A Travellerspoint blog

Sri Lanka - 2024

Sigiriya, Nilaveli & Unawatuna (Unawatuna Beach, Dalawella, Turtle Beach & Jungle Beach), back 20 years later for some unfinished business (to climb a very high rock and some R&R on the beach)

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We catch the A4 bus (50 baht) all the way to the airport and then our 8.20pm Air Asia flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. We arrive at midnight having booked a taxi to take us all the way to the town of Sigiriya, a two and a half hour long drive for 50 euros. Are we becoming the kind of people who arrive at the airport looking for a driver holding a sign with their names on it? Hardly, but it definitely happens from time to time, a lot in this country and never our choice, believe us… The taxi we booked and paid for online is not there yet but the guy holding the sign with our names seems to be in control, apparently. A car arrives, we get in and after a lot of talking in Sinhalese (the national language), we have to get out as it’s the wrong one. Another one arrives and it’s finally the right one and after two and a half hours we arrive at our guesthouse, the couple wakes up to welcome us very nicely and the room is basic but nice and bright. There's a tiny frog in the toilet, we’ll need to discuss boundaries… We sleep falling into a deep coma as its 4.30 in the morning and we need to wake up at 7. Breakfast is a very local fare with hoppers with eggs, hoppers with butter & jam, dry pancakes, coffee and fresh fruit.

We were last in Sri Lanka over 20 years ago for our 10th wedding anniversary, when we were serenaded by a local band of “Mariachi” singing Elvis characters... Now we are back for some unfinished business, to climb up to Sigiriya and to visit the East Coast that was off limits last time due to the civil war. After breakfast the guesthouse owner takes us to the Sigiriya Archaeological Site in his personal Tuk Tuk for free. The entry ticket price is pretty high, around 33 euros per person and you can pay by card. We climb Sigiriya, not too easy but not as hard as people say, the views are amazing and we recommend you do it as early in the day as possible as it gets very hot and humid mid-morning. Sigiriya is the most important archaeological site in Sri Lanka and one of the most important in Asia. The history behind it is that in the late 5th century, a Sinhalese prince killed his father and usurped his brother’s throne. Fearing reprisals, he built Sigiriya, a fortress on top of a mountain. His brother eventually returned from self/exile in India, defeating him and Sigiriya lost its brief status as a capital. The capital and the royal palace were abandoned after the king's death. The site was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mission accomplished, we take another taxi to the seaside village of Nilaveli, (40 euros for 3 hours), on the east coast of Sri Lanka. At this point I have to clarify that long distance comfortable, convenient and reliable transport in this country is not readily available at the moment, hence the frequent, long and exorbitant taxi rides. We check in at our nice and comfortable guesthouse and go out for a way below-average lunch. Most of the restaurants are closed and the general feeling is a bit depressing, nothing like a normal seaside village gearing up for the high season. We feel like the east coast is not quite ready for tourism as yet and still has a long way to go. We go for a walk on the beach and it’s nothing like the pics, next morning another walk in search of that elusive low tide beauty and there’s no improvement, so after another very mediocre lunch of watery chicken curry and rice, we begin preparing our escape to the other side of the country. We decide to go back to Unawatuna, the beach place we liked the most on the south coast the last time we were here. We cancel the extra days at the guesthouse and our other booking at Pasikudah beach further down the east coast and book a taxi to take us back to Colombo, another 90 euros for 6 hours, yes, I know, it’s hard to believe. Whatever basic infrastructure there was here 20 years ago, seems to have fallen behind and to get from A to B has become a very expensive exercise. We’re thick skinned and used to using public transport but here it’s just unreliable or non-existent and seriously uncomfortable for medium to long term trips. We leave at 5.30 in the morning and arrive at the Colombo train station at 10.30. We buy 1st class AC train tickets as we heard it’s quite hot and full in 2nd and 3rd class with lots of people travelling standing up for a 2-3 hour ride.

Our train leaves at 14.40 and we arrive in Unuwatuna just before 6pm. We check in and the owner is very nice but obviously that fridge, TV and kettle advertised as included are mysteriously missing from the room, from all the rooms. We understand things have been hard in this country after the tsunami and even worse for the last 4 to 5 years, and people are trying to survive but sometimes it gets kind of tiresome. Anyway, sometimes you just need to learn to let go and pick your battles… so we go out for food and realise the town is buzzing with tourists, mostly Russian tourists and other Russians and Ukrainians who became residents escaping the war. There’s a lot of resentment and some racial tension between the tourist majority and the locals but there’s also some kind of an unspoken agreement that somehow makes things work. There are restaurants and cafes and it feels like the place is getting ready for the upcoming high season. We go to Jungle Beach, Turtle Beach, Dalawella Beach and of course, Unawatuna beach, just to be reminded why we came all this way, the beaches. The beaches are just incredible, crystal blue water fringed with coconut trees and the ocean temperature is just perfection. That great or even decent meal is still eluding us but we don’t give up easily and will keep on trying. Another important thing to keep in mind is that cigarettes (10 euros per packet) and alcohol (3 to 4 euros for a local beer) are extremely expensive here, so bring your own supply from the duty free airport you’re flying in from (not on arrival in Sri Lanka). The cost of food is also very high, both in restaurants and supermarkets, I Have no idea how the local families cope, it is a wild guess but I think they really don’t. We take a day trip on a bus to revisit nearby Galle with it’s lovely fort, still a nice and pleasant place to visit even on a boiling hot and humid morning. Our time in Sri Lanka is coming to an end and we’re still trying to understand what happened to the food in this country, our best meal was definitely a chicken burger and fish & chips at a heritage hotel nearby, and you know how much we love our Asian food, go figure. After visiting Sigiryia and spending 11 days on the most perfect tropical beaches working hard on our tan, it’s time so say ciao to Sri Lanka or maybe this time it’s goodbye.

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Posted by Pauluiza 09:22 Archived in Sri Lanka

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