Saturday, April 30, 2016

More Than Cumin: Food In Sri Lanka

I associate Sri Lankan food with Indian food.
Can't blame me. Both countries integrate cumin in their daily diet. 
I don't like cumin. I don't like spicy food. 
So what's there to eat for someone who dies with spice?

I got some breakfast from the hostel. Their continental breakfast is just okay. They have a "side spice" that you can sprinkle on everywhere. I left it untouched. 

Breakfast platter at Drift BnB Colombo

I enjoyed the meals that were served to me during my stay in Oasis Tourist Family Resort. The food was freshly prepared and tasted like it. They said that they grow their own cumin instead of buying from the shops. The store-bought cumin had preservatives in them. I didn't know how cumin plants looked like so I wasn't able to check. The guesthouse charged LKR 667 for a full Sri Lankan type meal. I know that I can probably find cheaper ones outside, but I really liked the convenience of eating at the guesthouse and taking my time doing it. 

I was so hungry I took a bite before taking a proper photo

This continental breakfast cost LKR 435. That is a fresh papaya juice. Yumyum!



Friday, April 29, 2016

Accommodation Review: Blue Wing Inn

I found the Blue Wing Inn via Booking.com. I booked a room to myself. The backpacking scene in Nuwara Eliya didn't seem to be thriving.  

The place is not located in the town center, but near the lake. Walking to town was 30 minutes each way, which was a nice manageable walk.


Getting there was easy for me because I hired a private vehicle to take me from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.
Narrow road.

The view going to the accommodation from the lake

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hiking in Horton Plains and Missing Baker Falls

Not a fan of hiking here. But I give it a shot from time to time.

I had ambitious plans of hiking in the challenging trail of Adam's Peak. I ditched the plan when I had a chat with some backpackers who have been there. Too much effort to do it plus I had to figure out how to get there from Nuwara Eliya. Nope. So I chose an easier hike: Horton Plains.

My guesthouse offered to arrange a tuktuk to take me to Horton Plains for LKR 2,500. Cheaper that what I expected - which is usually LKR 3,000 to 3,500. I had my breakfast packed to go. We left at 5AM. It was around one hour going to Horton Plains via tuktuk - faster if you use a car.






Entrance fees were still absurdly high. I had to pay a  total of LKR 3,560 that covered my entrance fee, parking fee and whatever charges. The ticket reflected a breakdown of all those charges. They charge too much, IMO.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Tea Terraces at Nuwara Eliya

I like tea. I still drink coffee but I've learned how to love tea these past few years.
Tita much? Hehe. 

Sri Lanka is known as a tea country. I wanted to take a peek at the mountains where tea is grown.

From Kandy, you can reach Nuwara Eliya via train or a private car. Figuring out how to buy the train tickets sent me in circles. Given the hellish bus ride I endured from Colombo to Dambulla, I decided to spend some money for my peace of mind and hired a private car to drive me and take me around Nuwara Eliya.  I found my driver-guide, Kamal, in Withlocals. I sent him a message, and we agreed on the date, time and price. 

With Kamal, my driver-guide to Nuwara Eliya





Kamal toured me around a university with this really awesome old tree with crazy branches.




An ampitheater


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Accommodation in Kandy: Lake Round Residence

I had a bit of a trouble finding the place at first because the pin in Google Maps is located in the other street. I called the owners and they were helpful in instructing me find the right location.



This is an old house near the lake, a perfect location. It can take around 25 minutes to get to the other side of the lake, where the tooth temple is, but it was a good scenic walk. Just be wary of the bystanders around the lake, during the day and most especially at night. The girl who assisted me was very helpful and cautioned me not to hang out around the lake at night because I was travelling alone.

Unassuming on the outside

I had a short wait in the living room while my room was still being prepared. They gave me a cold glass of iced tea. Refreshing.

The room is spacious, clean, and the bed is comfortable. I paid $24.62 * 144.81 = LKR 3,565 for one night in this ensuite double room.

The mosquito net is pretty regal

There's no airconditioning the room had a fan and it was pretty cool at night despite being humid during the day.

Excuse the mess. I create mess easily.

One Day and One Night in Kandy



There’s not much to write about Kandy. Lots of reviews say that it is touristy and does not offer a lot. I agree, but it is not “skip”-able.

I boarded a bus from Dambulla to Kandy. This is a frequent backpacker route so I wasn’t too concerned about my safety as a solo female traveler. I sat myself beside a local woman. I spotted a Caucasian couple in the bus. Two other pairs of travelers boarded the bus as it cruised along the highway. Not that brought me confidence that 1) I was in the right bus and 2) I will get off at the right stop. After two hours, the bus stopped in Kandy. Cost of the bus ticket was LKR 100.
 
I survived another bus ride.

The challenge was finding my way from the bus stop to the lake. My local simcard came in handy. But the problem was, the pin of the guesthouse was on the wrong spot! Had to call the house owner where they really were. I found it eventually. They confirmed that Booking.com had the pin wrong. They don’t know how to fix it (I couldn’t help, I didn’t know either).

Walking from Kandy Bus Station to the lake

I chose a guesthouse that is walking distance from a lake. It was a long hot and humid walk from the bus station to the guesthouse – the Lake Round Residence. 

Huge lake

I asked the young female owner (or manager?) who attended to me if it was safe to go around at night. She answered a definite “NO. You are alone. Especially not around the lake at night because you are alone.” She advised me that if I find myself out there alone at night, I should take a tuktuk going back to the guesthouse and call them. With that, I game myself a curfew until sunset to explore Kandy.

Walking, walking and walking around the huge lake

Monday, April 25, 2016

Dambulla Homestay: Oasis Tourist Family Resort

I found this accommodation via Booking.com while searching for cheap places to stay in Dambulla. I somewhat thought that Sri Lanka was teeming with cheap accommodation. I guess so, but these are the ones with no websites. I like pre-booking my accommodation to avoid the hassle of deciding where to stay when I land in a new place. 
This is not a sponsored post, I really use Booking.com. 

After a 5.5-hour bus journey from Colombo, I got off the Dambulla bus stop. There were no signs that it was the bus stop but I had my mobile data on and I was closely watching my location in the map. The guesthouse advised me to get off the bus stop and call them when I arrive - hence, a local simcard was really handy. I sat in front of a shop (I think it was a pawnshop and waited. I ignored the stares from passers-by. Fifteen minutes later, my host arrived in a tuktuk. We went to the main guesthouse to rest a bit (I really needed to rest) and I filled-out some forms. 


The main guesthouse

My host informed me that a couple was staying in my room but he had another room prepared for me which which was located in the annex. I stayed in their new guesthouse for the first night and two nights in their homestay. Both were nice and spacious (but do watch out for those annoying mosquitoes!) . 

The house reminded me very much of houses in Philippine provinces: there were a lot of trinkets in the house. 
They sell water here


The new-annex guesthouse is located around 500 meters after the homestay place. I hopped back into the motorcycle and we went there. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

On Top of the Rocks: Sigiriya, Pidurangala and Dambulla

WARNING: This is another one of my long blog posts with photos. 

My day began early at 5AM. I would like to say I was excited, but I was not. As years and travels go by, I grew some lazy bones and prefer to snuggle with the sheets.

Even adventures require some sort of work. 
It was a hot and humid morning in Dambulla. Not a stranger to that weather. The weather helped me get out of bed. 

I arranged my tuktuk via the guesthouse. They offered me a rate of LKR 1,500. I guess that's lower than the usual tourist rate of LKR 2,000. 

Fields during the tuktuk ride to Sigiriya


I read about the pricey tickets of tourist attractions in Sri Lanka. But I still frowned when I saw the rates charged by Sigiriya. 


$30/ LKR 4,260 for a day ticket?!?!?!?! Tickets for Angkor Wat was $40 for 3 days.
I knew that. But still. So much money for a day. Ugh. 

Onwards.  



The sun came up and lit the grounds of Sigiriya. 


Sigiriya was a monastery with caves surrounding the rock caves with and without dripledges. King Kassapa I transferred the administrative center from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya and ruled Sri Lanka from Sigiriya. 



Then that huge rock-mountain came into view.
Now I got excited.
I may have started the day with a lazy outlook but this sure changed that. 
 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Scorching My Feet in Polonnaruwa

I had to make a choice between Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa. I chose Polonnaruwa because it was easier to get to via public transportation and I could be based in Dambulla.  

Polonnaruwa is an ancient kingdom and city in the northern central area of Sri Lanka. Take note of the spelling: single L, double N. I've seen ancient ruins before so I knew that exploring the complex would be awesome but repetitive too.

My hostel offered to arrange my tuktuk ride the day before. The owner knew the tuktuk ownder. I arranged my breakfast to be served at 8AM. While eating breakfast, I noticed that my hand was bare and I had to go back to my room and slip on my fake wedding ring.

Fake gold band as my fake wedding ring

We stopped at a "spice garden" first. It is a garden filled with spices. No need to buy anything, according to them. But I guess they sell agressively or ask for a tip at the end. I wasn't able to find out because when the guy learned that I was headed to Polonnaruwa that day, he just told my tuktuk driver to come back after my visit to Polonnaruwa. That's nice of him. But I didn't see him again because we didn't return to the garden. Well, I learned that black pepper and white pepper comes from the same tree, before he sent me on my way.

Polonnaruwa is almost 60km away from Dambulla. The tuktuk ride took almost 1.5 hours before we got to Polonnaruwa complex. I was charged LKR 6,000 for the tour. If you are willing to spend more, you can hire a car. Aircon pa! A tuktuk can only fit 2 passengers.



The tuktuk driver took me to the ticket office at first. The ticket costs LKR 3,550, $25. Quite pricey.



The complex is not completely fenced in. According to my tuktuk driver, some temples without fences can be entered illegally (without purchasing a ticket) with an unscrupulous tuktuk driver who charges less than the normal price.

Cows with ribs roaming freely in these gardens

Sun saluting by the lake

I knew that temples would look alike at some point, I was considering hiring a guide even if it was just for 2 hours. There were guides peddling for their services at the museum, where I bought the entrance ticket. I told my tuktuk driver I was considering one but he just said "No". I had to rephrase that "I wanted a guide" but he just said "No" again. I was really annoyed at him then. I was willing to spend for a guide even though I would probably forget most of what he will say, but he was against that. I just thought that maybe he thought their fees are unreasonable. Still, it was really annoying.

The Royal Palace and Citadel are probably the most iconic of the temples. Though these were just ruins, you can see the magnificence of the place from the enormity of the structure. It was easy to imagine that it must have been a massive and beautiful temple.


Hostel Review: Drift BnB Colombo, Sri Lanka

The backpacking scene has not completely hit Sri Lanka. Dorms are around, but the reviews and locations are a tad shady. Good thing that the capital, Colombo, still had good backpacking options. 

My flight to Colombo landed almost midnight so I pre-booked a private taxi to get to the hostel. However, the driver did not know where the hostel was so we had to call the hotel (using my new local sim) to ask for instructions.
 
Entire building, view from across the street
 
Door to Drift BnB
 
 
A warning though, the dorm did not have an elevator but it does have a lift for your heavy luggage. 
 
No Humans!

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Exhausting Journey to Dambulla, Sri Lanka

There are no direct flights to Sri Lanka from Manila. I flew from MNL to KUL via Cebu Pacific (Php 3,109.50 with 15kg baggage, one way) then flew from KUL to CMB via Air Asia (Php 7,678.26 with 15kg baggage, round trip).

The flight was delayed from MNL to KUL. Not a surprise. NAIA is getting terribly congested. I just had enough time to get my bearings upon landing in KLIA. I almost made it all the way to immigration before I realized I haven't checked-in my backpack yet. It was still two hours before my flight to CMB but they were already announcing the last call for my flight - two hours before departure time! I found the "last call counter" just in time. 

International Departure gates, KLIA


Just before landing in Sri Lanka, I pulled out a wide-band ring and slipped it on my left ring finger - my fake wedding ring for the next 7 days. 

After landing in Bandaranaike International Airport and getting my baggage, I headed to the arrivals hall and was greeted by five different banks all waving at the passengers. I checked and all the banks had the same forex rate. I chose the one with the shortest line. 

Conversion rate: $100 = LRK 143.50 (LKR = Sri Lanka Rupees). No commission fees. 



I kept the receipt just in case. I read that when you exchange your LRK back to USD, they ask for the receipt (they didn't, in my case).



To get to my hostel, I went with the cushy option and requested the hostel to arrange a private taxi to pick me up at the airport ($26). It was midnight and I was in a country where I knew solo female travelers were not completely safe. Found my driver after I got my LKRs and asked him to wait for a bit while I bought a local simcard. There are kiosks selling simcards just after the banks, not difficult to find. I went with Dialog because I read they had a solid signal. They had a pretty good deal for LKR 1,300, you get LKR 350 worth of call & text and 5GB worth of data.




You just had to fill-out a short form. The guys of Dialog inserted the sim card themselves in your phone then fiddled with the settings to activate the sim (something like that). Then you test if your simcard works. I had a dual-sim phone so that worked pretty well for me. I was glad I got my simcard before a flock of tourists flooded the Dialog booth to get their simcards. I guess Dialog is a popular choice. 


Kiosk of Dialog 


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sri Lanka: Itinerary, Budget and Planning

Background
I have a bucketlist. Not a virtual one, not a pinterest board, but a real bucket list written in pen and paper. 
I wrote Sri Lanka there. 



I some a photo of Sigiriya Lion Rock somewhere (I cannot recall where), and it led me to Googling about it. Pretty awesome. Just with that, I wrote Sri Lanka in my bucket list.



Map & Route

I only wanted to spend a week in Sri Lanka. The tourist places are scattered throughout the island. The cultural triangle is at the middle. I decided to focus on the cultural triangle and tea plantation. I skipped exploring the beaches because I scared myself reading about solo female travellers who were sexually assaulted in beach areas. Not taking a chance on that. 



I visited a lot of Hindu and Buddhist temples and I could say that they were all "same same but different". To break the monotony of the ruins, I headed to the mountain region of Nuwara Eliya to enjoy the tea plantation. The cool and damp weather is a nice change from the hot and humid weather in the cultural triangle.

I love tea!

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