2010 Sri Lanka for our 3rd Wedding Anniversary

Sun 7th Feb

The intrepid explorers took the night flight to Colombo for our 3rd wedding anniversary holiday. Wije who is our driver and tour guide for this holiday picked us up at Katunayake Airport in Colombo and drove us to the Wallawwa hotel which is hidden away amongst trees and jungle plantation about 40 minutes from the airport. We were met by a waiter there with a fresh lime drink and ice cold towels to refresh us after our journey. We were then shown to our suite which was amazing, complete with our own little garden area with parakeets in the trees. Our evening meal there was fabulous, we sat in the lovely outdoor dining area with candles lighting up the garden which is really gorgeous. We would love to have spent more time there, and we will if we do come back to Sri Lanka.

Mon 8th Feb

Wije picked us up the next morning after an early breakfast and we set out to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage This was an amazing experience, when we arrived the elephants were down in the river for their twice daily dip. We spent quite some time with them there, they are used to humans and took bananas very gently from me. They seemed quite happy to let us stroke them and it was lovely watching them playing in the water. After an hour or so the mahouts started herding them up the rocks and through the village back to their orphanage. We followed them back and had a wander around the orphanage before going to the pen that the two babies elephants are fed in. I fed one of the babies 2 bottles of milk – couldn’t believe how fast she drank it. I loved being there it was a brilliant experience, I could have stayed there all week. Had a lovely lunch at Sarukethia a pretty restaurant en route to Dambulla with a river flowing beside it and bamboos shading us. The garden was so pretty with lots of spices growing there, it smelled wonderful and the food was really good. We drove on to Dambulla to visit the Golden Cave Temples after lunch. The first thing you see is the giant golden Buddha who sits astride the new temple at the entrance. There is a bridge near the temple depicting the monks begging for alms which reminded me of Luang Prabang in Laos when I got up at 4.30 one morning to go and watch the buddhist monks daily walk around town to beg for alms. The cave temples date back to the 3rd century BC. There are five caves altogether - Maharaja Vihara is the oldest one, two and four were built in the 1st century BC. The third cave was built during the reign of Kirti Srirajasimha, the King of Kandy, in the 18th century and the fifth cave is the newest and was repainted in 1915. It is a bit of a climb as there are over 200 steps but well worth it. Monkeys are everywhere on the way up and as this is a place of pilgrimage they are not intimidated by us. We came out of the last cave in time to see a lovely sunset over the lake. Wije then took us to Vil Uyana an hotel built over the wetlands and paddy fields just outside Dambulla where we stayed for 2 nights. This is an incredibly pretty place our bungalow was really lovely and had one of the largest baths I have ever been in, solid granite which takes some warming up. The toilet was open plan though, and for me that was a bit much, as I prefer a bit of privacy. We also found that the bungalow was so dimly lit we could hardly see after the sun set, romantic but not that practical. The food was very good, but not outstanding like the Wallawwa. They do have a wonderful view of Sigiriya (Lion Rock) which is stunning, we are supposed to be climbing it on Wednesday. I got 16 bites on the first night here, maybe paddy fields are not the right place to stay if you are allergic to mozzies!

Tue 9th Feb

After breakfast Wije collected us and we went for an hours elephant safari through the wetlands. Rani was a very sweet natured girl elephant and we bought some fresh figs for her as she was putting her trunk up over her head to be fed, obviously all the tourist buy her fruit. She waded waist deep through the water in the wetlands and stopped to play squirting the water with her trunk for a while. It is so pretty out there and we saw some fabulously coloured birds including some kingfishers. After that we drove on to the Ancient Medieval Capital of Polonnaruwa which was the medieval capital of Sri Lanka from the 11th Century AD. In its time, a 6 km rampart protected the city. The Royal Palace was built in the 11th century, the massive brick walls of the main hall stand amidst the ruins of about 40 inter-connecting rooms. The palace was originally 7 storeys high but since the upper floors were wooden there is no trace of them now. The Royal pavilion still has its lion portals, pillars and a delicately carved moonstone stepping stone. Most of the street that was the market still remains. Sathmahal Prasada the 7 storied Stupa has an unusual stepped pyramidal shape. Andrew called it the pyramid with a tit on top. Wije took us to lunch at DJ’s a little restaurant that seems to have built up a big reputation in Sri Lanka. We had an amazing curry there a huge bowl of sticky rice and 7 or 8 little dishes of different curries including banana flower, baby jack fruit, large jack fruit baby okra, aubergine, curried green salad and fresh fish from the river opposite DJ’s caught that morning. We then got taken to the silk factory where we were shown the silk worm cocoons, how they hand weave the silk on the loom and then were talked into trying the local clothing. I got taken into a changing room and dressed in a sari of gorgeous blue and silver silk, when we came out there was Andrew in the typical top and sarong that the men wear. The owner borrowed Andrews camera and his wife took charge of putting us in various poses for photos. The sari was actually very comfortable to wear and I was so taken with the fabric that I ordered a suit in it. After placing our orders we went back to the hotel to relax before dinner and spent some time sitting on our balcony listening to the cicadas.

Wed 10th Feb

Wije collected us about 10ish enabling us to have a bit of a lie in as we had decided not to get up at 4.30am to climb the 1,200 odd steps up Sigiriya in 34C heat, it’s a long climb to see the ruins at the top. Though having said that I now wish we had as the photos I have seen on the web since returning home look really incredible. We went to the Sacred Temple of the Tooth and had a wander around – you don’t get to see the tooth, just all the daily flower offerings for it. We then went back to DJ’s – since we may never get the chance to eat there again, it was as wonderful as yesterdays lunch. Went on to pick up our clothes, I am very pleased with my skirts, and though our shirts are not as good workmanship as the Vengtai in Bangkok they are pretty well made and we are satisfied with them. Onwards to a jewellers where the owner insisted they cleaned my rings, then tried to sell us jewellery for around 2 grand a piece , pretty much all of it looked like costume jewellery – time to leave. Drove up into the mountains above Kandy, a really huge white Buddha stood high on a mountain opposite us. We were staying for just one night at the Theva – a newly opened hotel right up in the mountains. We had a lovely suite right on the top floor with a jacuzzi mounted in one corner that we could lie in, sip wine and watch the sun setting over the mountains. The white buddha and all of Kandy could be seen below us from the panoramic windows of this wonderful suite. A fish tank runs the length of the room under the window and pretty little fish swim around lit up subtly with rock lights. Dinner was really lovely but very rushed so that we barely had time to finish each course before one of three waiters grabbed our plates and gave us the next course – no breaks allowed to digest the food in between. The staff were way too over eager, to the point that even although we asked for a break before pudding, and I ventured outside for a cigarette a waiter immediately ran out bearing the wine and asking if we had changed our mind about pudding. If not would we like him to bring it out as it was on the table. We asked him to leave it there and put the wine back. The staff really need to learn to chill out and let guests relax and enjoy the food, this said, everything else at Theva was excellent and I would go back to stay.

Thu 11th Feb

We visited the Peradeniya or Botanical Gardens which are absolutely superb, wonderful trees, shrubs and flowers including giant bamboos which grow up to a metre per day till they reach around 90 metres high. There is a pretty half moon shaped garden showing grasses from around the world and a lovely pond shaped as a miniature map of Sri Lanka. I taped the huge fruit bats flying around and couldn’t believe how noisy they were, we watched them for quite some time. The orchid house was so lovely, but reminded me so much of my own lovely collection, all now re-homed or dead as very few plants seem to cope with life at the Elms. A longish drive after lunch to the plantation up, round and over mountains. We had several photo stops as the scenery around the tea trails area is stunning, including one at the little English church on the lagoon. We were to stay just the other side of the lagoon, we could hear the music from a ceremony, which was still going three days later when we left. The Tea Trails Bungalow in Bogawantalawa is set in the Norwood plantation and is amazing, we have a beautiful master suite with an outdoor seating area. A lovely old fashioned English afternoon tea was served for us on arrival too. The garden is beautiful, with views down to the lagoon and lovely hidden seating areas dotted about. The food,wine and service were all absolutely faultless, we even had our laundry cleaned immaculately at no extra charge. The chef came to visit us before lunch and dinner to ensure that we were happy with his menus. We just relaxed and enjoyed the rest and lovely surroundings until it was time for a drink before our fabulous dinner and eventually bed. So good to just sit around and do nothing after all the driving etc. of the last few days.

Fri 12th Feb

We had a lovely relaxing breakfast outside I tried the kittle and buffalo curd, which was lovely. Apparently kittle is a type of honey, but the bees are fed on coconut – I hate normal honey, but this is delicious. The curd tastes like a set natural yoghurt. We visited the tea factory after breakfast, a van picked us up at 9am, it was very interesting and we were both glad we had decided to come and see it. We were shown all around the factory and saw the entire tea process from picking through to it being bagged for export. We were then shown how to tea taste and tried it for ourselves. We bought some tea to bring home for family & friends and ourselves too. Relaxed then until it was time for a superb lunch, then had a massage each. Dinner was great too, although night before was better. We could happily stay here for longer, and will do if we come back.

Sat 13th Feb

We are now wishing profoundly that we had stayed longer! Wije picked us up at 10am we drove all day and arrived at Yala National parks own hotel about 5pm after just a brief stop for some lunch. We are both too hot and totally wiped out from the journey. I have been bitten to bits again within minutes of getting out of the car. We walked down to the sea, which is very wild and absolutely beautiful. You can’t swim here as the current is too strong, but the sea is crashing on to the rocks and the sun is setting – so lovely. Our bungalow is extremely basic to say the least, probably looks even worse than it is to us after the wonderful places we have stayed in so far, the wine is extortionate – and is the same as stuff at ½ the price of better places. The food was a dreadful buffet, both thoroughly fed up as this is a luxury holiday, and this place is worse than back packer basic hostels we’ve stayed in. A small cabin with a small double bed and a fan that does nothing to cool the room down. There is a boarded up balcony at the back of the cabin and a shower that only dribbles. Tried to get the agency to book us elsewhere for tomorrow but they can’t, so we are spending our anniversary in the worst place we’ve been in! The upside is that the beach is beautiful.

Sun 14th Feb

Breakfast was almost as bad as dinner, the beach is lovely but too hot to stay out in for any length of time. We had a huge land monitor sitting at the top of the stairs on our return from the beach, but he launched himself off the landing before we could take a photo. We are going on safari at 3pm so hope we see leopards to make this bit worth being here for. The safari men were great & really made an effort to entertain us, we saw lots of different types of birds including painted storks, green bee eaters, a kingfisher, an eagle, egrets perched on buffalos heads, and an eagle owl. A mother boar with 5 babies, a mongoose, a crocodile, Sambar, Chital and Axis deer, a leopard way up on the distant rocks, too far away to see properly. Wild elephants of course and a golden jackal. The safari men were very disappointed that we didn’t see more leopards, apparently the day before there were 2 leopards with cubs very close to the trail they use, so they got fab photos of all of them. Another evening here and Wije will collect us in the morning to continue our tour.

Mon 15th Feb

Air con in the car & we are off to Galle & happy. Wije stopped by the roadside to get us a fresh coconut each to drink. We stopped en route for a stroll on the beach opposite a private house on it’s own island which you can rent if you have a few grand going spare. We are staying at the Kahanda Kanda Hotel near Galle, it is a stunning place with lovely gardens and a beautiful cat called Rosie who welcomed us as much as the staff did and spent a lot of time with us during our stay. She loved chilli trail mix and you were her best friend if you fed her some. Our suite here is stunning and the four poster bed is covered in flowers. The furniture and ornaments are old and beautiful and we have a lovely private seating area outside overlooking the gardens, bliss after our Yala experience! We relaxed and wandered around the garden with it’s lovely little pond full of water lilies and spent some time at the pool with the 2 dogs who live here too. Dinner in the outdoor decked dining area was wonderful, then we relaxed in the atruim again with Rosie for company.

Tue 16th Feb

Breakfast was served to us this morning on our seating area outside our suite, a beautiful sunny day with nothing to do but relax by the pool or walk in the gardens looking at the lovely view and occasionally hearing an elephant in the distance. We read for a while in the sunshine and later went to the pretty atrium for a pre dinner drink with Rosie accompanying us. Another wonderful dinner, followed by lounging in our outdoor area, this is the life…

Wed 17th Feb

Breakfast and fond farewell to Rosie, then it’s time to explore Galle with Wije. We went first to the Dutch reform church, which was built on the highest point in the Galle fort, and stands more than 12 m above sea level. The foundations of the church were initially laid in 1682 and it is a very pretty white building. We walked along the fort walls by the sea, explored the few shops and had a look at the lighthouse before returning to the car to be taken to the Moonstone mine. The moonstones are mainly greyish white, but the best are bluish in colour and are found in in Mitiyagoda. The miners climb down a 10-metre-deep shaft on a frame made of coconut wood. A machine pumps out water, but all the digging is still done by hand. Buckets of soil are wound up regularly to the surface and the miners sift through it looking for the stones. They believed that this piece of land is blessed by the moon. We watched the whole process, it’s fascinating & like something from centuries ago. We then were taken to watch them polishing the stones & then of course to the shop where they sell them. We bought a pair of lovely blue moonstone earrings there, they really sparkle and are very beautiful. We then had a wander around the cinnamon tree area and were shown how they strip the bark to make cinnamon oil & of course then bought a bottle, which smells delicious. Onward then to the Sea turtle hatchery which we really enjoyed visiting, they are doing their best here to collect the eggs, look after them and when the baby turtles hatch they look after them for the first week or two then take them back to the sea to be released. They have Loggerheads, Green, Olive Ridley etc. and really are making a difference to how many of the baby turtles survive. The also have tanks with adult turtles injured in the tsunami who would not survive in the wild. There is of course a little shop selling gifts which helps support the hatchery. I bought a pretty pair of cotton trousers & matching top in there. From there we went to the Reef Villa & Spa in Wadduwa our last destination in Sri Lanka where we are staying in our lily pond suite for three nights which you enter via little stepping stones over the lily pond that surrounds the suite and your private terrace. Our suite has an enormous four poster bed with hanging punkah fans above it that you can swing gently to create a breeze and mosquito nets surrounding it, there are also antique ceiling fans if you don’t fancy doing the punkah wallah and air con too. An enormous granite bath sits in the centre of the bathroom with a holder for your champagne glass, a candle and a mirror attached to the side for bathing in luxury. There’s an outdoor waterfall shower, an indoor one and an outside jacuzzi bath. Heavens don’t think I’ve ever been so spoiled! We had a lovely meal in the dining room that overlooks the pool and retired then to relax in the swinging settee on our terrace.

Thu 18th Feb

Breakfast is the lovely buffalo curd with kithul honey and fresh fruit platter in the outdoor dining room overlooking the pool. We went for a wander to explore the rest of the hotel, this whole place is full of gorgeous antiques, beautiful furniture and the most amazing modern staircase I’ve ever seen. The lounge area is big and airy with more fans. Then of course there are the beautiful gardens to explore with loads of exotic plants and big Greek urns dotted around. There’s a lovely sandy beach and the sea which seems very wild around here, too rough to swim in. We met the owner a nice Irish man and Will & Grace his two gorgeous friendly alsations who come bouncing over to greet us whenever they see us wanting us to throw the ball for them. The dinner menu is fab too and you can order dinner to be served on your own terrace outside the suite which had a swinging sofa as well as the dining area if you fancy a romantic dinner for two. We did that tonight then finished the wine rocking on the swing before bed.

Fri 19th Feb

Another lazy day just relaxing, becoming quite addicted to the curd and kithul for breakfast and our waiter has said he will get me some kithul to take home with me. Wandered in the gardens & by the sea, cuddled the cat and Will & Grace and regretfully packed to go home, could very happily just stay here forever in the sun.

Sat 20th Feb

After breakfast it was time to leave this idyllic place, Wije collected us to take us to the airport for our flight home. Flight home was fine and it’s good to be home with our cats again even though it’s bloody cold here after the wonderful sunshine and beauty of Sri Lanka.