Sri Lanka – How to rebuild a country after 26 years of civil war

 When this war is over it will be a better day!

But it won’t bring back those poor boys in the grave

 Hello my dear “Into the wild” family!!!

Another country is behind us and another life time experience checked on our bucket list. This time it was Sri Lanka. We did it a bit differently than the rest of the countries so far – in a family backpacking style. 19 days of wonderful, exciting, dynamic and at moments stressful traveling, with my father, Maja’s mother and her uncle, are behind us. We survived, nobody got sick, nobody got mugged – just a few scams – and what is the most important, our two families are even more connected than before. Once again many thanks to Zlatko, Julita and Slawek for joining us on this trip and I hope it was not the last one we did together – Maybe Triglav next year 🙂

So as I said, it was Sri Lanka’s turn this time. The “Undiscovered Country” you could say. Many travellers have passed overhead on their way to someplace else, but years of war and challenges such as tsunamis have kept Sri Lanka off many itineraries. But now – as you’ve probably heard – the war is over and Sri Lanka is looking up. If you’ve ‘done’ India, grown fond off Southeast Asia or simply want to explore a place which appeal and pleasures are endless, then it’s time you dropped in.

This weeks post covers roughly 400 km of traveling. It starts at capital Colombo (point A – 3,5 h flight from Bangkok), continues to Anuradhapura (point B – 6 h train ride), goes to Sigiriya (point C – 3 h car drive), than Dambulla (point D – 1 h car drive) and finishes in Kandy (point E – 4 h bus drive).

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COLOMBO

Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, biggest city and major port. If you’re only on a short trip to Sri Lanka, you may wish to pass by Colombo, but if you have the time – stay at least 1 day – there are a few of cultural and historical attractions in the area such as Fort, Cinnamon Gardens and Pettah.

Since we had to wait for 3 days so that all 5 of us got together, we had plenty of time to discover Colombo. There are two things I would point out: firstly sunset at the beach side promenade with plenty of nice food stalls and local people gathering together and, secondly Sri Lanka’s food that was introduced to us for the first time (Curries, Kottu, Hoppers, Nan, Rotti…), and was later our main food for the whole trip 🙂

I also need to mention that the city was a scene of quite a few bombings during the war years, but security has been relaxed since a cease-fire was declared and peace talks began. As a result the whole city is one huge construction field and you can see that a lot of investors are coming to Colombo – unfortunately just to capital. I guess in a few years Colombo will be a smaller version of Bangkok – another reason once again to come back and check it out 🙂

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Once my father joined us (he was the last to arrive – btw plane ticket was his 60th birthday present, so happy birthday dad), we took 6 h train ride to Anuradhapura.

ANURADHAPURA

The sacred city of Anuradhapura, now mostly in ruins, was once a major center of Sri Lanka’s civilization. The fascinating ancient ruins include huge bell-shaped stupas built of small sun-dried bricks, temples, sculptures, palaces, meditation caves and ancient drinking-water reservoirs.

We stayed 2 nights in Anuradhapura and we think it’s more than enough. First day we saw a few temples and the highlight of the Anuradhapura (at least for me) Mihintale. Mihintale hill involves a 45 min climb to the top, where you are rewarded with an amazing view on the Anuradhapura area. On the way up, tourist guide caught us up with typical smooth talk, but I don’t know why it didn’t bother me (usually I would kindly refuse him) and to be honest, explained us very nicely the history of the sight and showed us meditation caves (which normally tourist never find), with another amazing view. The meditation caves are caves, where buddhist monks meditate most of the day. Normal people can’t see them except at 6 and 11 in the morning, when they come out to eat (that is their only food of the day). If you would see the place you would understand what I am talking about – peaceful place to sit, with no distractions around. They say around 65 monks are still meditating here, following the same methods as in 3rd century B.C. when buddhism came from India and this traditions started.

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The second day we took a half day guided tour, around the ruins and temples of Anuradhapura. They are one of 7 Unesco protected areas in Sri Lanka, but to be honest, nothing too impressive to see (I guess seeing to many amazing things in last 4 months effect), except for the fact that they are from 3rd century B.C. On the other hand it is exactly due to their old age that most of them are almost completely destroyed, it’s worthwhile to hire a guide to tell the stories of what these places used to be in the past.

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At night we had the cheapest and arguably the best diner off Sri Lanka’s stay. The driver, which we hired for the half day tour and for the transport to Sigiriya and Dambulla, took us to some local 3 $ per person diner of curries and kottu – really cheap and good. Later on, we discover that all this was part of a scam, about which I will talk a bit later :).

SIGIRIYA 

Rising 200m straight up over the dusty plains of north central Sri Lanka, the flat-topped rock formation of Sigiriya is not only one of the island’s most impressive geological formations but also one of its greatest archaeological legacies.

Really amazing place, if local authorities wouldn’t charge you 30 $ to go on the top off the mountain!!! Therefore me and my father (for principles and also due to the fact he can’t walk everywhere), decided to stay down, while the others did go up and described us how truly amazing place it is – well maybe next time with more money in my pocket I will climb on it. On the other hand, I had several very quality hours with my father alone, which are in last 10 years, since I left home, rare and precious.

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Earlier I mentioned we were part of a scam. I told you about the dinner in Anuradhapura – cheap and good dinner. All that was to gain our trust – well let’s say you fell in the trap – stupid tourists :). As it turned out, the driver had all along planed 2 stops for us. He knew we wanted to eat and that we wanted to have traditional Sri Lankan massage before reaching our next stop Dambulla. So he stopped on the way in some local restaurant. Let’s say food was eatable and that was all, but at the time of paying the scam started. We asked for the bill and since the lady didn’t speak english, the driver (kindly) offered his translation skills. What he did is – the lunch was let’s say 1000, he said to us that it was 2000 and he kindly putted 1000 (around 5-6 EUR) into his pocket – SCAM number 1. After the lunch we stopped for a traditional Sri Lankan massage, that we heard so much about. We told the driver to stop in some local salon and not the one for tourists since we heard they can be quite costly. No problem he said – we stopped in some weird building with 3 – lets say not – a massage girl looking girls. I wanted to invite my father and after hearing the price (30 EUR) I didn’t want to eat my word, so I decided to go for it – let me just say that the price was against all my principles :). The massage should have lasted 1 h. After 20 – 25 min of being on the table I was offered a “happy ending”?!?!?! I kindly refused it and suddenly I was told that my massage was over and that I should tip the massage extra besides the 30 EUR that I already have paid. At that point I realized we were in a hore house rather than massage salon and that the driver got money to take us there, so we left – SCAM number 2.

I won’t go into more details how I felt and how angry we were. Lets just say that we learned our lesson – or at least we thought so 🙂

DAMBULLA

After all the stress that we had that day, stopping at the buddhist caves in Dambulla, came in handy :). Dambulla is known for the impressive cave temples (officially known as the Royal Rock Temple) located on a top of massive hill on the edge of town. You can visit it as a day trip on public transport from Kandy, or stop by on your way to or from Sigiriya.

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Caves are very impressive and must do, but don’t stay more than few h in Dambulla or in worse case, sleep there, before catching morning bus to Kandy, which we did.

KANDY

Kandy, the capital of the Hill Country has a lot to offer – history, culture, forested hills and a touch of urban buzz. The town, and the countryside around it, is lush and green and there are many pleasant walks from the town and further afield. The town centre, close to Kandy’s picturesque lake set in a bowl of hills, is a delightful jumble of old shops, antique and gemstone specialists, a bustling market and a very good selection of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants.

We stayed 2 nights in Kandy and it’s just enough for everything that town has to offer. There are 5 things worth mentioning; botanical gardens full of tropical plants, beautiful lake with the temple of sacred buddhas tooth – the most important buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, brilliant panoramic views from the white Buddha statute, performance of tradition Sri Lanka’s musician and dancers, a last but not least another attempt of scam – this time with paying the room for the price which was not agreed on the arrival – well at least this time we won :).

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Just to clear up any misunderstandings regarding the scams in Sri Lanka – not all the people are trying to scam you – actually most don’t – but be careful with tuck – tuck drivers (they all have special offers for you), hotel owners, people who are trying to take you to their stores, music teachers trying to sell you batik, fruit sellers … 🙂 Really it’s not so bad as it sounds, but lets just say, if you are new at this type of traveling, you will get hustled at least once a day – well years of traveling finally pays off at least in one way :). And above all; they were exploited for centuries by colonizers, so who are we to blame them trying to earn some money on us.

My dear dear family! That would be it of this weeks adventures. Next weeks adventures will take us on a 700 km journey, through famous Sri Lanka’s tea plantations and beautiful surf beaches. Until than, love each other and keep on living your dreams – we do ;).

Maja & Andrej

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