Monday 22 October 2018

Travelling in Sri Lanka for two weeks: Kandy, Sigiriya, Ella, Udawalawe, Mirissa, Koggala & Galle

Traveled 1st-15th Sept 2018 and visited: Kandy, Sigiriya, Ella, Udawalawe, Mirissa, Koggala, Galle (and surrounding coast).

I can't believe how long it's taken me to write this up! We've been back just over a month already and I am still talking about it as if it was last week.

I read so much about Sri Lanka before we went and found that scouring people's blogs, reading reviews and scrolling through posts on social was so helpful to get an idea of how to plan an itinerary, where to go, must-see, must-eats etc, so I hope that people find this a good resource to use.

If you're reading this and haven't decided whether to book your flights or not, do it. It's one of the best holidays I've ever had, travelling round such a beautiful, friendly country with some of my favourite food, beaches and days out I've experienced.

We flew to Colombo, travelling straight on to Kandy, then Sigiriya, Ella, Udawalawe for Safari, Mirissa, Koggala and Galle, before heading back up to Colombo to fly home.

Initially, we weren't going to go to the south coast due to weather concerns (monsoon season), but we didn't see a drop of rain the whole two weeks, and instead had boiling hot sunshine and blue skies (I think it was rare to not experience any rain at all). A friend traveled Sri Lanka a week later for two weeks and experienced a couple of tropical rain pours, so I think we got very lucky.

Ok, this is probably going to be a long one so grab a cup of tea and settle in.. hopefully if you're planning on going to Sri Lanka it will help you out and if not, just look at the pictures instead!

We got a taxi from the airport to Colombo train station, and from there took a train to Kandy. We also got our money at the airport, as we were told you get a much better exchange rate there than doing it back in the UK. The train from Colombo to Kandy was the classic Sri Lankan train, with people hanging out of open doors, locals selling food and strangers sharing stories - James made friends with a couple of teenagers who were obsessed with the GoPro and helped him get some good shots round corners, and they knew all the sharp bends to bring your head back in the carriage(!). I'm not sure how (as the trains are really rickety and windy), but I managed to sleep for a large part of the train due to being v jet-lagged from the overnight flight we'd just done, although I was awake for the parts where we were travelling through lush green hills, mountains and palm tree lined railway tracks.


Looking tired af after no sleep on the overnight flights from Manchester - Colombo.

We stayed at the Rivora Residence, a small, boutique hotel just outside of Kandy, and I'd highly recommend staying there. Really reasonable prices, our room and our balcony were amazing - so peaceful, they served a lovely breakfast and had exceptionally friendly, helpful staff. It's about 5km outside of Kandy in a place called Lewella, and was about 15-20 mins in a tuk tuk (which the Rivora guys would always organise for us), so you're really close to everything in Kandy.

Huge bed and high ceilings, and the view from our balcony :)

Dahl and Roti bread at 7am? Wasn't sure how I'd feel about curry for breakfast but I quickly got used to it - this dhal was so mild it was almost like how I imagine savoury oats to be!

Our room was on the right, this airy lounge had a gorgeous balcony off to the left which was such a nice spot to read in the morning.


The Temple of the Tooth is well worth a spending a few hours in. The history is fascinating and the World Buddhist history museum in the grounds is soo interesting.
We went late in the afternoon, and seeing the temple at sunset was really magical. You can see why the city is seen as the holy capital.


Udawattekelle Forest

Before we went to the temple we spent a few hours walking around Udawattekele forest, full of monkeys (and other amazing animals - apparently it has pangolins in (I'm obsessed with pangolins after watching a documentary on how they're the world's most endangered animal and are killed for their scales..), but we didn't see any - they're notoriously shy).


The trees are absolutely epic too, the vines on some of them are insane and like something out of a film.

There's a nice viewpoint too overlooking the lake and all of Kandy which is a good photo opportunity!


We did this walk in the heat of the day, we found it alright as there were plenty of trees to shelter from the heat but lots of people recommended doing this first thing. I guess the likelihood of seeing more animals increases in the morning too, when it's not too hot for them.

We also spent quite a bit of time meandering around the streets in the centre of Kandy to get our bearings. I'll be honest, I didn't love it. I think I was expecting an idyllic religious, cultural hub and actually it was noisy, dusty and quite run down. But after a day or so I got used to it and it all added to the charm.

Places I'd recommend for food and drinks:

Sharon Inn -
This place has been going for years apparently and has earned legendary status. It's a guesthouse as well as a restaurant and we were advised to get there early to get a good table. You eat on the top floor outside with a covered roof and the food is served at 7.30 (or when it's ready). It's a buffet of 8 different vegetarian curries (they bring round meat too if you want to add some chicken), and they'll talk through exactly what's in them which I loved! I cannot get over the aubergine curry that we had, it was in my top three meals we had in Sri Lanka, but you'll also enjoy jackfruit curry, green bean, potato, squash and a whole host of insane flavours. We'd just missed sunset so if we were going to go again, I'd say definitely get there for sunset and enjoy a drink before it gets dark as it's positioned quite high up in the valley so views would be epic.

The Slightly Chilled Bar
Yep. This is its real name.
Would definitely recommend this place if you're after a backpacker vibe - loads of people from all nationalities eating, drinking and chatting. They specialise in Chinese food (randomly), and initially we were just going to have drinks there but ended up eating - huge portions, really tasty. We sat and drank for hours taking in the views (they're high up over Kandy). We ended up sharing a table too so really good place to meet people.

Kandy Muslim Hotel
Ok this is a strange one as it's not really a recommendation, more a warning / caveat, as I don't *regret* eating here as it was an experience, shall we say (it's not a hotel FYI, contrary to the name). We saw it in our Lonely Planet guide and thought we'd give it a go. Think street food canteen, but basic. And really grimy. It was the dirtiest place I've ever eaten. But in fairness the Kottu Roti was really good. So yes, a weird one. You have been warned.

As it's very religious, there are hardly any bars in Kandy. I think there are literally a handful at most. We became regulars at the Royal Bar & Hotel Kandy, popping in each day in the early evening for a gin and some beers. Think colonial style mansion, understated but really cool. We liked sitting on the balcony and watching the world go by (we saw a Sri Lankan wedding party and everyone threw paint on the groom?!), but they've also got a nice inside open courtyard. It's the oldest bar in Kandy (150 years old!), and used to be a British officer's club.

Oh also - everywhere closes really early, so expect it to be dead / very quiet by about 9-10pm. This might be different at other times of the year? Lots of people said similar things though, and actually generally across Sri Lanka, things quietened down really early.


At first we thought about spending a night in Sigiriya as it's about 2/3 hours north of Kandy, but we didn't really want to pack up our things and move around to spend one night and then have to travel all the way down to Ella, our next stop. So, I emailed Rivora Residence ahead to ask if they ever organised cars to Sigiriya for a day trip and they did - definitely worth asking your hotel for taxis to travel as they'll more than likely do it.


Absolutely worth doing. The site's history, as an ancient monastery built thousands of years ago, turned fortress, is fascinating and its physical stature (its vertical walls rise so dramatically out of the ground) is really awe-inspiring. The grounds around the rock are great too.

I'd read somewhere that people had said it was touristy and not worth it - I'm sorry but that's bullshit! Sure, you can climb Pidurangala rock opposite Sigiriya for half the price and get the 'same view', but going to Sigiriya isn't just about climbing the thing (which, by the way, is amazing but will give you the willies - it's so steep!), it's about its rich, mind-blowing history and is 100% worth it.

Making friends on the way up!


Sigiriya doesn't open until about 9am, so if you wanted to, you could get there before sunrise, climb Pidurangala to watch the sun come up, then explore Sigiriya for the morning

I'd say we spent a good few hours there, we'd arranged for our driver to pick us up in the village after we'd found somewhere for lunch.


K A N D Y     T O     E L L A

We were supposed to get the iconic, beautiful (but eight hour) train from Kandy to Ella, but James fell ill (a combination of traveller's tummy and something else), and we actually ended up in hospital in Kandy! Got to shout out the guys at Rivora Residence here who were soo helpful and lovely to us the whole time, kept a room open for us and just generally really looked after us.

Anyway, we missed the train so after James was deemed well enough to leave hospital, the Rivora team called a taxi and we made our way to Ella in a car. We thought it would be about 2-3 hours. It was five and half. BUT, it was so beautiful driving through lush green rolling hills and tea plantations, seeing little towns and waterfalls.


One thing I will say, after having experienced two weeks on the road in Sri Lanka, is that the roads are mental. Buses will overtake each other and race to get to the bus stop first to pick people up, the speed they travel at is insane and just generally no logic seems to be applied, haha.

I don't think I have words to describe how much I loved where we stayed in Ella. It was called the Chill Ville and we absolutely adored it. The infinity pool, our glass fronted room, breakfast overlooking Ella Rock, the amazing curry, the friendly staff - all this for about ~£30 a night each. It was insane. I can't recommend this place enough - it was completely renovated last year, and beautifully done too!


We had breakfast every morning on that table, in the corner by the pool, overlooking Ella Gap.

This was our outside space, just outside the room; our very own veranda....

Sunrise views from our room - photos just don't do this justice. It was so peaceful.

The details in the bathroom were really cool too:

It's just past the 6 mile marker on Passara road, and takes about 20 mins to get into Ella town, so it's perfectly placed. Passara road is VERY rocky and bumpy though just to warn you. You get used to it.

We had two nights in Ella. On day one we went to:

Uva Halpewatte tea plantation

We visited on a non-production day so no tea was actually being made but we had a big tour of all the machinery and production process (I've never actually thought about where my tea comes from, this was so enlightening!), and a big talk from Mr Sivanathan about the history of tea, tea varieties and the climate of tea production in today's economy. It was great!

The views from the plantation were amazing too:



Nine Arch Bridge Of course no trip to Ella would be complete without a visit to the nine arch bridge! We got a tuk tuk from the tea plantation to near the bridge and started to walk to find it. We ended up getting lost and going a weird way, but it's pretty easy to find. The most nerve-wracking thing was having to walk on the train tracks and not know if a train would come hurtling past (we hadn't checked train times - would highly recommend you do this!!).

It's not hard to see why it's such an attraction - the bridge is an architectural thing of beauty and so commandeering rising out of the tea plantations.

The next day, we did:

Ella Rock

We set our alarms for 3.30am, having booked tuk tuk and hike guide through Chill Ville, and prayed for a clear morning to see sun rise from the summit, to make the early alarm worth it!

Getting a guide to help navigate the walk is totally your preference - I know a friend who used people's blogs online to climb Ella Rock in the pitch black and only got lost once, and made it to the top fine; I also know a friend who got lost in the day time, so it's your call. I liked having a guide - he knew what we were walking through and more importantly where we were going; there's absolutely no way we would've found the route in the pitch black!

It took around an hour to climb, although we were walking quite fast. I wore walking boots but trainers would be fine. Don't go in flip flops. It was also quite cold first thing, so I took a jumper and a rain jacket.. 10 mins in to brisk uphill walking and I was in a tank top!

We were the first people to reach the top and that has to be one of the most special memories of the trip, looking out over Ella and beyond as the dawn light slowly crept up over us was amazing. After half an hour lots more people had arrived, so I'd recommend getting there early.


Luckily, it was a crystal clear morning and the sunrise was epic - the photos really don't do it justice!

It was so nice to get back to Chill Ville at 8am and have breakfast by the pool overlooking the mountain we'd just climbed! Smug factor 100.

Eating and drinking in Ella

We got mates rates at the Chill Cafe as it's run by the same guys who own the Chill Ville so we ended up in there a lot for drinks and ate there one night too. I got their special - 10 curries cooked in a banana leaf (a biryani type dish, it was lusshhh, think it's called a Lamparis?). It gets really busy so be prepared to queue. Upstairs on the top floor it's very chill and relaxed - you can't move for beanbags and bamboo, and there's a huge bar in the middle. Great place for a cocktail or two.

You'll find loads of restaurants on the main road in Ella town so wander round a bit and see which one takes your fancy... We heard great things about Matey Hut and wished we'd had time to do their cooking class.

E L L A     TO     U D A W A L A W E

We got another taxi to Udawalawe from Ella, it took about 2/3 hours from memory. This guy kept showing us different things along the way, stopping to buy fresh corn for us en route, which made the journey feel like something more than just a method to get you from A to B.

Udawalawe national park is one of the best places to see elephants in their natural environment in Sri Lanka, and I was SO excited about seeing them!

I'd emailed ahead and booked our safari for the morning after we arrived. We booked a half day safari from 5.30am - midday. There are loads of places to stay around the park so you won't struggle to find somewhere. We stayed at a place called Kottawatta Village.

I think given how incredible Rivora Residence and Chill Ville had been, we'd been spoilt... All Kottawatta's accommodation advertised were huts on stilts or pool side bungalows with glass fronted windows or balconies, but they also have two rooms that are so far from this they're actually a joke. Basically, they'd been very sneaky with the room selection and chosen to abstain from putting photos of said two rooms online, and we'd ended up in one. However, you're in Udawalawe for the safari, not luxury, so we didn't care (...much)! They moved us to a tent on stilts the night after (second picture below!) and that was lush - the bathroom was outside and we were showering with monkeys, WTF! Amazing.

The rest of the room was equally as gross, haha.

This was more like it! Amazing tents on stilts...

Talk about insta vs reality.

Again, we set the alarm for an early start (this time 4am!), and set off to look for some elephants. We had a jeep to ourselves which was so cool! The drivers were respectful to the elephants and there was no herding or feeling too gawpy or touristy - if you didn't see anything, you didn't see anything. We were lucky enough to see about six elephants in the morning. There was one bit where the drivers had radioed to each other that they'd seen a baby elephant and her mum, and so everyone swooped round, and me and James just said we didn't want to be part of that as it felt too gawpy and not fair on the poor baby elephant, so we drove on. We drove round for about an hour looking for more animals and I was starting to get a bit restless about not having seen anything - then remembered that this is how it's supposed to be! They're in their natural habitat and if you wanted to see them at all times, we'd be in a zoo.

The Kottawatta guys had made us up a really cute packed breakfast and we ate it in the safari park - no health and safety regs to be seen. Munching on a bit of papaya with wild animals roaming around. They also gave me and James a can of Lion beer which was a very nice touch (if a little odd, drinking beer at 11am whilst ragging it round a safari park in a jeep).



Other than safari, there is nothing in Udawalawe. No restaurants etc, so you eat in the place you're staying in. We did two nights; arriving in the evening, safari for half a day, chilled by the pool in the afternoon, had dinner, slept and then first thing left for Mirissa.

You definitely don't need more than two nights in Udawalawe, unless you're planning on doing safari for more than one day.

U D A W A L A W E    TO   M I R I S S A
Then, it was a two hour drive down to the south coast for our first stop, Mirissa.

We stayed at the Spice House, and had probably my favourite meal of the holiday here. It's a six bedroom guesthouse with the most picturesque garden and pool. You're minutes from the beach but the house backs on to the jungle so the bird and animal sounds are incredible. It's owned by a married couple, Phil and Wathsala, who were soo hospitable, chatty and helpful. They've even sent me the recipes for the multi-curry meal we had at theirs, can't wait to try and recreate them.

You can probably tell that The Spice House was one of my favourite places we stayed. It really did feel like a home from home:




We were a five minute walk from this epic sunset spot:

I really liked the vibe of Mirissa's beach. We were ready for some chilled beach time but also for a bit of a drink and the bars along the beach front were perfect for that. Most of them were really chilled and laid back and then some had DJs and music in the evenings. Most of the beach bars and restaurants loan out their sun loungers and umbrellas free of charge, but when a home-brewed gin and tonic is the equivalent of £1.50, it would be rude not to buy.


This guy clearly loved the £1.50 cocktails..


You can also rent body boards for 500 rupees for an hour (£2.50), which was soo much fun. The waves don't look that big here but honestly they were massive!!


I stuck to the shallows, as you can see...

We mainly ate fresh seafood and curries on the beach, but we also had dinner at Number 1 Dewmini Roti Shop which is an absolute must if you're in Mirissa. Tucked away down a side street, it's a family run restaurant with a really heart warming story. It was buzzing when we got there and you can see why - the food is excellent.

I'd also recommend the Secret Root spa for a massage. I had a 60 minute full body aromatherapy massage for the equivalent of £12, and it was divine.

The main road that runs along Mirissa beach is crazy busy - watch out for speeding buses. Some areas of the beach are quite run down, especially where you can see the road from the beach. Walk down towards the west side of the bay and it's much, much nicer.

We were sad to leave Mirissa, but I was excited to get to our next stop as it was my birthday present from James.

M I R I S S A       TO   K O G G A L A

The south coast is really easy to get from A - B so don't worry too much about where you're staying as all the 'hot spots' are quite close to one another.

The friendliest tuk tuk driver excitably showing us turtles, our fave driver!

James had booked The Fortress as a birthday present, and my god, it was stunning. Breathtakingly 5 star, we rocked up with our rucksacks in a dusty tuk tuk and instantly felt transported. Safe to say this place is incredible, worth the money and a really nice way to prolong the birthday celebrations!!


Our room was gigantic, the bathroom was bigger than our living room, dining room and kitchen combined back at home, and the bed was ginormous.

It was the perfect way to spend three days and just absolutely chill out. Even when we were in Mirissa, we still found ourselves off on day trips, scouring out the best things to do, but the beauty of being at The Fortress was that we had nothing to do but sunbathe, swim, read, drink & eat...


The food was sensational too:


Watermelon & feta salad, and a vegetable ratatouille. Of course we also had plenty of delicious Sri Lankan food too, like this prawn curry, which was D-LISH.

Such an epic birthday treat, thank yooou James Day. I'd absolutely recommend spending a couple of nights here if you're celebrating a birthday or fancy splashing out for a treat.

K O G G A L A       to   G A L L E

After we'd checked out, we got a tuk tuk to our next and final stop on our trip, Galle.

We had two full days and one night in Galle. One night is definitely enough, in my opinion. On day one, after checking in to the cute and quirky Antic Guesthouse inside Galle Fort and a walk around the town, we took a tuk tuk to Unawatuna beach for the afternoon. Again, lush golden sands and a load of bars and restaurants to choose from. They also had sandy back streets off the beach filled with nice looking boutique cafes and shops.

Our street, and the entrance to our guesthouse was really cool.



This was my favourite Sri Lankan breakfast of the trip. Egg hoppers, Roti, coconut sambol, dhal (beauty), fish curry, chilli, coconut pancakes, and an entire fruit platter:

Unawatuna beach looking fine:

Galle fort is cool. Quirky, arty, cultured, cafes, cricket - it came across a bit like a Sri Lankan St Ives mixed with a Dutch village? The place is full to the brim with art galleries, cool shops and nice looking restaurants:



It's really colourful, and I loved that it's right on the coast. We spent our time walking the fort walls, exploring little side streets, and hiding from the sun (James's request), in cafes and museums.

Would highly recommend:

Eating at The Galle Fort Hotel, we sat outside on the veranda and it was a great people watching spot:


A cocktail at Amangalla - the hotel bar is definitely worth a visit - we sat on the terrace outside
 (left), and lunch at Church Street Social (right).


Walk the fort walls at sunset, it was unreal:


I was so, so sad to leave Sri Lanka. I'd go back again in a heartbeat. If you're thinking about going, I can't recommend it enough. It's honestly so beautiful, friendly and a country that seems to have everything - amazing food, mountains, lush green jungles, beaches, cool towns, elephants and so much history.

The food in Sri Lanka is without a doubt some of the best food I've eaten in my life. So often on the trip I'd be like - "this is the best one yet" - and then something else would knock it out the park. I never once got bored of rice and curry; the flavours, spice and heat were just bang on for me.

If you know of any good Sri Lankan restaurants in the UK (Manchester, Bristol or London way), let me know!
© Frankie's Weekend. All rights reserved.