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Positive Feedback..

Hi Di

I had to send you the enclosed because it sums up what a fantastic trip we had to Sri Lanka.

It started well when we got upgraded to business class on the A 370 airbus when we did the bag drop having checked in on line. We flew business to Dubai – what an experience TOTAL luxury, champagne all the way, huge seat pods, fantastic food and service to die for.

We arrived at Colombo and were met by Priyal our guide /driver for the week .I knew straight away that we would get on with him.  He is young (32) knowledgeable ,enthusiastic and polite and helpful.  He was great fun and we had a load of laughs and he really made the tour a complete pleasure .Surprisingly it was not just about the places we visited but the journey in between We were able to see at first hand a beautiful and fascinating country. We covered a lot of miles in the car often on roads for which the description POOR did not really describe accurately – non existent is closer. A 4×4 would have been more appropriate than a Toyota saloon but Priyal coped excellently. The standard of driving in Sri Lanka is not up to western standards they make the Portuguese and Italians look sane and Greek taxi drivers like old grannies. I would not recommend hiring a self drive car in Sri Lanka it would be suicidal.

The road from the Airport to central Colombo is like the A 34 through Longsight. Single track and lined by ramshackle buildings, usually choked with traffic, Colombo is very atmospheric but not pretty .Apart from a few Colonial buildings and a few modern ones there is not much to see. BUT this is not like India, despite much of the city appearing ramshackle the streets are clean .Very little litter, no dead cows, no children in the gutter or dead dogs on the pavement and only a few beggars. They take pride in their surroundings.  It appears to be a Buddhist thing.

We arrived at the Cinnamon lakeside and were room upgraded .Excellent hotel in all ways .Rooms, garden /pool and restaurant all first class.

The tour commenced the following day with an interesting journey to Pinnawela Elepant orphanage – excellent and on to Amaya Lake.  Amaya Lake is in a lovely position .Nice villa style rooms spotlessly clean, good restaurant and lovely staff .Full marks again.

The visit next day to Polonnaruwa was fascinating especially for anyone like me with an interest in cultures and history .However it is a huge site ( we got round it by car) .The local guide was a mine of information and this 9th century site  is amazing and very much more advanced than anything in the West of Europe at that time .it predates the major castles and cathedrals by 300 years .But on a hot day a 3 hour plus tour is hard work and for someone with only a passing interest in Buddhist religious art /history and architecture its exhausting by the end .

Equally impressive, and perhaps more so because it predates the above by 500 years, is Sigiriya. This 200mtr vertical rock fort is one hell of a climb.  1200 steps , vertiginous drops ,you need a head for heights and to be pretty fit to get up there .Beware the local “helpers ” they will charge you the equivalent of £30 to give you a helping hand up. I took a telescopic hiking pole and found this invaluable as an aid going up and down. Once gain the local guide supplied by Columbus Tours was first class. The Dambulla cave temple is stunning, 2200 years old and totally intact Then on to Kandy, The Mahawela reach hotel is lovely and the  following day of gem factory visit ,wood carver batik factory , spice garden and tea factory is  very interesting. There was no hassle to buy stuff but we did pick up some souvenir items. we found Sri Lanka generally hassle free. People / hawkers do try but also accept no as no.  Like all Sri Lankans even the hawkers seem to be polite.

Nuwara Eliya is known as little England for good reason .it’s cold there 16/ 18 deg C. it was mentioned that the road to the hotel the Tea factory was bad.  This really doesn’t cover it .its 17km of rutted single track partly tarmacked track up to almost the highest point in Sri Lanka 6900 ft. It’s worth the trip though. the Tea Factory is special.  In a spectacular spot amongst the tea plantations .Once again it’s a superb hotel and they gave us a very warm welcome and UPGRADED us again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day was an early start which got us to Kataragama in the early afternoon.  We drove through some VERY spectacular scenery including the Ella gap once again on roads which in places ceased to exist. Through bustling towns where goats and cows roamed the streets. None of the towns could be described as picturesque but colourful and fascinating certainly.

We had 2 nights at the Mandara Rosen. Its okay – clean friendly, nice garden and pool, food okay but overall not as good as the other hotels. A bit 1970s but nothing wrong with it. Yala Nat Park was fantastic and once again Columbus tours secured the service of Kalu the top guide. He found us the leopards . we saw 3 and got some spectacular pictures including the one enclosed. This was what I came to see and it made the trip for me .FANTASTIC.

On then to Galle fortress and upgraded again .we both regretted not having more than one night there it is beautiful and would make a great base for exploring the west and south of Sri Lanka .I would recommend it without hesitation.

Then on to Saman Villas WOW !!!!

This is a BEAUTIFUL Place. The standard villa apartments are superb, you have a verandah, lounge area ,raised bedroom ,separate dressing room and a superb bathroom with a huge deep bath and a shower open to the sky. The hotel is set on a rocky headland so everyone gets a sea view. There wear only 6 of the 23 rooms occupied when we arrived so almost had the place to ourselves.  The staff are wonderful and cannot do enough for you. The restaurant is very good although wine is predictably expensive ( min £25 per bottle).However Sri lanka is generally so cheap that running up an extras bill here was not a problem. Saman villas is very quiet , almost monastically so .The décor is minimalist and there is no entertainment  and only occasionally music in the bar. It lacks a cocktail bar where people could gather before or after dinner .Most people scuttle back to their villas but given the number of honeymooners they obviously had their own ideas for entertainment! We were told that royalty and Richard Branson had stayed there. We loved Saman villas it was a perfect place to do not much at all after the tour . The weather was generally good despite Saman being in the SW monsoon  wet zone. In fact the final 3 days were hot and sunny.

 

Weather wise we probably has 4 hours rain in the 2 weeks, some welcome cloud to take the heat away but also some great sunny days especially  at Yala Koggalla and Saman Villas.

As an observation I would say that Sri Lanka is not touristy at all . The tourist infrastructure is confined to the excellent hotels such as those we stayed in .There was no tourist towns or tourist strips of bars and restaurants such as we found in Samui or Langkawi. This will no doubt change as tourism develops now the Civil war is over.

 

What makes Sri Lanka special; is the people .I have never been anywhere that has been more welcoming .the welcome is almost overwhelming .The Singhalese have a warm ready smile for you that is genuine and not born our of trying to sell you something. Hotel staff  take great pride in their work and serve you with warmth and enthusiasm. They are extremely polite – Sir /madam all the time. Many, many people came up to us just to say thank you for coming to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is also still very inexpensive. The average wage for an office worker is £150 per month and prices of food/ clothing etc reflect this.

 

It was clear that tipping is desirable but you don’t need to give much.

175 Rupees = £1 .so the hotel bag porter would get 100 rupees. Local guides we tipped 500 or 1000 rupees at Sigiriya and Polomnawaru.and Yala. The exception was Priyal our guide for the 9 days who we gave 9000 rupees ( £50) this seems to be standard. We hired a tuk tuk man for a morning for 300 rupees.

Sorry this is a bit lengthy but there was so much that was good and nothing that was in any way bad.

 

Thanks this was SUPERB

Very best regards Graham and Heather Hall

 

 

 

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