Scraping the Surface in Sri Lanka

Friday, January 05, 2018

Greetings from Sri Lanka!

[Trying something new here. If I visit a country and I don't accomplish all I set out to do, the post will be titled Scraping the Surface. This differs from the more in-depth Expat Travels and the intentionally short Quickation trips respectively. #notetoself]

The ongoing blockade against Qatar has made travel very inconvenient and very expensive (side-eyeing Qatar Airways). In an attempt to circumvent this, I booked a flight into Colombo, one of the more affordable countries to fly into, with the idea that it’d be a jump off point to Bali and Thailand- my intended destinations. (Read how that attempt got semi-foiled here)

While Sri Lanka has long been a popular destination for adventurers, it doesn’t appear to be on the radar of travel enthusiasts yet. In fact, Airbnb recently listed Sri Lanka as a #notyettrending destination, so it probably won’t be long before the island is on more folks’ radar.

It is evident that the tourism industry is still growing in Sri Lanka. The country endured through a civil war that only ended in 2006. Colombo has since become the capital and a bustling commercial city.

While I did not find Colombo to be that exciting, there were some pretty neat cultural attractions.

Endless Buddha at Gangaramaya Temple

Colombo lighthouse
Shout out to the terrible camera man who got the capital building, but not the lighthouse

Inside Independence Square

Red Mosque

I did the city tour in a tuk tuk, very fun!

My hotel had an amazing rooftop bar with some pretty good specials. The rooftop bars are definitely popular among tourists and locals alike.

I overslept my second morning (thank you, time zone difference) and missed my train ride to Galle. Galle is where the stilt fishermen used to perch for the days’ catch. Not sure when or how it became a tourist attraction but you should know that the stilt fishermen are no longer there. Word is that the area is now overrun with men posing as fishermen and demanding money for photos upfront. Hopefully I didn’t miss much to that end but I am sad that I missed Bentota Beach and the fort. I did get this neat watercolor painting of the stilt fishermen while in Colombo, though (lol).

Close enough for me!

I did not miss my train to Kandy. There was no way that I was going to miss the stunning scenery that I first saw featured in one of my favorite movies of all time, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Kandy did not disappoint!

Headed up to see Big Buddha

The scarf they gave me matched my shades :)

Had to buy a sari to visit the Temple of the Tooth

Temple of the Tooth, foreigners have to pay for entry
Liken it to visiting a church on Sunday in the middle of service, and snapping pics of the parishioners :-/

Kandy Lake, right outside the temple
Popular chill spot

Magnificent views from OZO Hotel Kandy, rooftop bar

The highlight of my time was the train ride into Kandy. The trains are open air and very old. I booked seats in the reserved cars ahead of the trip and thoroughly enjoyed the open air ride.

2.5 hour train ride to Kandy from Colombo

Stunning views from the train car

Based on my research and my short time in country, I’d say the magic happens outside of Colombo.  I covered most of Colombo's popular sites in half a day. I would spend a day there and then jaunt off to Kandy, Galle, Negombo (beach town near the airport) and Ella. Ella is 7 hours from Colombo by train, and unfortunately I didn’t have time. I’ve heard that this train ride is one of the most beautiful in the world. The YouTube videos were certainly convincing.

Sri Lanka is cool but it’s not some place I’d run back to. As a solo woman it was often very uncomfortable being in certain spaces; some of the men are very aggressive. Also, the bait ‘n switch is real. I was tried by a tuk tuk driver over a 10 minute ride (he failed), a shop owner in the rinky dink mall tried charging me $20 for the basic ass elephant pants that can be found all over SEA for no more than $5, and even my own hotel tried to scam me by inflating their day trip price to Galle by three times the cost after finding out I’d missed my train. Tuh! Hopefully this fledgling industry will learn that people aren’t eager to return to places that are scam happy. There are more bait ‘n switch horror stories on TripAdvisor, YouTube and Google if you care to delve further.

Definitely try Sri Lanka and see for yourself. If I return, I’ll be on the first thing smoking out of Colombo and back to Kandy. If I had it to do over I would have spent all my time there and I definitely would have made time for Ella, too.

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