So, we said good-bye to the southern coast and our newly made friends who will touch our hearts for a lifetime. In the picture to the left, you can see our tour guide in the background, kneeling, ready to help my daughter should anything happen with the elephant or the fruit. He looked out for our children, and for us, wanting the best experience his country could offer. Luckily, he came with us to Kandy. I don’t think he wanted to leave us, and we felt better knowing he was around. If we could have brought the care-taker couple as well, we would have!
Day 6-8…Kandy: We hired a large van for our group of nine people to take us from Hikkaduwa to Kandy. The drive is six to seven hours, depending on stops and traffic, as you are navigating on small mountain roads and through towns. We figured since we were already hiring a van for that leg of the trip, we might as well keep it while we were staying in Kandy, and then use it to take us to Colombo. Feel free to negotiate the price, but it will cost you about $450 USD the way we set it up…five days, nine people, and at our beckon call. This was split between two families. We used them to go into town, to go to the elephant orphanage and then to take us to the train station. Yep, we slipped a train ride in last minute from Kandy to Colombo. So, the van drove our luggage and we took our tour guide on a train.
While in Kandy, we stayed at an amazing placed called The Mansion. It is a former tea plantation home set on the most beautiful hidden acreage. It took about 10-15 minutes to get from The Mansion into downtown Kandy, just to give you an idea. To get to the orphanage, it was about forty-five minutes. The guest rooms were huge with 14ft ceilings. It was quiet, remote, and just what we were looking for. The menu was very family friendly and affordable…and if you didn’t see what you wanted, they were happy to accommodate you. There’s an outdoor pool, a little playground, a gathering area with TV, and sprawling greens perfect for taking pictures…which did. One rainy day led to a photo shoot of all the kids in our group. The best part of the hotel for me was the on-call massage therapist. You let him know one hour before you want your service, and he’ll drive up and do the massage in your room or on a terrace. For a one-hour full body massage, you’ll pay $23 USD! He also offers head/neck/shoulders, half body and reflexology. A fun note, he was Mr. Kandy 2001 for bodybuilding.
Within Kandy, you can go to the downtown area which seemed busy, full of traffic and not that appealing to me. But, if you need more trinkets, groceries and other items, this is your place to go. There’s a mall there as well if you’re craving some Western type entertainment. I think you’ll want to spend more of your time visiting the temples, seeing Kandyan dancing and doing some hikes. You will also want to make sure you visit the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. The pictures do not full describe the overwhelming feeling you get when here, but they do a pretty good job. This is an experience my family will remember for a lifetime. You truly get up close and personal with the elephants, and if you’re like us, you’ll spend the entire morning and afternoon in town just to see the elephants bathing in the river and walking up and down the streets. I could describe everything we did that day at the orphanage, but you can get a sense from the pictures, and trust me, you’ll have your own amazing experience and your own stories to tell. Lastly, Kandy offers a couple tea plantation tours which is kind of a must while in Sri Lanka. I hear the best ones are in Haputale and Nuwara Eliya, but since we were not heading in those directions, we opted for the smaller one in Kandy. It’s amazing what you’ll learn about tea, from being picked to watching it dry and to the amazing technology of sorting dark black tea from others not roasted enough. You’ll even learn the difference between Golden Tips and Silver Tips and Green Tea vs. all the other teas that are made.
We chose to take the train from Kandy to Colombo for the experience, and to have the van we hired drive our luggage to the Colombo train station to meet us. This alleviated a lot of stress of worrying about luggage and kids in busy train stations. We paid a whole $8 per person to be able to ride in the luxury class car which included nice reclining seats, a small menu service, movies and amazing scenery. The trip was about two hours, and fully worth it. I loved seeing the mountainside along the way as well as the small towns built along the tracks.
I wish I could say the serenity stayed with me once in Colombo, but it quickly went away. Colombo is like any other major city…congested, busy and less welcoming. The people of Kandy and the southern coast were much nicer overall, and we felt more welcomed. It didn’t help that we stayed in an awful hotel (I speak more to that below). The beach near our hotel was filthy and dangerous, and the nearest mall was not a mall, but a building full of more trinket shops with 9 foot ceilings. We ended up eating McDonald’s for our Christmas Eve breakfast, Pizza Hut for our Christmas Eve dinner, and the hotel AWFUL buffet for our Christmas Day breakfast. But we made our own fun, found humor in it all and made it the best we could with Scrabble and Christmas movies. Needless to say, I wish we would have forked out the extra money for a nice well-known hotel chain, or stayed farther up the coast of Colombo, but this added to our memory making for the trip. We tended to find laughter no matter where we were, as we were with family and friends, and you just can’t help but smiling. As we sat at the Colombo airport, we were already recounting memories we had just made.
Despite our stay in Colombo, the trip was amazing, went smoothly with a group of nine, and is something we will do again in our lifetime. We learned so much, captured so many memories, and remembered what Christmas was all about…being with family and friends.
The low down on how we made it affordable and family friendly…
For us, getting to Sri Lanka is easy. For a family of five, we spent $1,200 USD on airfare tickets from Dubai to Colombo. That’s a bargain no matter how you look at it for a family of five! We then split the ten-day trip up into three parts. First, the southern coast where we shared a four-bedroom home with our friends traveling with us which cut the cost down significantly vs. a hotel or a vacation home on our own. We hired the local caretakers next door to cook all our meals and clean for a modest fee, and again saved a lot of money instead of eating out. And we got to eat amazing local food! The second part of the trip, in Kandy, we stayed at The Mansion, which offers incredibly huge rooms at affordable prices. They will even let you add extra beds to the rooms for $15/night, but you can negotiate that too. We ended up with two twins and two queens in our room…it was great! The menu items at the hotel were very reasonable…shrimp cocktail costing a mere $2.50 and a large serving of Singapore noodles being $4. The third leg of our trip was just one night in Colombo in order to be near the airport. The hotel we stayed at was a dive and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but we didn’t know any better…Global Towers. I would HIGHLY recommend forking out the money and staying at a well known, higher end chain if you can. If you’re staying more nights in Colombo, go North of Colombo and stay on the beach in a rented home which are very nice. Colombo itself was not nice and definitely not family friendly. For getting around each town, we used tuk tuks which are quite cheap…especially if you hire one person as your driver while in town. Between towns, we hired vans for our large group, which you can negotiate. The best transportation enjoyment was the train. For only $8 a person you can ride in the luxury class car. This was how we went from Kandy to Colombo and the kids thought it was a blast!