Friday, 21 December 2018

Sri Lanka trip – Prologue

WB and I were contemplating where to go without paying a premium for airtickets in end Dec. We have shortlisted Hokkaido and Sri Lanka but decided on Sri Lanka as it's considered more exotic to us. I have searched that there are currently 3 airlines flying direct from Singapore: Singapore Airlines, Sri Lanka Airlines and Emirates. Emirates only fly once daily and it's an red eye flight but I still proceed with Emirates as it's the cheapest. 3 months after the booking, I received an email from Emirates that the flight is cancelled due to operational reasons. I used Emirates live chat and the customer service officer offered me 3 options: refund the ticket, fly to Colombo via Dubai and return, direct flight with Sri Lanka airline (there is no alliance between Emirates and Singapore Airlines). I took the last option as our plan was to visit Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka airline has better flight timing compared to Emirates.

Sri Lanka was formerly known as Ceylon during the British colonial rule. Its diverse landscapes range from rainforest and arid plains to highlands and sandy beaches. Sri Lanka is considered round the year destination, west and south coast are affected by South-West monsoon from May to July while the east coast are are affected by North-East monsoon from October to January. The period from December to mid-April is considered the peak season for overall weather.
Map of Sri Lanka (Source: Lonely Planet)

I did not know that there are so many UNESCO sites in Sri Lanka until I started the planning for this trip. It got me excited and I intend to visit 5 out of the 8 UNESCO sites. I intend to concentrate this visit at the cultural triangle and the highlands, skipping the beaches instead. 

I find that Sri Lanka is not a very tourist friendly in terms of mode of transportation and admission tickets. A huge chunk of the budget is spent on hiring driver and admission which isn't the case for all my previous trips.

The mode of transportation is either hiring a private driver, taking train or bus. Hiring a private driver is not cheap and the rate range from USD50 - 60 per day. I read online that we have to bear pay the driver extra USD12 - 15 per day if the hotel does not provide driver accommodation. It's cheaper to take train or bus but longer travelling time and few places which I intend to visit cannot be reach by train or bus. After careful planning, I decided to hire a driver for 4 days and the day from Ella back to Colombo. I enquired tour agencies and freelance drivers and decided to engage freelancer Keerthi Sandun (Hp: +94 77 017 6841). He was recommended by a tripadvisor forumer and he quoted me USD300 for Day 2 - 5 and USD90 for Day 11. Instead of the mention accommodation rate above, he requested only LKR1,000 ~ S$7.60 for his daily accommodation.

As the train ride from Kandy to Ella is one of the most scenic in the world, I have a headache on buying the train tickets as Sri Lankan Railways don't offer online booking. I have read online that train ticket are available via agency but it's inflated price and may not guarantee a ticket on the desired travel date. I decided to ask my driver Keerthi if he is able to buy the ticket for me as local is able to purchase ticket via Mobitel. I'm so happy when Keerthi is able to purchase the tickets for us! He bought 2nd reserved class for the train from Kandy to Nanu Oya for LKR500 ~ S$3.80 and open glass carriage from Nanu Oya to Ella for LKR1,200 ~ S$9.20.

Tickets to Anuradhapura ancient city, Polonnaruwa ancient city and Sigiriya Rock are steep, costing more than S$25 each. I did hesitate if we should pay such exorbitant admission tickets but WB comment that we may likely to visit these places once in our life time only. I have read online that some tourist get into the site without paying the full admission fee but it's not worth to get caught over S$25.

Booking the accommodation is also another tedious part in the planning as I have to repeat the whole process 6 times, i.e. read hotels review, compare distance and price etc.

Itinerary for this trip:

Day 1: Reach Colombo at 11.05am (GMT +5.5), Gangaramaya temple, Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, Fort Area
Accommodation: Ivy Lane Hotel Colombo USD46.75 (include breakfast)
Transport: Uber from airport

Day 2: Yapahuwa Rock Fortress, Anuradhapura ancient city
Accommodation: Lievis Tourist Homestay USD29 (include breakfast)
Transport: Private driver

Day 3: Aukana Rajamaha Viharaya, Golden Temple of Dambulla, Sigiriya
Accommodation: Habarana Dulwan Guest House USD18 (include breakfast)
Transport: Private driver

Day 4: Pidurangala, Polonnaruwa ancient city, Minneriya/ Kaudulla National Park
Accommodation: Habarana Dulwan Guest House
Transport: Private driver

Day 5: Nalanda Gedige, Aluviharaya Rock Cave Temple, Kandy
Accommodation: Kandy Tower Inn USD25
Transport: Private driver

Day 6: Nuwara Eliya
Accommodation: Blue Moon Guest House USD27
Transport: Tuk Tuk

Day 7: Nuwara Eliya
Accommodation: Blue Moon Guest House
Transport: Tuk Tuk

Day 8: Ella
Accommodation: Nimsara Homestay USD19.60
Transport: Tuk Tuk

Day 9: Ella
Accommodation: Nimsara Homestay
Transport:

Day 10: Ella
Accommodation: Nimsara Homestay
Transport: Tuk Tuk

Day 11: Ella to Colombo
Accommodation: Ivy Lane Hotel Colombo
Transport: Private driver

Day 12: Depart Colombo at 12.10pm (GMT +5.5) 

Budget for this trip S$1,300:
- S$200 for accommodation 
- S$400 for transport 
- S$200 for admission
- S$350 for food 
- S$150 for miscellaneous