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britman Colombo - A travel report by Brit
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Colombo,  Sri Lanka - flag Sri Lanka -  Western
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britman's travel reports

Sri Lanka - just 33 days before the tsunami hit!

  27 votes
Page: 1 2
This article was written one month before the tsunami hit on the 26th December 2004 following my trip there in November. All the coastal areas are badly affected. The hotels Lotus Park, Trincomalee, Dickwella Resort, and Paradise Beach at Mirissa are all closed and I believe devastated. More news as I receive it.

Koggala Stilt Fisherman
Koggala Stilt Fisherman
This former British Colony once known as Ceylon lies just 3 degrees north of the Equator and is sometimes likened to a tropical teardrop dripping off the face of South East India. Often called Serendipity Island, Island of the Lotus Eaters or simply Emerald Isle, Sri Lanka is roughly the size of Ireland or Tasmania and is famed for growing tea – the drink that is the backbone of Britain. Sri Lanka offers a well developed nationwide system of National Parks teeming with exotic bird and wildlife, fauna and flora. The countries 7 World Heritage Sites alone ooze such a diversity of natural splendour with enough architecture, history, folklore and wildlife to satiate the demands of the most ardent traveller. Warm unspoilt white sand beaches, some like Arugam Bay on the East Coast offer freaky surfing possibilities. Contrast this with lowland tropical rain forest and cool misty mountains where tea is planted amongst houses that resemble a little England and you have a recipe for dreamland. The unique delicious island cuisine offers the tastes and smells expected from a fabled spice island. All in all Sri Lanka is one of the finest bargain travel journeys available today. No travel boredom here, it is just pure serendipity. As you travel the island something new or surprising appears around every corner and it guarantees an enthralling journey. It is also an ecologists dream. Many visitors come just to see the profusion of wildlife - it is literally swarming. The list reads like a Noah’s Ark inventory and the visitor is dazzled with its array. I saw millions of butterflies fluttering like confetti, many mischievous monkeys and elephants galore. Brightly coloured kingfishers, bee-eaters and parrots are common place. I saw more wildlife in my short visit than I have seen in years and I want to come back for more!

Favourite spots:
Uda Walawe National Park - elephants with calf
Uda Walawe National Park - elephants with calf
o Trincomalee – get there before mass tourism does!
o Hill Country around Kandy & Nuwara Eliya - the tea plantations are a must see.
o Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage – tourists galore but great elephant photo opportunities.
o Sigiriya Lion Rock Fortress – A world Heritage site and branded the 8th wonder of the world. 180 metres high.
o Dambulla Cave Temple – Great even after you are “templed out”. o Temple of The Tooth Ceremony, Kandy – moving, meaningful and spectacular to Sri Lankans’ too.
o Arugam Bay on the South East Coast – A surfer’s beach to end all beaches!
o Ula Walawe or Kaudulla National Parks for elephant – they’re far superior to the more touted but less wildlife populated Yala National Park.
o The coast road from Colombo to the South Coast. Full of empty outstanding beaches, Dickwella and Marissa being just two alluring examples.
o Colombo – returns you back to reality. Pockets of sophistication amongst predominately abject poverty.

What's really great:
Anuradhupura - A true Buddhist Monk
Anuradhupura - A true Buddhist Monk
An accepted part of everyday Sri Lankan life are Buddhist Monks, there lifestyle fascinated me. Being vegetarians they eat just two meals a day – breakfast & lunch. They are allowed just 8 possessions or items to carry for their survival. The only 8 items that they are allowed to carry are: - 3 sets of robes (which he must make himself),
Begging Bowl,
Shiva Knife (Razor),
Needle & Cord.

Sri Lanka’s 20 million population embraces 63% Buddhist Sinhalese, 15.5% Hindu Tamils, 7% Muslim and 7% Christian. Its historical origins embroidered with myths and legends confirm that its first settlers came south from India at least 2500 years ago. Marco Polo called it “The finest island in the world”. It was occupied and controlled by 3 European countries throughout 500 years until 1948, firstly by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and latterly the English for 152 years when Ceylon gained her independence. Its change of name to Sri Lanka came in 1972.

Casting the net - Giritale Tank (reservoir)
Casting the net - Giritale Tank (reservoir)
Some additional travel information on getting around to see the sights:

Railways – an extensive system is in operation the fares are very cheap but trains are slow, overcrowded and becoming inefficient say the locals.

Buses:- Frequent, fast and cheap they are driven by kamikaze bully boys who force everything else off the road. They are usually crammed to a sardine in a tin like ratio.

Private car and driver:- Very cheap by world standards –cost from $US 20 per day for 24 hours for both!

Exchange Rates November 2004: 100 rupees = $1 and 190 = £1. ATM’s are common in most towns – Commercial Banks accept all cards.

Climate: - A green island means it rains a lot. Best time to visit is November to March

Time Difference 6 hours ahead of GMT

Nuwara Eliya - Tea Picker with wicker basker
Nuwara Eliya - Tea Picker with wicker basker
This countries tourism is set to boom and there is a shortage of hotel beds. So do book ahead.
Some of my hotels:-
1. Kandy - The eccentric Helga’s Folly Hotel is a must see but the must stay is The Topaz.
2. Colombo – The excellent Hilton is one of their cheapest and best properties worldwide.
3. Nuwara Eliya – More eccentricity at “The Hill Club” – where they loan you a jacket and tie for dinner - they even put a hot water bottle in your bed too.
4. Trincomalee – The new Lotus Park Hotel – tries so hard to please they almost humble you!
5. Dickwella Village Resort on the South Coast has a spectacular location and is real star accommodation find.
6. The shabby Paradise-Beach-Resort is the best hotel in Mirissa, although it has dire, dreary, beachfront cabins with itchy beds and smelly pillows. Pity because it’s cheap and located on a magnificent beach and its restaurant offers 500g of excellent lobster thermidor for just 900 rupees.

Iguana at close quarters
Iguana at close quarters
Sri Lanka is not a country famed for its nightlife and in rural areas and smaller towns you will find none. If it’s nightlife you primarily want then Colombo or maybe, Kandy are the places to stay. Best tip is to get a copy of the LT Times when you arrive and look at the listings for Colombo. The popular clubs in Colombo are The Blue Elephant at the Hilton Hotel which has been going for years. They say that the coolest new club is Glow, its terrace looks over Colombo and the music mix is mainly R & B and hip hop. If you think you are the next Elvis or Madonna try the Gymkhana Club and its karaoke “Sopranos”.

Sigiriya rock fortress - a World Heritage Site
Sigiriya rock fortress - a World Heritage Site
As I travelled around Ceylon I was at first heartened to see signs saying “beer” “bar” or “pub” outside various establishments. However my enthusiasm was soon dampened after poking my head into several of them. They were all dark and dingy with no light and just odd chairs around very simple tables.
The countrywide beer is Lion Lager or Stout, both are excellent beers and readily available in 500ml bottles from 100 rupees up. Far more atmospheric are the toddy shops that sell the popular local drink made from the sap of coconut palms. Arak is distilled toddy – it is usually drunk with soda water.
Visitors to Colombo will find two pseudo Irish pubs, Clancy’s being the best. A newly opened English Pub (October 2004) “The Inn on the Green” offers imported British beer and English pub grub but was almost empty when I called in for lunch one day. The Lion Pub at Mount Lavinia is fine too. The Hilton’s Echelon Pub sells great pub food and booze at realistic prices!

Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple
Apparently 70% of all visitors have “tummy bugs” at some time during their stay. So in smaller establishments as usual avoid ice, salads etc., and drink only bottled water. If you intend staying in rural parts western food maybe a problem.

Sri Lankan food is great – but is essentially curry based. Rendition of western fare leaves a lot to be desired unless you are in the larger resort hotels or Colombo where there is a good choice.
I honestly cannot recommend any rural restaurant to you – hotels are safer.

The Capitol though has a good choice and you may like to try:-
The Hilton – outstanding culinary oasis, safe and relatively inexpensive dining by western comparisons.
The Mango Tree – The best Tandoori & Indian food in town.
The Inn on the Green, next to the Galle Face Hotel for British food.
Cricket Club Café – has loads of memorabilia featuring the world’s top cricketers and their teams and cool mango juice.
The Gallery is also a sophisticated stylish restaurant

Other recommendations:
At Habarana I came across this lovely elephant bathing in the river
At Habarana I came across this lovely elephant bathing in the river
Colombo is a Mecca for Shoppers. The chances are that the designer label clothes in your favourite fashion stores in Europe, America or Australia are made here. In Colombo you buy them for a fraction of your own High St. retail prices. I saw Marks & Spencer, Next, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi Strauss & Billabong products on the racks here. Don’t worry if you over shop –stores will ship to your home and you will still have bought a bargain wardrobe. Try Barefoot, Odel, Fashion House and Paradise Place – all great shopping stores easily reached by cheap taxi. Jewellery stores also abound and I am told that sapphires and ruby are particularly good buys. Latest films on DVD are from 200 rupees at the Majestic Centre.

Further reading and web sites
Best guidebook by far is the Footprint Guide followed by the inevitable Lonely Planet Guide.
I found very few websites to be of assistance before my visit, but try:-

***Following the tsunami for up to date hotel information see:***

Published on Tuesday November 23th, 2004

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Sat, Jan 14 2006 - 08:53 AM rating by mj2004


Sun, Jan 16 2005 - 08:59 AM rating by davidx

Wow! I have only just 'found' this. Really terrific.

Wed, Jan 05 2005 - 12:21 AM rating by italian-link

Very well done, Brit. Awesome pictures, especially of the wildlife. It must be disheartening to know that a lot of what you saw is now destroyed. Hopefully they can rebuild very quickly.

Fri, Dec 31 2004 - 10:38 AM rating by polytrad

Well done Brit. As a Frenchman, I dare say that I really love your beautifully rich English. For an English teacher like me, you are an example not to mention the interest I find in whatever you write.
Thank you Brit.

Sun, Dec 26 2004 - 01:03 AM rating by gabiforever

Dear Brit,
your account of lanka was a pleasure to read. I hope you do keep in touch, and if you need any more inof or anything from me from lanka, please don't hesitate to contact me. Plus if any of your friends or contacts wish to inquire about lanka, consider me your local source!
Let me know where else I can read your articles.
FRom Gabi aka Nadhi

Mon, Nov 29 2004 - 08:21 PM rating by magsalex

Great report. Loved the pics.

Sun, Nov 28 2004 - 12:42 AM rating by fieryfox

Simply awesome Britman. I just love reading your reports. Keep them coming!


Wed, Nov 24 2004 - 06:52 AM rating by rangutan

Perfect report on an amazing place

Tue, Nov 23 2004 - 04:59 PM rating by picasso

What a gteat place to visit,after reading this outstanding report

Tue, Nov 23 2004 - 02:09 PM rating by bear495

This is a wonderful report, Brit. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Keep up the excellent work.


Tue, Nov 23 2004 - 01:28 PM rating by bineba

Hi Brit,

what a great report! I do like reading reports on individual places but sometimes it's great to read a general overview of a region or a country. It helps you decide whether there is enough to grab your attention for a fortnight of travelling or so.

Your photos in the slideshows & reports have been fanatasic! Love the elephants!


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