Negombo in Sri Lanka’s Western Province.

negombo header

Negombo by the sea

Negombo is the last stop on my Sri Lanka tour. I chose it because it’s near the beach and closer to the airport than Colombo. My flight is at 04:00, therefore the usual 2 hours before for an international flight. I didn’t fancy a 35km taxi ride at 02:00.

Negombo town is on the Negombo lagoon which provides safe waters for the fishing fleets. Wikipedia has some interesting info on the Muslim, Portuguese and Dutch that have, over the centuries, held sway here. Negombo used to be the centre for a flourishing cinnamon trade.

Negombo red snapperThe area where I am is slightly north of the actual town of Negombo, about 2·3km. The main strip here is typical seaside town. Lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. The prices are what you’d expect in such a place. The two meals I have had in restaurants were the same price as they’d have been in Spain and a bit cheaper than the UK. The sea food is lovely. I’ve eaten red snapper and shark. The souvenir shops sell everything from fridge magnets to large sculptures of Sri Lankan elephants. I’ve no idea how people would get some of these items in their suit cases? Maybe they have them shipped home.

Negombo hostels are almost on the beach

I’m currently staying at the New Negombo Beach Hostel. Booking.com will tell you “book now only a few places left“. I think this is a marketing ploy of theirs. I was the only one here when I arrived and I’m in a dormitory with 7 beds and I’m the only person in there. A few people have come and gone, but effectively the place is empty. The hostel is about 3 minutes walk from the beach.

beach litter Sri Lanka
Please keep the beach free from litter
The beach is a nice sandy yellow but poorly maintained. There is a superficial residue of the ubiquitous plastic bottles, bags, cigarette butts and packets and general rubbish that the unthinking and uncaring just toss on the ground. It’s hard to exclude it from photos. There are also the usual beach sellers and pimps but it’s surprisingly empty of people.

Shrimping boats in Negombo
Shrimping boats
The boats pulled up onto the beach I have been told were once shrimping boats (you can see them in the photos) but now cater to the holidaymaker. They want anywhere between 2000/-Lk and 4000/-Lk per person for a spin (say £12 – £24). I was on the beach for a few hours and only saw one boat go out. I wonder if they’d have more trade if they dropped their prices a tad?

The weather has been overcast and incredibly humid with temperatures of about 33°C, but the sea is refreshing. Being a seaside resort the place is swarming with tourists from all over but I’ve no idea what they do because as mentioned, the beach is pretty deserted.

Negombo town
Negombo town
In all honesty there is little to do here except eat and go to the beach. I took a bus into town (17/-Lk) to have a look around. Aside from the usual shops that you’d expect to find the place is fairly ordinary until you get down to the water’s edge where the canal meets the lagoon. Here you can see all the colourful fishing craft and fishermen fixing nets and preparing for the next outing.

More begging… and anger

I met a young Buddhist yoga teacher (28-32 years old). He claimed to be half Sri Lankan and half Nepalese. He’s apparently back here because he has hepatitis A and is seeking treatment. He offered me Kashmiri hashish, was friendly enough and chatted for about 15 minutes. I was simply waiting for the inevitable request for money. It came. When I declined he showed his anger and simply walked off. It seems that the Sri Lankan beggars think we caucasians have a duty to give them money. It made me wonder why he didn’t sell the hashish to raise the money he needed. It also struck me as odd that if he had the money to buy hash then presumably he has the money to pay for his blood tests. There are more beggars here in Sri Lanka than I’ve seen in India and they are super-pushy.

So now here I am at the hostel on the last day writing this up. I’ll push off for some food in a minute and then start packing for the return trip.

Sri Lanka has been interesting but, to me, not that enjoyable and I for one can’t wait to get back to India where the people seem more interested in YOU rather than the content of your wallet.


The Sri Lanka Report

Sri Lanka report

Time to leave Sri Lanka

My time is nearly up in Sri Lanka, and I might say “thank god”.

Negombo beach - Sri Lanka
Negombo beach – Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is undoubtedly an incredibly beautiful country and the people are extremely friendly. But… its rampant tourism is spoiling it – in my opinion.

The place is expensive! In some instances as expensive as Europe. It is monetised to the hilt. Anything listed in the tourist guides will cost you a pretty penny. I have spent more in 3 weeks here than I spend in two months in India. Pretty much everything will cost you. A trip to a national park can get as high as €25. Sri Lankan street food can be twice the price of Indian street food, and in my opinion, not nearly as nice. I have to admit that I actually broke my own rules and went to Burger King just to have something different from dal curry and chicken fried rice.

The fruit market in Galle tried to sell me mangos at prices that exceeded the supermarket prices in Spain. Red bananas were a mortgage. Now I’m perfectly certain that the locals don’t pay these absurd prices, they couldn’t afford to with their salaries. So I can deduce that there is very much an “us and them” pricing system policy.

Tuktuk drivers and street sellers

The Sri Lanka tuktuk drivers will try and do you every time. I have been told that 100/-LK per kilometre is about right but one tried it on for 1,200/-Lk for 2·2km. Tonight the tuktuk driver actually robbed me! I had agreed a 300/-Lk fare for 2·2km. We physically shook hands on it. I arrived at the hostel (The New Negombo Beach Hostel) and gave him a 500/-Lk note and the bastard drove off without giving me my change. That is pure THEFT. The tuktuk drivers seem to have no conception of the phrase “no thank you, I’m going for a walk“.

You can go nowhere here without being hassled by someone for something. I’ve seen more beggars here than in India. They also have a habit of getting on the train and begging. Captive audience. It might be a blind man or a mother and child. Oft times they will get on the train and bang tambourines and sing awful songs while passing down the carriage. It’s almost worth paying them to shut up.

Train travel in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka train travel
Sri Lanka train travel
The Sri Lanka rail system is… interesting, and, if possible, even slower than that of India. They have 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, but not on all trains. The norm is 2nd and 3rd. If you are lucky you can reserve a 1st or 2nd class seat, but more often than not it’s first come first served. If you want to sit then it’s advisable to get to the station about an hour ahead of the journey. Ask the official selling the ticket which platform (because it’s nearly impossible to find out by other means) and at which end of the platform your carriages are going to be. This only really applies if you are boarding the train at the terminus, otherwise by the time the train reaches your station it will be jam packed.

On the arrival of the train break out your rugby or martial art skills, forget the manners your parents taught you, and elbow, push and shove your way in. There is no room for niceties. If you have the opportunity, throw your bags through an open 2nd or 3rd class window onto a vacant seat to “reserve it”. The chances are though that you’ll be standing for 3 – 8 hours. Admittedly the prices are silly cheap but a 4 hour journey of 100km standing is unpleasant to say the least. Just pray you don’t need a bathroom. Trying to find train times online is difficult. The best sites I have found are these: slr.malindaprasad.com and The Man in Seat 61… there may be others.

Relaxing on a beach in Sri Lanka

beach litter Sri Lanka
Please keep the beach free from litter
Going to the beach is not that pleasant. Looking for some peace and quiet, a bit of relaxation time, you will be approached by every beach seller. They will start with “hello” and “what country” and then will try their hardest to sell you stuff. Some tat, some quite nice. But they won’t take no for an answer. They persist until you almost have to be rude to them to get them to go. They will try to sell you anything from coconut bracelets, paintings, massages, beer, sex, weed and hashish. And they don’t stop! Last night a man tried to sell me hashish at 3 times the price that it would be in Spain. I asked him “why would I want to buy your expensive hashish when I am going home in 2 days to a country where it is decriminalised and one third of the price?” He got seriously annoyed and told me I was wasting his time? These guys, the drug and sex sellers are nothing more than pimps.

You can expect to be hassled about every 15-20 minutes on the beach and you can expect to waste about 5-10 minutes with each vendor. And all you want to do is lie in peace, soak up some rays and read your book. I’ve found speaking to them in Spanish and pretending I don’t understand english can help but often they don’t care and carry on bugging you.

Walking along the main street in the evening is a constant barrage of “want a tuktuk?”, “want to drink some beer?”, “want to eat…?”. Like I can’t make up my mind if I’d like a beer and a meal? For those that read this and know Fuengirola in southern Spain, it’s like a trip down fish alley, but worse. Last night I was asked if I wanted to drink beer? I answered (untruthfully) that I don’t drink alcohol. So he asked me if I wanted to drink water? I couldn’t believe the stupidity of the question, like I couldn’t walk into the shop and buy a bottle of water (without paying his commission).

I started this post with “Sri Lanka is undoubtedly an incredibly beautiful country and the people are extremely friendly” and that’s true. But I have found it so tiring trying to be polite to people whose only mission in life it seems it to incessantly and continuously try to relieve you of your money in whatever way they can. “No thank you” does little. The main difference I have found between Sri Lanka and India is that the Indian people are interested in you and the Sri Lankan is interested in your wallet.

I will be in no rush to revisit Sri Lanka. Sorry Sri Lanka.


Nuwara Eliya – tea growing area in Sri Lanka

Train to Nuwara Eliya – the most scenic train ride…

The train ride from Kandy to Ella is supposed to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Most of the online articles say break the journey at Nuwara Eliya before continuing to Ella. The online articles also say try and stand in an open doorway so that you can take photos. As you go to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy the spectacular side is on the right. There are some lovely views on the left too but you spend most of the time hugging the mountain side. Luckily a Sri Lankan man called me across to the left side to see some beautiful waterfalls.

The train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya was chocker-block full of people. Half locals and half tourists. Barely a chance to see anything for four hours. If it can be, the trains in Sri Lanka are even slower than their Indian counterparts. The general attitude seems to be – keep selling tickets until you can’t squeeze any more people in.

Again the online articles say travel 2nd or 3rd class. The 1st class air-conditioned carriages have glass windows that produce a lot of reflections making nice photos nasty with secondary image reflections. Getting a 1st class ticket is all but impossible unless you book months in advance. 2nd class reservations are the same. So you can be pretty sure that you’ll be standing most of the time unless you are lucky enough to collar the door and sit with your feet on the running board. Apparently there is a “scam” where all the tour guides reserve the seats for the clients that are prepared to pay well over the odds.

One of the first things to know is that the train doesn’t go to Nuwara Eliya, it stops at Nanu Oya. It will cost you 600/- LK to get into the town of Nuwara Eliya (2018 price). Yes the tuktuk driver will try and scam you. My advice is talk to people on the train and share a ride. Get dropped in the centre of town or Victoria Park. The first driver will pile on the cost if he has to make two or three different drops. Find a second tuktuk to your destination.

Nuwara Eliya – and Sri Lanka’s tea.

Nuwara Elyia is nestled into a plain around Lake Gregory with many of the houses on the hillsides around the lake. It’s a pretty town dedicated to tea production for the most part. My first day there I walked around Lake Gregory and climbed up through one of PEDRO’S tea plantations to the top of Single Tree Hill. I did, according to google, 16·2km that day.

There is quite a lot to do in Nuwara Eliya but you’ll pay through the nose for it. I wanted to go to Horton Plains and Adam’s Peak. The first has a spectacular 1.200m drop called World’s End, the second is supposed to be great for the sunrise. I was alerted to Adam’s Peak when someone said that you have to leave at 02:00 to get a good spot. Since then I have talked to people that never made it to the peak for the swarms of tourists. Both are national parks. Both charge about 25€. So by the time you’ve done four things in the area you are 100€ down. This is the same business model as Costa Rica. Pretty soon these two countries will be only for the rich tourist.

The second part of the journey is to Ella. The hostel in which I was staying was full of people that were either going to Ella or had just come back. Most said that it was a quiet town, really expensive, with not much to do except some hiking trails. I decided to give it a miss. Partly because I had no wish to be a sardine again, partly because being in town with the same mob from the hostel didn’t do it for me.

There are hostels and hostels

The hostel that I chose in Nuwara Eliya was called the Hi Lanka. It’s in a beautiful spot with some lovely views and only about 1km from town, so easily walkable. I’d booked through booking.com who told me the two nights would be about 1600/-LK. I arrived and was charged over double. $24 to be exact. I don’t work in dollars, it’s american currency. I’d have preferred the price in € or £. The hostel was shabby. My dorm had no WiFi connectivity, that was only available in the main room or the terrace. Guests arrived with bookings only to find no space. Other guests were moved beds to make space for others and three were delivered to another hostel. That said the breakfasts were big and good. From a hostel point of view, it was one of the worst I have stayed in, only a touch better than Bunk Planet mentioned here and to my mind priced like a cheap hotel not a shared dormitory hostel.

Having decided to miss out Ella, I decided to go back to Colombo and lie by the beach. I’d picked up an infection on the plane that had been sitting on my chest and making me cough and I had a streaming nose. I figured that a bit of sea, wind and lazy time would probably be a better option than standing interminably on trains getting increasingly irritated and feeling rough. So I headed back to Mrs Merle Senanayake’s excellent establishment The Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel. By far and away the best hostel I’ve stayed in on this entire trip. If the hostel had been in India I’d have asked if I could rent a room on a semi-permanent basis!

I left Hi Lanka fairly early. I wanted to try and get a seat for the 8 hour ride back to Colombo. Luckily there were some free seats in the 1st class carriage. I booked one with relief. Luckily the car wasn’t that full so it enabled me to pop up and down and hang out of the front doors of the carriage to video the spectacular scenery that I’d missed on the way up. I still have to edit it to include on this page.

Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
With great relief I arrived back at Colombo Lavinia Beach to find that the Spanish man, Valentín, I’d been talking to 4 days earlier was still there. He told me he’d been having a great time where he was and felt no need to move on. He stayed a month in total and finally dragged himself off to see Kandy and the scenic train route the day before I left for Galle in the south, where I am currently writing this.
mt lavinia beach hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel


Kandy, central Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Arriving in Kandy

Kandy railwayI arrived in Kandy on Sunday the 14th January. It’s as pretty as a picture. It was also the capital when Sri Lanka was under a monarchy. Located in the Kandy plateau, it’s criss-crossed with tropical plantations, many of which are tea. If you want more info on the town go here) The train getting there wasn’t so pretty, it was over subscribed. We, an Aussie and a Somalian and I stood or sat on the floor in the open carriage doorway for I suppose 4 plus hours taking occasional photos. Again, and unlike British Rail, the ticket worked out at 150/- LK. In £ sterling, about 1. Euro slightly more. You don’t seem to mind a bit of discomfort when you haven’t shelled out a mortgage on British Rail prices, but not being able to get a decent view was annoying.

I had pre-booked “Bunk Planet” in Kandy. It looked good on Hostel World but in actual fact was the most disappointing hostel that I’ve stayed in to date. Situated in the basement of a block, the smell was a bit damp and occasionally the toilets took over. The idea was nice though, capsule bunk beds with plenty of space and charging points, fan and “mood” light. Unfortunately there was no common room area nor kitchen with the result that I didn’t get to interact with anyone really. Until the last day.

A stroll around Kandy lake

Water Monitor Lizard - Kandy lake
Water Monitor Lizard – Kandy lake
The lake seemed to be the thing to go see with half a day left. I walked round the lake slowly looking at the enormous trees and houses nestled into the hills. Half way round I quite literally nearly stumbled over a huge water Monitor Lizard. I reckon it was about 1·30m in length and its body the size of a springer spaniel’s body. That excitement over I continued the circuit of the lake during which noticed a huge white Buddha on the hill behind the city that I hadn’t spotted before.
Tomorrow’s walk.

Fruit bats - Kandy lake - Sri Lanka
Fruit bats – Kandy lake – Sri Lanka
As I was just about to complete the circuit of the lake an old man stopped me. He showed me a poisonous water snake in a clump of reeds that he assured me was most venomous. He also showed me all the waterbirds hiding from it. The snake was hard to see and therefore hard to try and identify to include here, and the name the man gave it was obviously local and fairly unpronounceable. We walked on a little and the old fellow pointed out some huge fruit bats, the size of pigeons. That’s when he told me about the performance of Sri Lankan dance, fire-walking and drumming that was going on that night. I think was related to some festival to do with the Temple of the Tooth. It seemed like a good idea, so I went. It was a shame that the light didn’t allow me to get good photos, slow shutter speeds, and I’d left the video behind in the hostel, damn it! It was entertaining, not brilliant, but fun and I do like dancing girls 🙂

Now some food. The street food in Sri Lanka doesn’t compete with Indian street food. And of the Indian food, I prefer the southern food with its coconut and rice. Here, mostly they are vegetable rotis, fish or chicken buns or things loaded with sugar. I did find one guy making lovely chicken fried rice though. But there really is a limit to how much chicken fried rice you can eat. Here it’s the same as southern India, eat with your hands of lose face and ask for a spoon.

The Big White Buddha of Kandy

By the next day I’d googled the huge white Buddha that I’d seen whilst walking round the lake. It wasn’t far. Back-pack and camera. With the aid of google maps I found the place easily. This Buddha is called Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue and there is a legend of the Buddha of Gnome Mountain which you can read about here. Kandy is built on hill sides around the lake. The Buddha sits atop one of the nearest hills looking over Kandy. I took my photos and moved on. Walking into Kandy from the Buddha you enter from the opposite side from the lake. I walked some of the streets in the direction of the lake. Eventually arriving at the Temple of the Tooth land that borders the side of the lake.

Grounds of the Temple of the Tooth Relic - Kandy
Grounds of the Temple of the Tooth Relic
I strolled in the grounds of the Temple of the Tooth taking photos. Its grounds are lovely and calming. And I haven’t seen as many caucasians in one place since leaving England. You really get the idea that Sri Lanka’s main industry is tourism. It reminds me of some time I spent in Costa Rica where the tourist industry is monetised to the hilt.


Colombo, Sri Lanka

Colombo temple

Early flight to Colombo

Well I flew from Mangaluru (Mangalore) via Bengaluru (Bangalore) to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at 10:55. Madan, Vishak and Abhijith accompanied me to wave me off. The funny thing about Indian airports is that once you enter the building, you can’t check your bags and then go out for a while. There are one or two food stalls, literally one or two. This meant that the boys and I hung out for a while, had a coffee and samosa, and then I entered the restricted area.

Airline food  - on the way to Colombo
Airline food – no thanks to RyanAir
The flight was just over an hour. I was fed! A veg sandwich, coffee and a chocolate bar. Bengaluru airport transit area is much more international. There were the usual type of shop and restaurant. I had an hour and forty minutes to kill before the Colombo flight. Maybe the Mediterranean Restaurant Bar could sell me some long waited for, raw green vegetables? I opted for grilled mushrooms with mozzarella on a toasted panini. It was huge, came with endive, lettuce, tomato and onion, all raw, and some pretty decent green olives. Sigh! And at a good price, for an airport. Better.

Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
I finished at the restaurant and saw that they were calling my flight. So I boarded the last leg to Colombo, due to arrive at 03:15. Yawn! I got fed again! The hostel I’d booked had a deal with a taxi car service, so I was duly delivered to the Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel at just before 05:00. By 5:30 I was in bed and asleep. I woke at about 09:30, not bad 4 hours. I went exploring the local area, buying fruit and water, trying the food, that kind of stuff. Then I took it a little easy, sat in the lovely garden of the hostel chatting with a vet called Rosie, and grabbed an early night because I wanted to get into Colombo centre the next day. I slept like a log! Nearly 10 hours.

Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel
Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel is probably the nicest hostel I have stayed in. It has lovely rooms and gardens. It’s 80m from the beach in a quiet area. Ok the trains pass during the day but at night there is hardly a sound. Colombo is 10/- from Dehiwala station, just up the road. The owner, Mrs. Merle Senanayake is a friendly person and helpful.

Mount Lavinia train

Stupa in Colombo
Stupa in Lotus Rd. Colombo
I caught the train at Dehiwala, just one stop up from Mount Lavinia, and closer for me. It cost 10 Sri Lankan rupees. That works out at 5p, yes, £0.05. (In €0.0529, at the time of writing.) Five stops I think it was. I got off at Secretariat Halt. Fort Railway it the central station and the one after Secretariat Halt. Almost the first thing I saw was a huge white stupa.

Google’s Street View of the stupa

Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo

So I took some photos. And headed off down Lotus Road in the direction of the sea when I met Siri. A junior finance officer in government. He told me that today (Friday 12th Jan 2018) was a Buddhist holy day and a day off and that he was on his way to the main temple. Would I care to accompany him? He take pleasure in showing me around. So that’s how I got to the Gangaramaya Temple. Wiki link here and AboutColombo.lk link here. I guess I don’t really need to say much more about the temple complex, the photos are enough. Needless to say it was awe inspiring. The mix of styles, many gifted to the temple by Thailand, Myanmar, China, and Japan demonstrating the significance of this complex.

The Independence Memorial

Sri Lanka’s Independence Day is celebrated on 4th of February commemorating the end of British rule on that day in 1948. India’s independence day is almost exactly 6 months earlier on August 15, 1947. This memorial building erected to the end of British rule is a loose copy of the Audience Hall (Magul Maduwa) located in Kandy in the temple complex called The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Kandy was the capital under the monarchy. A statue to the Hon. D.S Senanakaya, the first Prime minister of Sri Lanka, was erected in front of this monument. Most visitors miss the museum located in the basement of the Independence Memorial Hall, I certainly did. I don’t remember seeing any signs.

Finally, as I was getting tired from walking all day, I got to the Floating Market with the Lotus Tower in all its glory in the background. The light was going and the photos didn’t turn out that well. When I go back to fly back to India I’ll try and get some better ones.

Colombo sardines

The train ride home was an experience! One of those “see how many people can fit in a carriage” situations. A goodly number were riding the running boards. It was only by pure luck that I managed to get out at Dehiwala just as the heavens opened and down came the torrential rain. It was actually a relief after the oppressive humidity all day.

Lazy Saturday on the beach

Mount Lavinia Beach, Colombo
Mount Lavinia Beach, Colombo
So far I had hardly inspected the beach. I took myself off by road to Mount Lavinia walking, maybe 3km, and then headed for the beach to work my way back to the hostel. A beach is a beach and those that know me will know that I’m not that enamoured with lying on beaches getting sand everywhere and burning. That said the beach here is nice with coconut trees and vegetation giving the tropical feel. I made my way up the beach in the direction of Colombo. The water felt nice. Once back to the part of the beach near the hostel I got out the towel and book and indulged in a few rays. It felt like an age since I’d had the sun on me. No such luck in Uttar Pradesh. It was certainly hot, I’d say the mid thirties. Ok now for the test – the sea. It was lovely and refreshing.

So Saturday is the last day and I need to go back to the hostel and charge phones, power-banks, computers and all. Travelling these days is all cables and chargers. I got back to Colombo Lavinia Beach Hostel, showered and shaved and began preparing for an early start to Kandy on Sunday.