Christmas in Sri Lanka
My plan was to travel around Oman and the middle east over Christmas. I don't drive and there's basically no public transport infrastructure in the Oman so based on that I decided that the country sucks and it had seen enough after a few days.
I planned to visit a castle close to Muscat and the suggestion of the hotel manager was to spend $150+ to get a taxi there and back. I stood in the hotel reception and booked a flight to Colombo for less than the price of the taxi. The hotel manager then proceeded to refund me for the room and apologised. I've left hotels in the past, but this was the first time getting a refund.
The flight to Sri Lanka stopped in Dubai for the day, so I visited the Burj Khalifa on the layover and then headed back to the airport ready for Colombo.
I got into Colombo that night, met some Greek bloke and jumped into some random car and headed for the city center. About 5km down the road something fell from an overhead motorway and our driver almost smashed into it. Luckily he was the Sri Lankan Colin Mcrae and swerved around the big box, narrowly missing it. It's events like these that make you realise how safe Europe is.
Day broke in Colombo and I called a Tuk-Tuk to take me out to Pettah Market, a super busy area in the city, which I imagines would be great for street photography.
Other travellers I had met in the hostel didn't have much of an opinion on Colombo, but I really liked it. It reminds me more of a SEA city than south asian. Colombo has some interesting streets, British colonial buildings and lots to see. That being said, I wouldn't spend more than 3 or 4 days there.
It seems that the common "tourist route" is to head east from Colombo to Kandy and then south. I decided to do the same.
Colombo to Kandy by train isn't too long, about 3 hours. I headed there with a German guy I had met at the hostel and the train was leaving as we got onto the platform. We ended up running and jumping onto the train like a scene out of a movie. Well the train was going at walking speed, but it felt like something out of a movie. What was more impressive is that we both managed to get a seat and by the window. I soon learned getting seats is a very rare thing on public transport in Sri Lanka.
After a relaxing 3 hour journey through the country side, we arrived into Kandy. The city is a relatively generic place and there's nothing special there. It seems like Kandy is more of a stop over for other destinations. My next destination was Ella.
Kandy to Ella
Kandy to Ella is a famous train journey. I'm a big fan of train journeys and even though it was going to be 6+ hours on a packed train, I was happy to do it. I got wind that the train will be busy and decided to go on the first train of the day. Only issue being, everybody else must have had the same idea and the train platform was packed full of tourists. My advantage was that I only had a small bag.
As the train rolled into the station one thing became apparent. It was going to be a very long 6 hour journey. The train was packed full of locals and once some people jumped off, it was a race to bag one of the few empty seats.
I jumped on the train and somebody had put their bag through the window onto an empty seat as a placeholder. Me being such a gentleman; I chucked the persons bag on the floor and bagged myself a nice comfortable seat next to the window. The train left Kandy with people literally hanging out of the train because it was that packed. Not something you want to be doing for an hour, let alone 6.
After an epic 6 hour train journey I arrived into a cold and foggy Ella and found a guest house full of Germans and cracked open a few beers. It seems like the majority of travellers in Sri Lanka at the time I was there were British and German. I ended up catching up with the dude I had met in Colombo a few days prior and headed to a bar with an awesome view of the mountains.
Ella was the highlight of Sri Lanka for me. I joined a guy from the guesthouse and shared the cost of hiring a Tuk-Tuk driver for the day and he took us to various places in Ella. I'm writing this post a year later so my memory is rusty on exactly what I did. But the landscapes were just awesome. I wish I had stayed longer in Ella and spent lots of time in the mountains and just chilled out doing nothing, but my plan was to see more of the country.
After a few days exploring Ella, I joined a group of people heading to Tangalle, a quiet town on the south coast. The journey was a few hours through a national park populated by elephants. We didn't get lucky enough to see any elephants, but others that took the same journey did.
I had been in Sri Lanka about 8-9 days at this point and was out doing things every day. It was nice to get to Tangalle and sit by the ocean and do absolutely nothing.