The first thing you should know is why Sri Lanka and why now. When we were planning this trip, I somehow (probably Pinterest) got a hold of the information that you could see Blue Whales in Sri Lanka. Though it is truly out of the way to everywhere else we planned, it seemed so close in the grand scheme of the world. Nate was up for it as well; meaning not only did he want to visit a South Asian country but also wanted to satisfy my constant comments of “how much better would this place be if a we could see whales”. We added it to the list.
Knowing nothing about Sri Lanka and not knowing anyone that had visited before we did a lot of research on our own. We knew based on monsoon seasons when to go and not to go, so that is how we picked our time frame. Other constraints assigned the amount of days in Sri Lanka which would be 8 days. After researching the highlights of this country we determined that in order to see as much as we could in our 8 days we have a lot of commuting and little time in one place. And here’s how it went…
We flew from Australia to Kuala Lumper on Air Asia taking us just over eight hours. Air Asia was significantly less in price than other airlines but you should know they are bare bones. The seats are tight, they don’t offer drinks unless you call for them and you pay for everything except using the bathroom. There is also no form of entertainment. So bring books or movies and snacks…the food we ordered was not good. Im looking forward to that fact that we have at least 3 more Air Asia flights in our future. Damn budget!
We had a 3 hour layover in KL and then jumped back on another 3.5 hour Air Asia flight to Sri Lanka. We landed around 10:00 pm and already had a hostel booked in Mt. Lavinia. Getting through immigration and customs was very easy. After that we needed to get cash out to pay for a taxi and to just have on hand since credit cards are rarely accepted.
Travel Tip: Always get foreign cash out before you leave the airport, it’s just good to always have the currency on hand even if you plan to us credit cards. US dollars are often always of value no mater where you are so we always travel with a small emergency fund of $100 or less.
None of the ATMs worked for us at the airport after trying 3 debit cards and we couldn’t make a call to fix it with the bank, so that was a tense moment. We eventually went to the currency exchange counter and traded in the $60 USD that I had hidden away for emergency. We had enough to get us to our destination and hoped we could sort out the money issue in Mt Lavinia. When I looked at google maps, I noticed the GPS registered us much further North than I had expected to be. For some reason, I mixed up the airport location, so instead of being a 15 minute taxi ride to our homestay, we were over an hour. Tensions rising 🙂 We negotiated a taxi at the airport taxi counter and paid 3200 rupees ($22USD) plus we specified taking the express way, which you pay directly at the toll, 300 rupees ($2USD). With almost half of our money gone, we were at least out of the airport. Sheesh!
We arrived in the darkness of night to what would look like the slums to anyone who hasn’t traveled to poor countries, but we were completely at ease. At least we were until Nate walked to the trunk of the car and fell into the sewer, unnoticeable in the darkness, running along the side of the road. Thankfully he didn’t injure himself, only his jeans and shoes that now smelled like sewage “mud”. Strike 3!!
An old man came out to greet us in broken English. We managed to all understand “A/C room” and got settled in. The room was fine but the water in the shower was not warm and barely dribbled out. We fell asleep after a bad start hoping for a brand new day in an unknown country.
The ultimate goal of our second day was to get to the town of Mirissa on the southern coast of this island country. Mirissa is a popular beach town with boats leaving daily to see Blue Whales. There was an express train leaving the Mt. Livonia train station at around “10 and 2” according to our host but he was not sure. We opted to take the later train to give us time to book some flights, sort out our atm issues, get cash, hit the beach and have some food.
We started with egg and toast breakfast at the hostel, which included fresh papaya sprinkled with fresh lime juice and a pot of Sri Lankan tea. Delicious.
After our meal, we handled some upcoming flight bookings and called our bank. We were finally ready to put our bathing suits on and jump into the Indian Ocean for the first time in our lives. The water was warm and the views were great. To the north, you could see the metropolis of Colombo in the distance and to the south was the beautiful Mt. Lavinia Hotel.
We walked down to the train station to purchase tickets and confirm details of the train ( 2:40 departure not 2 pm) no A/C, no reserved seating, 3.5 hours. The train tickets were only 220 rupees each ($1.50 USD). With our cash running out, we stopped by the only atm in town and still got an error message. We returned to our hostel to check out and shower since it was almost 100 degrees out and the humidity was through the roof. Our pathetic excuse of a shower head and our non-existent AC, due to a midday power outage, was not the refresh we had been hoping for.
By the time we paid our hostel bill, we were down to about $6USD in Sri Lankan Rupees. That’s uncomfortably low but can go far since the exchange rate is 140 to 1.
For lunch we went to the 5 star Mt. Lavinia Hotel. Just before leaving Sydney our Airbnb host Trish had cut out an article by a Sri Lankan chef on some food tips in his home country. One of his suggestions was to have the buffet lunch at this hotel. Combined with the hotel being located right next to the train station, the solid recommendation, and the fact we could only eat at a place that would take credit card, the choice was practically made for us.
The hotel was beautiful and the staff was very attentive. While the buffet lunch was good and we would have paid three times for a similar meal in the US, it wasn’t incredible. It was nice to have a chance to recharge, because we would need to energy.
We lost track of time enjoying the lunch and realized we had only 15 minutes before the train. We rushed out, and while Nate was buying water across the street for the long journey, the train was pulling up a little early. Nate ran over and we quickly jumped on and we were on our way, or so we thought.
The train interior was like a crowded subway car in the heat of summer with no AC. We had heard the trains could be a little rough, but this was going to be a long trip. After the first stop or two, Nate grew concerned that we had boarded the wrong train because we were stopping so frequently on an “express train”.
Nate tried to ask a local but with the language barrier got nowhere. Thankfully, another local overheard the conversation and interjected. We had gotten on the wrong train.
The train we were on would not get us close to our destination but we still had a chance. If we could just make it three more stations before the express train caught up to us, we could transfer over. We nervously waited and counted the stops, 1… 2… 3… We made it and after about two minutes on the platform the express train arrived. This train was more typical with 2 seats on each side with an aisle down the middle.
We settled in for the last hour and listened to a few chapters of our never ending Steven King audiobook. The train started making every stop which slowed us down but gave us the opportunity to get off at the Mirissa stop instead of the stop outside the town. The Marissa stop is not in walking distance to the beach so we hired one of the tuk tuks lined up for 250 rupees, which ate into all but a couple dollars of our remaining money. We were hot, tired and cash broke, but we had made it.