As you can tell from the recent blog posts, the trains were one of my favorite things about Sri Lanka. At the very end of our stay we finally managed to score some tickets for the ’1st class observation’ car that I had heard people rave about. They have a special car at the end of the car with huge glass windows that face down the tracks. The $7 fare for the all-day journey makes this a very attractive option for tourists and locals alike. As an added bonus the fare includes assigned seats – yes, assigned seats on a form of Sri Lankan public transport!
Starting from Ella the route crosses through some of the very best scenery that the hill country has to offer. Tons of tea plantations, the occasional temple, some forests and many many tunnels. The weather was constantly on the change. Sunny one moment, dense fog the next moment with maybe with a little drizzle and then even more sun. The observation car was about half full that day so we were able to rotate seats with the others to have some time in the ‘front row’ near the windows. Such a great way to travel.
We spent our last full day exploring Colombo. The city isn’t exactly the crown jewel in the Sri Lankan tourist circuit but it does have a few worthwhile diversions. We dropped by the National History Museum for a couple of hours and got a nice recap of places we had visited while we sweated like crazy (the museum could use a few more fans, I know AC is asking too much). After that we found one of Sri Lanka’s highest end shopping malls (Odel) and mooched some of their air conditioning while perusing a bookstore. The mall is tiny but it is built into what looks to be an old colonial-era building. Pretty nicely executed if you ask me.
Back in the heat, we stopped by the Gangaramaya Temple on our way to Galle Face Green – a lively park right along the coast. The well-known Galle Face Hotel is just at the south end of the green so we popped in for some drinks at sunset. Our perfectly timed arrival got us seats at the front just before the place the place filled up! I don’t remember exactly what was in our cocktails but mine was nicely executed with some of the local spices (like real cinnamon!) and, of course, gin.
After happy hour, we bussed it back towards the Kollupitiya neighborhood where we were staying. One big turn-off about Colombo is the lack of budget accommodations in the center – there is next to nothing! The few budget options we could find were fully-booked and we ended up spending an astronomical $96 for our one night stay. In retrospect, it would have been much better to drop $140 to stay at the Galle Face Hotel. At least that hotel has a nice pool and quirky colonial architecture.
Despite our splurge on accommodations on the last night, Sri Lanka was exceptionally friendly to our budget. When it was all said and done, we spent about $25 per person per day over the course of our 25-day visit. This included a few splurges (like our elephant safari and the visit to Pigeon Island) as well. If we had visited more of the national parks we would have ended up a little higher but all in all, it is a very cheap destination.
So that’s that. What an incredible country and I am very glad we devoted almost a month to it. I am sure it will stand out as being one of the highlights of our RTW trip and I would gladly come back for another visit. In closing, Amy and I thought it would be good to list out some of the best parts of our Sri Lanka experience.
- Elephant House brand ginger beer: burn-your-nostrils refreshing
- Rice and curry: it’s not as simple as it sounds
- Train travel (also hanging out of over-crowded trains)
- Fun interactions with the many English-speaking locals
- Finally learning to eat with our hands
- Clothes drying racks in just about every hotel room
- Leftover British formalities (“Would the madame like some more ginger beer?”)
- The rolling green hills of the tea plantations