Disclaimer: this travel blog was from August 2017.
The very last part of our 5-month trip around Asia was spent in Hong Kong. Instead of a lengthy blog post, we thought we’d put in a few highlights of the few days we spent here before returning back to the UK.
Highlight 1 > the food, especially the Dim Sum!
We loved Dim Sum Square and Cantom Dim Sum Expert. For huge portions of dinner (not Dim Sum) Tsui Wah was a good shout and fairly cheap too.
Highlight 2 > walking some of the dragon back ridge
Offering incredible views over Hong Kong we would recommend the hike. We got a bus to the start and walked to the view point.
Highlight 3 > seeing the large seated Buddha
The seated Buddha was a little out of town but experiencing the glass floor cable car was really cool. To get the seated Buddha there are quite a few steps up, however, the views were amazing, oh and the Buddha is huge!
Highlight 4 > going to Macau for the day!
We took the first boat out from Hong Kong and the last boat back. Macau is like the Vegas of Asia but also has a cute Portuguese town as well. It was definitely worth a visit!
Highlight 5 > the city skyline
We managed to get a free open-top bus tour of the city because some travellers hadn’t planned their time properly. We also took the peak tram with the sky pass to get the view over Hong Kong.
Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travels in August 2017.
Kuta beach, Bali (3 nights) >> Tegallalang (2 nights) >> Ubud (2 nights) >> Kuta, Lombok (4 nights) >> Gili Trawangan (5 nights) >> Canggu, Bali (2 nights) >> Nusa Dua (3 nights)
Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands.
For the Indonesian part of our trip, we visited Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. We’d wanted to go to Java to visit Mount Bromo and Komodo Island but time and money were both running out.
We visited Bali at the start and end of our trip to Indonesia, but for this blog post we’ll bung all the Bali destinations together.
As you can see we barely scratched the surface of Bali. We tended to stay in the tourist spots which meant it was easy to get between them via buses.
Our first stop was Kuta. It hasn’t got the best reputation but we wanted somewhere close to the airport on a small budget. Despite it being touristy (and busy), it meant there were lots of shops and restaurants. We enjoyed doing random things like going to the cinema and Jonny was delighted to find an English roast dinner one evening.
A happy Jonny with his roast dinner. Smoothie bowls here were also very tasty for breakfast.
We stayed at Ubud Sawah Homestay which was actually not in Ubud centre but a small village close to the rice terraces. It was a good base for white-water rafting too!
Coffee tasting in incredible surroundings. We also tried the most expensive coffee in the world made from Civet poo! 🙊💩
The Tegalalang rice terraces, which were pretty spectacular. This is a big tourist spot however.
If you’re going to Bali, it would be hard not to stay at Ubud at some point during your trip. It acts as a great hub for a number of activities and is packed with restaurants, Yoga classes and fresh & organic foods.
We enjoyed relaxing by the pool at Raka & Rai bungalow (cheap private room with a lovely breakfast). We loved Kafe in Ubud for the fresh meals!
Whilst in Ubud we walked some of the Campuhan Ridge Walk which escapes the crowds and has nice views over Bali.
Walking the Campuhan Ridge from Ubud.
There is a forest in Ubud which is home to lots of monkeys within walking distance.
Monkey forest in Ubud.
From Ubud, we decided to take an early morning trip to climb Mount Batur, which is an active volcano in Bali. We set off at 4am to reach the peak for sunrise. Sadly the clouds only broke for one brief moment revealing a glimmer of sunshine and views. The hike up itself wasn’t so bad, it’s 1717m high. It did get tougher towards the top however as it was mainly sand which meant for every step forward you slipped 3 back. You could also see steam and hardened volcanic ash during the climb which was really cool!
Climbing Mount Batur, an active volcano 1,717m high.
A glimpse of sunrise from the summit.
The next place in Bali we stayed at was Canggu which is near Echo beach. Here the sand is black and it was very popular with surfers. The town had a chilled out vibe, and we even went to a local farmers market during a weekend morning.
Canggu near Echo Beach.
Our last beach stop was at Nusa Dua. We stayed in a nice hostel and rented sun beds from a hotel on the beach. We pretty much took most of this time to relax on the beach, with the occasional sing-song to the locals with Jonny and his ukulele.
The golden sands of Nusa Dua. We stayed at aptly named “Cheap Hotel”.
To get to Lombok you have to get a ferry, and from Bali there is a fast and slow boat. Unfortunately, the seas were rough which meant only the slow boat was running. It felt really slow and cramped, so slow that I read all of Orwell’s 1984 during the boat ride.
We stayed in Kuta in Lombok.
Once we finally arrived, we stayed at Kuta beach (a far cry from from Kuta in Bali). The beach itself had spots which were barely populated but absolutely stunning. This is definitely going to become popular in a few years time! We walked most of the beach, down the main end it’s a good place to learn to kite-surf.
Kuta beach in Lombok. Barely anyone around!
The best thing about our walk along this beach was when we walked to the end and a litter of puppies came to say hello and then promptly fell asleep on me. This moment deserves a single photo collage.
One happy Senorita 🐶🐶🐶
Our accommodation was a cross between a homestay and a hostel called Join Homestay. There was a cat who befriended us and sat on our porch daily and chickens running freely around the garden. I went on a run one morning and got completely lost as paths merged into people’s back gardens. Everything was very open here which gave us the sense you could trust people.
There was a great viewpoint we went to on bikes and a nice yoga retreat called Ashtari cafe for dinner to watch the sunset.
We took a bike to Merese Hill viewpoint (the local kids loved the bike). The views were worth the trip! Recommend Ashtari cafe for dinner (also a Yoga retreat).
Next, we got a boat over to the Gili islands.
The Gili islands were probably my favourite part of Indonesia. Being a total beach bum, and loving snorkelling and diving, the Gilis were perfect.
The three Gili Islands off the coast Lombok.
We stayed on the busier island of Gili Trawangan or Gili T as it is affectionately named. This is the biggest of the three islands and it has no cars or motorbikes which can be a welcome relief from Bali (where you have to be on guard for motorbikes all the time). There are also no dogs on the islands, only cats.
Pituq cafe became one of our favourite lunch and breakfast spots serving delicious smoothie bowls and veggie wraps.
We wasted no time on arrival to Gili T by getting our swimwear on and diving straight into the sea. The snorkelling was excellent with very good visibility. I saw a turtle and a school of squid on our first swim! We took one scuba dive during our stay and saw reef tip sharks along with countless turtles.
To get around the island we hired bicycles (less than £2.50 per day) and cycled around the island stopping along the way. There were some great restaurants and bars on the west side to watch the sunset.
Gili T – what an incredible island. This place is popular for a reason!
We spent two days visiting the other two islands: Gili Air and Gili Meno. There was a public ferry twice a day operating between the islands that cost £1.50-£2 each way.
Gili Air was a little quieter than Gili T with great snorkelling and a great chilled vibe. We spent the day lounging around before walking around the island.
Gili Meno was the most remote island but had the best snorkelling in our opinion because we saw three turtles, two octopus, starfish and lots of beautiful fish. The downside was there was less choice of restaurants. As you walked more around the island you could find beautiful isolated beaches but you’d want to bring food and drinks with you as there were no shops and restaurants in some parts of the island.
The incredible beach of Gili Meno. Beautiful white sandy beaches and perfectly clear waters- a picture perfect postcard of paradise.
Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travels in July 2017.
Singapore (2 nights)
It felt like we were in Singapore much longer than we actually were. We really liked how walkable the city was which meant we could cram quite a lot in. Although it is more expensive, we actually managed to stay close to our backpacker budget by making the most of the free activities on offer and eating street food.
After travelling from Melaka in the morning, we had 1.5 days to explore before our flight to Bali. We stayed near Bugis Junction (a shopping centre) in a small backpacker guesthouse because it was the cheapest place we could find. It actually turned out to be a great location because we were within walking distance of most the things we wanted to see. The restaurant below the Guesthouse called Seng Huat Coffee House had great food, in fact there was often a queue down the street!
On our first evening we wandered down to the Gardens by the Bay to enjoy the light show which occurs most evenings. It is accompanied by music (this time it was musical theme). It looked very pretty.
Afterwards, we went to Boat Quay for drinks with Oonagh, a friend from Worthing now living in Singapore. Boat Quay – a popular outdoor eating/drinking spot, particularly with expats.
The next day, we were up early to explore but the heavens opened so we had to wait it out a while and decided to look at the free shark exhibition at Park House.
Once the rain had eased off, we wandered through the colourful houses and little shops on Haji Lane and Arab St.
Next on the list was Little India with the most colourful buildings. Mustafas, a department store, felt more of a bizarre with absolutely anything and everything inside from gadgets & gizmos to body lotions and potions. Not to mention every type of biscuit and chocolate you could want – it’s worth a peek inside.
The free light show at Marina Bay.
Our flight to Bali was at 5am the next morning, which meant we had to leave for the airport at 2am. Having been busy sightseeing, we’d not booked any accommodation for Bali so it was a bit of a last minute scramble and very little sleep!
Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travels in July 2017.
George Town, Penang (4 nights) >> Kuala Lumpur (3 nights) >> Melaka (1 night)
It was a brief visit to Malaysia but we enjoyed every minute. After the night train from Thailand, we made our way to George Town.
George Town, Penang
A UNESCO heritage Town in Penang, George Town was such a good spot for travellers. The town itself is very walkable, making it ideal for those on a budget. We didn’t have much time to do our research before we arrived but just by wandering around we stumbled upon beautiful old Chinese architecture, endless cafes and incredible street art. This is a hipsters playground.
The Cat Cafe in George Town.
For something different, we visited the Tech Dome which had a laser maze, climbing wall and a vertical free fall drop.
Josh did so well on the climbing wall, Jonny needed some attention in the laser maze.
Food wise, the night hawker stalls were a good option with freshly made satay chicken skewers.
May I present to you Satay Chicken 😋
On our last day in George Town, we strolled through the free Botanical Gardens. The monkeys picked on unsuspecting tourists planning to eat in the gardens- not cool if you were said tourist but otherwise providing further free entertainment for us. Note: do not bring food into the Botanical Gardens.
The free botanical gardens near George Town, Penang.
Chew Jetty should probably get a shout out because it is entirely built upon handmade stilts, literally buckets of concrete. It reminded me of a smaller and much more authentic Pier 39 in San Francisco with all the little shops and stalls.
Exploring Chew Jetty. We decided to mark the occasion with henna tattoos.
We caught a bus to Kuala Lumpur and stayed near Central Market which had lots of shops and stalls (great for buying souvenirs/gifts) and food places.
On the outskirts of Kuala Lumpar was Batu Caves. They were easy to get to as they were situated at the end of the metro line, but remember to save all your energy for the steps!
Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur.
We visited the Petronas Towers at dusk to watch the transition from day to night when the towers light up. Then it was time for our last supper with Joshua before he sadly departed back to the UK.
The mighty high Petronas towers in KL.
We took the morning bus to Melaka so we had all afternoon to explore. Melaka is another UNESCO world heritage site in Malaysia due to beautiul old architecture. We really enjoyed this town; the quaint streets, boat ride down the river, the red square and street art made it a great place for an afternoon visit.
The colourful town of Melaka.
We ate at two really yummy places: Kocik Kitchen and Calanthe Art Cafe. I had a Laksa curry at both I loved the dish so much- a lovely coconut based soup with noodles. I had both a prawn and chicken one and both were great.
From Melaka, we took a 4-hour bus ride to Singapore.
Kerala, a southern Indian state, literally translates to ‘land of coconut’. Coconuts grow everywhere and is the base of Keralan food, drink (from fresh coconut water to toddy – the alcoholic version!) and beauty products. Like Sri Lanka, Kerala has a diverse landscape from the lush green hill country to the interweaving backwaters, vast national parks and the pearly white sandy beaches.
We had just under two weeks in Kerala and one destination we were certain about was Thrissur because we wanted to experience a temple festival called Thrissur Pooram. The festival was one of the biggest in the whole of Kerala and would be held during the end of our two week stay. This dictated the other destinations we visited, not going any further south than Alappuzha (or Alleppey as it’s more commonly referred to). To give you an idea of the scale of Kerala, it takes about twelve hours to get from one end of the state to the other by train.
(A) Fort Kochi – 2 nights
(B) Alappuzha/Alleppey – 3 nights
(C) Kumily – 3 nights
(D) Munnar – 1 night
(E) Thrissur – 2 nights
(F) Cochin (close to airport) – 1 night
We flew into Cochin airport Kerala from Sri Lanka on 25th April 2017. This was our first trip to India and we were anticipating arriving to an exciting but somewhat chaotic atmosphere. When we arrived, we were surprised to see a very modern airport and an air-conditioned bus.
A lot of the guidebooks and people we had spoken to recommended spending some time in Fort Kochi so we decided to spend our first two nights here. Fort Kochi is a city on the coast, south-west of Cochin airport, and was a major port for trading spices from the 14th century.
As we got close, Fort Kochi looked more elegant than we expected with big houses and women in stunning saris, often lined with gold. It was really quiet when we arrived, the buses didn’t honk as much and there wasn’t the commotion and buzz we had seen in India on the TV or from what people had told us. We got the sense that this was a more well-to-do area. Kerala is one of the most educated Indian states so perhaps this should come as no surprise.
On our first night in Fort Kochi, we went to the Ginger House restaurant on the edge of the water which was tucked away behind a warehouse full of Indian antiques. You’ve probably guessed already but the items on the menu mostly featured ginger in them. The Ginger tea and curry were delicious!
We stayed at a place called Tree Loft. The owners were very nice people and we played uno with them in their upstairs hangout area. We tried to be cheap and got a small room with a fan but it was way too hot (think soggy clothes in just a few hours!). First lesson learnt in India: April/May is the hottest time of the year and air-conditioning is a must. The room also let us down further because in the middle of the night, I woke to find a cockroach crawling on me!! Nightmare! The little beast.
The next day, we got out the room as soon as possible. A tuk-tuk driver offered to take us around all the sights for 100 INR (less than £1.50) which sounded very reasonable! The sights included the Chinese Fishing nets, various churches around the town (we weren’t expecting to see so many churches) and the old Jewish town.
The tuk-tuk driver also wanted to take us to ten shops because he would then earn enough commission to cover his fuel. We’d heard about this but just thought it would be one or two shops, not ten! So you might want to be specific with the tuk-tuk driver if you visit. We actually bailed on the last few shops and although he did seem a little annoyed he let us off all the same.
We decided to chill out after our time exploring and found a cool hangout to spend the afternoon called Kashi Art Gallery & Cafe which served really tasty organic food and juices. It also had the most amazing chocolate cake which was very popular!
We also checked out the shop Anokhi which supplies East (a brand/shop you may have heard of which is also stocked in House of Fraser). In the evening, we watched a traditional Kathakali performance; a play conducted with facial expressions, particularly the eyes. We had a cut down version with English translation to make it easier for us to understand – a normal Kathakali can last over 3 hours! We saw this at Greenix Village if you are interested in the shorter version.
There was a small local cafe near our accommodation called Sanitha Hotel (we’re not sure why but often restaurants are called hotels) and we ended up eating there a few times because the food was really good and super cheap. They made good masala tea, masala dosa and parathas & curry. Each meal would cost us 50p each!
The next destination was Alappuzha or it’s less formal name of Alleppey. We got two crowded buses to get there (changing at New Bridge). Alleppey is best known for its backwaters, often referred to as the ‘Venice of India’. Large ‘houseboats’ float along the backwaters and have become popular with tourists. You can stay in a houseboat for between £60-£250 depending on the season, size of the boat and whether you share with others. We were told the best way to get a houseboat at a decent price was to go to Finishing point (where the houseboats dock) around 8am and negotiate a good deal for that day.
After doing some research, there seemed to be lots of other ways to explore the backwaters (this blog post is good) at a fraction of the cost and better for the environment. Unfortunately, the houseboats often have big diesel engines and generators for air-conditioning that pollute the water which you see the local women washing their clothes in.
We booked a homestay called Venice Castle (with a/c this time!). We were fortunate because this homestay was really nice and the host Thomas made us feel very welcome. In fact, we liked it so much here we ended up staying 3 nights!
Thomas, our host at Venice Castle homestay.
The breakfast made for us each morning was really yummy including more masala dosa with coconut chutney.
For lunch, we ate at the highly recommended Thaffs, a small bustling restaurant which was extremely popular with the locals. We ordered vegetable thali and were presented with more food than we could manage!
After lunch, we visited Finishing point to get a closer look at the houseboats. We were able to take a look around the ones for hire which was fun (they did have the hope of selling it to us but we just made our excuses and left).
The main shopping area in Alleppey definitely had more of the hustle and bustle we had been expecting in India. Every vehicle honking and lots of people – crossing the road here certainly tempted fate! We ventured into a sari shop but quickly retreated with the heat and hoards of people. Jonny had a successful shopping trip grabbing some fake Ray-Ban sunglasses for £1.50 which haven’t yet fallen apart.
Alleppey also has a small beach so we went to check it out. The beach had lovely white sand and an old pier like West Pier in Brighton. We watched the sunset and had dinner at Dreamers, a charming beachfront restaurant with lots of lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
The next day, Thomas helped arrange a canoe tour for us which meant we could go down the narrower canals (where the houseboats and ferry can’t go). The day trip with breakfast and lunch worked out under £20 for both of us and was organised by Oscar Cruise Alleppey. Joining us for the day was an Australian family, two Argentinian friends, one British guy living in South Africa and seven Indian friends from Chennai. We had a great laugh with the other tourists on this trip.
To get to our next stop, Kumily, we had to take a 5-hour bus ride up into the hill country which was an experience- read Jonny’s blog post to find out more!
Alleppey had been about 36 degrees Celsius so it was refreshing to feel the air cooling as we headed higher above sea level. This was the journey where we discovered the street shop samosas for about 8p each! Simply delicious!
When we arrived, we headed to Chrissie’s Hotel where we stayed for the next three nights. Our room was on the third floor and had a balcony which overlooked a forest. We spent the rest of the day chilling out on the balcony watching the wildlife. The monkeys especially were very sweet and liked to play!
In the evening, we took a really fun cooking class at Bar-B-Que. It was just the two of us and the tutor (who was hilarious and slightly crazy!). We made paratha bread, a fish masala curry, masala chips, pineapple curry and more! And best of all, we got to eat it all at the end! NOM NOM NOM.
The next morning we got up early to go bamboo rafting. This involved a 5km hike through Periyar National Park (or Periyar Tiger Reserve as it’s also known). We saw wild elephants, a giant squirrel, Indian bison and various birds.
When we reached the water, we had curry & appam. We had a very scenic and peaceful experience floating along on the bamboo rafts before taking the 5km hike back. We really enjoyed getting outdoors, away from the honking horns on the roads. We also met a nice guy who is a relative of the owner of Kayal restaurant in our hometown of Leicester- small world!
At the end of our tour, we were shown how to brew the perfect cup of tea (a funny concept for an English person!) and eventually taste the tea! We drank it black and it had a fresh and earthy flavour to it.
Our next stop was Munnar and there were only three morning buses. The 3-hour bus ride had incredible views for just £1! Though I was slightly unlucky as I was seated next to an Indian lady who proceeded to fall asleep on me!
It was 11am when we arrived in Munnar and thankfully we were able to check-in early to Aminas Cottage, our next accommodation. Munnar is even higher than Kumily so the air was cooler still- it was the first place we needed a jumper in the evening. It was also one of the few places where it rained. Our time in Munnar involved wandering around the town, walking up to a Mosque and a Hindu temple, a short visit to Hydel park and a short walk in the tea plantations.
Thrissur Pooram festival is the biggest temple festival in Kerala and lasts for 36 hours. We had planned to go months in advance, even pre-booking accommodation. Unfortunately though, when we contacted the booked AirBnb to let them know when we would arrive the owner claimed he didn’t have a booking! We managed to get our money back with AirBnb but we had to scramble to find another last minute booking.
We caught the 2.30pm bus from Munnar and arrived in Thrissur 6 hours later. We made it to Raj Mahal Lodge, where we’d booked a last minute room, but the staff tried to charge us double the price. This was hugely frustrating after the AirBnb issue earlier and a 6 hour bus ride to get to Thrissur. However, we had little choice with everywhere booked up for the festival. After debating with the Manager, we settled for the same price but a downgrade on the room. Annoying but at least we had a room!
The next day at 7.30am the 36 hour festival began: thousands of locals, colour, music, elephants, decorations and excitement! And zero alcohol – at least they wouldn’t have lots beer bottles to clear up at the end. We had come to the festival curious to see a local traditional festival and Thissur Pooram certainly ticked those boxes. Our favourite memory was the crowds cheering with brightly coloured balloons every time the rhythm of the music changed.
We were also constantly asked for ‘selfies’, I guess we looked out of place!
The only thing we struggled with, was seeing the elephants in the processions. You can’t but imagine what they must have gone through to be so calm amongst swarms of people, loud music, canons and fireworks 😔
In the early hours the next day, there were fireworks. The fireworks were punctuated with small explosions to make them sound even louder! Although by this point a lot of people were falling asleep – we’d had a nap in our room to stay awake!
If you’d like to read more about our experience of Thrissur Pooram festival, Jonny has written a full blog post on it. Everyone was in good spirits at the festival and it was certainly something different.
Thrissur was quite a way from Cochin Airport and our flight to Delhi was at 5.20am. To ensure we’d make our flight, we travelled the next day and stayed at Princess Residency which was right next to the airport. The owner was very nice and offered to give us a lift to the airport in the morning.
Overall, our trip to Kerela was so varied from experiencing our first Indian festival, the beautiful and calmer hill country, the captivating backwaters plus the amazing food (no Delhi belly here!), culture and people. We really loved this place.
One month ago, we started our trip in Sri Lanka, a country slightly smaller than Ireland and home to around 21 million people. We chose Sri Lanka as our first destination partly due to its smaller size (compared with India and Thailand), a few recommendations from friends and the appealing array of activities the island has to offer. For example, you can relax on the endless stretches of beautiful white sandy beaches on the south coast, walk amongst tea plantations in the hill country, spot wildlife such as elephants and leopards in some of the national parks and visit the many temples and ancient Buddhist relics in the cultural triangle in the middle of the country. Sri Lanka offered a bit of everything and would be an excellent start to our trip.
These photos show you some of the highlights of our trip! If you’re interested in hearing more, keep reading!
When we set out, we didn’t have an exact agenda other than we wanted to spend our first few days on a beach to completely zone out and relax. Other than a few European city breaks, we’d not had a holiday together for over a year, let alone a beach one – not since our honeymoon in 2015! Therefore we decided our first stop would be Hikkaduwa, which the guidebooks describe as a hippy beach town.
To get there from Colombo airport (where all the international flights fly into) we got the 187 bus from the airport to the city centre and then had a a very brisk walk with our backpacks to the train station to catch the last train to Galle at 7.30pm. Unfortunately, it was dark by this point to see out of the window but we could tell train hugged the coastline so I imagine if you did this in the day the views would be wonderful.
Jonny on the train from Colombo to Hikkaduwa. Although we could hear the sea and get occasional glimpses in the moonlight, most of the journey was darkness.
We arrived in Hikkaduwa about 11pm and took a tuk -tuk to our guesthouse- Why Not Guesthouse. Apart from a bar on the beach everything was pretty sleepy and we struggled to even find the owner to get into our room. Finally though, we got into our room for the night after a 14 hour flight, 1 hour bus journey and 3.5 hour train ride! We were shattered and fell asleep quickly to start afresh the next day.
We woke up to a stunning sandy coast line fringed with palm trees. Although there were a number of surfer-style beach cafes, it was fairly quiet – perhaps due to the time of year we were there. We took our time in Hikkaduwa and the laid-back surfer vibe perfectly suited us so we stayed for 3 nights.
We chose this cafe for breakfast and got a bed (owned by the cafe) free of charge for the rest of the day – perfect for relaxing and great for shade as it gets pretty hot!
Most of the beach cafes offered sun loungers and umbrellas free of charge so long as you bought a drink or food from the cafe. Prices were slightly more expensive than more northern areas of Sri Lanka but by English standards it was still pretty cheap with meals ranging from £2-6 on average.
A Sri Lankan curry we had in Hikkaduwa. Big plate of rice and lots of smaller dishes, costing roughly £4.
We also visited the tsunami centre as we were interested in how the Tsunami in Dec 2004 had affected people here. Nearby was a turtle sanctuary which helped to both breed endangered and take in injured turtles.
The very sobering and heartbreaking reality of the 2004 Tsunami. Many of the people we spoke to had been affected by the Tsunami but it was inspiring to hear how they had rebuilt their lives.
The turtle sanctuary in Hikkaduwa. In the evening we helped release 200 baby turtles back into the sea.
From Hikkaduwa, we created a rough 3-week itinerary; explore a little more of the south coast before heading inland to the national parks to spot wildlife and the hill country to explore the tea plantations. After the hill country, we would go to the cultural triangle in the middle of the country and then try and accommodate a little bit of beach time before heading to India. We pretty much stuck to this itinerary which involved us moving from place to place every 2-3 days.
We had just short of 3 weeks, at 19 nights. Our actual route panned out like this:
Our route through Sri Lanka (taken from Google maps).
We took a bus from Hikkaduwa to Galle, a Dutch colonial town within old fort walls.
We just spent one afternoon here and stayed in a homestay for one night where the family cooked us lunch (Sri Lanka rice and curry) and made us breakfast the next morning.
Our first home cooked Sri Lankan curry for lunch 👌
The lighthouse in Galle built by the Dutch in 1938.
Walking along the fort walls in Galle.
Our host at our first homestay.
Then we took the bus along the coast a bit further to Mirissa, another beach town with a particular attraction of whale watching. We bought a tour package for 4000rs each (roughly £20) and departed at 7am (all the boats depart early) and the trip in total was about 4 hours. We went pretty far out to sea and it took about 2 hours before we saw anything! The sea was rough so if you get sea sick easily, you may not enjoy this trip as much (I have never been sea sick, but even I was struggling!). In total we caught glimpses of three blue whales which was incredible – the largest mammal on the planet.
Getting tea before the ferry departs.
The beach was nice in Mirissa and we climbed up a rock to watch the gorgeous sunset.
We stayed in a tree house called Bird House in Mirissa for two nights. It was great to be amongst the trees listening to the birds and felt much more rural than the previous homes and guest houses. Though it was a wooden hut so we were a tiny bit scared of what insects could get in (Sara especially of spiders!!). We were lucky though and had a very pleasant stay.
In Mirissa we found Dewani Roti shop, a wonderful little cafe tucked away. It also had puppies so we were sold (we even went back the next morning for breakfast!).
We also spent a lot of time deliberating whether our next stop would be a safari in Udawalawe National Park or Yala National Park. Yala seemed bigger and had more wildlife to see but was more out of our way and potentially more touristy with people often saying they saw more jeeps than wildlife. In the end, this blog post helped us decide on Udawalawe National Park.
By now we’d started to get used to the buses: emergency braking, lots of honking and no seat belts! 😱
To get to Udawalawa, the journey was a bit more complicated with three buses which took about 4-5 hours. In general, the buses don’t tend to leave until they are full but that doesn’t seem to take very long! We stayed at Ruwanpura homestay in Udawalawa and the family were lovely. Janaka and his wife Udari cooked us lovely meals and their son was also very sweet to play with.
Our host family at Ruwanpura homestay.
Ruwanpura organised a safari by the owner’s nephew, at a very reasonable price of 4000rs including breakfast and entrance to Udawalawe National Park. You need a jeep to enter so the cost goes down depending on how full the jeep is (they seat 6, 7 if someone sits in the front). We had to get up very early for the Safari as this is the best time to catch the wildlife (later on it is too hot and they tend to become less active, seeking shade!). We were very lucky and saw lots of elephants, monkeys, deer, crocodiles, buffalo and a great variety of birds including peacocks, eagles, parrots, kingfishers and painted stork.
Some of the beautiful animals we were lucky enough to spot in Udawalawa National Park.
We stayed at this place during the Sri Lankan New Year April 13th-15th, the biggest national holiday of the year. The children were off school and fire cracker fireworks could be heard all throughout this period. The children at our homestay were very excited by them and always invited us to watch when they got set off. It was really fun to celebrate the Sri Lankan New Year, however the only downside is that most tourist sights will close during this period, buses stop running and restaurants close. The family made us a lovely New Year themed breakfast with Kokis, milk rice and Kevum.
Our New Year Srilankan breakfast.
Our next journey was to Ella up in the hills amongst tea plantations. We got a little caught out by the New Year as there were no buses leaving Udawalawa. A tuk-tuk driver offered to take us and so we took a 2.5 hour trip up into the hills. The drive was spectacular and you could feel the cold air as we climbed higher.
Jonny in the tuk-tuk – a 2 hour drive up to Ella.
The views started to become very impressive from the tuk-tuk ride up! Even the monkeys were impressed!
We checked in to our accommodation, where we received more traditional Sri Lankan New Year sweets. There was a monsoon shower so we chilled on our balcony for a bit before walking to Ella Spice Garden to see if we could do a cooking course. As it was New Year, sadly the cooking course was not being offered but the owner was happy to give us a tour around his spice garden for 100 LKR each. Although the garden small, it was worth the money with the kind man talking us through his homegrown cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, vanilla, cardamom, assortment of chillis and more. It was interesting to hear the process of how they are turned into the herbs & spices we see in the shops.
In the spice garden – here you can see a ginger plant.
A lot of the restaurants were closed in Ella due to the New Year period but we managed to find one that served us Sri Lanka curry. We decided to have a fairly early night as we planned to get up at 5am to climb little Adam’s peak for sunrise. Upon getting back to our room, we met our neighbour, a girl called Felicity and she decided to join us for the early morning walk. The sunrise was beautiful and there were two puppies at the top of the peak who were eager to see hello! One even fell asleep on my lap!
Watching the sunrise from Little Adam’s peak.
One of the puppies getting a little too close to the edge!
Climbing Little Adam’s peak with Felicity, our room neighbour!
We made it!
On our way down we went to 98 acres hotel which was an incredible place overlooking the tea plantations. We decided to reward ourself with breakfast, it wasn’t cheap at 1900 LKR but the breakfast was fabulous, buffet style wth both western and Sri Lankan food and egg hoppers which were made right in front of you!
The view from 98 Acres Resort where we had breakfast after climbing Little Adam’s peak for sunrise.
Later the same day, we checked out the nine arch bridge which is an impressive viaduct still in use. It was a fair walk down to it in the heat (including walking along the railway tracks!) but we were lucky as when we arrived we were able to witness a train going over it.
The nine arch bridge in Ella.
As well as the bridge, we’d hoped to check out Uva Halpawette Tea Factory but unfortunately it was closed due to the Sri Lankan new year.
The next day, we headed to Kandy via the classic train ride through the hills- they say it is the world’s most scenic train ride. The first class tickets had sold out so we decided to get up super early and go to Badulla station which was the first stop. We got to Badulla train station an hour before the train left the station and managed to bag two seats. By the time the train stopped at Ella, the carriages were packed out. The train ride took about 7 hours but the scenery was stunning throughout the journey. The train carriage we were in was completely packed out and with many people standing so I can imagine this could hinder the experience a bit for the people without seats.
The most scenic train ride in the world between Ella and Kandy.
If you don’t manage to book a 1st class carriage then you’ll likely be in overcrowded 2nd class. We were so lucky we had seats!
In Kandy, we were lucky enough to stay with friends who were based close to Peradeniya University. After being wonderful hosts and great company, we owe them big time!
We stayed for two nights in Kandy with Matt and Leonie.
We did the touristy activities such as the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and strolled along the lake. We took respite near the temple at the Old Empire Cafe, built in the British colonial era.
The Temple of the Tooth by the lake in Kandy.
We spent the next morning in Peradeniya Botanic Gardens where we saw lots of fruit bats and monkeys.
Our next destination was to probably the most distinctive landmark in Sri Lanka- Sigiriya Rock. We stayed at ‘Homly Guesthouse’ in Habarana which was situated between Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonawura. We planned to climb Pidurangala rock (another rock which overlooked Sigiriya rock) and see the Dambulla Cave Temples in one day. We got a bus to Sigirya, a tuk tuk to Sigiriya rock and then walked the 1.5 kilometers to the base of Pidurangala rock. You have to pay to climb up Pidurangala ($3.50 USD) but it is a fraction of the cost of Sigiriya rock ($30 USD). The views were stunning at the top.
Larking about on top of Pidurangala rock.
Once we had descended, we assumed we’d just walk to the main road and catch a bus or a tuk-tuk to the Dambulla Cave Temples. However, the road was really quiet, no shops and not much traffic so we proceeded to walk all the way back to Sigiriya rock in the heat. A tuk-tuk offered us 1000 LKR but that was far more than we had ever paid so we declined. We quickly learnt that this was the going rate as every tuk-tuk quoted us the same (I guess because it is a touristy area) so we bit the bullet and went for it.
The Dambulla caves are ancient Buddhist temples with 153 Buddhist statues inside and paintings all over the ceiling. It is a world heritage site, with the caves dating back to the first century BC. The entrance is frustratingly round the back of the hill near the car park so we had to walk all the way up and over the hill to get there and back up again once we had got tickets (after climbing Pidurangala rock in the morning!). It really wasn’t clear and we saw a lot of people complaining because there are no signs to tell you.
Once inside though, the 5 caves were mesmerising- buddhist statues all lined one-by-one and the intiricate paintings were beautiful. The only thing that could have made this better is if there was some information about the caves and their significance (we used the limited information in the Lonely planet guide book as a reference).
Jonny inside one of the caves.
The following day we spent in and around Polonnawura and cycled around the old city. This is where you can find huge Buddha statues (and it is disrespectful to turn your back on Bhuddha so definitely no selfies allowed!!). It was also my birthday so we treated ourselves to an evening dinner at the Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana which had a huge choice of fresh food and a room full of all-you-can-eat dessert (plus wine which we’d struggled to find anywhere).
The ancient ruins in Polonnawura.
A few birthday treats for Sara in Polonnawura and Habarana.
We had been thinking our next stop would be Kalpityia for the kite-surfing and dolphin watching. However, upon researching how to get there, it became obvious that it would take a very long time with the route not entirely clear. We would also have to take another long journey back to Colombo for our flight to India.
Therefore we bailed on Kalpitiya and chose Negombo, the closest beach to Colombo. We were a little scared this would be an overcrowded touristy resort town but when we arrived we were pleased to see it wasn’t so bad at all. It worked out well because we lucked out with a whole apartment at a reasonable price, with breakfast included. It meant we could do all our laundry and even did some baking as there was an oven! (Jonny became very excited finding out if you whisked egg whites they become stiff 😂).
With so much coconut available, we made coconut macaroons and offered them to our hosts at Eco Green Villa.
The beach was very sandy and we bought a day pass from a hotel resort for 1000 LKR (about £5) to use their towels, sun loungers, wifi, pool and toilets. It was such a nice way to relax at then end of a busy three weeks and before the next stretch of our journey in India!
Negombo – our last stop in Sri Lanka!
There was also a beach park that was popular with the locals and offered cheap local food. The egg hoppers were particularly tasty!
Jonny getting an egg hopper in Negombo beach park for around 50p!
In summary, we loved every minute of our time in Sri Lanka and the diversity of the country made us feel like we had been there for ages. We’d definitely recommend a visit!
Also read our other blog post on ’15 things you should know about Sri Lanka’ 😊
Three weeks into our 4.5 month trip around Asia and we decided to start a blog! There is so much we have discovered about Sri Lanka already and we have realised that photos, whilst they are great, do not always capture the stories and experiences behind them. So hopefully you’ll enjoy reading this blog! We hope to:
a) allow family & friends to follow us on our journey
b) inform other travellers about areas we have visited
c) inspire others to travel
Firstly, I should provide some background to our journey so far. We are a married couple living in the UK, who decided to take a 6-month sabbatical or career break from our jobs to do some travelling! To make this sound slightly less glamorous, this didn’t happen without months of planning including saving for 18 months, deciding what to do with our rented flat and all our furniture, car (in the end we decided to end the lease and sell our furniture and car) booking the travel, budgeting, getting vaccinations and so on. Perhaps one day we’ll write a separate blog entry on the planning side alone as there would certainly be enough to fill it!
But for now, let’s focus on the travelling part because that’s definitely the most exciting…
We made the choice to do two trips; the first one in Asia and the second in South America. Our trip started on 5th April 2017 and our itinerary is three weeks in Sri Lanka, one month in India and then three months getting from Bangkok to Bali with a few days in Hong Kong on our way back to the UK in mid-August.
Our budget allowed for a typical back-packing style trip and that suited us because it gave us more flexibility to travel around. We booked all our main flights with STA travel as they offered a round-the-world ticket at a decent price and the option to move flights easily with their multi-flex pass. As for accommodation we just booked our first few nights via Booking.com and opted to leave the rest of the trip open.
Photo: Us about to depart at Heathrow airport for our 4.5 month trip around Asia with probably far too many bags!
So that’s us! And now we have almost finished our 3-weeks in Sri Lanka which have been amazing! We really challenged ourselves by moving to a new destination in Sri Lanka every 2-3 days but that in itself has been a great experience to speak to lots of different people, stay in lots of different places and really get a sense of different regions in Sri Lanka. I think we’re both still in holiday mode and it hasn’t really sunk in that we’re out here until 22nd August so we know we may not be able to keep up that pace!
We’ll now write a separate blog entry on our time so far in Sri Lanka…