After a very short first evening spent in Colombo we were immediately back on our travels with a train journey to Kandy where we had planned to spend two nights. Kandy is second largest city and ‘cultural capital’ of Sri Lanka so our expectations were high.
A Tuk Tuk Tour of Kandy
After checking into our Airbnb our host arranged a local Tuk Tuk driver Suresh to give us a tour of Kandy and the surrounding area. Despite only costing R.2000 (£10), this tour took in all of the major points of interest around the city over about 6 hours, with our driver happily stopping whenever we asked and waiting for us outside each place.
First stop was at Rajanima Craft, a wood carving and traditional craft workshop. We were given a short tour, with an explanation of why they use certain woods and demonstration of some of their methods, before visiting the extensive showroom. Unfortunately our backpacks didn’t allow for us to buy any souvenirs, but we kept a business card just in case.
Next up we were off up into the hills to sample some of Sri Lanka’s biggest export – Ceylon tea. We were given brief but very interesting tour of the active Kadugannawa Tea Factory, and shown the full tea production process, still done using colonial era machinery.
The tour was completely free of charge and ended with us sampling the factory’s produce. For most people this is probably the highlight, but given we both hate tea it was a case of smiling politely and drinking it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately this wasn’t the last time we had to drink tea out of politeness during our time in Sri Lanka.
Our tour tuk tuk tour also took us to a spice and herb garden, as well as the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya. Despite not usually having much interest botanical gardens, this was quite impressive and a good way to spend an hour strolling through the trees. As with most attractions in Sri Lanka the entrance fee was a very reasonable R.600 each.
We were also taken to the Bahiravokanda Vihara buddha statue which towers over the city. The entrance fee of R.200 was worth paying for the views alone, with a short climb up the buddha statue providing panoramic views of Kandy, made even better by the beginnings of a sunset.
Our final stop of the day was at the Temple of the Tooth, located right in the centre of Kandy, and the home the Buddhas tooth, an important relic for followers of Buddhism. While we did not pay for entry to the temple, you are able to walk around most of the temples grounds free of charge, and we managed to time our visit with the daily evening prayers, adding to the atmosphere and providing a great end to our tour.
The following day we made the journey to the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of Sri Lanka’s most recognisable attractions.
This again required to us to navigate the country’s hectic public transport. Despite the organised chaos of Kandy’s bus station, with the help of a very friendly street vendor we somehow managed to get on right bus to take us direct to Sigirya. It’s fair to say Sri Lankan bus drivers have a unique driving style and I would recommend sitting towards the back so you can’t see how many near misses there are with oncoming traffic. Still with fares less than £1 for a two hour journey you really can’t complain.
Arriving at Sigiriya you are immediate struck by how the rock dramatically stands out from its surroundings, and you can tell the views from the top will be worth the climb. Entrance to the sight is considerably more expensive than most tourist attractions in the country, with entrance costing R.4,200 (£21) but I would say it is well worth it.
Despite the midday heat, climbing to the summit was a lot less strenuous than expected thanks to the steps built onto the side of rock. With around 1,200 steps in total, it took us approximately 45 minutes to get to the top, where you are rewarded with incredible panoramic views.
The remains of the ancient city at the summit are also very impressive and well worth spending a bit of time exploring, once you have taken in the surrounding views.
Following this it was back down to the entrance for a well earned rest and ice cream. The ticket price does include entrance to the Sigiriya museum but we chose not to bother with this. There is also a perimeter moat which you can walk around, although the crocodile warning signs meant we kept our distance.
Another interesting bus journey (standing this time) took us back to Kandy, where we ended our day with happy hour mojitos and a sunset at Slightly Chilled bar, situated on the hill above Kandy lake.