The international airport of Sri Lanka is close to Negombo, where we stayed the first few days of our holiday. We had a great view over the beach and the ocean from our hotel room. Negombo has some old Dutch canals and a nice port.
It was very fine to have a quiet start, since we would see and do lots of things in the following three weeks, like climbing rocks, going on safari, riding elephants etc.
Mihintale & Anuradhapura
Mihintale is the place where Buddhism originated in Sri Lanka around 250 BC. Some ruins of the old hospital and the Mihintale tablets can easily be reached by car.
Visiting the large stupa or the meditation rock needs a lot of climbing. But it is worth the time and trouble. The view is great and the stupa and the Buddha's in the small temples on top are very beautiful.
Anuradhapura is the ancient capital of Sri Lanka. It first became a capital in 380 BC and for more than 1000 years kings ruled Sri Lanka from here. The ancient city is spread over a large area and there are many stupa's, like the Ruvanvelisaya dagoba, where statues of elephants guard the entrance. We also saw remains of old palaces, the holy Bodhi tree and many Buddha statues, e.g. the Samadhi Buddha, which is regarded as one of the finest statues in the country. It is wise to buy the Cultural Triangle round ticket in Anuradhapura, in Sigiriya or in Polonnaruwa, depending on your itinerary. It is expensive, but cheaper than to buy separate tickets at these places.
Aukana & Sigiriya
On our way to Sigiriya we visited the splendid huge Buddha statue of Aukana, made out of one big rock. The statue is a bit out of the direct way to Sigiriya, but the road along the large tank Kala Wewa is nice and quiet.
Sigiriya is famous for its rock fortress or palace on top of the Lion rock. It is a lot of steep climbing and the best time to do that is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. In the afternoon the sunlight will shine on the frescoes of the Sigiriya damsels, at least if the guards open the heavy curtain. Don't forget to pay them for their courtesy :-)
After the damsels and the graffiti mirror wall you have the idea that you are almost on top. However, the flat part of the rock is only the starting point for further steep stairs up to the real top. The very last part is really frightening, but some friendly men will help you if necessary. From the top the view is magnificent.
In nearby Habarana we had a good experience; riding on an elephant. Don't forget to give some instructions to the man who makes pictures with your camera. We did not and most pictures are not completely sharp unfortunately. Habarana is also a place from where you can do a safari to Minneriya National Park, where a lot of wild elephants can be seen at sunset or dawn.
For three centuries Polonnaruwa was the capital of Sri Lanka. It is about 1000 years old. The monuments are in better condition than in Anuradhapura. There are remains of palaces and temples and of course a lot of Buddha statues. Most monuments are rather close to each other. However, the large Buddha statues of Gal Vihara and some devales are further away and can best be reached by car or bicycle.
On the way from Sigiriya to Kandy is Dambulla. Dambulla's attraction are the five old cave temples with many, many Buddha statues and 19th century paintings. The modern largest Buddha statue in the world (30m high) is below the long stairway to the caves. Again a lot of climbing :-)
To us Kandy is a busy town with a lot of traffic and smog caused by many busses and tuktuks. However, don't miss the ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth. It is very impressive. And the Perideniya botanical gardens are a haven of rest with nice orchids, coconut palms and giant bamboo trees. So Kandy is still worth to go.
However, be careful if you have some clothes made; we agreed upon a price in euros, the salesman was very, very quick with his calculator and a price came out in rupees. We signed the credit card slip, thinking that it was the equivalent of the amount in euros. Unfortunately, this was not so, so we found out when we were back home and received the credit card statement.
About one hour by car west of Kandy is the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. It was set up to save abandoned wild elephants, but nowadays it is more like an elephant zoo. When we were there a special attraction was a one-day old baby elephant. The elephant bathing is fun to see as well. After the feeding they are being led to the river to take their bath.
In the hill country towards and around Nuwara Eliya are many tea plantations. Some of them can be visited, which is very interesting. Nuwara Eliya lies on about 1,900 m, so don't forget to bring warm clothes and a rain coat. If you don't go to the Hornton plains for mountain walking or to see World's End, Nuwara Eliya is not a place to spend much time.
The train trip from Nuwara Eliya's train station in Nanu Oya to Ella, however, should not be missed. Try to book the observation carriage in advance. From the first seats, i.e. the last seats in the train since you travel backwards, the views over the hills and mountains, tea plantations and small villages are great. We spent the night in Bandarawela, but it is better to stay in Ella, since the beautiful way southwards through Ella gap goes via this village.
Kataragama, further south, is a holy place for Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. The religious complex across the Menik Ganga contains buildings of all three religions. In July/August the two-week lasting Hindu Kataragama Festival is held here and thousands of devotees make the pilgrimage.
The tsunami of 26 December 2004 destroyed a lot of houses and infrastructure in the south of Sri Lanka. In the meantime a lot of things have been rebuilt, although at some places the remains of what happened then can still be seen.
The old part of Galle is, contrary to the other ancient cities, still a living city. In the 17th century the Dutch built a big fort here, which is still inhabited. Houses have been restored, though some need some more effort, there is a small museum and some old churches, like the Reformed Dutch church.
From our hotel room balcony we had a great view over the ocean, the palm trees and the beach nearby. Since it was almost our last night in Sri Lanka, we said goodbye to Pradeep, our guide and driver and new friend, with a very tasteful prawn dinner in Unawatuna.
The last day for us in Sri Lanka started with a nice boat cruise over the Madu river where you can see water lizards, how they prepare cinnamon and how they catch the prawns .
In Kosgoda is the Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery, where several sorts of turtles are paddling in tanks. It is the hatchery's purpose to bring most of them back to sea, but they also have some big ones left in the tanks. After this visit and after again a great prawn lunch at Paradise restaurant in Waskaduwa, we were brought back to the Hilton hotel in Colombo, where we spent our last night in Sri Lanka, before flying to the Maldives for another wonderful week.
The Maldives were everything we had expected; white coral sand beaches with palm trees, blue sky and turquoise lagoons. We stayed at the Meeru Island resort, about 45 minutes by speedboat away from the airport. It is one of the biggest islands of the Maldives, but still small enough to walk around in about an hour.
It was a week of snorkelling, diving, relaxing and enjoying the beautiful nature both above and under water. We saw all kind of fish, even a little shark and at the sunset cruise hundreds of dolphins were swimming around the boat and jumping out of the water.
Just some pictures to give an idea of the resort and of our activities.
Meeru village, at the other end of the island, has a very nice spa. When you get your massage you can see the fish swimming below you when you look through the small glass in the top end of your bed. Dining at the beach at the Asian wok restaurant is another option.
But it is also great to sit at your own terrace of your bungalow and watch the sunset.
A visit to Malé, the capital of the Maldives, is in our opinion a waste of time and money. It is just another big city with a lot of people and traffic. Don't forget to be dressed decently, especially the ladies, since the Maldives are an Islamic country. The Grand Friday mosque and its minaret as well as the fish market are nice.
Since we had to leave the Maldives early in the morning, we had to spent the last night at the Hulhule airport hotel. Try to get there early in the afternoon so you can have a nice time at and in the pool.
last revision: 19 October 2006
Jaap & Marion Fahrenfort-Nietfeld