wearing a faded, floral sarong is cooking the corn in a big metal urn over hot coals. I get out to have a closer look and to buy hot corn cobs for the four of us. She takes them out of the boiling water and puts them in a dish of cold water then wraps each one in corn husks so we can hold them without burning our fingers.
Back on the road we notice that the vegetation has changed by now – not as thick as on the coast and the coconut plantations have been replaced by rice paddies – a really nice drive. After three hours we arrive in Dambulla.
Dambulla is hot and sunny and quite a big town. The main reason in coming here is to visit The Golden Rock Temple but first we want to get rid of Madu. We get him to drop us at BBH restaurant in the centre of town. Even as Mark is paying him, he’s still trying to talk us into something else – whatever and goodbye!
Such a relief when he drives off and we’re on our own.
Before we do anything we want to have lunch. Inside the restaurant’s large, dark interior, we order a chicken curry which is so hot that I can’t eat it. Mark devours most of his and all the locals are getting stuck in as well – apparently most Sri Lankan dishes are super spicy so God knows what I’m going to eat.
After a visit to the loo – my first squat toilet for a while – we ask if we can leave our bags here while we visit the Temple. The ladies can’t speak much English but eventually they understand and we store our packs behind the counter.
Outside we talk to a young tuktuk driver called Nian who agrees to take us out to the Temple for 200LKR each way. We squash ourselves inside the little cabin which is decorated with colourful Buddhist hangings and a bunch of plastic grapes. We putput our way to the outskirts of town where we can see the towering Dambulla Rock looming above us.
Nian pulls into the entrance to the temple which is dominated by a giant, golden meditating Buddha. The Buddha itself sits on top of a three storey building which houses the museum and is decorated with fake, pink and white lotus flowers. The wide doorway is framed with a row of teeth so it looks like an open mouth and the pink steps up to it look like a long tongue – sounds hideous but it’s nice.
On a cliff face to the right hand side of the museum, is a line of monk statues representing the monks from the local area coming for prayer. On the other side of the museum is the beginning of the stairs that lead up to our destination – the World Heritage-listed cave temples.
We’re not sure how many stairs there are and I’m not game to ask. Better to just take our time and enjoy the views and the little market stalls that have been set up along the way. Half way up we stop for a rest and a drink.
Looking eastward, the landscape is flat except for Sigirya Rock far away in the distance. It’s a huge, grey, flat-topped blob sticking out of the surrounding green jungle. It was built as a fortress and palace in 500AD by King Kassapa as Sri Lanka’s capital. Now it’s another World Heritage site and we plan to climb it tomorrow – attempt to anyway – it looks HUUGE!
Now, though, we still have the rest of Dambulla Rock to climb. Finally at the top we need to take off our shoes and Mark has to rent a sarong because we’re entering a temple area. We hire an old man called Manu to be our guide through the cave complex. He tells us that the five caves were cut out of the rock by the Sinhala kings and made into temples that contain hundreds of Buddhist statues and paintings. Inside, the ceilings are painted with intricate patterns of religious portraits that follow the contours of the rock – very well
We stop at a Hindu shrine to have white string wrapped around our wrists for luck then Mark prays with Manu in front of a tall Buddha. We really like the whole place – the caves have a wonderful atmosphere helped by the uplighting at the base of the statues.
On the way back down we stop to watch monkeys being naughty in a tree and Mark buys a couple of t-shirts from a man who is very grateful for his sale. At the bottom we climb the steps to the golden Buddha. We stop to make friends with three local ladies wearing all-white dresses and carrying purple water lilies which we’re told is Sri Lanka’s national flower.
Time now to head back to town and find a way of getting to Polonnaruwa. Nian hasn’t turned up yet so we wait in the shade of a spreading tree then try to get a close-up photo of a big male monkey. Soon our tuktuk arrives and we’re sharing the ride (very squashy) with a friendly Aussie guy who’s heading to Arugam Bay from Dambulla – might run into him out there.
At BHH Restaurant we pick up our bags, thanking the ladies for watching them for us. Across the road is the main bus stop for Polonnaruwa and we buy water from a nearby bakery for the trip. Lots of people are waiting for buses that come every minute or so, most heading north to Anuradapura and even to Jaffna at the very top of the island. Before our own bus arrives we’re convinced by a funny guy called Kalau into going to Sigirya in his tuktuk today then head for Polonnaruwa tomorrow.
We like the plan so we’re soon speeding out of town with a beaming Kalau, who’s overjoyed to have got a fare. We ask him about getting beer in Sigirya but he’s not sure so he stops at a sort of bottle shop made of odd bits of corrugated iron. Mark buys a few Lion longnecks (giving one to Kalau) and cracks one himself already – great to be on holidays
The forty minute drive is very pretty, passing all sorts of fruit trees – avocado, bread fruit, cashew nut – vegetable gardens and young plant nurseries. Kalau is a good guide pointing out things on the way.
Sigirya is perfect – a tiny village across a pretty stream on a bend in the road. There are about twenty little shops, guesthouses and cafes – all very basic. We’re hoping to get a room at The Flower Inn as I loved the images of it on Tripadvisor – and it’s cheap.
But before we check it out, Kalau wants to show us Sigirya Rock which is only a few hundred metres past the village. This is excellent as we’ll easily be able to walk this far tomorrow if we can get a room here tonight. Now, we turn off the road onto a gravel laneway overhung with flowering trees and vines to find The Flower Inn sitting cutely in its own garden.
Breetney, the jolly owner, greets us like old friends and shows us a darling room just off the verandah – aqua blue cement walls, pink floral bedspreads, pink mosquito nets and a lino floor. We even have our own bathroom with an adorable yellow frog sitting on the sink. The best part, though, is the little windows that open outwards into the garden, letting the sun pour in. All this for just $12AUD!
Feeling tired by now, we rest till 6pm with the overhead fan keeping us cool. On dark we set off to find somewhere to eat and drink. Just outside the laneway we see an elephant walking along the road – how could we not love it here? Further along we come across the Sigirya Rest House which is a sort of semi-upmarket place but just shabby enough for us to like it. A large open-sided room with dining tables and chairs and a few lounge areas is perfect for a few drinks.
From here we find a small, simple café in the village where we order chicken noodles and chicken fried rice. The owner’s little boy is in a walker and we’re sad to see that there’s something awfully wrong with the poor little one – he seems to be very loved, though.
We walk back to The Flower Inn in the warm night air which is a bit stinky in the laneway – must be cows next door. Now it’s time for bed after an excellent first day. Tomorrow we’ll attempt to climb Sigirya Rock then get to Polonnaruwa somehow or other.
I don’t think we could have had a better first day!
Friday 15th June, 2012 Sigirya to Polonnaruwa
I wake at 5.30am after a deep sleep but Mark is still sleeping bunny for another hour. Breetney serves us breakfast at seven o’clock on the verandah – pineapple, banana, toast (good for Asia), scrambled eggs, marmalade, tea and Kopi. This is a lovely setting with the flower garden all around us and birds singing in the trees – we’re very lucky to have found this pretty place right in the village.
Meanwhile, the cow manure smell is still hanging around but Mark thinks it might be an elephant instead – Breetney says he’s right. There are two elephants living right next door to us! – will check them out after breakfast. While we’re eating we chat to the only other guests – a friendly, young Japanese couple who are off to climb the Rock this morning as well. We also ask Breetney if she can organize a tuktuk to take us to Polonnaruwa after lunch.
Before leaving for the Rock, we go next door to visit the elephants – ‘elephants at river’ we’re told – and here they are being bathed by their mahouts and having a wonderful time lying on their sides and doing lots of poops – huge things the size of basketballs that float on top of the water. This is the prettiest place with a big tree overhanging the river which is very shallow at the moment – hasn’t rained here for ages apparently.
We ask about having a ride after we finish the climb, so we organize to meet back here about eleven o’clock. We don’t have enough cash on us though, so the owner doubles Mark on his motor bike to the next village to get some money. Meanwhile I enjoy watching the elephants – not something you do every day. Twenty minutes later, Mark has returned so we go back to our room to get our day packs ready for our walk/climb.
Now we set off on foot through the village turning left after a few hundred metres onto a dirt road leading to the Rock. I can see that we’ll have at least a kilometer to walk before we even get to the entrance, so I’m very happy when a lone tuktuk offers us a lift. The road follows the edge of the moat that surrounds the rock palace and the grounds below it. We see monkeys playing on an ancient stone wall and a tree that’s grown around a boulder reminding us of Ta Phrom in Cambodia.
At the entrance we buy our US$30 each ticket from an office next to a pond completely covered in pink flowering water lilies. A pesky man wants to be our guide but we can’t understand a word he’s saying and tell him nicely to bugger off – we’d rather be by ourselves anyway – we’ll read the Lonely Planet as we go.
We must be punished because the sole of one of Mark’s boots comes away but he manages to tie his shoelace around the front of his boot to keep it in place – an ideas man. Meanwhile the walking shoes I’d brought with me have already been dumped at The Flower Inn as the whole sole had come off one of them. This means that I’m wearing my old brown flatties and socks for the long climb – could be a good excuse if I can’t make it – there’s always a bright side.
Okay, so now we’re ready to get to the summit of this 370 metre high granite peak (guide book info). It’s hot already even though it’s still only eight o’clock. Before going up too far we check out the reception areas and the Cobra Cave. Uncountable stone stairs lead us to lots of other levels; one a big flat rock where the king and queen had meetings and held court.
For the next hour we keep climbing up and up – stone steps, open stairways and a spiral metal staircase to some cave paintings. At one stage we meet the Japanese couple from breakfast coming back down. We finally reach the Lions Paw Terrace which is a large, flat area about halfway up the rock. From here we can see the Lion Staircase (steep metal stairs attached to the side of the Rock) that look almost as steep as a ladder. A local man called Ratna walks with me holding onto my hand and pointing out things on the way – I guess we have a guide after all.
At last we reach the top where the king’s palace was built over fifteen hundred years ago. Can’t believe I actually made it and I’m not even sore or tired – might be a different story tomorrow. Mark stands on three bricks to be the highest person here – he’s very competitive!
Ratna points out the swimming pool which is full of water even now. Also the queen’s bedrooms and the king’s seat carved into the rock which had channels of water running around it to keep him cool. Lush, green jungle extends in every direction and we can see a white standing Buddha, Dambulla Rock and a large lake towards Polonnaruwa far in the distance.
Back down to the Lions Paw Gate, I give Ratna a good tip but he turns into a little shit. He isn’t at all happy and keeps whinging for more – I don’t like him anymore. The walk back down from here is easy. At the bottom we see what we now realize is the real Cobra Cave – much more impressive. We head for the car park which means navigating a maze of little shops. I make the fatal mistake of making eye contact with a wooden jigsaw puzzle so we get mercilessly hassled until we gratefully escape in a tuktuk back to The Flower Inn.
Now it’s almost time for our elephant ride but first I have a cold shower and change my clothes. A tall platform reached by rough wooden stairs has been built to make it easy to get onto the elephant’s back. Years ago when we went elephant riding in the jungles of northern Thailand, the poor elephant had to get on its knees for us to scramble onto its back so this is a much easier method all round.
I’m no sooner about to climb aboard when I have to race back to our room for a kabumbah – I take an Imodeon so I’ll be safe for a few hours at least. Second time lucky, and soon we’re both sitting in the basket on Raja’s back. He’s a twenty nine year old male and very tall which is why we feel so high off the ground. His mahout is Muttiah and we’re also accompanied by Deva who grabs our cameras taking photos the whole way. He seems to know what he’s doing and it looks like we’ll have hundreds of photos and video footage to pick from.
Raja walks us through the village towards Sigirya Rock then through a jungly area next to a lake. It’s very eventful seeing troops of monkeys, Raja doing lots of poopadoops and Deva blowing bubbles with a soap plant. Muttiah also gets Rajah to do tricks for us. He throws his trunk up into the air and blows like a trumpet and very cleverly puts his right front leg up on a stump and lifts his hind leg up off the ground – God love him.
Now Deva (who, so far, hasn’t drawn breath and keeps calling us Mrs. Virginia and Mr. Mark – hilarious) gets me to climb onto Raja’s head – a bit scary getting on but I’ve always wanted to ride an elephant this way. Mark and Lauren have already done it at different times in Thailand, so now it’s my turn. I love it even when Deva gets Raja to pull on a vine and my legs are nearly crushed between his head and his shoulder.
We finally come to an elephant camp next to a lake which is just below Sigirya Rock. With Raja wading out into the deeper water, we have photos with the rock behind us before heading back to the village. Just on the outskirts we stop at a family home for Raja to have a drink as well as spray us with water.
Muttiah throws a bucket into the well then pulls it back up with a rope. Raja drinks a couple then sucks up a few more before throwing his trunk back and shooting the water straight at us – great fun and good to get wet even if it’s probably half elephant snot.
More poops on the way back to the village and The Flower Inn. Ready to keep moving, we have cold showers, pack and pay 2400LKR for our room. We share two Lion Lagers as we wait for the tuktuk to Polonnaruwa that Breetney had promised to arrange for us. After half an hour, she finally gets around to telling us that ‘tuk tuk no happen today’.
I want to see if we can get one from someone else but Mark is up for an adventure catching local buses. I know he’s right so we wait out the front for a bus to take us back to Dambulla. It’s in the opposite direction to Polonnaruwa but there aren’t any buses direct from here. While we wait, I sit on our packs in the shade of an awning while Mark buys water from a little shop.
The Dambulla bus arrives at 12.30 – only 62LKR (about 50 cents) for both of us. With a cooling breeze coming in through the open windows, I love this trip. Mark is happy filming a little girl and her mother then playing it back to them – lots of giggles. At first we’re driving incredibly slow as we pass through tiny villages but then, in the middle of nowhere, we eventually come to a total standstill – we have a flat tyre!
The driver looks bewildered and all the passengers gradually get off and stand on the road behind the bus. No-one can speak English but we figure we’d better do the same. All the ladies have put up umbrellas to keep off the burning sun but I have to stay in the shade of the bus. Eventually another bus is flying towards us and soon we’re happily sailing towards Dambulla – music blaring, of course.
In Dambulla, we’re dropped off almost opposite the bus stop where we got the tuktuk to Sigirya yesterday and quickly cross the road to wait for a Polonnaruwa bus. We have to ask people each time a bus pulls up if it’s the right one but at last we’re on our way. It’s almost full but we manage to get a seat each even though we’re not together. By the time we leave, there’s standing room only but mainly with local school kids dressed in pure white uniforms who get off after a few stops. Mark is right at the back and makes friends with a grandmother and her two grandkids. He takes their photos and a video so he can replay it for them. After an hour, we stop at a small roadside shop where we buy yogurt while the two ladies sharing my seat buy plumbago plants at a small nursery next door.
For the next hour we pass through Habarana and Girithale and a few small towns before reaching the huge tank (a man-made lake) built by King Vijayabahu a thousand years ago. Now on the outskirts of Polonnaruwa we can see some of the many temples and dagobas of the ancient city that we’ll visit tomorrow – too hot and tired today and, anyway, we’ve read that it’s better to go in the cool of the morning.
As we get off the bus in the old city, Mark’s new friends say goodbye with heartfelt handshakes. From here we look for Samudra Guest House but after the owner shows us the dreary rooms, we decide to check out the Devi Tourist Inn that Breetney in Sigirya had recommended. Apparently it’s outside of the old town centre, but then it looks pretty shabby and uneventful here anyway so we’re happy to check it out.
So now we find a tuktuk which heads out of town to a pretty area of laneways and local houses. Diva is an attractive bungalow painted bright yellow and shaded by tall trees and coconut palms. The owner is Darina – a fat, cheery Breetney replica – maybe they’re sisters? When we tell her that Breetney had recommended that we stay here, she’s thrilled – ‘I must rrrring her’ she says, rushing off after showing us our room.
This is excellent with air-con and hot water – good value at only 300rp a night. I’m exhausted so I have a sleep while Mark reads outside on our little verandah with the call to prayer coming from the local mosque. Darina calls us for dinner at 6:30pm. The meal is set up in an indoor/outdoor room with overhead fans and dark furniture. Noodles, soup and french fries are all good, if a bit scarce.
Later we have drinks on our verandah while we write up the diary together. Geckos keep us amused and we have bets on which one will be the next to catch an insect. Mark wants to have his wicked way with me but I’m still tired so I go to bed early and he stays up till 10.30pm reading and drinking beer.
An even better day than yesterday!!
Saturday 16th June, 2012 Polonnaruwa to Kandy
This morning we wake early as we want to see the ruins before getting a bus to Kandy. By 6am we’re outside exploring the quiet little, shaded laneways under clear, blue skies. Big, airy houses with deep verandahs, thick gardens, flowering hedges, banana trees and glimpses of green rice paddies make for a lovely walk. We watch an old man wearing a temple sarong picking flowers for offerings and see gardeners at work behind tall gates. It reminds us of our time spent in Anjuna in Goa in 2005.The funny thing is that every house seems to have a dog and we set them all off barking at once. The best bit is when I pick a red hibiscus to put in my hair.
Breakfast is at seven o’clock – pineapple, banana, avocado, toast, one scrambled egg between two of us, tea and kopi all cooked by our lovely hostess, Darina.
At 7.45am we meet our tuktuk driver in the laneway as we’d arranged yesterday. He’d told us that he can get us into the ancient city for $20US each instead of $40US each by sneaking us in the back way. Darina isn’t happy when we tell her so we ‘promise’ we’ll make him take us through the main entrance and pay the full fare – NOT!!
Anyway, now we’re ready to see old Polonnaruwa. This was the second capital of ancient Sri Lanka and nowadays, of course, it’s another UNESCO World Heritage site – hence the hefty entrance fee.
We fly through the laneways and out onto the main road that runs alongside the massive lake. On the opposite side of the road are brilliant green rice paddies and groves of coconut palms. Further on we turn onto another dirt road that follows a pretty canal where we see people washing their clothes and others going in for the full body bath. Everyone waves to us and we even see two mongoose (mongeese?) on the side of the road.
We’re taken to lots of different ruins with short tuktuk rides in between. We like Park Island which has a deep stone pool filled with water and overhung with weeping willows. At another spot overlooking the lake, our guide shows us where the king and queen bathed and the audience room with a lion throne. Another big carved lion must have been very happy with a huge penis hard-on. I talk to a local teacher with a group of teenage girls on a school excursion.
From here we drive back around the canal to the main area. We see a tall fig tree strangling a stone wall – another reminder of Ta Phrom – then visit a big white dagoba and a crematory dagoba before the long, hot walk to the carving area. Cut out of the rock face is a reclining Buddha, a standing Buddha and a sitting Buddha. Apparently these are extra special so tin roofed shelters have been erected to protect them but ironically they ruin the whole atmosphere.
Walking back in the scorching sun towards the white dagoba, we come across my favourite temple – a tall stone structure open to the sky because, like all the buildings here, the wooden roof fell to bits a millennium ago. Inside is dominated by a thirty foot high statue at the far end which is missing its head for some reason. I love it here and sit quietly having an unexpected and emotional spiritual connection – are you here, Angie? I love you, my little one, my heart is hurting today.
Later outside, we sit in the shade to cool down while watching the Sri Lankan tourists. From here we walk to see more ruins then drive to another big dagoba nearby – the last one for the trip – templed out by now.
Back at Diva Guest House, we shower, pack, then pay Darina 7000LKR for our accommodation, beers, cokes, dinner and brekky. Our tuktuk driver has waited for us so we set out for the bus station with Darina and her husband waving us off. Luckily they never asked if we paid the full price to see the ruins.
The bus station is in the new town of Polonnaruwa but it only takes about ten minutes to get there. We’re very lucky as we barely have time to jump on before the bus pulls out. Luck is also on our side that we can get seats together for the four hour trip. So now we’re off to Kandy!
We haven’t brought any food with us but we assume we’ll stop somewhere for a toilet break like we did yesterday on the way from Dambulla – wrong! We only stop to let people on or off but we manage to buy bunches of rambutan from a hawker who jumps onto the bus then later hot corn cobs from another hawker near Dambulla.
Leaving Dambulla, we climb slowly and steadily through rice paddies and spice gardens. Mark reads most of the way but I never get tired of looking out the window. As we climb higher we pass through the busy towns of Katugastota and Matale finally reaching Kandy about three o’clock.
This is the country’s second largest city and was the last capital of ancient Sri Lanka. It’s very popular with both overseas and local tourists not just because of its history but also because of its beautiful setting. It sits on the edge of Kandy Lake surrounded by mountains mostly covered with thick forests and tea plantations.
The bus terminates at the main bus station which is incredibly hectic and we’re surprised to see how busy the whole town seems to be. As soon as we jump off the bus, tuktuk drivers are ready to pounce and we’re soon speeding towards The Pink House which is the guesthouse we’ve chosen from the Lonely Planet.
To get there we pass the Queens Hotel and beautiful Kandy Lake then uphill a hundred metres to be dropped at the door. The Pink House is a cute family-run guesthouse surrounded by greenery and painted a candy coloured – you guessed it – pink.
The tiny owner comes out to greet us, very happy to have more guests. He shows us our room which is just off the garden – basic but clean and we have our own bathroom for 1500LKR. The other rooms are all inside the main part of the house which has a shabby but very appealing old-world atmosphere. A few feral looking travellers are lounging around on the closed-in verandah at the front.
The family lives in a smaller house behind and attached to the Pink House by a covered walkway. Here a long wooden table and chairs have been set up for meals but I think we’ll be eating in town as we don’t want to miss out on anything.
After resting for an hour, we’re up at four o’clock ready to explore Kandy. The little owner wants to show us the closest shop, for some unknown reason, so he walks with us down the hill and along the edge of the lake. We thank him at the shop and buy the three of us an ice cream each. The problem is that he’s still hanging around like a bad smell and now wants to go with us to the Kandy Cultural Centre where we hope to see the Kandyan Dancers. Okay, we’ve finally worked out why – obviously he’ll get a handout for taking us there but we want to go to the Queens Hotel first, so we ever-so-nicely, ‘fuck him off’.
So, from the shop we continue our walk around the lake to the main part of town. We can see the British colonial Queens Hotel looking majestic and glowing white on the opposite bank with the Temple of the Tooth alongside – more about that later.
At the Queens we ask to look at a room and book in for tomorrow night – only $80US to stay in this gorgeous historical place. Built one hundred and sixty years ago as the Governor’s residence, it’s one of Sri Lanka’s oldest hotels. We’re very excited as we thought it would be way out of our price range.
To celebrate we settle in for drinks in the Mountbatten Bar. The bar is obviously named after Lord Mountbatten of Burma who used to stay here when he was the Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia – I love all this British colonial history and want to learn more!
We also order a club sandwich and chicken burger – too much for me – and are running late to get to the dance show. At 5.30pm, we hurry past the busy Temple of the Tooth where we’re befriended by another little man – a replica of our little Pink House man and who also wants to take us to the Cultural Centre – apparently he’s a ‘master dancer’ whatever that’s supposed to mean. He goes on and on, ‘I good man’ and tells us that he helps visitors ‘not for money’ but to gain ‘good karma’ – heard that one before. He keeps saying that he doesn’t want anything from us, he’s just ‘good man’ – whatever! Then of course, when we get to the door, he’s got his hand out – another little shit!
Now we settle in for the show and get front row seats upstairs. This is a great view for the one hour performance of ten different dances, the national anthem (where we all have to stand up) and the dramatic fire walking finale. We enjoy it all but one hour is definitely enough – the performers are a bit amateurish but they’re hearts are in it and the costumes are impressive.
Time for a drink so we find a tuktuk to take us uphill to the PUB where we sit on the rooftop terrace that looks down over Kandy. The view is beautiful with the lake in front of us and the lights of the town spread out below. Besides this, a group of Chinese guys are getting very drunk and a couple of interesting dreadlocked, backpacker ‘couples’ (gay) make for good people watching. We get very drunk ourselves and I serenade Mark in the tuktuk all the way home.
Straight to bed but then I wake in the middle of the night looking for the loo but I can’t see a bloody thing and have to wake Mark to help me find the light switch. I promise him that he can sleep in tomorrow as a thank you.
Sunday 17th June, 2012 Kandy
I wake Mark at 6:30am (yes, that’s your sleep-in) as I want to get lots done today – tea plantations, a massage and Temple of the Tooth for a start. After showers, I find a litter of cute kittens to cuddle and we see monkeys on the roof of the house next door – a good start to the day.
We decide to get to the Temple for the morning session so we walk around the winding road on the edge of the lake towards town. On the way we stop at an interesting looking monastery which is home to the monks who administer the tooth relic temple. No one is around at the moment – must all be at the temple. Closer to town we see the water level control system for the lake. This is because it’s not a real lake but another manmade tank – heaps of them in Sri Lanka.
In town we look for an ATM but the only one we can find doesn’t take our card. We’ll try somewhere else later. At the moment we’re in a small street near the side entrance to the Temple. A row of market stalls sell colourful flowers, including the amazing lotus that worshippers buy for offerings.
The Temple won’t be open for a while so we look for somewhere to have breakfast. We find a simple café popular with locals who are all tucking into what looks to me like mountains of food. When the waiter comes over we just point to what everyone else is eating and soon end up with an array of dishes in front of us – dosas with sambals on flat bread with a few chili dishes. Thank God we’ve got water with us because it’s too hot for me – chili hot but temperature cold – bloody awful, I think, but Mark loves it all.
Nearby we find a colourful Hindu temple where all the worshippers are dressed in white. Inside is a garden with a central pavilion surrounded by smaller chambers. Strangely, one is inhabited by an old Buddhist monk who welcomes us inside his bright yellow room. All the walls are decorated with vividly coloured Buddha paintings and he proudly shows us photos taken of him with the Dalai Lama.
He ties white string around our wrists and blesses us each with a long chanting session. Of course he asks for a donation and we’re happy to give him 1000LKR for the lovely experience.
From here we find another ATM but this time we’re short of funds so now we’ll have to find an internet place so we can transfer money from another account. Before that we stop at Queens Pastry Corner – it doesn’t sell pastry and it’s not on a corner, but it does sell cakes and that’s what I want. Because it’s part of the Queens Hotel, it’s very English so we have a posh chocolate cake, tea and kopi.
An internet café is next so we can shuffle money then back to the ATM where we finally withdraw our cash. While Mark is doing all this, I’ve been sitting on a ledge in the arcade surrounding the Queens Hotel. A local man stops to say hello as he recognizes me from our guesthouse. His name is Barda (or something like that) and says, ‘Madam, don’t you remember me? I clean floors in your hotel’. I don’t recognise him but I say I do anyway, in case I hurt his feelings.
He asks me what our plans are for today then gives us lots of good advice about other things we can do. Apparently it’s better for us to go to the Temple of the Tooth tonight so we can see a group of traditional musicians playing, as they’re not there in the morning.
I ask him where we can get an Ayervedic massage and he says he can take us to a good place. Firstly he can show us a true local market that most tourists don’t know about. So off we go.
The market is interesting as all fresh food markets are – rice, fish, fruit and vegetables. The meat section is typically gross with disgusting entrails hanging from hooks, other unrecognizable organs and buffalo tails complete with hair. Upstairs is the fabric section where I buy a pashmina and a gorgeous orange skirt.
Outside the three of us squeeze into a tuktuk for the twenty minute drive to the massage place high up in the hills overlooking the city. It seems that we’ve come all this way because Barda tells us that this is a ‘true’ Ayervedic place. It’s hard to work out what’s so special about it but apparently Ayervedic medicine doesn’t just deal with the symptoms of disease like western medicine. It’s holistic, so it’s about the spiritual, emotional and mental aspects of a person’s life as well. It’s got something to do with all the herbs and spices used in the massage oils that are supposed to do the trick. Anyway, we really don’t give a shit because we just want a massage, man!
Anyway, for 7200LKR we end up with a one hour and ten minute workout accompanied by buckets of warm oil. Then we’re taken to separate rooms where we lie in a steam bath for twenty minutes. This is a creepy, iron-lung looking contraption – hot as hell and scarily claustrophobic. Mark calls out, ‘are you in the log?’ which cracks me up to imagine him having the same torture treatment. I’m so over it and can’t wait to get out of the bloody thing! At last we’re released to have warm showers that only manage to wash away some of the oil. Outside, Barda and our tuktuk driver have disappeared so the owners have to ring someone else to get us – can’t say we’ve enjoyed it much at all.
On the way back we get texts from Lauren to say that our Dolly isn’t well. She points to her tummy saying ‘tic’ then throws up. We text back and forth then end up ringing Lauren. We both feel sad and worried then I have an Angie meltdown and can’t stop crying. Mark helps me and soon I feel a bit better.
We get dropped back at the Pink House where we pack then get another tuktuk to take us to the Queens Hotel. This will definitely be one of the highlights of our trip. The grand foyer has a black and white marble floor, velvet curtains, chandeliers, potted palms, walnut furniture and rotating overhead fans. A magnificent staircase with walnut wooden banisters and a thick maroon carpet leads up to the rooms.
A porter takes us up in the old wrought iron lift to the second floor to Room at 304. We have a big bedroom and a sitting room with dark polished floors as well as a beautifully restored bathroom – like stepping back a hundred years. Our two windows look out over the lake and the Temple entrance so we’ve got a great room.
Lunch is at the Mountbatten Bar – club sandwiches, a beer for Mark and a fresh pineapple juice for me. A wedding is being held in the reception room and women in gorgeous gold-trimmed saris are wandering around. They proudly line up when I ask if I can take their photos. I even seek out the reception and stick my head in for a look. Tired now, so we head upstairs for an afternoon siesta.
On dusk we get ready for our visit to the temple but naturally have a drink in the Mountbatten Bar first – we love being on holidays! Crossing to the temple gate, some ladies tie a wrap around my shoulders and Mark has to wear a sarong.
Lots of people carrying floral offerings are making their way down the long path and across the moat to the main temple which is already jam packed. We squeeze our way past the people lined up to file past the precious tooth till we find a good spot to sit on the floor where we can watch the ceremony.
I suppose here that I should explain what all the fuss is about. The Temple of the Tooth is one of Buddhism’s most sacred temples. It’s said that there are only three of the Buddha’s teeth in the world – one in India, one in Thailand and this one in Sri Lanka. A load of rubbish but it’s what they believe.
And you can’t see the tooth because it’s kept in a series of golden, jewel-covered caskets behind an altar inside a carefully guarded shrine. The caskets are brought out once a year, but the tooth itself is never displayed – is it really there at all?
Anyway, everyone here obviously believes it – pilgrims come from all over the world to be at one of these twice-daily rituals. The tension is mounting and more and more people (all dressed in white) take up every inch of space. Meanwhile the musicians are making a racket downstairs so I sneak off for a look while Mark minds our spot.
I love watching them. One man is playing a flute-like instrument while four others are playing drums. They’re all bare chested wearing white turbans and sarongs with wide red cumberbunds – very spectacular especially in this vast imposing space. What I love most about it is that this isn’t a tourist performance – this is spiritually and religiously meaningful to the whole tooth ritual thing
Back upstairs, the ceremony starts with hundreds of people slowly parading through the inner sanctum where the tooth is safely tucked away. After about thirty minutes we’ve had enough, so we spend the next hour exploring the other buildings. We join crowds of pilgrims squashing into a small room to see a marble Buddha then to outer buildings holding more Buddha images. An area on the temple wall overlooking the moat is beautiful with hundreds of candles flickering in the calm night-air darkness.
By now we’re hungry, so we leave by the side entrance as we want to eat at the Old Empire Hotel. This is a historic, colonial place a bit worse for wear but the real thing – love it. The dining room is painted a faded pink with a polished dark wooden dado, lovely time-worn tables and chairs, arched windows and Victorian pendant lights hanging from the high ceiling. There’s nothing posh about it, though – probably not much has changed since it was built over a hundred years ago.
A very old man brings us the menu and another very old man brings us our vegetable soup – adorable. The food is excellent and cheap but, most of all, we just like soaking up the atmosphere.
Afterwards we walk across to the Queens Bar which isn’t inside the hotel but in the arched arcade that runs around it on three sides. This is where we’d met Barda this morning. Now as we reach the Bar, we have another man approach us – all teeth and gushy – ‘Madam, don’t you remember me? I am cook in your hotel’. Now where have I heard something like that before? Suddenly the doorman rushes out and tells him to ‘piss off’ while ushering us inside. Okay, now I get it! Of course, that little shit, Barda, never did work in our hotel – dumb of me not to have realized. As if our crappy little guesthouse would pay someone to clean the floors! Feel a bit stupid but it’s all pretty harmless.
Anyway, the Queens Bar is fantastic with the most gorgeous antique bar we’ve ever seen. This is another stepping back in time place with pressed metal ceilings, slowly swirling ceiling fans, polished floors and coloured glass arched windows. And I can smoke!
We spend an hour drinking beer and Bacardi and making friends with a German couple who are leaving for Arugam Bay tomorrow. Later we walk down the street to an upstairs bar where we can sit on the verandah overlooking the street. I don’t like it as much as the Queens so we go back to enjoy more of the old world atmosphere. We sit on stools at the bar chatting to the lovely little barman then have photos taken with him.
Bed at 11pm after a great day.
Monday 18th June, 2012 Kandy to Nuwara Eliya
This morning we’ve set the alarm for 6am as we’re leaving Kandy today for Nuwara Eliya and we want to get to the station by eight o’clock. Breakfast is at 7am in the Queens posh dining room. We eat everything – fruits, cereal, bacon and eggs with tea and coffee. Another special experience – I love everything about this place.
Outside we catch a tuktuk to the train station only five minutes away. We line up to buy our tickets for the 8:20 train but have to wait until the ticket office opens. Incredibly we only pay about three dollars each for the four hour trip.
On the platform we meet a friendly English couple as well as talking to lots of other nice local passengers as the train is an hour late and no-one seems to know what’s going on. Mark wanders off to buy some food but it looks disgusting so he can have it all.
At 9:20am we eventually pull out on a funny old train with lots of spare sets. However, this comfort is short-lived as we have to get off two stops later at Peradeniya Junction where we jump onto another train that’s already packed to the rafters. The poor people on this train have been waiting for us for an hour but no-one seems to mind.
For the first hour, we have to sit on the step at the open doorway but then a nice local man gets up to give me his seat. Mark still has to sit in the doorway but he loves it anyway.
Actually we both love every minute of this trip. It’s what we like about travelling on our own – especially using public transport. The people are gorgeous – they’re having a great time swapping seats and a couple of kids are moving from lap to lap. As we climb higher into the hills the weather changes from hot, sunny Kandy to cool, misty pine forests. And because all the big windows are wide open, we really get to feel the difference. The train is also struggling with the ascent and we’re literally moving at a snail’s pace.
I love hanging out the doorway to watch the end of the train curling behind us as we wind our way around the bends. We stop at a few little stations where men jump on selling rotti and fruit. We buy a bunch of peanuts as we’re getting hungry by now.
The scenery is also spectacular – waterfalls, views through deep valleys towards the south coast, people carrying bundles of sticks on their heads, Buddhist temples and tea pickers in the endless tea plantations.
It’s well after midday when we eventually crawl into Nano Oya which is the closest station to Nuwara Eliya. In the cold mountain air, we cram into a minibus with a French family who I try not to hate but I do anyway. Within fifteen minutes we reach Nuwara Eliya – a small, British hill station surrounded by mist covered peaks.
The story goes that a group of British officers came across Nuwara Eliya during the earlier part of the 19th century when they became lost while hunting elephants. At that time it was just a tiny village but was changed by the British almost overnight when it became a popular escape from the heat and humidity of the coast.
Now as we drive into town, we feel like we’re in a Little Britain time warp. The centre is busy with markets and shops but the outskirts are like a journey into the past – colonial villas, rose gardens, a golf course and country-club-styled hotels. We drop the French family off at St. Andrew’s which is a picturesque old Tudor mansion tucked away down its own little lane close to the heart of town. It’s obviously too expensive for us so we drive on to check out the Grosvenor Hotel. We have a quick look inside but it’s strangely cold and lifeless so we agree to look at our driver’s hotel called The Trevene.
This rambling, old white house is built on the side of a small hill just behind the town centre. Our hostess is Nisa – a jovial, helpful lady with a baby girl on her hip. She shows us to our room which has old fashioned dark furniture and a tiny sitting room attached. Our bathroom is huge with hot water – we hope so anyway, as we’re really cold by now. After pulling on layers of clothes (I look like a bag lady) we check out the cosy, old sitting room and dining room, both with open fires. It’s all very cute and homey with vases of plastic flowers everywhere.
On the pretty glassed-in verandah, Nisa brings us a welcome pot of tea before we order soup for lunch. Later I see her re-arranging the flowers which aren’t fake at all but fresh from her sister’s nursery.
We ask her about getting to the Grand Hotel so she gets someone to drive us there in the Trevene van. The Grand is very grand – a sort of mock Tudor with a gabled roof and half timbering on the top floor. The gardens are vast and very English with clipped hedges, topiary, winding paths with flower borders and white garden furniture scattered across the lawns. We see a few couples taking photos but not what we’d expect – the women are in the full burka and there are lots more of them inside. Apparently Middle Eastern people like to come here on holidays for the cool climate – makes sense but it looks bizarre in these very British surroundings.
Of course, we’re after the bar and soon find it in a big, wood-paneled room with dim lighting and carpeted areas for comfortable sofas and chairs. Chandeliers hang from the intricate ceiling while century-old black and white photographs of The Grand decorate the walls. The beers come in huge mugs and, considering the surroundings, are surprisingly cheap at only $6 each.
Now we walk to Victoria Park where Mark thinks it’s a good idea for a stroll but it costs money to walk through and I think it’s too cold as well. I win, because I’m a pain, so we end up catching a tuktuk to the bus station. We’re looking for a bus to get us to Arugam Bay tomorrow but the trip looks like it’ll take too long so we decide to go with the van idea instead.
We talk to a young guy lurking around and who obviously sees us as potential customers for transport to Arugam Bay. He takes us across the road to a man called Bandu with a very dodgy looking van but we’re promised that he’ll borrow a new one for the long trip to the west coast. It’s expensive at 13,000LKR ($100 bucks) but it’s direct so we go with it. To compensate we’re given a ‘free’ lift to St Andrew’s Hotel. Bandu has his little boy with him and we stop on the way so he can buy fish for their dinner from a roadside vendor.
In minutes we pull up again at St Andrew’s – that other lovely old colonial hotel built during the British occupation. Outside, it looks about the same size as The Grand but inside seems smaller and cosier and we like it better. It’s very English with old customs that are still maintained to the letter. In the small bar, I have a Margarita and Mark has a beer – bloody expensive at $17 AUD – wtf? Pissed off paying this much and getting pissed off with each other – not really, but we have fun pretending to be ‘mean’. Don’t think we know the meaning of a real argument.
From here we walk into the town centre to look for an ATM. After getting our money, we decide to catch a tuktuk back to the Trevene instead of walking as it’s getting very cold in the late afternoon air. Back in our room we have a ‘snuggle’ in bed to warm up before getting all ‘poshed’ up for our night out at The Hill Club.
Forget St Andrews and The Grand, apparently this old stone-clad hotel is the epitome of Nuwara Eliya’s colonial past and having dinner here is supposed to be a unique experience.
We’ve read that it’s all very upmarket and the men even have to wear a suit. We’ve come moderately prepared but we’re improvising for the most part and don’t know if they’ll let us in. Mark is wearing the black jeans he wore on the plane, which we hope will pass for black trousers if you don’t look too close. He’s brought a long sleeved shirt and a tie which do look the part, but his hiking boots and plastic jacket are a bit dodgy. I’m wearing a long black skirt, my crappy flat brown shoes that I wore to the top of Sigirya and a day-pack as I haven’t brought a handbag of any sort. I am wearing the lovely pashmina (probably a fake) that I bought in Kandy so I don’t look too bad from the waist up.
Nisa calls us a tuktuk (our limousine, as we call it) and we freeze our butts off all the way even though the cabin has been encased in plastic to try and keep out the wind – it doesn’t. We can’t stop laughing at how ridiculous we look then feel even more ridiculous when our tuktuk, farting loudly, ceremoniously pulls up at the stately entrance. A doorman greets us, ushering Mark straight to the cloak room where he has to borrow a suit jacket before we’re allowed in. I try to hide the backpack behind my skirt and hope he doesn’t spot my dirty old shoes. Finally we’re in and seek out the Mixed Bar.
Up until 1970, the Hill Club was reserved for British males (typical!) and one of its bars remained resolutely ‘men only’ until a few years ago. It’s now open to Sri Lankans and women. Apparently, members retain reciprocal rights with London clubs so we become temporary members (Rs 100) for the day.
The bar is empty just now so we have individual service. We try to be very posh until Mark takes a sip of his dry sherry and nearly gags – FAIL! I have a Tom Collins which is okay but then just order a coke to go with my smuggled-in Bacardi – all class! Mark’s second drink is the ‘cocktail of the day’, a Stinger – another FAIL! We find it all hysterically funny but you had to be there.
Enough of crappy drinks, we’re escorted to the formal dining room for the famous Hill Club dinner. It’s GORGEOUS! – a thoroughly retro atmosphere with white linen tablecloths, intimate lighting, small round tables with wicker and wooden chairs, faded lounges and old hunting prints on the walls.
But, like the bar, we’re the only people here – we suppose because it’s Monday night – hilarious! The old waiter treats us like royalty and we order white wine to go with our five course meal. For $20 each we have warm rolls, ravioli, tomato soup, baked pork with vegetables and a fancy chocolate tart.
After dinner we ‘retire’, darling, to the other end of the room to sit on one of the tapestry couches pulled up to the big fireplace. The burning logs look very welcoming in the soft, warm glow of lamp light. We order tea that comes in dainty English tea cups then choose tiny cakes from the aperitifs trolley – all very civilised. The whole bill comes to only $53!
At nine o’clock, we wait in the library for our limo (see tuktuk). The doorman announces its arrival but we’ve already heard it coming a mile away – more embarrassment – glad no-one else is here. A very cold trip back to bed.
Mark performs like a stud for hours before sleeping with more than satisfied wife (a minor embellishment and this bit obviously written by Mark himself).
Tuesday 19th June, 2012 Nuwara Eliya to Arugam Bay
Up at 7am after M services V again – what a stud (this bit also obviously written by Mark).
Quick, hot showers and pack then we’re ready by seven thirty. Bandu soon arrives – still in the shitty, old van from yesterday but we don’t care as long as it gets us there. Now we set off for the seven hour drive to Arugam Bay. The plan is to head south east through the towns of Agampodigama and Welimada stopping to have a look at Ella then continuing south to Wellaway. Here we’ll turn left onto the CRWB Highway going directly east across the plains till we reach the coast.
Half an hour after leaving cool, misty Nuwara Eliya, Bandu veers off the main road to pick up his friend who’ll take turns with the driving as they’ll be coming all the way back again today.
Still in the hill country, the scenery is never ending terraces of tea plantations, tea pickers, vegetable gardens and temples. We stop at a Hindu temple where Mark and I have a wander around then later pull up at a roadside Buddhist shrine where Bandu gets out to pray and to give a good-luck donation.
After two hours we arrive in sunny Ella where we’ll all have breakfast. Ella is little more than a handful of shops, hotels and guesthouses, but with spectacular views that stretch right across the south coast of the island. At a nice outdoor café built on the side of a hill, Mark orders string hoppers with dahl, sambal and hot curry while I have chicken satay with green peppers – an excellent meal and worth a photo!
Because we’ve been winding our way down the mountains, the temperature has climbed so we start peeling off layers of clothes – nice to be warm again. And because of the winding roads, Mark is sooky lala and feeling sick so he lies on the seat with his head on my lap while I pat his forehead.
Just outside Ella we visit a pretty waterfall where local vendors are selling hot corn on the side of the road. Finally we reach the plains and the small town of Wellaway where we visit an ATM as apparently there’s nowhere to get money at Arugam Bay. The road from here is flat and straight all the way to the east coast so Mark is feeling a lot better.
Driving through the Yala East National Park we see a wild elephant in the distance then later we’re thrilled and very lucky to see a family of ten elephants very close up.
We also pass herds of water buffalo just before we arrive in the small Muslim village of Pottuvil. It’s a bit dry and dusty but could be interesting so we decide to check it out in the next few days as Arugam Bay is only five kilometres to the south.
Just over the bridge that connects the two towns, we turn left into the Beach Hut which is where we hope to get accommodation tonight. It’s had good reviews on Tripadvisor and it looks very cool in the photos – there are even tree houses to stay in.
One of the young guys who works here takes us down to the beach where the so-called tree houses are – not tree houses at all, just rooms on stilts. We have a look inside but we hate them and they’re expensive anyway so we ask to look at the rooms up the laneway. We like it better here especially the hanging-out areas but these are taken up with lots of too-cool backpackers. The room we’re shown has a great rustic atmosphere but our close neighbor is an overly-friendly aging surfer who’ll potentially be a pain-in-the-arse so we decide to go somewhere else.
I’d also liked the look of the Hideaway on Tripadvisor, so we check it out as well. It’s in a much nicer spot a lot further down in the middle of town but the rooms are too expensive for our tight budget – $60 a night. But then we notice the Arugam Bay Surf Resort which is just across the road and right on the beach. It’s a colourful place with an open-air basic restaurant with a chill-out spot attached where more cool backpackers are lounging around. That doesn’t worry us this time as it’s in a much better location so we’ll stay here for tonight at least.
Our room is painted bright orange and our bed has a strange zip-up net dome to keep the mozzies out – very odd but effective. For $30 a night it’s a pretty good deal. Back out in the restaurant we order lunch and lime sodas. It feels great to be in summer clothes after being in Nuwara Eliya – hate being cold.
I’m feeling tired so I have a sleep while Mark sets off for the point to check out the surf. Arugam Bay is listed as one of the top ten surf points in the world and apparently we’re here at the best time of the year when the predominant wind is offshore – we’ll see.
Mark comes back to find me still asleep so he orders a hamburger and a beer. Later I have a prawn quesadilla – good food here – then we have a great night getting a bit drunk while up-loading photos onto Facebook. Lauren has put up lots of photos of her and Abi so we’re extra happy tonight.
Wednesday 20th June, 2012 Arugam Bay
Mark gets up early to watch the fishermen coming back with their catch. They all look very poor and scraggy compared to one well-dressed buyer. We have breakfast at the Surf Resort then Mark spends half an hour on the phone talking to Andy Hunter who’s looking after our office while we’re away.
Later we walk along the main road which runs parallel to the beach – too hot so we head back towards the point. The weird thing is seeing uniformed police and army people all along the beach and there’s even a police station right on the sand.
Wandering along the sandy laneways we come across Rupa’s Guesthouse where we have lime sodas in the simple café at the front closest to the beach. We ask if we can have a look at a room (3500LKR per night) and decide to move here this morning. We love the quiet, leafy setting and the big, airy room.
Now we walk around the point to look at the surf then backtrack to Mambos which is an attractive hotel with a restaurant and a thatched roofed bar on the beachfront. We order chicken salad and chips sitting at a table under the trees while checking out the guests – no ‘cool’ people here probably because it’s more expensive.
Back at the Surf Resort, we pack up and walk down to Rupa’s. While I read, Mark hires a board for 500LKR from a shop on the main road then has a surf at the main point. When he comes back we decide to have a snack here at Rupa’s. We have to wait ages for the wife to return from Pottuvil then we get flavourless prawn noodles, so we won’t be eating here again.
Now we’re feeling lazy so we have our usual sleeping and book reading afternoon. About 6pm we walk back down to the Surf Resort which seems to be the only place that has worked out food at a good price. Besides this, the atmosphere is the best, so we have another fun night drinking and uploading photos onto Facebook. I go to sleep early while Mark gets a good chunk of his book read.
Thursday 21st June, 2012 Arugam Ba
Our last day in Arugam Bay – clear blue skies once again and already warm. We plan to have another quiet day before heading off on our long bus trip to the south coast tomorrow. This starts with a bit of a sleep-in before breakfast at Mambos around 9ish – not sure, as we’re starting to forget the time – must be time to move on, I think.
I have a small western breakfast and Mark has a vegetable jaffle while we spread out on padded floor cushions in one of the open-air cabanas. We talk to three Aussies from Perth then see a suntanned European woman in a skimpy bikini with the biggest banana tits you could imagine – seriously, each one about a foot long. She’s loving all the attention and poses on the sand out front – great people watching here this morning!
Next we go for a swim in the pretty corner of the lagoon. Mark swims to the other side while I float around in the shallows. Later we find a sweet young man to take us in his tuktuk into Pottuvil. We want to check it out as we liked the look of it on the way in. We also want to go to the bus station to find out the timetable.
We head first for the supermarket to pick up a few supplies for tomorrow’s long trip. It’s very hot today so I buy ice blocks for the three of us then find out when the bus leaves for the south in the morning. Next we visit a local market selling fresh vegetables, fish and meat. Stray goats wander around town and there are a lot of army guys in combat gear carrying machine guns. I‘ll explain why.
The Tamil Tigers of the north (mostly Hindus) and the Sinhalese from the south (mostly Buddhists) were still fighting here only two years ago even though the civil war between them was supposed to be over after the ceasefire in 2002. Today things are still shaky so the military presence remains even though Pottuvil is mainly Muslim – so what’s going on here? Too complicated to work out.
Back in Arugam Bay, I find an Ayervedic massage place but just opt for a head massage this time. This is really, really good and I wish it would go on forever. Meanwhile Mark hires a board from a shack at the main point but after a couple of waves he takes it back – surf not good today.
Mark is offered a bong but just ends up having a couple of puffs on a joint. More sleeping then at six o’clock we walk back along the sand to the Surf Resort for quesadillas and prawn spaghetti. Back to Rupa’s via the main road this time then have beers and Bacardis at the Bob Marley Bar right on the beach. This is as basic as you can get but we love it. With our feet in the sand and drinking by candlelight, it’s magic sitting here on this calm, starry night.
Later we walk around to Mambo’s to do some Facebook and diary writing but leave when they have a blackout. I want to go sleeping bunny so Mark walks me home then goes back out again for fresh grilled fish as well as being on the prowl for BIG TITS woman. Does he find her?????
Friday 22nd June, 2012 Arugam Bay to Unawatuna
Today we’re leaving Arugam for Unawatuna on the south-west coast. At 5.15am our alarm wakes us – throw on our clothes and grab all our gear to meet our tuktuk driver from yesterday out in the dark laneway. We always love these really early starts when we’re away.
In Pottuvil we’re dropped at the bus stop where a few people are waiting on the side of the road in the early light of dawn. Because Pottuvil is predominately Muslim, the women are wearing hijab, or Muslim head scarves, and jilbab, the long all-covering robes. The men wear kufi caps and white baggy pants and long collarless shirts.
Across from the bus station (just a place where the buses pull up, really) Mark buys cakes wrapped in cellophane and water for the trip and we watch the military guys patrolling the main street with machine guns. Cows are wandering around accompanied by big, black crows – creepy things.
There seems to be a lot of confusion over what bus we should catch so we ask the only other westerner (a Canadian girl) but, like us, she’s been given a few different stories. Finally the three of us jump on the 6.30am bus and hope it’s the right one – luckily, it is!
Apparently, the bus only goes as far as Matara where we’ll then have to catch a train to Unawatuna – all a bit up in the air but we love travelling this way. The bus leg will be at least seven hours so we’re lucky to have three seats for a while. Just out of Pottuvil we see flocks of wild peacocks – gorgeous.
From the east coast, we head inland, westward through Monaragala to Wellawaya where the bus fills up – now we’re squashed in our seats and many people are standing. I love this trip with the breeze coming in through the open windows keeping us cool and lots to see on the way – never get bored.
Now we turn south on the CGHW Highway till we reach Hambantota on the southern coast. Here we follow the shoreline westward to arrive in the busy town of Matara about two o’clock. The bus terminates right on the edge of the water where we grab a tuktuk to drive us straight to the train station.
This is across the other side of town so we manage to get a good impression of the place – we like it. At the station we’re in luck as we’ve only got a fifteen minute wait. It’s nice here – a very British feel about it and very clean with lots of potted palms and school children in snowy white uniforms.
There aren’t many people in second class so we can stretch out and hang out the open windows. We snake our way through Weligama and Habaraduwa passing through smaller towns and dense tropical growth. We pass acres of salt beds, cross wide rivers and can see the ocean on our left for most of the trip.
We’re not sure if the train actually stops in Unawatuna, so after one and a half hours, we’re ready to jump out at every station. Suddenly we’re here and hop off onto the railway line. The tiny station is more inland and amongst village houses and laneways. We start to walk along a dirt road till we see a tuktuk coming the other way.
At last we’re heading towards the beach. Through the village we turn onto the main road that runs through to Galle only five minutes to the west. We’ll definitely check it out in the next couple of days but for now we just want to get a room and a beer. After a hundred metres we veer to the right into the labyrinth of laneways that make up the tourist part of Unawatuna – cafes, restaurants, guesthouses, homestays and little shops.
We ask to be taken to the Village Inn as it sounds nice in the Lonely Planet – away from the beach in an overgrown yard. The setting is nice but it looks like it might be mosquito heaven so we leave. Soon we see the cute Thilak Guesthouse – 3000LKR for an excellent upstairs room with a big bathroom and a wide verandah overlooking the beach. It’s very homey, painted a happy, bright yellow with a thick garden overhung with tall tropical plants and palms. And it’s right amongst all the cafes and market stalls!
After dumping our gear on the bed we head off in search of food and drink. Just a few doors down from our guesthouse is the Upul Restaurant which is a small family-run place literally built right over the waves. We enjoy marinara spaghetti and roast chicken. A large local family is having a celebration at a long table next to us and we talk to a couple of Australian women.
While Unawatuna suffered heavily in the 2005 Tsunami, it was quickly rebuilt but with the cafes and bars still too close to the water – they never learnt from their mistakes but maybe it’s an economic survival thing and hopefully a tsunami will never happen again.
Anyway we just have to enjoy the moment and we really do have the best viewpoint – a golden beach protected by coral reefs, safe for swimming and surfing, and a white Buddhist stupa looking majestic on the point.
Feeling tired and hot, we head back to our room for showers and a rest then, on dark, we walk to the Happy Banana for free wifi and lemon sodas and beers. It’s nice here but we like the look of some other places a bit further along the beach. At the Tartaruga Restaurant we sit at a table on the sand. By candle-light we order seafood and drinks then buy three awful little home-made oil lamps from a nice man who we feel sorry for – we don’t want them and end up leaving them on the table – maybe he can sell them again to someone else.
While we’re uploading photos onto Facebook I agree to have a twenty minute neck massage. After ten minutes the massage guy says he’ll just go and get my change – of course, he never comes back – another little shit! Anyway, we’re having a lovely time and it really reminds us of Ko Samuii with all the cafes and restaurants set up with tables and chairs on the sand, fairy lights and music.
We get a few sprinkles as we’re walking home. During the night we hear heavy rain falling on the roof and hope that the bad weather we’ve been expecting hasn’t arrived at last.
Saturday 23rd June, 2012 Unawatuna
Guess what? It’s hot and sunny without a cloud in the sky – we’ve been soooo lucky with the weather except for the first couple of hours after we arrived ten days ago. The south coast is supposed to be hit with a monsoon at this time of year but so far it’s been perfect.
We’re up early this morning as we want to see a lot today. First we have breakfast at Ton Tun Villa just along the laneway – orange juice, eggs, toast, corn flakes, tea and coffee. We like it here with vases of the striking blue water hyacinth on the tables – a bit fancier and expensive than we usually go for.
Back out in the laneway, we talk to a man called Kalu who says he can take us to see a few nearby sights – a turtle hatchery, a spice garden and even the stilt fisherman. We’ve got nothing definite planned so off we go in his tuktuk heading east on the main road.
First stop is the turtle hatchery near Habaraduwa. This is a basic family-run concern and we have the grandfather showing us around. He shows us where the eggs are incubated in the sand then all the different ponds according to the age of the turtles. Some are as small as a baby’s hand and others are huge – one has a flipper missing so he’ll have to stay here forever.
Further on, we turn down a narrow dirt laneway away from the coast to a pretty spice garden situated on a lagoon. Kalu introduces us to our guide for an in-depth tour of the garden. All very interesting but verging on too much information. He explains each plant then shows us the medicine or cream that it’s been made up into. One plant is used as hair removal – very popular with the very hairy Sri Lankan ladies. He smears some on Mark’s leg which he wipes off ten minutes later – totally bald so I think I might buy some.
And our guide is really nice, God love him. He’s so intense about it all but it’s hard to take him seriously with his hairline starting halfway down his forehead – can’t stop staring at it.
When the tour is finally over he takes us to an open-air room next to the water where we have a twenty minute massage each from two young men who are being trained in Ayervedic medicine. We give them a donation then we can’t avoid a visit to the shop. They want $50 for a small jar of the hair removal cream – are you serious? ‘Goodbye’!
Back out onto the main drag, we stop at a small roadside shop for water then set off for Weligama to see the stilt fishermen. No luck but we do see the stilts – a pretty place. We could come back late this afternoon or early in the morning but it’s too far so we probably won’t bother.
Now we head for home but then decide that we should go to Galle while we’re already out and about. It’s only ten minutes further on and a big town compared to tiny Unawatuna. It’s actually the biggest town on the south coast and was once the country’s main port before the British developed the harbor at Colombo. Galle’s biggest attraction is its old Dutch fort and the main reason we want to check it out.
Coming round the coast road we can see the massive fort walls that dominate the city. Just near the entrance we stop at the cricket ground to watch Sri Lanka playing Pakistan in a test match. We join lots of locals who are looking through the wire fence while many more are perched high up on the fort walls – a bird’s eye view for free.
Afterwards Kalu drives us through the arched, stone entrance to visit the old city within the walls. Galle Fort is a true living museum full of colonial-style hotels, homes and restaurants and is understandably a world heritage site.
Our first stop is the Dutch church but a service is happening so we don’t intrude. Next is the Dutch museum situated in an old mansion. I could spend ages in here and I especially love the architecture – vaulted ceilings, towering wooden doors and an inner courtyard where we watch a lady making lace in the long-established way. Lace making is apparently a tradition from the Dutch colonial days and lace is one of the most popular mementos bought by the tourists – too expensive for us and not our thing anyway.
Our next stop is the fort wall adjacent to the sea. We start our walk along the top of the wall from the lovely old lighthouse to an old church at the other end. We stop on the way to watch a man fishing with a small hand-net in the shallow water below us. This is a happy, lively place with lots of local tourists. From this far end we can see the silhouette of the lighthouse glowing a brilliant white against the blue sky with a cluster of coconut palms growing at its base – picture postcard material!
Now we drive round the cobbled streets looking at the wonderful old buildings and I’d really love to move here tonight but Mark wants to stay in Unawatuna. Instead we decide to have lunch in one of the cute restaurants but I suddenly get an attack of the kabumbahs and think we’d better go back to our room.
We still want to visit the bell tower so we make a quick visit. From up here we can look down onto the cricket ground but unfortunately they’re at lunch and by 12.30pm we’re speeding back home. Before saying goodbye to Kalu, we arrange for him to pick us up at five thirty in the morning to drive us to the Galle railway station.
After a hurried visit to our loo, I’m feeling good again so we head straight out for lunch and drinks on the sand next to our guest house. Because it’s the weekend there are loads of locals around. We watch them having a riotous time at the other end of the bay, jumping into tourist boats that take them back and forth along the beach. It all seems a bit pointless but it’s definitely a cultural thing so we don’t piss ourselves laughing too much.
Later we go back to our room for sleeping bunny, heading out again about six o’clock. The Bong Spice Chili Bar is a dark, rustic place right on the water with old hanging Indian lamps, candles and some tables on the sand. We sit on the verandah eating garlic prawns while listening to good music and talking to the owner’s little boy. It’s really nice here but we can’t get Wi-Fi so we move on.
Like last night, we end up at Tartaruga but decide to sit inside for a change. There are a lot more people around tonight so I’m happy people watching while we have a few more drinks and do our diary, Facebook and email. Home to bed about ten o’clock and hear the rain starting just as we enter our room.
Off to Colombo in the morning – full circle!
Sunday 24th June, 2012 Unawatuna to Colombo to Negombo
At five o’clock we jump out of bed to shower and pack before meeting Kalu with his tuktuk outside at 5:30am. In this early dawn light, the lanes are quiet except for a few other backpackers possibly on their way to Galle railway station as well. Luckily the rain has disappeared and we have clear skies once again.
The tickets for the three hour trip to Colombo cost a mere 53LKR (about 23c each). Before boarding, Mark buys coffee and a chicken salad roll but I just stick to a cup of tea.
We’ve bought second class seats and it’s another enjoyable journey. Rail travel in Sri Lanka has been a fantastic experience mainly because of the atmospheric, crusty old trains and the friendly people – at least as fun as the long, public bus trips.
Between Galle and Hikkaduwa the railway runs close to the coast, most of the time within sight of the beach. At Telwatta, the track cuts through thick palm groves and the sea, 200 metres away, is barely visible.
I don’t want to dwell on this, but this is exactly where the tsunami hit the Queen of the Sea that terrible morning in 2005. The train was packed because it was a holiday weekend as well as a full moon, when Buddhists visit relatives. The tsunami was three times the height of the train killing all 1,700 passengers. It’s the world’s worst ever train accident. Now and again we see huge boats still stranded hundreds of metres inland.
On the outskirts of Colombo, we pass the popular beach resorts favoured by the locals rather than western tourists. The end of the line is at the busy Fort Station where we jump straight into a tuktuk to take us to the Galle Face Hotel. I’ve read a lot about this place and hoped we’d have time for a visit.
Built by the British in 1864, it sits right on the edge of the Indian Ocean and adjoining Galle Face Green. This is a long, grassy promenade popular with food vendors and families having picnics and flying kites. The hotel gleams pure white with the sun beating down on it from a cloudless blue sky.
We both get that deja-vous feeling as we pull up at the hotel’s grand arched entrance in another farting tuktuk. Uniformed staff rush out of the tall carved doors to extract our backpacks while we seek out the desk. No luck with getting a cheap room here for tonight (over $200AUD) but we are in time for the buffet breakfast. This is served on the gorgeous, long colonial verandah – arches, columns, multi-paned windows, ceiling fans, palms, a polished wooden ceiling and a cool, slate floor – and, yes, I’m in heaven again.
I pay for the buffet breakfast but poor Mark is full from eating on the train so he just has to watch me stuff my face. Before we leave, we have a wander around the posh bottom floor – a perfect mix of English elegance and the exotic east.
Back out into the heat and sunshine we jump into another tuktuk to take us across town to the bus station. This is alive with local people unloading bags from tuktuks and transferring them to the waiting buses. As usual these are all a bit dodgy which means loads of character. We love public transport and soak up everything we see.
I have a sudden kabumbah attack but I’ll just have to wait till we get to Negombo. It’s only thirty seven kilometres to the north so it shouldn’t take too long to get there – WRONG! I spend two nail-biting hours thinking I’m going to shit myself as we literally stop every few hundred metres!
Finally, at the bus station, we grab a tuktuk to drop us at the Beach Villa Guesthouse – a cheap option in the Lonely Planet. This is off the main road down a sandy alleyway and facing the ocean. The beach here, though, is unappealing to say the least – a long stretch of windswept coastline with a wide expanse of sand and no-one around.
For some reason my kabumbah urge has eased, so when we see that the guesthouse is a bit of a dump, we decide to see if we can find anything better close by. The guesthouse next door looks fantastic but it’s booked out so we look at another one on the main road. This is a newish apartment with no character at all so we head back to the laneway.
Here we check out another place with only two bare rooms set in a dry, mangy garden. Okay, it looks like the crappy Beach Villa isn’t too crappy after all. Things are so spread out here that we can’t be bothered trying to find other places and we’ve only got tonight anyway so we book in.
Our room is small and dingy but, to make up for it, there’s a comfy lounging around area with groups of other travellers relaxing and having lunch. I just want to have a sleep so Mark goes off to check things out.
He finds a tuktuk to take him to a bar in the centre of town but he isn’t too impressed. At six o’clock we both head out again for a late lunch / early dinner. At the Rodeo Bar, we share a chicken burger then I see a beauty parlour sign further down the main road. I’d like to have my grungy nails done before we get home so we wander down for a look.
The beauty parlour is in the garden of a hotel and very upmarket – not what I like but there doesn’t seem to be anything else around – this definitely ain’t Thailand. Anyway, the lady who owns it is lovely and we become best friends in no time. She even calls out to her little boy and girl to come inside to meet me. The only downfall is that my manicure and pedicure are the worst ever with nail polish everywhere – I think Abi could have done a better job. And it costs a fortune – hilarious. Don’t have the heart to say anything else but ‘thanks’ and give her a hug.
Meanwhile Mark has found a restaurant/bar right on the sand but there’s no atmosphere at all. We’re trying to like Negombo but it’s just not happening. We move on to Cocktails Bar and this is more like it. On sunset a lot of local families and couples are on the beach which is much nicer in this area and the restaurant is starting to fill up with people having dinner.
We order prawns and lobster cocktails as well as plenty of beers and margaritas – we decide to splurge on our last night. In half an hour I’m drunk and sing loud love songs to Mark – I’m pretty sure I sound amazing!
Tuktuk home to bed.
Monday 25th June, 2012 Negombo to Kuala Lumpur
A very early 4.30am alarm and we’re ready to go in minutes. Out in the laneway we meet our tuktuk driver who drove us back here last night. We were hoping he’d turn up this early and here he is, God love him. Flying through the empty streets, these extra early starts are always exciting.
Twenty minutes later, it’s still pitch dark as we pull up at the busy Bandaranaike International Airport terminal. The flight is only a few hours and we seem to be landing back in Malaysia in no time at all. We’ve got a ten hour stop-over so we decide to go into the city instead of hanging out here at the LCCT. First we put our big packs into storage then get a shuttle bus to KLIA to catch the fast-speed train into Kuala Lumpur.
This is the KLIA Ekspress that runs non-stop from the international airport into the centre of the capital. We’ve caught it once before when we flew in from Borneo a few years ago. The train is super-modern and at speeds of 160km/h, we cover the 57 kilometres in only 28 minutes.
At KL Sentral, Mark manages to work out how to get another train to Chinatown. I’m totally confused especially finding the right platform through floors literally packed with people. Mark seems to have some sort of inner radar and we’re soon on the right train and in Chinatown in minutes. We wander around the markets buying an owl backpack for Abi and scarves for presents.
Near the entrance we stop for drinks at the Reggae Bar that was a favourite when we were here last time. Inside is decorated with Bob Marley pictures, photographs and posters and endless Bob songs are playing with a little bit of UB40 thrown in. We decide to sit outside so we can watch the passersby – good people watching. Later we wander back into the market then on dark get a train back to KL Sentral where we catch the airport KLIA Espress to the airport.
One more leg to go – the shuttle bus to LCCT where we get our packs out of storage then wait for our eleven o’clock flight. The terminal is packed but I find an empty bench seat where I lie down to read – very comfy.
The plane leaves on time and we have an easy nine hour trip home.
Tuesday 26th June, 2012 Sydney
Land at 10am then train home. Lauren and Dolly pick us up. Soooo happy to be back with our darlings.