Trip to Kandy, Sri Lanka notes

MARCH 2014
US$1.00 = LKR130 (RUPEES)

This trip took four days / three nights and cost less than US$200 for two people. It was a relaxing trip and we had no trouble with transport or accommodation.

Local tuk tuk entrepreneur Ekka took us to the Galle bus station at 5.30am to catch the number 31 bus to Nuriya Elya, which also stops at our destination Ella. The cost was Rs300 per person. The trip took seven hours. The bus is not full at the train station so it’s a good place to start your trip.
The bus followed the coast until Hambantota and headed north along highway 2 towards Wellawaya. The views along the coast were very nice and the Sri Lankan music blared from a large speaker at the back. Stopping at a small roadside at Kuda Oya for a 20 min break, a quick bite and drink. Here you can buy egg rolls, a quick curry and rice, coconuts, steamed corn, ginger beer and other snacks. Continuing up the windy hairpin bends then arriving at Ella at 1.00pm.

To ensure we had a train ticket for the popular tourist part of the trip and through to Kandy, as soon as we arrived we walked the short walk to the railway station (up hill and to the right), and booked two SCR (2nd class reserved) seats for Rs600 each. First class had only one seat and cost Rs1250 per ticket. We hadn’t booked anywhere to stay and decided to wing it. Accommodation online booking site Agoda had prices in the range of A$25 upwards, but we walked by the Pasla Hotel and their very spacious room was only Rs2000 per night (A$17). We probably could have bartered but we were happy enough with that price. The room had two double beds, was a big room with fan, mosquito hot shower and clean bathroom. No need for aircon in this cooler climate. Perfect!

Plenty of places to eat out, and we were lured in by the Dream Cafés menu. Although the food was very good, with a couple of beers and a glass of red we ended up paying around US$28 (Rs3500). That’s very expensive by local standards. Of course there are much cheaper places and of course you can always forego the drinks to keep costs down. Ella is a lovely small village suited for tourists. From Ella you can take a walk to the top of Little Adams Peak.

Next morning train to Kandy left at 9.23am. There is an earlier train around 6.30am plus a couple later in the day, but this time suited us and would arrive at Kandy at a reasonable time to find accommodation. The 2nd class reserved seat tickets were a good inexpensive option at Rs600 each. We could open windows and take good photos of the tea plantations and lovely views and with many seats empty we could move around to get the best views. I think 1st class had air conditioning therefore couldn’t open windows. Three hours later the train arrives at Nanu Oya, the closest train station to Nuwara Eliya, where the tourist part of the trip generally ends. We stayed aboard and continued another three hours to arrive at Kandy by 4pm. Once again we didn’t book accommodation and a driver at the railway station said he knew a place where we could stay. We went to the Ambis Guesthouse located next to the posh Hotel Suisse. Both are located on the south side of the lake with lake views. The room had two single beds, clean and fresh, hot water and fan, but has no dining facilities. We paid Rs2500 per night. The proximity to the busy road makes it a noisy place, but otherwise an acceptable lodgings for a couple of days. Hotels outside the Kandy town area may be quieter and offer hill views.

Kandy town is about 20 minutes walk from this guesthouse, but you have to be quick and dart across the ridiculously busy lakeside road! A tuktuk is easy to hail for around Rs100-200 to the town or railway station.To get to the Cultural Centre is a 20 minute walk to the northern side of the lake. Each night there is a 5pm Kandyan Dance show. Apparently there is another, supposed better, cultural dance further in the hills, but this event suited our budget at only Rs500 each. Be prepared to tip the dancers at the end. From this event you can walk to the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic, not far away, but many tourists enter in the evenings. I decided to go the next morning at 9.00am.

The main attraction in Kandy is Sri Dalada Maligawa (Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic). Kandy was the last capital of the Sinhala Monarchy. This Buddist temple is worth a look. Only Rs1000 to enter, and you may have a guide approach you, but don’t accept one from outside as they are not ‘official’. Wait until you’re in. You may not need one, but mine took me to the front of queues of school children and tourists and explained a bit along the way. I paid him Rs500 for his time. Best times are 5.30am, 9.00am and in the evening.

The Victory Bar and Restaurant in Kandy has reasonably priced food and a meal with two large bottles of beer costs around Rs1200 (A$10) for two people. The Devon Restaurant also in the Main Street in Kandy has a good enough breakfast served in China cups and plates, and has a large restaurant. Another restaurant frequented by tourists is The Pub. It’s a little overpriced and probably not suited to budget travelers. Beers were double the price of other venues. There’s also a Pizza Hut, but don’t expect to buy beer here.

The Botanical Gardens are about 7kms from Kandy town so a tuk tuk is required, for around Rs250-400, and more on return. One cheaper option is the local buses that pass through Peradenija then a return bus to Kandy. Entry costs are astounding – only Rs50 for locals but a whopping Rs1100 per person for tourists. This is the norm in Sri Lanka, so be warned. However, the park itself is impressive and has a grand selection of massive old trees from around the world, plus a charming display of flowers and shrubs with monkeys and lots of bats in the trees. Worth a look. One thing you will notice is the number of couples canoodling behind bushes and trees! Seems to be a local hangout for lovers.

Walking through Kandy town is interesting. We ended up at the local fruit and vegetable markets and were the only tourists there. The colors of the fruits, vegetables, umbrellas and saris was delightful.

From Kandy you have the option of visiting Dambulla cave temple and the ancient city of Sigiriya. Dambulla is a three hour trip from Kandy and the entrance costs for each are upwards of US$30pp. Some people managed to take this side trip within four days, but we decided not to go as our main interest was the train tide.

At this point we left Kandy and caught the 5.50am air conditioned train to Columbo. The cost was Rs500 each and took around 2.5hours. Ekka didn’t recommend Colombo to visit and we also came to that conclusion after reading a bit about the place. We bought 2nd class standing room only tickets for the 10.35am to Galle (Rs190 each) then left the train station and found a place to have an egg roll and ginger beer. The train was late and left at midday, so we arrived at Galle by 2.30pm. From Galle Railway it’s a tuk tuk ride back to the harbour.

If you can get away from the boat and want to take in a bit of Sri Lanka, I would recommend this way of travel. If you have some extra in your cruising kitty, be prepared to spend around three or four times our budget for a similar trip with a driver and side trip to Dambulla.

Ekka can arrange your travel for you and has good connections. We generally saw Ekka daily as he’s usually outside the port entry. He has a small team who work with him and he knows what yachties need and offers help any way he can.

March 2014

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