Lifestyle, Travel

Ella, on foot and by heart

After baking myself in the sun, I traveled to the cold mountains of Ella. Arriving in the early evening at Lakhshmi’s Hotel, I was welcomed with open arms by the owners and fed well with a simple local meal. My room was super spacious – a king size bed and another twin bed with mosquito net canopies. After a good night’s sleep, off I went the next day to brave the trek to Mini Adam’s Peak.

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My hotel was a good starting point to Mini Adam’s Peak, walking past Ella town which is literally really just one busy street and turning left to a dirt road that goes high up the mountain side which will later on lead to Mini Adam’s Peak. After a leisurely stroll, took me about half an hour to reach the foot of the trail up to the infamous peak.

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The trail to the peak is manageable and easy but seemed like a neverending set of steps up the mountain.

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The view though was breathtaking. I had to pause at certain points to catch my breath.

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Once I reached the top, I was about to turn left when there was a skinny snake that crossed right in front of me, I froze. After getting over it, I quickly galloped my way to the viewing point where I could see this view in its entirety.

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Some relevant information about Ella:

  • choose a hotel near Ella town as it is quite a walk if you would choose to stay nearby Mini Adam’s Peak. However, if you are sensitivie to the noise – then choose somewhere farther
  • Unless you have other plans, for me, it was enough to stay two nights to give you ample time to chill and see some really scenic places such as the Mini Adam’s Peak and Nine Arches Bridge
  • Cafe Chill is an awesome place with a good crowd, fantabulous food and ambiance. The bean bags are uber comfy!
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Travel

Mirissa to Ella, from the coast to the mountains

When I was putting together my itinerary for this trip – I made sure to get a taste of what Sri Lanka is about without being hasty. Six towns later, I barely scratched the surface. For those who are pressed with time, I recommend going to the beaches as well as the mountains. Here is my journey from Mirissa to Ella.

There are a few options to go to Ella. If you are planning to go to Yala National Park, you can do this on a day trip with your stuff and go straight to Ella which is only about an hour away by car. Otherwise, if you are coming from Mirissa or the other beaches within this coastline, you can:

By bus – from Mirissa, take the public bus to Matara and take a connecting bus to Ella. This trip will take you about 6.5 hours due the many stops and traffic within the cities.

By tuk-tuk – yes, it is possible to take a tuk-tuk to Ella, if you are ready to brave the coiled roads for about 4.5 – 5 hours with leisurely stops for photos or food. This will cost you about LKR 7,500

By car – not so much adventure on a road trip here but it’ll take you to Ella faster, and safer. I was quoted LKR 13,000 so I bailed, I didn’t want to pay this much and I wanted to experience the trip as raw as possible.

I had a comfortable ride to Ella and being so lucky to be with a tuk-tuk driver who grew up in one of the small towns along the way, we even made a stop at their house and I met his parents! Unlike the ride from Galle to Mirissa, there are more fields and remote towns you will pass by than beaches – simply because you are heading farther away from the coast to the deeper part of Sri Lanka.

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Here are some of the photo stops we did along the way which you should do too:

Just outside of Matara, after school where it got pretty crowded on the streets. I am still at awe as to how they arrived at the decision to use white uniforms when the entire country is so beautifully dusty!

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One of the last beaches I saw  before heading on to the swamps and valleysP1030752.JPG

My driver took a cigarette break and what better place to go to than this wonderful beach in Hiriketiya, Dikwella! Had I known this place, I would have stayed here for a night or two. I discovered there is a ‘hipster’ place where you could get a room, surf and yoga lessons nearby. By the way, it is known to be a HIPPIE HANGOUT back in the 60s, how cool is that? The vibe remains to date.

Dots Bay House | http://dotsceylon.com/ | https://www.instagram.com/dotsbayhouse/

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Along the way, I got hungry so my driver was nice enough to buy me corn and fresh coconut!P1030769.JPGP1030771.JPGP1030788.JPG

The rest of the ride will be endless rice fields with occasional peacocks (lots of them!) along the way P1030795.JPG

Finally, the winds got cooler as we climbed the hills of Ella. It was almost night-time when we reached my hotelP1030800.JPGP1030804.JPGP1030809.JPG

Some more information:

http://www.surfsouthsrilanka.com/ – saw this site and if you are into surfing, do check out your options

Where to stay, eat, be merry:

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Travel

Mirissa, a free and easy beach trip

It took me a long while to be able to decide which beach to go to as there were too many to choose from in Sri Lanka. There were beaches that are more touristy, great for surfing, has whale watching and a whole lot more. I decided to go to Mirissa after finding a place which offers bed & breakfast as well as yoga sessions.

Now that was probably the sole mistake I have made for this trip as the place did disappoint me in a lot of ways. Mirissa was perfect, but the pricey place I stayed in was not. I stayed at Surf and Yoga Mirissa, and for USD 310.00, here’s what I got:

  • accommodation for two nights in a sizeable room with a double bed and single bed, has a huge balcony as well, looking into the jungle
  • simple breakfast of toast, eggs and jam
  • two yoga sessions
  • a day trip all-inclusive to Yala National Park (transport to and fro Yala as well as the safari jeep)
  • a one hour massage at The Secret Root Spa

The place looked decent but there were a couple of things that were really frustrating. One, the door lock was so difficult to open – it uses one of those really old keys which had the longer stem and it made me so upset just trying to get inside my room. Two, they have major issues with water supply. I am not sure if this is the same for the rest of the hotels in Mirissa, but there is no water at major timings that you need to take a shower – mainly in the evening and morning. And the worst part is, the staff cannot do much about it. The bed was so-so, a little bit rickety, the AC gets really loud at night and disruptive. Now even if I live in the city, I am used to total silence when I go to sleep – so this was also kind of a let down.

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The yoga, on the other hand – was great. The sunset yoga brings us to the cliff by the beach where the view was perfect. The sun sets just when we are about to end our practice and it’s just mesmerizing to be part of it.

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Mirissa is a place that’s more for relaxing rather than exploring. There’s really nothing much I did during the two days I was there, except for laze around on the beach – practically anywhere I can lay my beach mat on and drink cheap cocktails at Papa Mango. This place is really chill with hammocks all around hanging on coconut trees, day beds and wooden planks to just lay on.

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Some of the places I would recommend:

  • Papa Mango – a place to chill with free WiFi, good chill out music and decent cocktails
  • Dewmini’s Roti Shop – the banana chocolate roti was superb!
  • The Secret Root Spa
  • The Secret Guesthouse – I wish I would have stayed here instead
  • Zephyr – awesome dinner place just along the beach with seafood, awesome cocktails and that chill out ambiance great with friends or your partner. Not bad for going solo as well!
  • and just lazing around the entire coast of Mirissa, choose a spot and chill out

P1030594.JPG my favorite beach mat made in the Philippines – it is ‘sand-resistant’

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Galle to Mirissa, a ride along the coastline

After a great start at Galle, I was now heading deeper into Sri Lanka but keeping to the coastline. To take me to my B&B in Mirissa, I took a tuk-tuk all the way from Galle which took about four hours including the photoshops (lots of it!) and a swim at Jungle Beach.

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Driving me to Mirissa was Sampath from Danu Travels & Tours – fluent in English and knows the sights along the way, even those ones that you have to cross private property to see a stunning beach! He was driver, tour guide and historian all rolled into one! Some members of his family have perished during the tsunami in 2004 and he told me about that day on 26th of December.

Here are the places I went to along the way:

Buddha Temple not far from Galle P1030483.JPG P1030485.JPG

another Buddha Temple – you can’t wear your slippers or shoes in here so you need to brave the burning tiles P1030496.JPG Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 6.49.42 AM.png

 The Jungle Beach where both locals and tourists go for a dip P1030527.JPG P1030533.JPG

 a secluded beach which has powdery sand and turquiose waters P1030548.JPG P1030553.JPG

another sprawling coastline where they do fishing on stilts (the fishermen were out for lunch when we came) P1030561.JPG P1030563.JPG 

another stretch of really fine white sand, so white that it makes the water look more of a baby blue hue, the catamarans are also lined up along the coast P1030576.JPG P1030578.JPG P1030583.JPG

Sampath (tuk-tuk driver) – +94 774 067 442 | danu.travels@outlook.com

Note: photos are all raw and unedited. Yes, they all look that good!

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Travel, Uncategorized

Galle, a Colonnial Hipster place of sorts

The Dutch first set foot in Galle Fort, and if I were them, I would stay for more than a hundred years as well. In most travel books and websites I have read before coming to Sri Lanka, most would say that there is no need to visit Galle as there is nothing much to do here. I’m glad I didn’t listen.

Galle is a great stop at either the start or the end of your journey to Sri Lanka. I didn’t stay long either, but I wish I could have stayed for at least two nights. I was there for 2 days and a night and I just find this place so charming. The narrow streets are within walking distance to most inns and B&B’s. There is just too much colour and contrast to this place that every nook and cranny is Instagrammable.

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Illustration Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/233272455674418764/

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I am so glad I picked out the perfect place for my stay – Antic’s Guesthouse. It was awesome. The location is just perfect to head out to anywhere within Galle, it is within walking distance to the main streets dotted with quaint shops, museums, cafes and restaurants.

Budget-wise, you wouldn’t really call it a budget hotel as it costs about US90/night inclusive of an awesome Sri Lankan breakfast (or Continental for those weak of heart) – but it was totally worth it.

The room is huge, the bathroom spacious and clean. All of the walls, windows, the poster bed as well as the ceiling are hand-painted as the owner is a local artist (I heard from the neighbor) who currently resides in the UK.

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The staff was really all very polite and helpful. They make sure they attend to everything you might need, you wouldn’t even have to ask! The receptionist has actually informed me that I was being ripped off by my tuk-tuk driver so I had to nicely ‘sack’ him. And this is how I found that overpriced tuk-tuk driver, read my previous post here.

You could walk the main streets of Galle Fort in half day, including visiting shops and maybe having a fruit juice or two along the way. There’s a good juice shop just opposite Antic’s Guesthouse owned by  an old Sri Lankan man and he was chatty and nice. Some notable shops and restaurants to see:

There was this vintage poster and postcard shop named Stick No Bills Poster Gallery, which I saw along Church Street  – and the prints and art are really awesome. If I wasn’t moving around Sri Lanka, I would have bought a poster or two for my bedroom.

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As I was taking photos around the Lighthouse, I saw this ‘rasta’ looking local who suddenly jumped off the cliff. Turns out, he has been doing cliff diving since late 90s/ early 2000s, for profit or not – I am not sure, but it didn’t seem like he was asking money for it. It was pretty nerve-wracking watching him, but he’s just so crazy about it you would kinda understand why he is doing it.

In a nutshell, I would still recommend Galle as a first stop to get ‘acclimatized’ to Sri Lanka. You can skip Colombo all together but Galle is a must-see, it’s too pretty to pass out on.

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Lifestyle, Travel

Discovering Sri Lanka | The journey from Colombo to Galle

Day 1. I left Singapore with my new backpack in tow with high hopes of this place. It did not disappoint and I am looking forward to the rest of my trip.

I got on a red eye flight to Colombo and after praying long and hard for my bag to reach the belt, I toIMG_5480.jpgok the first bus in sight to Colombo Fort Railway Station. You literally take the exit at the airport and go straight, cross the street, board that bus – but of course, still ask about its route. Onboard the bus, I wish it was me instead behind the wheel, the driver was taking risky overtakes that won’t bring him to the destination any faster. After an hour or so, we reached Colombo Fort Bus Station. After asking around, it was an easy 200 meters walk to the Colombo Fort Railway Station.

At the counter, I asked for a 2nd class ticket for one to Galle Fort. In half an hour, I managed to get myself on the train after trying to get a sense which one was 3rd class and which one was 2nd. With the help of an eager vendor, he brought me to the 2nd class carts, 5-minutes too late that all of the seats have already been taken. I was standing at the correct platform after all, if I didn’t freak out because of the men surrounding me, I would have gotten a seat.

But fret not, I got the best spot after all, on the first cart just behind the wheelie, an open spot where I had to stand for more than two hours – but with floor to ceiling views of the coast. It was amazing. The coast was unadulterated, often with locals living in it or swimming in it. The sand looked fine enough for a swim and sunbathing – the water clear enough for a good dip. Nearer to the resort areas such as Bentota and Hikkaduwa, the larger hotel properties are dotted along the coast – but nothing as bad as Bali. From the train, there are still a lot of untouched stretches of greenery and sea – open for all to enjoy. It’s been a while since I’ve stared at something for a long time, just admiring its beauty and longing to be able to live in this kind of place for as long as I want to.

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Every trip brings me to this point – the borderline of a city and nomadic life. I know in some way I can live without a 9-6 kind of job but a part of me likes the stability of it, the routine life. But a huge part of me also loves the nomadic life, I can take an online freelance job and jump from place to place, living on a backpack. But to me, no matter how beautiful the world is, cash is king and this is a necessity of life – and with my responsibilities, I would need loads of it. Enough about my dilemma.

And so the journey continues, with an elevated entertainment to boot with a couple standing beside me with the obnoxious girlfriend who kept bossing his BF around to fetch her some water, and teaching him how to pronounce town names – which obviously they both can’t – just making them both look like idiots. To my amusement, they let off a town or two, earlier than my stop, giving me enough time to savor the solitude.

As the train was approaching the next stop, a Sri Lankan man approached me and did the usual small talk, ‘where are you from?’, ‘what do you do?’, ‘where is your husband?’. A tip to single ladies, even if you are not attached at all – just say you are married or that you have a boyfriend, it would make the conversation shorter. And so of course I was traveling alone and had to justify to him why – of all people. While I was explaining myself, this old man suddenly poked my face! “Oh, it’s a birthmark!” – to my shock, I didn’t realize he was actually referring to my mole right beside my nose. I was numbed by my shock that I didn’t know how to react. Before I could say anything, he poked it once more! “This is considered lucky in Sri Lanka.” Now to all you people who have dealt with Indians, you would know that generally, and I am not being racist here, they have no sense of personal space. And so maybe he thought it was okay to literally poke around.

After I recovered, I just played along as he told me that he was from the Tourist Office. He seemed legit, giving me some history lessons and all. So after much prodding, he managed to convince me to allow him to take his recommended tuk-tuk – which was the first one he saw on the street, right across the exit from the train station – pointed to a ‘official’ sticker and charged me 80 rupees for every kilometer, which I thought was not too bad, $1.00 for every km. I agreed on the places I want to visit, got on the tuk-tuk as it brought me to my B&B hostel for a quick shower before I head off.

My hostel was at Antic’s Guesthouse, located conveniently along the famous streets of Galle dotted with shops and quaint cafes. Read about this beautiful inn on my next blog which is all about Galle. After asking the receptionist about ongoing rates for a tuk-tuk tour, I was told that I was being ripped off – so I sent the driver away after paying him 200 rupees for the trip from the station to my hostel.

Tuk-tuk tips – they usually charge based on the places you would want to see and give you a package price which would usually cost you about 2,000 – 3,000 rupees based on seeing places like: Dutch Fort, Spice Garden, Turtle Sanctuary, Jungle Beach – and for me, taking me all the way to my next stop in Mirissa which is about an hour away.

And so finally, I settled down in my room – ready to take on and explore Galle!

Quick Info:

Ticket from Colombo Fort to Galle Fort (Railway) – LKR 1800 | 2.5 hrs roughly | 2nd class is the best!

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