Our second week in Sri Lanka was very busy as we only spent two nights at three different locations. So we were ready for a bit of down time in Colombo while we did a little bit of admin.
Kandy to Colombo
Back on the train and 2nd class reserved tickets, totalling 4,000 LKR/$37.81 NZD for the family. We were kindly dropped at the train station by our hosts and found some items for lunch. Our train was late in so we rolled out of the station 70 minutes later than planned. We were soon back into more gorgeous scenery for most of the three hour trip to the capital. It was right in the middle of evening rush hour when we arrived in Colombo, so making our way to our Airbnb apartment 3.5 kms away from the station took a little longer.
We had booked three nights in Colombo at a three bedroom apartment via Airbnb (read our review here). We weren’t too concerned about the location as we weren’t that interested in actually exploring the city but we wanted to be close to the Chinese Embassy and the New Zealand Consulate. The main reasons we were in Colombo were to get out visas for our upcoming trip to China and to collect a new credit card that had been sent to us from New Zealand.
One of the things the boys wanted for our stay in Colombo was a pool, so we mostly spent our days catching up on a bit of school work and having fun in the rooftop pool.Our visa applications for China needed a huge amount of information and copies of documents, including accommodation bookings and flights in and out of the country. The applications need to be submitted between 9.30am-11.30am at the Embassy and thankfully the whole family didn’t need to be present to submit them. I arrived just before 10am with the four applications and all the additional pages of information required. Usually I would want to be at an embassy to submit visa applications well before they open as the queues can be ridiculously long, especially at Thai Embassies. I chanced it here and it paid off as there were only about 10 people in front of me and there were three counters open, so I didn’t even have to wait 30 minutes before I was up. The staff member looked through our applications and seemed happy with all the documents. At most embassies you would return the following day to collect the visas but here it is a four day service, so as it was a Wednesday that would mean we wouldn’t be able to collect them until Monday. We were aware of this prior and because we didn’t want to stay in Colombo that long, we paid for the ‘express service’ so we could collect them the next day. I’m not sure why this embassy can’t manage a standard pick up the following day or even staggered “express” options as they hardly seemed to be processing as many as visas as some of they others we have encountered over the pass 16 months, but anyway, in the end the visas cost us a total of 36,400 LKR/$347.40 NZD. A bit extra, but still much cheaper than if we had got them in Hong Kong, which is where we were originally planning to get them before we changed direction and came to Sri Lanka.
We hadn’t really planned where we would head to after Colombo until we had the visas confirmed. This was because, while these visas should usually be no issue, you just never know for sure until you have picked them up and they are safely in your passport. So the following day I was back at the Chinese Embassy at 1pm as I wanted to be first in line for their 1.30pm reopening for visa collection. With the visas double checked, paid for and our passports collected I headed to meet up with Logan and the boys who were waiting for me at the local movie theatre. It was a strange little cinema, however the boys were excited to see Incredibles 2 and it was even in 3D, and we also had an intermission. The last time I went to the movies and there was an intermission was 1990 when Home Alone had just been released. Total cost for the four of us plus snacks was 2,470 LKR/$23.57 NZD.
Colombo to Trincomalee
We decided to head directly across the island to the east coast and the beachside spot of Trincomalee. The most direct mode of transport seemed to be the overnight mail train and as we had been on overnight trains before we were fine with this option. It wasn’t until Logan went to the train station to purchase some tickets that we discovered we could only get 2nd class reserved tickets. This meant we would be spending the overnight journey in seats that only reclined slightly, rather than the full lay down beds we have had on other overnight trains. There were no curtains and it was so hot, even with a couple of ceiling fans and most of the windows open all night. I was surprised, but very thankful, that the boys slept most of the trip; however Logan and I only got a little sleep off and on. Total cost for this train trip was 2,200 LKR/$20.79 NZD.
We booked four nights at DockYard Inn and while it wasn’t the best of accommodations, it certainly wasn’t the worst (here is our review) and it was super close to a beautiful beach and freely roaming deer.After our overnight train adventure we arrived in Trinco at 6am and found a reasonable tuk tuk fare for the 3.5kms to Dutch Bay and our accommodation. Our host, Amaan, greeted us and advised that our room was ready. While we definitely don’t expect this, after overnight travel it is most definitely appreciated. After a few hours rest we were ready to hear about Trinco and the surrounding areas, so we got the lowdown from Amman who was really helpful. He seemed pretty honest about prices and how the Sri Lankan economy was struggling so some key tourists attractions had recently had big price hikes. While it was actually their peak season on this side of Sri Lanka he told us that he thought lots of Europeans had stayed home due to the FIFA World Cup, so things were quieter than they usually would be at this time of year, but that suited us just fine.
We enjoyed the pretty clean and white sandy beach just a few minutes walk from our accommodation and most of the time there was hardly anyone to be seen. The locals tended to swim further around the bay in the sectioned off area where there were Police Lifeguards, but we were happy in our own little part of the beach.
We talked to a couple of operators about doing an early morning boat trip to possibly see some dolphins and whales, but sadly it didn’t turn out how we imaged. We were on the beach at 6am as requested but no one seemed to be very organised and life jackets and boats will still getting prepped. Eventually we were directed to a boat and the boys headed to the front so they could get a good view but they were stopped by some adults coming in from the side of the boat and our driver asking us to sit in the rear seats. Then our driver seemed to be the only one who could assist when the third boat’s engine failed to start. The owner of the company and another staff member stood on the beach helplessly, so we switched drivers and finally headed out towards the coast.
It didn’t take too long before we started to see some frolicking dolphins but also many, many other boats. Mostly the 6-8 seater boats with outboard motors like we were in but some operators seemed to be herding or heading straight for the dolphins to get their customers as close as possible. And while the four Sri Lankan adults at the front of our boat jumped with glee every time we saw the slightest sighting, we were becoming more and more disheartened with what we were seeing out on the water.We didn’t see any whales but our major disappointment was with the nature of these boat tours. It’s hard to know how much control the tourist board has over the number of boats or if they really do control this activity. Like a lot of these developing countries, it’s mostly just about the money and basically anyone having a boat can contribute to the “tourism” of the area. It gave us more to think about as we try to be responsible travellers and humans.
One day in Trinco we took Amaan up on his offer to use his van and we set off to visit a site that Logan had read about. We were heading for Kanniya Hot Water Wells (11kms from Trinco) to cleanse our sins away with thermal water from seven wells. It is also believed that the water from the wells has therapeutic healing powers and can cure many aliments, due to this it can be very popular during the weekend, so we waited until a week day to visit. There were only a few people around when we arrived and Logan was straight into it, Lincoln and I slowly followed and finally Braxton joined in. It was already a pretty warm day so pouring hot spring water over you wasn’t particularly refreshing but we did a couple of circuits of the wells and felt suitably cleansed. Around the area some of the old ruins of a monastery are still visible, but it seems that most of those artifacts were destroyed during the Sri Lankan Civil War. In 2011, the wells, shrine mound and other scattered building ruins in the site were formally recognised by the Government as an archaeological protected site in Sri Lanka.
There wasn’t too much else to do around Trinco that really sparked our interests but that was totally fine because we were still happy to keep things low key. We did manage a couple of trips to the central markets, visited the cliff top temple up past Fort Frederick and Braxton and I went to the Maritime And Naval History Museum. Once a Dutch Naval Commissioner’s residence, extensive renovations started on this 17th-century building in 2008 as it had fallen into huge disrepair.
We now had just one week left in Sri Lanka and we were looking forward to one particular activity to top off our visit.
Average Daily Spend for 4 weeks in Sri Lanka – $118.30 NZD ($54.20 under budget per day)