A Travellerspoint blog

Sri Lankan Hill Country

Kandy to Ella...via Sigiriya

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Ok so I know I have a lot to catch up on, and I will cover it all eventually! The internet situation in Sri Lanka wasn't that great so over the next while you will probably see a lot of photos and posts appear while we go into rancho relaxo mode for Christmas and New Year.

As previously mentioned on our way to Kandy we stopped at Sigiriya, a rather large rock that was historically used as a monastery and has some nice samples of rock paintings and half way up to the top you can see huge lion paws carved out of the rock either side of the steps to the top. It was incredibly impressive despite getting completely drenched and despite the acquisition by Will of a rather nasty large bruise on his backside after slipping on a wet step on the way back down (I refrained from taking a photo of it for you).

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Kandy was a bit of a nicer town that Anuradhapura with a large lake in the centre of it. The standard of accommodation isn't great, hot water is considered a luxury, and since we weren't able to book ahead we drove around the town looking at different guest houses until we found a suitable one. Even Sampath admits that you pay more in Sri Lanka for accommodation yet you don't receive the same standards. We ended up in quite a nice place but there was improvisation required with regard to an open window in our room....after all the mosquitos here are huge and plentiful!

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We visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic where we were ushered very quickly past a monk guarding a small shiny gold shrine that apparently holds a tooth of the Buddha. Beautiful large temple though with traditional Kandyan drummers playing in one of the central rooms.

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We paid a visit to the botanic gardens in the town which, while the weather was nice for once, made for a pleasant, if not immensely exciting, walk. That evening we went to a traditional Kandyan dance show. It included a lot of drums, some mask dances - apparently some still used for psychiatric treatment to "rid people of evil spirits" - and some fire walking.

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After Kandy we made our way through the windy mountain roads to a tiny village called Ella. Really it's one junction and a shop. We went with the recommendation from Sampath and stayed in Ella View Point Villas which was expensive (which is why we only stayed one night) but we had a stunning view from our little cabin.

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There hasn't been an awful lot to do in these places so we're moving through the country a bit quicker than we thought. Next stop is Tissamaharama where we'll be doing a safari in Yala National Park.

Posted by suzebert 00:32 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka kandy sigiriya ella Comments (0)

Anuradhapura

You don't know how long it took me to be able to pronounce that

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The van and driver has so far been a great idea. We were picked up by Sampath at 11am and got to Anuradhapura by 4pm. The drive though the country was great (first time I've been in a country where I've spotted UN jeeps!), even though halfway the road turned to a dirt track - I regret not taking a photo of the van after the trip, you couldn't tell it was white. Sampath seems like a really nice guy, he grew up in Columbo before moving out near Negombo when he got married and he has a six year old son who doesn't understand why he has to go to sleep at night (kids are the same all over the world). The hotel in Anuradhapura is much better than the one in Negombo which is a relief and we arrange with Sampath to meet at 8am the following day to head out and see the old stupas and ruins around the town.

For once I'm writing a blog post when I'm actually in the location about which I'm writing! I have had all afternoon to catch up on photo uploading the writing because we saw all the sites this morning before the inevitable torrential downpour this afternoon. We started off at an archaeological museum, which was alright but definitely made better with Sampath there to explain things to us. We then toured around several ruins and stupas. One difference we've noticed already in Sri Lanka with regard to temples and religious grounds is that no matter if it's outside you have to take your shoes off. Will abstained with his weird foot disease phobia (and therefore was able to protect my shoes from monkey theft) and I carried on with mucky feet and watching out for ants.

I wouldn't dare to bore you with all of them (I will never be able to convey how well they look in real life), but my favourite was Isurumuniya Vihara or Lovers Rock. Carved out of the rock it gives great views over Anuradhapura and the surrounding area.

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The whole area is swarming with grey langur monkeys. This is my favourite photo from this morning, I just wish the monkey had have been looking at the camera - it's impossible to get a good photo of these guys as just as your about to push the button they scamper away.

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In fact there is a huge amount of wildlife around the place. We have seen parakeets and chameleons today and I've never seen either outside of a cage so it's great to see them in the wild. Driving through the country we pass loads of little elephant crossing signs (no elephants yet though), similar to the ones we have for deer and sheep but more exotic! There's a national park down south that I hope we can make it to that offers safaris and has elephants and leopards along with loads of other animals. According to Sampath Sri Lanka gets a huge amount of migratory birds and is a haven for bird watchers.

So far so good, we're off to Kandy tomorrow via Sigiriya (another UNESCO heritage site) where we will be climbing a massive (370m high) rock fortress which contains wall frescoes and what remains of a lion carved out of the rock...I expect to have sore legs.

Posted by suzebert 18:58 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged temples ruins sri_lanka anuradhapura Comments (0)

Negombo

Introduction to Sri Lanka

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First impressions are great. Whoever says Thailand is the land of smiles hasn't been to Sri Lanka. Everyone here is so bloody happy to see you, it's great. Even the touts are polite! Getting in to Negombo at around 9am after a 2.30am alarm call in Kuala Lumpur to get to the airport, we're tired. We pick a place for breakfast out of the Lonely Planet book and the guy who runs it is so sweet. He talks for ages on Sri Lanka and how it's getting back on its feet after the war and how everyone is living happily together now (whether that's true or not is debatable but it's nice to hear it all the same) and gives us great information on our potential itinerary through the country. We bought a bottle of water in a local shop and I got my change in the form of a chocolate bar...a great introduction!

Negombo is a small ramshackle town just north of Columbo and only 20 minutes away from Columbo airport. We were reminded of Cuba in a way. It's a good spot to start and finish your trip to SL, as it's so close to the airport, relatively relaxed with not much to do. It's quite touristy with a lot of western folk around.

So we had to decide on an itinerary. It seems the most popular way to see the country is with a tour group and there were so many touting for business in Negombo but none looked particularly reputable. We didn't want to do a tour as it would be expensive and it would mean giving up the control we have over our travels that we are now so used to. So we consulted the Lonely Planet again for guidance and stumbled across a tour group based in Columbo who also rent cars. After thinking it over we decided renting a car would be the perfect way to do it and it seemed we could do it for cheap.

We got a taxi into Columbo - not a great looking city and it's not surprising that many travellers skip past it - and met with the agency. They seemed very on the ball but unfortunately didn't have a car for us, and after seeing the traffic in Columbo this may have been a blessing in disguise. They had only a minivan which we could have with a driver for however long we liked. The driver would act as a guide as well if we need it. We were a bit iffy on this idea to start but the public transport situation didn't seem attractive especially now that our luggage includes Will's new guitar (I mentioned that right?). So we took the plunge and arranged for van and driver to pick us up the following day.

The weather isn't great at the moment, a bit of rain throughout the day so we decided to head north first. We've been told the weather will improve over the next week so if we want to drop by the beaches in the south we thought we'd do it at the end of the trip when the weather might be better. Our first stop will be Anuradhapura, one of the cities in the Cultural Triangle up north with lots of temples and ruins to visit.

It's a completely different place to what we are used to, which is great, and it's cheap which is even better. I'm looking forward to getting into the rest of the country, and hope that our driver is a decent guy from whom we'll learn even more about the place. I imagine it'll be pretty nonstop as we try to fit everything in. This is a good thing and will make us feel like we have earned our three week break on the beaches of Bali and Lombok at the end of the month.

By the way there are no photos as there wasn't much to take a photo of, I'll make up for it later.

Posted by suzebert 17:33 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged sri_lanka negombo Comments (0)

Surprising Singapore

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So everyone tells me this city is boring. In our three days there I couldn't see why. Horrendously expensive, yes, but boring, absolutely not. Singapore to me is a dozen different countries squeezed into one city. On our approach into the town I couldn't get over the amazing architecture. They put a huge ship on top of three massive towers for gods sake!!!

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We went past the Marina area of the city into Little India, where we were staying (the less said about our hotel the better), where things were completely different. The smells and the colour were gorgeous and the curries hot. A metro trip over to Orchard Road and we were in the most commercial district I've ever seen where there were queues coming out of Louis Vuitton and Chanel stores and a beer cost a tenner. We picked up a Sri Lanka book and got the hell out of there. Below you'll see one of the very expensive looking shopping centres.

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The following day we went out to Chinatown via a Hindu Temple, a Mosque and a Chinese Buddhist Temple. Hindu Temples are really places where I would love to have a guide to explain all the crazy looking sculptures and murals. The Buddhist Temple is said to hold a tooth of Buddha within a shrine that is very heavily protected, we didn't actually see it as there were prayers on at the time. There are brilliant statues of demons standing guard outside the temple that you can see below.

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We also made it to Clarke Quay, a really funky place along Singapore river that has been developed really well. The area holds tonnes of bars and restaurants. All of them are quite expensive, even the token Irish bar, which resulted in Will's argument that the cheapest place would of course be Hooters. They do have good chicken wings though!

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It was in Clarke Quay that we found a bar called Clinic. This bar serves you cocktails held in an IV bag from which you suck out through the drip, oh and you're also sitting in a golden wheelchair. I found it all a bit creepy but it's definitely original.

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The final day in Singapore, after picking up our bus tickets to go back to KL, we went to check out the Park View building. Amazing building, very Gotham City! We ventured inside where there is a bar (it was a bit early for a drink and we couldn't afford one anyway) and the interior was even better. The bar is home to the 'wine fairy', behind the bar is a huge stack of cabinets holding hundreds of wine bottles and the wine fairy's job is to fly up the cabinets and grab the bottle to bring it to the customer's table. I can't describe it very well but here's a video that Will found - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r07pMN5Kxk

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We loved Singapore, and we were quite surprised by it. If you had plenty of cash it would be a brilliant spot for a few days, if you're on a budget it's certainly a bit tougher. You can manage to eat cheaply (for Singapore) if you eat in Chinatown or Little India, but good quality cheap accommodation is hard to come by.

Posted by suzebert 16:54 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore Comments (1)

Prepare Yourselves...

Will writes a blog post

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This is Will typing. For better or for worse, I've decided to give this blogging business a go. Suze has been updating with reports of places we have visited so far so I'm going to try and do something a little different and try to give an overview of what we have experienced so far. I hope to write a few posts describing the random weirdness, the feelings about being away from home while the country undergoes an 'adjustment', the food and other possible tangential (Ed: I challenged him, apparently it is a word) thoughts.

I am humbled by South East Asia. You forget that many of these countries are open economies, open for business, with huge populations of cheap labour and have economies of scale to match. Thailand, for the most part, puts Ireland to shame in terms of education, healthcare, infrastructure and public transport. I've seen less homeless people in Bangkok than I have walking down Camden Street, the transport and road systems are unbelievably cheap and efficient, and from meeting a fellow Irishman who came down with Dengue Fever, I've learned that a spell in a Thai hospital is a far more pleasant experience than it would be at home.

Even Malaysia, which isn't even a first-world country, has better healthcare, better public transport and is quite obviously booming. The amount of western investment here is clearly huge and it's hard to walk through a retail area without noticing the wealth of 'help wanted' signs (Ed. they have not, however, heard of employment laws as many places specifically ask for women under the age of 30!). Throw in the nice weather, friendly people and cheap living and it's a good place to be.

Thailand is actually in recession, tourism is down and they're desperately trying to devalue their currency (without much success) to remain competitive. The Thai government was not democratically elected, but the result of a coup a few years ago (elections are promised once the political situation is stable but it's unclear as to when this will be). Despite this, the current government has been communicating clearly on their economic position, outlining the steps to recovery and their attempts to deal with currency fluctuation, political and civil unrest and the challenges they face.

WARNING – the rest of this piece is a complete rant about Ireland. Look away now, or at least wear protective goggles.

How nice does that sound to an Irish person who has been kept in the dark by our leaders, who are hanging in there despite the public outcry for change, having been nailed to a doomed economic policy which has now resulted in our financial decision-making being transferred to Europe and the IMF? Thailand is definitely not perfect; there is large-scale corruption, censorship and other social issues. However, it appears to me that they have provided the sound basis for structural and societal foundations that will continue to improve the region, regardless of who is in power. Walking around here, it just strikes me that Europe, and especially Ireland, will not be able to compete with this region in the future. There's more of them, they'll be better educated, more flexible and will simply prove more of a draw to multinational corporations, if that is not already the case. Don't mention the 12.5% corporation tax rate!

I do miss home, but reading the news makes it an awful lot easier not to miss home. The past few nights, I have stayed up late watching the two 7pm announcements from the Fuhrer Brian Cowen and Goebels Lenihan. In both cases, I was expecting resignations, humility and a pledge to do the best for Irish citizens but no, all we got was contempt, ill-humoured waffle and some sort of mistaken belief that history will prove them correct. Ireland is no longer a country; it is an outpost station for Project Europe. Every single decision that has been taken since at least September 2008 has been to service the best interests of the EU rather than Irish citizens.

As I write this, the media predicts that Portugal is next with Spain possibly teetering on the brink. Once this happens, and it looks ever more likely, what's going to happen to us? If Europe has failed to stop the financial contagion to other nations, we are in trouble. It will be less about treating the Irish issue sensitively, if it ever was, more about hacking and slashing at public services in a bid to satisfy the bond markets and to move on to the next diseased nation.

Yes, yes, I know, I know. Some of you are saying I should forget about all this, just enjoy my holiday, but it's hard to do that when the Bangkok Post is covering every detail of the situation, the Indonesian press is dissecting how our bailout is hammering their currency, BBC World is camped outside Leinster House and we, being people who want to live, work and contribute in Ireland, will be returning home next year to the prospect of increased civil unrest, a new government, increased taxation and an even worse national mood.

For the record, I am enjoying my trip; I'm loving it in fact. I'm seeing new things, getting an outsiders view, eating the most amazing food and living on pennies. It's bloody amazing. That said, when you mention you're from Ireland, people look at you as if you'd mentioned you'd bought a two-bed apartment in Lucan in 2007 at a Dublin house party.

I promise that my next post will be about weird food, missing lucozade, the crazy Lese Majeste laws in Thailand, buying a sweet acoustic guitar and being eaten alive by mosquitoes. In the meantime, keep the country warm for me, switch on the engine on my car every couple of days and make f**king certain that Fianna Fail and the Greens are annihilated come the supposed January elections.

Posted by suzebert 01:25 Archived in Malaysia Tagged ireland random asia Comments (0)

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