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Sri Lanka: my tips

Darkness of the tunnel abruptly switched for strong dazzling light. Children took a while to realize we are out of the tunnel and ceased their high-pitched voices; the train went silent. I myself was speechless. My brain refused to accept what my eyes were seeing. The train was climbing up a mountain on a cliff hundreds of meters high. Under the cliff there was a huge waterfall.  Behind the sudden drop vast tea fields were spreading as far as an eye could see. "Welcome to Sri Lanka" I thought. This post is a collection of tips I jotted down throughout the trip.

Stop what you are doing, Sri Lanka is waiting for you right now and may not be this awesome any time in the future. Sri Lanka has full package: ancient ruins and culture of India, mysterious mountains of Scotland, safaris of Africa, beaches of Thailand. And the people, they are so wonderful, still keen in what they are doing, excited to get to know you, smiling. And everything is within reach by the slowest train with the most incredible views within couple of hours (for one dollar). 

1. Third class on trains is almost as good as second class and not much worse than first class. And you are more likely to sit next to a talkative Sri Lankan than a boring French tourist :-). There is not really a need to reserve seats if you are in one of the main stations like Colombo, Kandy, Badulla, Anuradhapura, or even Ella. At worst you can hang out at the door where you can sit and have the best view.

2. Try to find a spot on the right hand side when taking train from Colombo to Kandy.

3. Buses run anywhere. Just walk along the road and wave when one is coming. No need to be in a bus station unless you want to take one of the long distance ones.

4. Don't book hotels, or go the suggested hotels in guides. There is plenty of small homestays simply marked with a small sign "rooms" which still remain unnoticed by tourists. During August, which is the high season for Western tourists, I didn't pay more than 1000 rupees for accommodation except first two days in Colombo where I stayed in a hostel. I stayed in rooms which would accommodate 2 or more people with hot water and often WiFi. This might change soon though.

5. I would choose Polonnaruwa over Anuradhapura.

6. Next to Sigiriya rock fortress there is a mountain which gives you amazing views to the rock. Entrance fee was 300 at the time. Can be either great alternative or simply an icing on the cake.

7. My favorite place in the cultural triangle was Mihitale. Particularly a place called Kaludyia Pokuna was a highlight. It was like an oasis with no tourists, just two local couples hanging out. There is a water tank, beautiful trees, ruins. Two monks lived there and one of them was just bathing and washing his clothes. It felt like paradise.

8. I absolutely loved the hill region: Kandy, Nuwaraeliya, Haputale, Ella, Badulla. Ella is amazing but feels too touristy: you find only tourists, restaurants, and hotels there. Almost like Goa in India. There was not that much to do and maybe one day stop could be enough. You can sleep for cheap in Badulla.

9. The walk along rails from Pattipola to Haputale is splendid. Bring light for tunnels.

10. In Nuwara eliya there is a bicycle rental right next to the turf club at the lake. Mountain bikes for 750 rupees per day; that was half of what I was offered in hotels suggested in Lonely Planet.

11. I would say the most typical meal here is rice and curry. Find a good place, pay around 100 for vegetarian, and enjoy good sauces which are often unlimited as well as rice.

12. There is a convenient bus with number 138 connecting Colombo Fort with the airport. It costs only 100 rupees and the bus stops directly in front of airport. You won't find many tourists but locals are there waiting for the bus. Don't worry and ask. Other option (better when leaving Sri Lanka) is taking a local train from Colombo Fort which runs every hour and then taking Tuk Tuk for the last 1km.

13. BED hostel in Colombo offered left luggage: free for a week and then charged 100 rupees per day. I left there almost all my stuff for the two weeks and thought it very safe.

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