A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring the East

Trincomolee and Uppuveli

sunny 32 °C

Leaving Anuradhapura a few days ago was more complicated that we thought it would be. There are some major roadworks on the Auradhapura - Trincomolee road, meaning that the direct bus currently no longer runs. Thankfully there was a helpful man at the bus station who told us that we could still get there by changing at a town called Horowupotana. Judging by the amount of looks we got when we climbed aboard the bus, it is not a town that see many visitors. It took around 2 and half hours to travel the 60km or so to the town, which is roughly half way to Trincomolee. The other passengers were very much intrigued, especially the kids, some waved and some looked until you looked back and then hid away out of sight.

Once we arrived at Horowupotana we needed help of yet another man. He was also going to Trincomolee and could tell by our vacant faces when we were dropped off in the middle of the town, that we had no idea where to go to get the next bus. He led us to the bus stop, chatting to us, asking us the usual questions, and when the bus arrived he even got us a couple of seats. It was another 2 and a half hours to Trincomolee, primarily due to the roadworks and we were exhausted by the time we arrived. We did not even bother to haggle with the tuk tuk driver that took us to our hotel we were so impatient to get there.

Uppuveli is 6km out of Trincomolee and it is where we have decided to base our selves. It is the middle town of three, Trincomolee, Uppuveli and Nilaveli, which is a further 6km on. We are staying in a very nice hotel called Coconut Beach Lodge and the whole area is very peaceful and quiet. There are only a dozen or so people staying up and down the beach, as we are out of season, some places are even shut until next year. Our room has a proper mattress and pillows and even had petals thrown on when we arrived. We are not used to such a comfortable bed, believe it or not we are having trouble sleeping.


Sunday and Monday we decided to do as little as possible, we explored the beach, and called into other hotels for beers. Our beach is long, with nice sand and is shaded by palm trees.


It is a bit derelict, and there is a lot of debris that has been left by the tide. It has a certain charm though. Half way down the beach there is an abandoned boat which we enjoyed exploring as well as a huge anchor.



At the other end there is a tiny harbour for the local fishing boats.


During our walk we also spotted several dead pufferfish that we imagine have been left by the retreating tide. Chelsea was fascinated and has took several photos.


We already have a favorite bar, it has a nice view of the sea and huge friendly dog - we have spent a good portion of the last two days there.


This morning we decided to go out for a little explore and spent a few hours in Trincomolee. We got the bus in, which was an experience in itself. The bus that turned up was actually a mini bus, but this did not stop people from cramming on. Luckily we only had to put up being shoved and our feet being stamped on for around ten minutes. Trincomolee is one of our favorite cities we have visited in Sri Lanka. It is quieter, with less traffic. It is spaced out and has a beautiful coast line. When we arrived we were immediatley heckled into a nearby eatery. We hadn't had breakfast yet so we did not argue. We shared a pile of rotis, with curry and dahl for £1.70 before heading back into the sun. We walked for a while through the streets until we came to the sea.


We stood and watched the one or two locals that were walking up and down the beach, at one end we could see what was left of an old fort, the other way led to the harbour. We decided on the latter.


Trincomolee has a lot of religious structures throughout the streets. On the way to the harbour we passed, Hindu temples, Mosques and several churches. Some next door to each other. Also there are the faded remains of British rule, including some red postboxes.


It did not take long though until we got lost. We came to a crossroads had no idea which we needed to go. Inevitably a tuk tuk driver pounced and asked us if we needed help. We asked him which way and he told us, he then offered to take us for free as he was heading that way. This is a first for us, we thought it was almost definately a con so declined a carried on walking. The tuk tuk driver carried on his way. At the next junction he was there parked up and pointed us in the right direction. He then offered to take us again for free. By this point we had walked a fair way and the midday sun was in full force so we hesitantly accepted. It was only a couple of minutes to the harbour, the driver took us, gave a little guided tour on the way and once we arrived simply drove off, we are still confused as to what actually happened. He was just a lovely man.


The harbour is not as grand as we accepted, it is vast set in between two headlands and has a little island in the middle. There were only a handful of small boats though, and apart from a quay for the local police, very little activity. We stood around for a while having a look around before deciding to head back for the afternoon.

It has been really hot today and we are hoping the wheather holds up so we can visit Nilaveli tomorrow. It is another beach town, and 1km off the coast there is a national park called Pigeon Island which we hope to visit. There is suppose to be excellent diving and snorkelling around there as well but we maybe too out of season we will just have to wait and see.

Posted by Chelsandliam 23:55 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka trincomolee Comments (1)

Exploring the new town of Anuradhapura

sunny 35 °C

Since we explored most of the ancient cities yesterday we decided today to have a walk into the new town and investigate the streets. From our guest house it is around a twenty minute walk down a main road into the area of the old bus station. On the way we got a few funny looks but a lot of good mornings from friendly locals.

We went into a local bake house for breakfast. On one side it had a display cabinet full of freshly baked items, bread, sweet bread rolls, sandwiches, and different bread cakes with savoury fillings. On the other side was a cabinet filled with different curries, rotis and string hoppers. After a lot of pointing we managed to get accross what we wanted. We ordered Dahl and coconut sambal, Liam had it with rotis and Chelsea had it with fresh bread. It was delicious, especially the sambal and we left with full bellies for a grand total of 270Rs (£1.30). You can't believe how much food you get for a pound, there was so much we left loads. On the way out a man in the queue to pay asked us where we were from and was delighted when we said Britain. He told us how he enjoyed meeting people from the UK as Britain had done a lot of good during their occupation like building the roads.

After breakfast we walked further into town and wandered around the streets. It was a really busy local town and everybody smiled at us.


The shops are full to bursting of everything you could imagine. There was a row of army clothing shops, shops filled with bags of rice, nuts and lentils and lots of hotels. Hotels in Sri-Lanka are confusingly actually local eateries. There was clothes and shoe shops with ridiculously cheap items and music shops blasting out pop tunes.


They also in Sri-Lanka have wine stores. These are shops that sell alcohol and often have bars on the window and a kiosk where you go and ask for what you want.


It was nice to walk around the new town but at miday the sun was unbearable so we headed back. Our gust house is set in a a lovely garden setting and is very quiet and peaceful. We sat in the garden and enjoyed a cold drink relaxed for the rest of the day, ready to set of travelling again tomorrow.


Posted by Chelsandliam 22:57 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka anuradhapura Comments (2)

The Ancient City of Anarudhapura

sunny 35 °C

Yesterday we left Colombo to make our way north. Our first stop is Anuradhapura, part of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, it is the location of an ancient city littered with stupas and temples. Our bus journey from Colombo took 6 hours, it was hard going. The bus was hot and we were cramped up in two seats over the rear wheel arch of the bus, offering no leg room. On top of this we had the constant stream of Sri Lankan music blaring out of the speakers. After 6 hours we were more than a little agitated. When we finally arrived we managed to find a nice cheap guesthouse called the Lake View, we were exhausted after the days travel so had a quick dinner in the guesthouse before retiring for the day.

We woke up this morning fresh and planned what we were going to see over breakfast. You have to buy a ticket to enter the heritage site area of Anuradhapura and it is only good for one day, we did not want to have to pay twice so a little bit of good planning and cramming was necessary. Our route would take us on a huge circle past the main sights. We rented bikes from our guesthouse for 250Rs and stole a map out of a guidebook in the dining room and set off.


It is fairly straightforward to get to the old town and only took around ten minutes. Once we got nearer the sites though our map seemed to make no sense. We asked two people to tell us where we were, but each answer was no help. In the end we went into a museum and there found a security guard who was more helpful. The museum was part of Jethavanaramaya Monestary, one of the main sights, he explained the heritage area is kind of fenced off, hence the confusion with our map as it does not show this. He told us where to buy tickets and then once we had looked around the museum, which way to go. The museum was ok, quite small, and full of mainly restored statues and over stone work as well as jewellery. The ticket cost us Rs3250 about £16 which is very expensive.

After the museum we followed the directions of the security guard and it took us on a dirt path past lots of excavated ruins. We cycled through stopping every so often to take photos until we came across Jethavanaramaya Stupa. The route is lovely, through grassy areas and trees, it is very peaceful. The stupa is a colossal dome structure, made of bricks. It is very impressive. We parked up our bikes keen for a closer look. Outside the stupa itself contained just one small building with Buddha images for people to worship. We walked the entire circumference of it, and saw very little else. Still the size and architecture was staggering, we were glad to see some Buddhist ruins different from what we had already seen in South East Asia.


By this point the midday sun was appearing and it was seriously hot. We jumped back on our bikes and carried on through the maze of ruins. We came to several junctions where our map continued to be of absolutely no use, until by look we found where we needed to be. We bought some much needed water and cycled 2km or so to the next site. On route we called off at the twin ponds, a bathing spot which was quite picturesque.


Abhayagiriya is very similar to the previous stupa, only it appears to have survived in better condition. There was still very little outside the stupa. We stopped walking around them at this point as the sun had heated the stone floor and as we had to take our shoes off it was impossible to walk without burning our feet. Instead we just admired them from just inside the entrance.


We had to go back on ourselves next as we missed a Buddha statue that is supposed to be ‘one of the finest examples in Sri Lanka’. We have seen LOTS of Buddha statues by now so thought we would have a pretty good indication to how good it was. After a pit stop for an ice cream (which Chelsea shared with two street dogs) we found the statue. It lived up to its reputation, it is a well carved statue sat in very peaceful grounds, we were the only people there when we arrived so had a few minutes to look at it before more people turned up and we carried on.


Our next stop was slightly different. Rather than being a building or statue it was a stone. Called the Moonstone it is a large semi-circle of rock that is intricately carved with four animals. It sits at the bottom of the entrance steps to what used to be a temple but now has been reduced to its foundations. The Moonstone however is in great condition and is probably the best thing we saw today, partly because it was a bit different.


It must be popular though as just outside the complex there were far more touts. They came at us immediately offering us things were not interested, normally we say no thank you and then walk off, but when the touts shouted out the prices of their souvenirs we stopped. It was so cheap, especially compared to where we have been so far. They were selling 10 postcards for 25p, and other trinkets for 50p. Intrigued we went to look at the stalls and ended up coming away with a small stone carved Ganesh and a tiny bronze elephant. All for £2.50, and for no other real reason than the price.
We left quickly before we were convinced to buy more stuff and carried on our way to see the close-by Guard Stone. This is another stone that is in excellent condition, like the moonstone at the foot of a now ruined archaeological site.


Having no idea where we were going because our map was useless we set off to our next destination. We stumbled into the next temple by retracing our steps as Chelsea remembered seeing a sign for it. Lankaramaya Stupa. This was nowhere near the size of the previous two we had seen but it was dazzlingly white. It shone in the sun that continued to bake the stone floor in which we had to walk to get closer. Up some steps through the entrance we took advantage of the shade and sat down for a rest. With us was a small group of Sri Lankan girls that seemed fascinated in us more than the temple. One girl even tried to get a secret photo of Liam sat down, we saw here and she turned around guiltily. We think in the end she managed to get one though.


We had a long ride to the next sights and we abandoned the map all together. We made educated guesses using the one or two signs we saw. We cycled past large herds of cows that took up most of the road and dozens of stray dogs and large grey langur monkeys that seemed to be everywhere. The heritage site could be really nice if it was easier to get around, and taken care of a better. It is very green and has plenty of wildlife throughout the ruins.


We somehow missed the next temple we were heading for even though according to our map we should have cycled straight passed it. Instead we came across Ruwanweli Dagoda. This stupa was the most impressive, it was easily the largest we had seen and like the previous was painted white. It was surrounded by a wall decorated by dozens of elephant heads. Outside worshippers and the odd monk were sat in the shade reading and chanting from sheets of paper and in prayer. We felt a bit intrusive so did not stay long.


Our final stop and we had supposedly saved the best until last Sri Maha Bodihya. Central to Anarudhapura it is the oldest, historically authenticated, tree in the world according to Lonely Planet, over 2000 years old. We had high expectations. In reality it is just a tree. We do not know what we expected but we were disappointed. The tree is surrounded by a wall and temple so you cannot even see much of it. We were in and out it less than two minutes, and on top of that we had to pay extra to see the tree. Outside a man gave us a candle each and told us to light in for luck and health. The guy then asked us for money.


Despite this, it has been a great day. It has been too long since we went properly sightseeing, and although it was hot and we are worn out we are glad to have seen it. We do not want to pay the fee again so tomorrow we are going to explore the actual town of Anuradhapura. We do not know where or when we are moving on as of yet. We can’t take another bus ride quite yet.

Posted by Chelsandliam 04:48 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka anarudaphura Comments (1)

Diving in Unawatuna

sunny 33 °C

Upon leaving our beach hut we just couldn't resist a few more days on the coast before heading in land and caught the local bus to Unawatuna. We decided to go diving again as last time wasn't so successful as we were just out of season. We settled into Peacock hotel and walked around to the cluster of dive shops a few metres down the road. This time we decided to go with the only PADI qualified centre in Unawatuna, Unawatuna Diving Centre.

We spoke to Hans, the German owner who disappointedly informed us that that morning dive had been terrible visibility and he couldn't guarantee that we would be able to see anything if we went.

We decided to think about it over breakfast and walked to a local place for some Dahl and Rottis. Since it is our last chance before going home to dive we decided to give it a go, even if the conditions were not the best and risk it. The rest of our day was spent lazing on our balcony, watching the turtles surface and dive as well as treating ourselves to some pizza for tea at a nearby hotel with an Italian chef.

We were up bright and early for our diving excursion as we had to be at the dive shop for 8.30am. Unawatuna Diving Centres dives for qualified divers are 30 euros for one dive or 50 euros for two. We said it depends on the conditions of the first dive to if we did two. This includes the rental of all the equipment. We were diving with a man and his son from Russia but since we are beginners we would have our own dive master to dive with. This put Chelsea at ease as she was nervous after last time.

After gearing and a group effort of getting the dive boat off the beach and into the sea we set off. The sea was calm and although it had been raining throughout the night it was sunny. It only took five minutes to get to the first dive spot, a reef wreck just off the coast. Chelsea was first in and to everyone's surprise the water was clear. The two of us descended down the anchor line but Liam had a problem equalising his right ear and it took a while for it to pop before we could continue.

The first dive was amazing. We dove down to around 16m but most of it was around 12m. The whole seabed was covered in huge flat rocks which coral had grown on. It looked like the seabed had fractured and split and there were deep canyons going deep into the earth. Swimming over them you could peer down and see black silhouettes of the different fish in the bottom. Other areas looked like the earths surface had split and overlapped so big rocks jutted up. There was a lot of colourful fish and coral. We saw some fan coral and starfish, a puffer fish and parrot fish. Most of the coral was dark blue and purple apart from these long thin white tubes of coral which twisted up one or two metres long. Our highlight was seeing nudibranchs for the first time. They are tiny sea slugs that have developed gorgeous bright patterns to fend off predictors. They are beautiful and some glow illuminous colours of purple, orange, yellow and blue. They were a real treat to see and our dive master kept pointing the tiny slugs out to us.

We dove for around 40 minutes and the visibility was so much better than we expected, around 9m. When back on board we decided straight away to do another dive. We waited on the boat for ten to fifteen minutes so our nitrogen levels decreased and then geared up again.

The second dive sight was just another ten minute boat ride. Liam had the same problem with his ears but aften a while ascending and decending he managed to sort it. It was just over 17m deep and although it was still very clear there was quite a strong current under the water. It was at the edge of a reef that backed onto a sandy seabed. There were huge pillars of coral coming up from the sea floor and long flat rocks that red coral was growing on. There were more nudibranchs, parrotfish trigger fish and lobsters. There were big schools of silver and yellow fish and hundreds of kinds of brightly coloured and different shaped fish all over, hiding in rocks and corals. The highlight of our dive however was seeing two stingrays. Both of them were laying on the sandy seabed perfectly still. They were medium sized and had a white tipped stinging tail. After around 40 minutes Liam was starting to run out of air so we swam into the current and surfaced. Swimming against the current was hard and the current took us and the fish back and forth under the water smoothly.

Getting back on the boat was more of a challenge as the current was stronger. Chelsea's main struggle is passing her weight belt up onto the boat as it is between 6kg and 7kg. We have no idea why she is so buoyant but she literally cannot decent without the weights.

We absolutely loved both the dive spots we visited today and would fully recommend Unawatuna Diving Centre. They are professional and friendly and made us feel very comfortable. Back at the dive shop a pot of tea was waiting for us and we rinsed all our gear off and had a cup of tea whilst filling in our log books and looking with our dive master what we had seen. We didn't get back till after 12pm and had an amazing morning. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and we went back to the Italian chef for some tasty pasta for dinner.

Today it was time to leave the south coast after more than a month and we caught the local bus to Galle. Before heading up to Colombo we had to have a visit to Galle hospital for Liam to get his final rabies jab. We didn't know where it was so we got a tuk-tuk. The hospital was overwhelmingly busy and we managed to find an enquiry desk where we were directed down a corridor to the rabies centre. The whole place was manic and Chelsea found a seat next to a lot of sick people and a stray dog (yes in the hospital) while Liam joined a mob outside the door of the rabies room. After waiting around half an hour he saw a doctor who told him he was in the wrong room so he went to join a mob outside a different room. It didn't take long to be seen but they were so curious it took longer to talk to the doctors and nurses. They wanted to know where he lived, where he had visited and had a lengthy conversation about Prince Charles. Anyway after a hot, busy morning in the hospital we are sure we are sicker than we went in but Liam has finished his treatment and we set off to have brunch. We found a local place and asked for Dahl and bread but were presented with a massive array of different dishes as well as half a loaf of bread each. After managing as much as we could we wobbled to the bus station and caught one to Colombo.

It was hot and packed and seemed to take all day but we arrived in Colombo about half three and checked into a hotel we had used before, Hotel Sunshine. Tomorrow we move on to Anaradapura, an ancient city in central Sri Lanka and we are excited to see somewhere new.

Posted by Chelsandliam 04:44 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka colombo galle unawatuna Comments (2)

Our last week in Mirissa

all seasons in one day 32 °C

Saturday morning we finally left our green beach bungalow. We were sad to go, it was so tempting to just stay there until we return back to England, but we have to make the most of our final month, and there are new places to see.

Our final week was more of the same, mainly sun, sea and sand, broken up with delicious fresh seafood and beer.



We went surfing one final time, the sea was a bit calmer we have not quite got the hang of it yet. We spent an hour or so falling off our boards and drinking sea water until we had had enough. We do have a lot of fun though and we are glad we did it. We don't know when we will get our next chance, and it is safe to say we need alot more practice.

The highlight of our final week though was our second attempt at Whale Watching. After our disappointment last time we were determined to give it another go. We got in touch with Raja and the Whales, the same company we used last time and booked on for Thursday morning, with a nice and early start of 6 am.

We were collected from our bungalow and taken to the harbour where we paid the special October fee of Rs5000 each. Since the last time we went Raja has bought a new boat, which is considerably bigger and more comfortable. We hoped this combined with the fact that it was nearly high season would give us a smoother ride than last time - but we took the free sea sick tablets offered just to be on the safe side.

The service was just as great as last time, with tea and ginger biscuits (ginger helps with seasickness) when we boarded, and a breakfast of fruit platter, omelette and bread when we were making our way back later on in the morning. In between the staff could not do enough for you.

The last time we went we were out a sea for around 4 hours and didn't see a single thing. The other people on the boat had never been before and were very eager, as soon as the boat pulled out of the harbour they were stood around with there huge cameras and binoculars hoping to see something. We just sat back and watched them as we knew it would take a while.

But not as long as we thought. Forty five minutes in there was a shout from a Sri Lankan tour guide. We did not undqerstand what he said but it was clear from the way the staff acted that it could be a whale, we were excited. The boat turned hard left and slowed as to not scare off any potential whale. Everyone was silent, looking in the direction the tour guide had said. The sea was surprisingly calm until suddenly a whale surfaced, announcing itself with spray from its blow hole. Us on board got told to be quiet, the whale was still around 20 - 30 metres away and the boar had slowed down to a couple of knots to get as close as possible without disturbing the whale.


We were told it was a Bryde's Whale. Similar in size to a humpback they grow to around 15 metres long. It was an incredible sight, getting closer all the time the whale takes breathes from the surface, while it swims just below. You can follow its movement as it leaves a 'footprint' in the water, large circular patches of perfectly calm water amongst the rest of the waves. We watched the whale for around 10 minutes, taking what photos we could with the boat rocking backwards and forwards. Then it dived. Unlike other whales the Bryde Whale does not bring up its tale when it dives deep, it arches its back and disappears.


Raja told us that the Brydes dive for about 8 minutes before they resurface for air so we waited. While we were waiting for the whale Raja told us about the work he does with the Whales. As well as taking out tourists for sightings he works in conservation and researches the whales. All his staff take photos continuously of the whales as they can be individually ID'd with there dorsal fin. Raja researches the whales migration patterns with the University of Matara and also looks into the disturbance of the tourist boats. As Raja is so successful with his sightings, other boats follow him and when he finds a whale they all swarm the whale, not adhering to the guidelines as Raja does. Raja's first priority is the whale, and while we were there two more boats appeared and as soon as they did the whale changed, and did not surface as often or for as long. Rajas big goal is to get a Marine National Park set up to protect the whales, there is a huge shipping land just off the coast, he said that 24 Blue Whales were killed last year with accidents including the ships, mainly because they are faster than the whales and simply drive on auto pilot. It was really commendable to hear the work Raja does and see how much he cares. We were very happy we chose Raja, knowing that our money goes towards his research and hopefully a better environment for the whales.


Once we had been waiting 6 minutes we were told the whale could surface again at any point. We were all looking out to where it had been before, but to our amazement the whale surfaced smack next to the boat, it took us all by surprise, no one had a chance for a photo but we were only a few feet away. So close we could look into its eye. Up close you could fully appreciate its size, it was easily as long as our boat. We then became aware that it was not simply one Whale but two, a adult female and juvenile we were told. The calves stay with there mums just like humans.


We watched the two Whales swim along for around 30 minutes, it was a truly unbelievable sight. Although it was not a Blue Whale, just to see a whale in its natural environment and to see it so close it was beautiful. We managed to get some photos but they do not do the experience justice in any way. We left once the other boats turned up and it was clear the whales were not happy. We sailed around for a bit longer hoping for another sighting but we got nothing apart from on false alarm. We were not disappointed though. On the way back into the harbour there was a huge school of jellyfish, huge purple and pink heads with 2 metres plus long tentacles. Our boat drove straight through the middle, so we were totally surrounded by different size jellyfish bobbing around.


We loved seeing the whales, it was a fantastic morning and we can not say enough good things about Raja and the work he does, we would recommend him again and again.

Friday our last day in Mirissa we spent making the most of the weather. The sea had taken another fair chunk off the beach just ourside our bungalow. In order for Chelsea to sit in the sun we had to put the sun bed in in the path of the tide, this was fine for around twenty mintues with the waves going under the sun bed and going back out. Suddenly though there was a particular huge wave than came in and totally swept Chelsea off of her sun bed, tipping the sun bed over in the process. The staff at the restaurant came out to see if she was OK, Liam was too busy laughing to do anything. She was fine, just a little red faced and laughing.

That evening the owner of the bungalow and restaurant invited us to a free meal with free drinks as a thankyou for staying. It was a good night, We had a few beers with our meal before the owner came over to ask us if we liked Arrack. Arrack is a Sri Lankan spirit, we had never tried it, the owner was determined to change that. We ended up sitting at the bar with the owner and a couple of his friends. A bottle and a half later we thought it best to stumble back to our hut and go to bed. Before going to bed however, Liam managed to slip in the bathroom and in his drunken stupor used his face to cushion the fall rather than his hands. He woke up with a swollen lip and a plaster on his face that Chelsea had applied in her drunken stupor. Overall a good night. We got a few laughs when we got up for breakfast in the morning.......

We are now in Unawatuna, we have come here to try diving one last time, it will be our last chance before we get home as in north where we plan to go next the rainy season is just starting. We have booked to go diving tomorrow and are hoping it is better than last time, even though the weather here can not make its mind up. We have managed to get in the same guesthouse as last time, and got a good price for the time if year as Chelsea remembered the name of the dog, which showed we had been here before.

Posted by Chelsandliam 01:36 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka mirissa Comments (1)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 178) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »