Travelling in Feb 2016
Big milestones can come in simple packages. And simple is beautiful. Just like my better half 🙂
It is (well beyond) that time of the year when we start thinking about the Chinese New Year vacation which happen to best Mon-Wed meaning a one week trip is going to be super efficient. (In fact, history will be witness to the fact that 2016 is/was one of the most efficient years in terms of holidays falling adjacent to weekends).
We intend to keep it nearby and simple even though we realise this is a milestone vacation – our 25th country!!!
Yes, while I still prefer to count destinations (and for example, West and East US coasts are two destinations for me), Heena prefers to count the number of countries which are politically apart as destinations. So this is the 25th destination going by the definition of Her Highness and hence a BIG MILESTONE for us!
Going by chronological order, we would have covered the following countries incl. SARs by now:
India – Mauritius – Singapore – Thailand- Hong Kong – Macau – South Korea – USA – UAE – Malaysia – China – Australia – Taiwan – Tanzania – Uzbekistan – Kyrgyzstan – Iceland – England – Vietnam – Indonesia – Philippines – Cambodia – Turkey – Greece.
Some of the countries that came to mind were –
- Burma – Easy to go, reasonable flights in terms of cost and duration, lots of temples are not that appealing but Heena’s colleague going there showed pics and looked awesome. Weather just nice in Feb.
- Morocco – One of the bucket list Middle East places that is still safe to go, has some awesome historical sites to visit and the whole middle ages feel (albeit with modern touch) was appealing. However, flight times are too long and hence not really a contender.
- Jordan – Same reasons as Morocco including why it was not a close contender
- Fiji – Still in the bucket list. But not this time.Probably some other.
- Sri Lanka – Actually this was the first country in mind. Planned to go with friends but who have a family function to attend around those dates. Good contender as close from HK, can go via India and take a break in a break, relatively easy flights, lots to see and do and weather just right.
In the end, we decided to go with Sri Lanka. Burma remained a tight contender but given that flights were not really cheaper relative to SL and there was less to do there than spend 6-7 days (max of 4-5 day needed), we thought SL it is! So, SL it is!
Next comes the challenge to find the right itinerary. This one involved a lot of research to be honest and I would list down several websites that were very handy in making our final itinerary.
nerdnomads.com – The blog was very thorough in their description for the place and while they run it full time, I can see the effort that they have put together in the same.
tripadvisor and lonelyplanet to get people’s reviews on the places, especially guides and tour companies.
viator and local tour websites like tourslk.com, www.travelbag.co.uk,srilankatraveller, etc were also very useful in finalizing the itinerary that we finally went with. Also, wanderlust.co.uk has some nice pages to describe the national parks in Sri Lanka, so that is worth a visit as well.
One can book a tour package and have the convenience of someone booking hotels, car and itinerary for you. For me though, I like to do this myself, at least the itinerary bit since it lets me do research on the place, know a lot more and nail down the things I want to do and those I am ok missing out.
We have done package tours in Uzbekistan/Kyrgystan and Iceland but that is also because the packages there were really comprehensive and we had enough days to do all we wanted to do. For Sri Lanka though, there is much more to do seen and done than in just 6 days. And that was our big limitation. Over that, we had a toddler… getting the feel?
So our itinerary is broadly as follows:
|Date||Overnight Stay||Itinerary||Things to see|
|Day 0||Mumbai||Flight to Mumbai||Spending time with friends|
|Day 1||Colombo||Arrive in evening, no time to do anything||Straight go to airport hotel. Airport City Hub Hotel|
|Day 2||Kandy||Morning 9am drive to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, see feeding activity also. In afternoon, drive to Kandy City.||Quite touristic but a place where we can see baby elephants milk feeding. Make sure you know the feeding time. Drive for 1hr to Kandy|
|Day 3||Kandy||Easy day at Kandy, see Tooth Relic Buddha temple (Sri Dalada Maligawa), spend afternoon near Kandy Lake, Botanical Garden and any other if time permits||Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya , Kandy Lake and temple are three main things to see|
|Day 4||Kandy||Day trip to Sigiriya. Leave at 6am, see the Citadel Rock, see Polonnaruwa, Kings old city and Dambulla in afternoon. Back to Kandy late evening.||Dambulla is full of with Buddha statues, also next to it is Sigriya and the world famous rock citadel|
|Day 5||Ella||Drive to Nuwara Eliya and from there, take the scenic train journey to Ella. Take the observation deck AC train. Relax the rest of the day||Train journey to from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is very scenic and a must do|
|Day 6||Ella||See plantation today, visit tea factory in Ella. Enjoy the rest of the day||See Demodara Nine Arch bridge, tea plantations, Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory, Ravana Waterfall|
|Day 7||Colombo||Leave 9am for Horton NP, climb Adam’s peak if possible, else take another route which has lots of waterfalls and drive to Colombo||Arguably, this is the most hectic day of the trip since there is 5hr of car travelling apart from the stopovers but since we are relaxing at hotel thereafter, it is ok|
|Day 9||Spend the whole day in hotel relaxing and massages / see Colombo nearby a bit in afternoon and go to airport thereafter.|
The following key points were kept in mind while making this itinerary:
- Since we are travelling with a 1yr toddler, we gave long car journeys of more than 3-4hrs a miss. In the whole trip, only the penultimate trip includes more than 4hrs (5hrs) drive but since it is the only day plus we spend the next day relaxing at the hotel, that seemed very manageable.
- Day trip to Sigiriya to be a hectic day so I might do that alone while the wife and toddler will stay at Kandy and hence we booked a more relaxing resort at Kandy – Randholee Luxury Resort. Also, since I really want to see the UNESCO Heritage site and the relics at Dambulla, we decided happily to go separate for that day. Works well for both since the place did not particularly sound exciting to my better half.
- We were confused whether to stay at Nuwara Eliya or Ella. From our research and reviews, we gather that Ella is more serene and bit less touristy. Also, it has similar tea plantations around and as such has a more cosy feeling. The rationale for Nuwara Eliya seems that it has some nice waterfalls around, it is closer to Horton NP and Colombo for one hour less travel on our second last day back to the city. However, given that we will take an easy travel day, stopping at spots on the travel day from Ella to Colombo, we decided we cannot miss the otherwise better (seemingly) Ella. Hence, staying at Ella. Hope it is a good choice, will update on this.
- We have been to Tanzania, so we were not really interested in seeing leopards or wildlife in general in SL, and so on which are otherwise seen in some concentration in Yala National Park. Similar, since we were seeing elephants in the elephant orphanage, we thought of giving Udawalawe NP a miss.
- Since we were anyways driving quite a distance on second last day and wanted a relaxing last day, we decided to go to a Colombo hotel rather than Bentota even though Bentota would be a preferred place to relax the last day. Those who have time should think about doing a quick day trip to Sea Turtle Sanctuary near Galle.
Keeping these in mind, the following was our final map of our road trip…
As for the tour guides:
It has been an interesting ride. We had the itinerary in mind, we booked hotels from booking.com (I am not affiliated to it/don’t receive benefits from it) and the only task that was left was arranging the car+driver duo / single person.
Did most of my research on tripadvisor to get some recommendations and reviews. Posted some messages (happy_traveller) and got numerous PMs post that from individuals having a car and an internet connection (that is all I knew about them at the moment) asking if I want to hire them. I didn’t want to take chances hiring non-recommended people so I ignored all.
Out of all the recommendations, I shortlisted tours.lk, driversinsrilanka, aitkenspence.lk, Malkey and Hetti Tours, SLE Tours and Tangerine Tours.
Of these, I had to take out a few as they were relatively more expensive, some had quite negative reviews etc. The short list further shortened to Malkey, Hetti and Tours.lk. Eventually based on the calls and whatsapp messages with two of these, I decided to go ahead with Tours.LK. Rizwan was the man.
btw, Malkey was a close one since the rates were competitive, based on what I was reading, they were really popular in SL and I did find them very professional in their correspondence with me while discussing the trip, whether my itinerary was doable from logistics perspective and their price, inclusions, exclusions etc. There is enough said on tripadvisor warning people they must absolutely clarify with the companies on what is included and what is not, to avoid any last minute confusions when you are there.
Let’s hope it goes all well.