Tag Archives: colombo

Mike Cathy and Katja in Sri Lanka Part 1 out of 7

sri lanka or bust!

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”
John A. Shedd

Our mosquito bites since our trip to Australia hadn’t even healed yet but once again Katja and I found ourselves in another airport ready to visit another country we hadn’t been to before. The difference this time was that we were traveling as a family with Cathy. In fact, you could probably say we were traveling as a rather large family as most of Qatar Academy seem to be on the same flight. For some bizarre and unplanned reason, traveling as a family is relatively rare for us. For some inexplicable reason we tend to travel separately and meet up in our intended destination, it usually ends up happening that I drive and pick the girls up from an airport and go on from there.

Carmageddon?

This mini holiday was a countrywide holiday which meant that every man and his dog were on a week’s holiday and more than likely traveling somewhere out of Qatar as is usually the case. Cathy finished a tad early from school so we could make our way to the airport with plenty of time. I had already booked Jamaal quite a few days earlier to make sure we got him first. We left home at 15:45 (flight time was 19:30 hrs or thereabouts). We hit the road and just before the roundabout we realised we hadn’t packed our return flight tickets, so it was back home to pick them up. Once you hit the dual carriageway by the compound it’s a bit of a pain to go back, but that’s what we had to do. Soon after we were back on the road and as usual and as expected, we hit heavy traffic soon after. However, much to our surprise, as soon as we hit the ring road it seemed to fizzle out and made it to the airport in about the same length of time as normal which meant we were there quite early!

Sri Lanka or Bust! asia-map

We met with numerous people from Qatar Academy at the departure lounge as well as with our traveling companions, Eric, Alyssia and baby Bryce (10 months old). We had mentioned to them about coming to Sri Lanka with us after one of our camping trips, we are glad we did as they were great people to travel with. We waited in the departure lounge ready to board our flight chatting and starting to enjoy the start of an adventure. It was all great other than a Belgian family who decided to entertain their kids by playing silly games and having no respect for others there. This involved running around with them (the tags on their bags said Belgian, it’s not that I decided they were), even after several dirty looks from me after being bumped into by them they carried on…anyway.

Soon after, we boarded our flight and were once again up in the air. It was an OK flight other than poor service by the cabin crew and not having any children’s meal for Katja which was a disappointment for her. We have done a lot of flying over the years and cabin crew has always been very good in most airlines, best one so far has to be Etihad and the worst crew award goes to a certain Hungarian airline we had the displeasure of having to fly with on many occasions when living in Eastern Europe. Anyway, cabin crew on this flight was far from great!

Welcome to Sri Lanka

We landed in Colombo bang on time, just a small matter of going through immigration, collecting our suitcases and meet up with our driver (we had one booked). The driver was there as agreed and soon set off to our first hotel which was (meant to be) approximately 2 km from there. We left the airport and one of the two very noticeable things was how dark the streets were and oh, hang on, they drive on the left hand side like in the UK (this made us feel at home right away!). The main road turned into a smaller road and then eventually into a dark narrow lane. At this point I was beginning to feel a little concerned. The driver seemed to have no idea where we were going (neither did we) and this was now certainly a lot further than 2 km. After a couple of hundred yards, we reached a big gate and a dead end. The driver sat there tooting his horn but to no avail. (it was approximately 3 am by now). he made a couple of phone-calls and we were eventually joined by someone on a motorbike. I must admit I did feel a little uneasy, had we just been kidnapped or something? The driver made a very tight 300 point turn and we were back onto the sort of main road. Not long after, we were back on another narrow track with another gate at the end. This time our escort on his motorbike opened the gate which lead into a courtyard and then through another gate to a parking lot. We had arrived…..not sure where but we had arrived somewhere.

The man on the bike introduced himself and soon put us (me) at ease. we were shown to our accommodation which was basic but by now it was pushing 4 am, all I wanted was a bed. The bed wasn’t exactly comfortable but who cares, the worse bit of it was it absolutely stank of bug spray and chemicals, as did the pillows.

Part II  – Waking up in Paradise

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Mike Cathy and Katja in Sri Lanka Part 5 out of 7

Exploring Sri Lanka’s western Province Part III

“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.” –
Daniel J. Boorstin

Monday IMG_1138

Cathy, Katja and I headed out by Tuk Tuk (of course) and went the opposite direction to Panadura, we headed to a large town and had a wander around various shops and market areas before ending up in a large temple by the river. What we both loved about the various temples we visited is how peaceful they feel. You are made to take your shoes off before entering and you wander about barefoot everywhere

Tuesday DSC06105

Tuesday was a big day for us as it was the day we had agreed to go to visit the elephants etc, etc. It was an early start as we were being picked up at 05:30 am for the cross province drive to Kandy. I mentioned to the hotel that we wouldn’t be in for breakfast; they immediately said they would get people in earlier for us so we could have breakfast before going out! After a beautiful and interesting (yet longer than expected) drive we arrived at the Elephant place. I would like to say it was the sanctuary we had in mind but later we discovered that this was a totally different place! I must admit I wasn’t enamoured by the place or the way the elephants were looked after. We took a short ride on one and upon returning were asked for money (having paid a considerable amount for the ride). What I offered him wasn’t enough so I gave him nothing! This was a good instance in which some prior research and directions would have come in handy, my overall comment for this place would have to be that we were disappointed by it! We left the elephant place and headed off to what we thought was the temple of the Sacred Tooth but made an unexpected stop.

Spice Plantation

The spice plantationt was interesting enough and we weren’t asked for money! So we bought some very nice spicy tea which we brought home!

Tea plantation

This was also an unexpected stop. I must admit it was very interesting and we were grateful to the guide for stopping here. Sri Lanka was a British Colony until 1948 and was formerly known as Ceylon (in 1972 it became the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka). Ceylon tea is famous world wide! The tour was very interesting and ended up of course with a cup of tea. It wasn’t a plantation as such but a mixture of a factory where they process the tea leaves and a plantation.

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth DSC06194

After a bit of a rocky start things were looking up, even though the weather looked pretty dodgy and by the time we had arrived at the tea plantation it was raining. Fortunately, it had stopped by the time we arrived at the temple. The Temple is located in Kandy which is a bustling city. Today the city was busier that any other day as it was a religious festival and a holiday. Our guide showed us to the area we had to go and get our tickets and then where to leave our shoes. We joined (literally) several thousand other people in a queue to enter the temple. Katja was amazing in the queue as it wasn’t the most comfortable experience. We reached what we thought was the main area only to be faced with a further long queue. We decided to concentrate in this area instead of queuing further. The temple is stunning and once again, there’s a real sense of peace, even if you are surrounded by several thousand other people! Katja was also fascinated by the monkeys running around all over the place.

Botanical Gardens

As we left the temple it had started to rain again. We arrived at the Botanical Gardens and the rain was starting to intensify….considerably! We started having a walk but the rain was getting worse; so we headed off to a restaurant on site and had some lunch. Sadly, the rain never subsided so we had to call it a day; the gardens look ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! We headed back to the mini bus and then back home. I think the driver may have either been in a hurry to get home or a death wish as he drove back like a scalded cat. Oh, except to make a couple of totally random stops to say hello to friends! We arrived back at the hotel tired after a long day. It hadn’t been as planned or expected as such, however, it was an enjoyable day exploring other parts of this magnificent country.

Wednesday IMG_1185

“Some people are so poor that all they have is just money”

This was to be our last day in Waduwa, we decided to have a quiet day by playing in the pool and the beach. I had a stinking cold so decided to have a bit of a sleep in the morning. In the afternoon after playing in the pool a bit more, we headed to the beach to watch the sun go down. We met a lovely local family and got chatting as Katja played with the kids. Cathy taught the kids some English songs and we all had a lovely time. I took a couple of pictures and the girls kept asking me to take more and more. They were amazed when I was showing them the ones I took. it turns out that they had never had a photo taken! I am sure we have all heard of things like this on TV or documentaries, etc, etc but when you hear it first hand it is a different story all together. These kids were happy with what they had. IMG_1189I am sure they weren’t fussed about Facebook, Twitter or whether they have the latest phone. They were happy with what they had. The mother and the girls had a fab time building sand castles and chasing each other around the beach. it was so humbling to see people who have so little were so happy. Our final day had ended on a high. We headed off to the restaurant for our final evening meal with several beers. we really didn’t want to leave this place. Every breakfast (several lunches) and every evening we sat and ate by the river watching the most amazing birds and wild life as well as monkeys fighting in nearby trees. However, tomorrow was set to be a totally different experience and adventure as we were off to Colombo for two days before flying back to Qatar.

Part VI – Colombo

Mike Cathy and Katja in Sri Lanka Part 6 out of 7

Colombo

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”
William Least Heat Moon

Thursday DSC06318

We woke up pretty early for people who are meant to be on holiday, I think it was sometime around 05:00 hrs but we were wide awake. We decided to head off to the beach to watch the sunrise and for Katja to have one last play on the beach before heading to Colombo. We had another amazing sunrise which I am so glad we got to see. There’s something rather special about watching the sun rise from behind the palm trees. The beach was deserted and the waves battering the shoreline accompanied by a chorus of birds celebrating the new day. We played on the beach for ages as night turned into day. On the way back to the room, Katja bumped into her the little girl who she was playing with on the beach. she was in her very smart white school uniform. She gave Katja a big hug and a kiss before saying good bye. We headed off to breakfast and then a quick last swim before being picked up to go to Colombo. As we were vacating our room one of the guys knocked on the door to say they had put out some drinks for us before we left. we turned up to a wonderful spread of a wide variety of food. These guys had nothing to gain by doing this as we had already paid our bill, but they were happy to look after us and make sure we didn’t leave hungry! Once we had consumed all the food and drink (fresh pineapple juice), they brought out yet another tray of food, almost as if to be doubly sure we were full! We said our goodbyes to people who were now our friends, we really didn’t want to go.

Colombo DSC06322

Colombo wasn’t quite as far as we thought it was, it took only a bit over an hour after negotiating with heavy traffic and suicidal tuk tuk drivers. We made out way to our hotel which we had booked before coming. The Cinnamon Red is a smart Hotel in the centre of Colombo. It took the driver a couple of goes at finding it but we got there…..eventually. We checked in and headed off to our room on the 22nd floor. Of course, being so high up, we had some pretty cool views of the city which in many respects reminds me of Sofia (Bulgaria) due to the numerous parks and green areas. After sorting all our stuff we headed off for some lunch followed by a tuk tuk ride around the city and to the port area.

Port Market – Colombo IMG_1208

As we rode in the tuk tuk around the city, it is amazing to see all the colonial buildings and trying to imagine what life would have been like in Colombo pre 1948. Many people who we met refered to pre 48 as “your forefathers did this and before your forefathers left”.We had a wander around the market in the port area. we had a good walkabout the place and of course, we bought numerous souvenirs and Cathy had a chance to buy plenty of clothes at amazing prices. After all this we tried to find a tuk tuk to get us back to the hotel but most of them either refused to take us as they didn’t know where the hotel was or just ignored us. Eventually we found a tuk tuk who would take us back but he didn’t have a clue where he was going. He stopped several times to ask for directions and to check with other drivers. We weren’t too fussed as we had agree on a price before starting so we were taking this as an unexpected extra city tour! Eventually he found the hotel (bit of a shame really as we were enjoying the tour!). Due to the magnificent views and floor to ceiling windows, we slept with the curtains open.

Friday

After a hearty breakfast in which I pigged out (pun intended) on bacon and sausages and every kind of pork products I could get my grubby little hands on, we went out for a wander to the nearby lake we could see from our bedroom window. We hired a pedalo and enjoyed the lake. OK, it was a bit too hot and humid but we enjoyed it nonetheless. we had to check out of the room by 12:00 hrs, but they kindly let us stay a bit longer for free as Katja was sleeping.

We went out to explore a bit more, outside the hotel we met another tuk tuk driver (Nicholas) who took us to several places and waited for us. We had lunch in a fish restaurant (I had chips) before heading back to the hotel where our luggage was waiting for us. We arrived a little early so we walked to the sopping centre which is some 300 yards from the hotel. When we were about to walk out we realised that it was raining, and I mean torrential rain! We bought a couple of umbrellas and braved it back to the hotel. The streets were flooded and we got absolutely soaked. by the time we arrived in the hotel we were like 5 drenched rats. The hotel gave us some towels and we got changed. as soon as we were ready we got into the taxis which were waiting for us and headed to the airport.

Part VII – Goodbye Sri Lanka

Mike Cathy and Katja in Sri Lanka Part 7 out of 7

Goodbye Sri Lanka

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
Bill Bryson

We carved our way through the congested streets of Colombo, suicidal tuk tuks and crazy moped riders all trying to get somewhere. Our drive to the airport should have taken around 45 minutes, instead it took 1.5 hours.

We arrived at the airport; very differently from other places; you are scanned as you go in and then your luggage is once again scanned before checking in! We dropped our luggage off via emigration where we had our passports stamped and then headed for our departures lounge. Colombo airport is a little antiquated but very passenger friendly and easy to navigate your way around. There is also plenty of friendly people around to ask for help.

We boarded about an hour before take off and took off some 20 minutes ahead of schedule which was good as we were not due to arrive in Doha until midnight.

Immigration in Doha was pretty quick and Jamaal was waiting for us to take us home.

Conclusion IMG_1272

It was a lovely trip and we totally fell in love with Sri Lanka and its people. It’s a fun and beautiful country with many lovely people. We cannot wait to go back and spend more time there. We would love to visit the girls we took photos of in Waduwa as we were unable to print the photos and give them to them, I am sure they would love that.

Some Tips

If you are interested in visiting Sri Lanka all I can say is YES, do it, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

  1. We booked our hotels via www.booking.com
  2. Check which coast has the better weather for when you plan to travel (East or West)
  3. Try and familiarise yourself with prices and exchange rates
  4. Agree on a price before any trips (Tuk Tuks and guides etc)
  5. Negotiate, Negotiate and Negotiate
  6. Take mosquito spray and antihistamines as mosquitoes are pretty vicious
  7. Change money before traveling as local exchange rates are not great
  8. Driving and driving standards are very different to what you may be used to.
  9. Paying with credit cards can sometimes be an issue, ask before hand
  10. Many if not most prices are quoted in US Dollars but local currency is Sri Lankan Rupee
  11. If planning to use a train beware that they are usually packed.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our trip, it was fun, exciting and interesting. We have learnt a lot about a country we knew virtually nothing about. We cannot wait to go back again. I can honestly and wholeheartedly say I love this place!!

Now it’s back to reality for us in Qatar, on Tuesday it’s National Sports day and on Friday we are off camping with friends. We are trying to make the most of the cool weather by spending as much time outdoors and enjoying the super mild winter in the Middle East.