Arugam Bay

MapCrew : 7

Transportation : Cars (Kandy > Mahiyanganaya > Ampara > Akkaraipattu > Pottuvil > Arugam Bay > Pottuvil > Lahugala > Siyambalanduwa > Wadinagala > Ampara > Inginiyagala > Bibila > Mahiyanganaya > Kandy)

Duration : Two Days

I had plans to visit Arugam bay beach and spend a night there during the surfing season (May to September), But it kept postponing. There was a free weekend coming and seven of my friends confirmed participation. This time our plan was to spend more time on the beach as possible, So I wanted to reserve a place closer to the beach unlike in our previous visit (Read about our visit to Arugambay and Kudumbigala).

The gathering point was Kandy as most of my friends were there. One came from Kurunegala and another one all the way from Colombo. I was already in Ampara and planned to join them from there onward.  It was around 6.15 am when others left Kandy and they took around 4.5 hours to reach Ampara Via Padiyathalawa. As soon as they arrived Ampara we had a quick breakfast and started our drive to Arugam bay via Akkaraipattu. There was almost no traffic, so we reached Arugam bay just around an hour. We directly went to the hotel we reserved. It took another half an hour for us to settle in, before starting our search for a good place to have the lunch. The staff at our hotel recommended a place (Ranga’s Beach Hut) which reminded us that we have been there in our previous visit. It was just a couple hundred meters away next to the beach and we decided to walk up there by the main road. Even though it is off season, there were few groups of travelers in the restaurant area. We asked for their famous “Rice and Curry with Fried Fish” but sadly it was finished by that time. So we ordered Fried rice and soft drinks after settling to a table under a shady tree. Environment was way cooler than the outside road because of the giant umbrella of trees branches. They took some time to prepare the food but we didn’t noticed that as we were busy with catching up and admiring the surrounding.
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We spent a more than an hour there and decided to walk back to the hotel through the beach. It was easier than walking on the main road plus we had a perfect view of Arugam bay. My friends were sleepy as they started the journey in the early morning and decided to take a quick nap until the burning sun rays fade away. But no one could sleep but talk lying in beds and chairs!
😀

We took a shower first to cool off and then decided to walk to the beach around 3.30pm. Even though our hotel was next to the beach, famous Arugam bay surfing spot was another one kilometer away. We saw many places that was threatened by sea erosion (may be a seasonal thing due to the changing tide patterns). There were quite a lot of people on the surfing spot, but only a few were surfing. We walked further to avoid the crowd and spent hours lying on the beach. The tides were so strong that sometimes it dragged us along the beach for couple of feet reminding our younger days! We didn’t wanted to worry about getting our cameras wet, so couldn’t capture any photo during our “floating in the beach” session. It was around 6pm when we decided to head back to our hotel. The sun just sank behind the coconut trees within couple of minutes, making us to walk back under the dark starless sky. Lights from the hotels marked the beach, up until the Arugam bay bridge. It took us more time than we expected to walk back to the hotel and had to spend another hour or so washing away the sand from our clothes and hair.

We decided to go for another cafe for dinner just for a change and looked up for few restaurants with good reviews on the internet. There was a Pizza place and we walked along the main road towards panama side. After about a 700m walk we reached to a cozy looking place and decided to settle down there as we were bit tired of walking to the place we initially planned to go. Gladly they too had wood oven pizzas and took some time to prepare it.
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One story lead to another and suddenly realized that we were the only group left in the restaurant and it was almost their closing time. So we left there and walked back, admiring the atmosphere created by dim lights of the nearby boutique hotels. We all were so tired and just went to sleep as soon as we came back to the hotel.

It was around 7 am when I woke up in the next morning. Sun was already up and making the morning tides shine. There were two hammocks fixed in the hut on beach, and i decided to hop on. It was my first experience about hammocks and it was better than i imagined. Everything was so calm and peaceful that I even noted pros and cons of living next to a beach in my mind. We decided to go to the same place that we had the previous day lunch for the breakfast. It was much closer through the beach, so we walked there. It was one of the best satisfying breakfasts that I have ever had. Tasty eggs with crunchy toasts and a hot cup of tea under the shade of a tree along with the company of good friends; that was perfect!
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After spending more than an hour on the breakfast we walked back and stepped in to the sea from the beach just next to our hotel. Some waves were higher than us, which tried to throw us back to the beach. We didn’t realize the time passing and it was almost 1 pm when we came out of water. It was time for us to pack our bags and check out from the hotel. Few friends wanted to buy souvenirs and there was a shop closer to hotel on the main road.
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Breakfast made a really good impression on us that we went to the Ranga’s Beach Hut for the third time to have Rice and curry for the Lunch. They had a tasty fried fish dish, which we ordered extra just because it tasted better. It was few minutes passed 3pm when we bid farewell to Arugambay and started our drive back to Ampara through Siyambalanduwa. There was a herd of Elephants near the Lahugala tank, so that we took  a break to add some photos to the memories. We all reached Ampara around 5 pm and my friends went towards Kandy after having a good cup of good bye tea.

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Ella Rock

Map

Crew : 6

Transportation : Cars (Kandy to Ella and back), Walk (Ella Rock)

Duration : Two Days

 

There was a long weekend coming and one of my friends suggested to go on a road trip. Though we had many suggestions earlier for road trips, all were limited to planing stage. So we decided it is better to plan a small road trip with more time allocated to sightseeing than driving. “Ella” won most of our votes. There were only six people confirmed participation (Including me) and two cars were more than enough. To make that more of a road trip, we decided to go to Nuwara Eliya on the first day and then drive to Ella and spend the night there. Our initial plan was to camp at Ella rock but we found out that it is not allowed to camp there now as someone has set fire (may be mistakenly but it is totally irresponsible) in recent past. We were angry with the people who are responsible to the fire for ruining a another best camping location for Sri Lankans. So we had to search for accommodation and found a decent place in Ella town for reasonable price.

We spend the night of the previous day at a friend’s house. We started our drive around 9 am from Pilimathalawa by two cars. We had breakfast in Gampola town and took our time driving up to the misty hills of Nuwaraeliya. All four of the usual partners for bicycle rides (Read more about our bicycle rides from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy and Pattipola to Kandy) were there, so we took a break to have a good cup of tea at our favorite spot. A hot cup of tea combined with a piece of chocolate cake from Macwoods Labukellie tea Centre was the ideal combination for the misty and cold weather. It took around another half an hour to take a group photo and hang around the observation deck.
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Next we drove up to NuwaraEliya town. It was just around noon and we were not hungry. So we went to the park next to the Lake Gregory and enjoyed the warm sun rays filtering through the misty clouds. It was a long weekend and the park was fairly crowded. Children were in line to take a ride on a Pony while a bit older crowd were focusing on a Zip line across the park. After spending sometime lying on the ground we thought of checking out the kayaks that were for rent. It was 500 LKR per kayak for 45 minutes. We rented three kayaks and teamed up to balance the weight! 😀 We had to be seated when they pushed the kayaks to water from a feet height lake bank. We were bit worried about the balance and splash of water, but they managed to put our kayaks to water safely.
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It was easier than it looked. We got used to the kayaks and rowed them to the other corner of Lake Gregory. We were busy with taking photographs and suddenly realized that the lake surface is empty and we were the only people in the middle of the water. Then a sharp whistling noise pointed us to the sky. A seaplane was about to land on us!!!
😛
So we used the full strength and rowed our kayaks to the closest river bank. The plane landed afterwards giving us better opportunities to take more photos. We decided to head back to the land to have the lunch. We searched for restaurant suggestions in the internet  and went straight to “Salmiya” restaurent but they had many orders waiting so we decided to look for something else as we were extremely hungry. Our next stop was “Calamander Lake Gregory”. We ordered soon and enjoyed our food for more than an hour before starting the journey up to Ella.
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We reached Ella around 5 pm and took some time to rest after the long drive. It was drizzling and the whole world was covered in freezing cold mist when we looked outside. We had no choice but to go out for Dinner. We went straight to Cafe Chill as we were there before and it was popular for their tasty dishes. It was 30th of December and they had a DJ organized. So we thought to go there and asked the staff about it. Sadly the waiter informed that they have limited it only for foreigners due to some issues occurred sometime before. It was a big slap for Locals but we had to accept the fact that the owners made the decision in favor of their industry and the good name of Sri Lanka. So we went straight back to the place we booked and went to bed early with the hopes of starting the Ella rock Journey early in the morning.
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It was around 4 am when i woke up by the alarm. We hurried in to our hiking clothes and went toward the Ella rock road by a car. We were said that the by road to Ella rock is on the left hand, so we decided to use google maps to find the location. It took only 30 minutes to reach the google map location but we couldn’t find any junction. So we decided to seek help from a villager. But we couldn’t find anyone as it was too early. Then a Threwheeler came towards us and we asked them about the directions. They directed us towards a junction on the road we came and when we went, there wasn’t any by road. So we searched on our own for around 30 minutes and found out that the people who we asked for directions had mislead us, The by road was just few meters ahead of the place where we met them! That was one of the worst experiences I have ever had.

We drove on that road and came to a dead end near the Kithal-Ella Railway station. The final part of the road is not in a good condition but our car managed to do some Off road-ing. We parked it near by and went down on a foot path to the railway station. There was a villager feeding his cow nearby and he kindly lead us towards the trail to Ella rock.
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You have to walk on the rail track for few meters from Kithal-Ella railway station until the 166.25 sign post and take a left turn to the foot steps towards the small tea plantation. Few steps after we found a a small bridge over a crystal clear water stream but sadly the Sun came out at the exact same time. We had high hopes to capture the rising sun from Ella rock, as we heard that is a marvelous experience. But with the delay to finding the correct by road, we missed that. There was a small shop (like thing) adjacent to a clay (wattle and daub) house. We decided to have a break there as we are already late. There were biscuits so we bought a packet and had some plain tea. She was looking after three small kids (her grand children) while their parents are working somewhere, Faces of those kids gave us a clear idea about the hardship of life that they are facing. Old lady confirmed our trail is correct and gave us some tips stay on the main trail without wandering to one of many foot paths there. There was few dogs and one decided to climb the rock with us.
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The climb was less intense for most of the part and we met few groups of foreigners on the way. Gigantic umbrella of trees filtered the warm sun rays and unveiled the beautiful sky from time to time. It was a wonderful experience and we could imagine how it will be at the sun rise. After about 45 minutes of climbing we reached to a plane, Which could have been an excellent camping location.
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Just after that the climb began, it isn’t the hardest but comparatively the way up to that point is much easier. We took many breaks to catch our breath and capture many photos as we could. We met a couple and few groups of foreigners each after a dog guiding them to the top!
😀

There are two path from the top, one towards Rawana Ella and the other just leading to the Ella town side. We spent around an hour there under the thick shade of the pine trees before starting the journey back to Ella town.
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We went straight back to the place we spend the night and packed the bags. Then went to the same cafe we had the dinner last night and had a long satisfying lunch. It was around 2 pm when we finished and decided to drive back home. We reached Mahiyanganaya around 5pm and I had left to Ampara for work while others going to Kandy.

Singapore Zoo, River Safari and Night Safari

MapCrew : 3

Transportation : MRT, Taxi

Duration : One Day

 

It was around 1.30pm when we left the Jurong Bird Park. (Read about my visit to Jurong Bird Park). We took a taxi to the Singapore Zoo which we felt the quickest way to reach there. As you may know, there are three adjacent parks called Singapore Zoo, River Safari and Night Safari. All three parks were designed in a way that visitors can cover the entire park by foot, but they include a tram ride or a boat ride to boost the attractiveness. The ride may cover all the important parts with a quick glance through the animals, but it may not cover the entire park. So we decided to walk around the Singapore zoo without using their tram ride, then walk around the river safari exhibits before going on the boat ride and only go on the tram ride in Night Safari so that we could go back to our hotel before midnight.

Each having many varieties of species related to there themes. We started with Singapore zoo. It felt bit “not much” organized as the Jurong Bird park, but definitely one of the well planned zoos. We took a copy of the Singapore Zoo map and started to cover the exhibits clockwise. There were a group of Otters in the begging. They were cuddling with each other to find the perfect position for a nap!
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Then we met Malayan Tapir, Siamang, Babirusa and Pygmy Hippo. Highlight of that section was the White tiger. They were resting in the far most corner of the cubicle.

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Suddenly we remembered that there was a show in the park map called “Rain forest Fights back” at 2.30pm. SO we ruched to the location though it was already 2.45pm. The venue was almost full, but we managed to squeeze in to a less crowded row of seats. The show included a large yellow Python, White peafowl and many other small animals. They always highlighted there natural behaviors with what they did in the show. Then we went to the “Primate Kingdom” and “Wild Africa”. Though we almost covered every animal in the zoo, we had to rush through certain parts so that we don’t miss the river safari.
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It was around 4.15pm when we finished, and rushed to the River Safari area as there was a notice saying the boat rides will be closed after 5.30pm (Map of the River Safari). We had to walk through many exhibits to reach the Boat Safari area. They have created specific environmental conditions replicating major river of the world.  Just after the exhibit “River Wonders”, they have created “Mississippi River”, Then “Congo River, “Nile River”, “Ganga River”, “Mary River” and “Mekong River”.
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Then we reached to one of the most popular section of the park, the home pf Pandas. There were few Red Pandas and Two Giant Pandas nibbling bamboo. There weren’t much crowd at that moment so we were able to leisurely take a good look at them.
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Then we hurried to the River Safari Cruise, Boat Dock to find out that they have started the final safari of the day few minutes before. It was 4.45pm but they said they have closed the section. It was a big disappointment for me as we could have skip the walking part and start the boat cruse first, If we knew they are closing early. We then walked out of that section with disappointment. The Amazon river Quest Boat Ride was closed too, but we could see animals from the walking path. Finally we reached the “Amazon Flooded Forest” which is a close to nature home for many native species of Fish and Amphibians. “Giant River Otter”, “Freshwater Stingray” and “Electric eel” were the highlights. The multi storied exhibit with “Manatees” and “Arapaimas” caught the eye of many visitors. We spent about a half an hour there and walked in to the “Night Safari” location around 6.30pm.
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We bought tickets specifically for the 7.30pm (the earliest) Night Safari Tram ride when we were purchasing in the morning. There was a lengthy queue even for that 7.30 pm ride. We quickly went through the Night Safari Map, but decided only to go on the Tram ride as we had to work on the next day morning. While we were waiting, few performers came on to a stage nearby and started a fire show. It was magnificent, seeing people dance with fire and at last eating it! We only had to wait for around 15 minutes after the fire show. We were directed towards a Tram with four seats in a row. Felt bit crowded at the first, but the feeling faded away as the tram started to move. Sadly, my fixed focus lens wasn’t enough to capture the animals in a distance at dark background. We could see them perfectly with the naked eye, so I turned off my camera. There were a lot of animals in four main sections. “Fishing Cat Trail”, “Leopard Trail”, “East Lodge Trail and “Wallaby Trail” are the fur route covered by the Tram Ride. We saw an Ice Cream shop in the main entrance after the ride and decided to taste. I had received 10 SGD discount from Uber Singapore, so we used an Uber Cab back to “Broadway Hotel” in Little India around 10pm.
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Jurong Bird Park

MapCrew : 3

Transportation : MRT, Taxi

Duration : One Day

 

When I got to know I have to travel to Singapore for an official matter, I did a quick search to know what to see and what to do there. Many blogs and previous travelers recommended the Singapore Zoo among the top 5 places to visit in Singapore. But the problem was time. As many said it will take more than 3 hours to cover the zoo and another 5 hours or so for the River Safari and Night Safari, I had to find a full day during the stay. Luckily there was a weekend,  which Saturday was already allocated for a group visit to Universal World, But Sunday was free.

Many had visited Singapore before in our group, so they have seen the zoo. Hence I decided to go alone initially, but found two friends interested in joining the trip. My idea was to get the maximum out of the full day, so I boldly decided to go for all four attractions “Jurong Bird Park”, “Singapore Zoo”, “River Safari” and the “Night Safari”. We took the North East Line MRT from “Little India Station” to “Outram Park” and East West Line MRT from there to “Boonlay” Interchange. Then we asked from an information counter about the directions to get a bus, The kind lady there reminded us that we will be needing the exact amount of change in cash in order to use the bus without the prepaid travel card. There was 194 Bus which goes directly to the Jurong Bird Park just outside the MRT Station, and we were able to collect required amount in coins for the bus ticket! 😀

When I searched online for information about these park, zoo and safaris, found out that all parks are planned in a way that you have to walk the full circle to cover the entire attraction but all of them have a tram ride or a boat ride to get a quick glance at them within short amount of time. As I wanted to see them all, I decided not to use the tram rides in Jurong Bird Park and Singapore Zoo.

We arrived at the Park around 9.30 am and hurried in to the ticket counters as it was starting to getting crowded. We brought Tickets for the all four parks (There was a big discount if you are buying tickets to the all four parks at once, Tickets are Valid within a week of the date of purchase) for 69 SGD per person. We took a minute to see the Jurong Bird Park Map and started from the Penguin Coast. A group of penguins were swimming and playing in an open pool near a model of a large ship. I found out that they are a special species of Penguins that live in a bit warm weather.
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Then we went to the “World of Darkness” featuring different kinds of Owls. There was a special request from the zoo to remain quiet there as noise may disturb those sleepy birds. The zoo have tried to create the best natural living conditions, where owls were harder to spot among close to nature backgrounds.
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We got to know that a bird Show called “High Flyers” will be there at Pools amphitheater from 11.00 am, which was located next in our route. But as there was around 30 minutes more, we decided to visit “Heliconia Walk” first. The path directed us towards a small hill, where many small colorful birds were displayed. That area wasn’t crowded as all visitors might have been waiting for the bird show at pools amphitheater. Then we walked to the “Royal Rumble” passing the “Wetlands” where different types of cranes lived.
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“Royal Rumble” was home to couple of bird species with attractive feathers and colors. peafowls and many other birds (I can’t recall their names) with feather crowns were resting under the shades of shrubs. After that we hurried back to the pools amphitheater for the “High Flyers” Bird show.
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The theater was filled with visitors and luckily we found a free space just in the middle to sit. Soon the show started with large colorful birds flying over just above our heads. They had trained them to catch fruits on the flight and fly through rings etc. The narrator always explained something related to their natural behavior with each activity birds did. It was very informative as well as attractive. The show ended with few dozens of birds, just hanging around with visitors near the stage for a photo shoot!
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Our Next stop was “Hornbills and Toucans” and “Window on Paradise”. There were many informative displays about Hornbills and their lifestyle. Many Hornbills with colorful beaks were there but the steel netted cages blocked my camera view.
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“Birds of Prey”, “Jungle Jewels”, “Bird Discovery Centre”, “Wings of Asia”, “Dinosaur Descendants”, “Swan Lake” and “Waterfall Aviary” were next in our route. The whole setup was in a close to nature way, creating a healthy atmosphere for the resident birds. Birds living freely inside the Aviary was something attractive.
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“Pelican Cove”, “Flamingo Lake” and “Riverine” were our last sections to visit before deciding to have lunch in the nearby Pizza Hut outlet. The food was tasty but only afterward we realized that there is a place called “Hawk Cafe” which we could have tried. Soon as the lunch was finished, we rushed to the Taxi Stand and left around 1.30 pm to “Singapore Zoo”.
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Singapore – What to Know Before Traveling

MapSingapore is an Island nation which is one of the few countries where the capitol is same as the country. It is around 750 square kilometers including all new reclamation, with the east-west length of around 40 km and north-south length of around 20 km. Here are some important facts for the first time travelers to the Garden Island, Singapore.

Visa

Singapore offers On-arrival visa  for many nationalities. You can check further details from following link. Make sure to keep the last part of the boarding document given as it may be required to produce whenever necessary. You can find the list of countries who have On-Arrival visa here.

Weather

Singapore has almost constant weather activities all around the year. As it is located near the equator the climate is bit warm. There will be a drizzle in the afternoon which will be over in about an hour, So better be prepared if you are planning to walk or visit a park. You can use an weather app just to make sure.

Transport

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Main three transportation methods in Singapore are MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), Buses or Taxis. Singapore highly promotes the usage of Public transport. Therefore, you can experience one of the best public transportation systems there. There are even driver-less MRTs. If you are planning to travel more on public transport, it is recommended to buy a Singapore Tourist Pass, which will save you a lot!

MRTs are the cheapest option for traveling. Singapore has a good train network, covering almost every place you need to go and it is further evolving. You need a ticket to enter the MRT platform. If you don’t have a Tourist pass you can purchase a ticket from the automated machines at each MRT station, which you still can recharge and reuse to get discounts on your 3rd and 6th rides.


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Buses are the next cheap mode of transport. Traveling in the Buses will be tricky if you don’t have that re-chargeable card. Then you will need the exact amount of bus fare as there is no bus conductor. So better be aware of the bus fare and recheck your wallet for change before getting in on a bus.

Taxis are common in Singapore, but may cost you more than public transport. There are Taxi stands at common places where you can get one by being in the queue. Else you can use services like Uber.

Other than above modes of transport Walking and Cycling are the best ways to explore Singapore. Some places rent bicycles for daily basis. But with the hassle of  finding a place to safely park the bicycle I would prefer walking. Singapore has this amazing concept of sheltered walkways, which they said to have constructed shelters above more than 50% of the walkway length.

Communication

You can always use roaming facility of your mobile service provider. But I strongly suggest to purchase Starhub, Singtel or any other SIM which you can find every corner. They come with complementary Data allocation which you can use to make calls through Viber or similar methods cheaper than the standard roaming charges.

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Singaporeans are generally very open minded people. They do not have conservative mindset like most of other Asian countries. There are many ethnic groups living together in peace and harmony. There main language is Malay, but all speaks English fluently. There are certain areas named according to the ethnicity of the people who live there. China town, Little India and Arab Street are examples. But Singapore encourages people to live as mixed ethnic groups, they even try to maintain the racial balance in apartment buildings! Singaporeans don’t try to talk much, but they are social and a kind crowd. They respect their elders and take special care of the young. They are very conscious about physical health and most of them spend their evenings in a gym, working out or in doing cardio in walking tracks.

Food

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Singaporean cuisines are rich as they have all Malay, Chinese and Indian influences. There are Open areas with many food stalls called Hawker Centers everywhere you go.  Singapore encourages small scale food stalls by low rentals on Hawker center food stalls, so that they can sell meals at a lower price. That way even people with lowest incomes can survive. There are all kinds of international food chains in Singapore, but people tend to give lower preference to those as they have many more to choose from. There are middle level restaurants that the price can be high as two times the Hawker center and small scale restaurant prices and High end restaurants that you can spend a fortune for a meal!

“Do”s and “Don’t”s

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  1. Do offer your seat for elders, pregnant ladies and people with infants when you are traveling in public transport.
  2. Always use the pedestrian crossings or over passes to cross the roads.
  3. Always use the designated bins to throw garbage, else you will be fined.
  4. Singaporeans admire silence in Public transport, try not to shout.
  5. Don’t consume Chewing-gum as it is prohibited in the country, you will be fined.
  6. Don’t use or keep Drugs as it is prohibited. Singapore give death penalty to drug traffickers.
  7. Don’t eat or Drink in Public Transport, you will be fined.
  8. Don’t take Dooriyan to Buses or MRTs, you will be fined.
  9. Don’t leave tips at restaurants.

Must Visit Places

  1. Gardens by the Bay (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  2. Marina by the Bay (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  3. Sentosa Island (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  4. Jurong Bird park
  5. Singapore zoo, River Safari and Night Safari (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  6. China Town, Little India, Arab Street (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  7.  Singapore Botanical Gardens and National Orchid Gardens (Trip report will be uploaded soon)

Special Articles

  1. Singapore Food Hunt (Trip report will be uploaded soon)
  2. Shopping in Singapore (Trip report will be uploaded soon)

Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

mapCrew : 5

Transportation : Car

Duration : Two Days

 

When I was invited to a road trip to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa by one of my friends, I had my doubts whether will it be interesting as I have visited those places many times in my childhood.  But when he told me that two foreigners along with another Sri Lankan friend will join, I couldn’t resist. I’ve always wanted to travel Sri Lanka (at least a part of it) with foreigners and see it through their eyes, experience the difficulties they face. Therefore, I gladly confirmed my participation.

My friend came all the way from Kurunegala by his car and picked me up from Kandy around 8.30 am. We went straight to Dambulla and had some short eats for breakfast. Then left to Sigiriya. Other three participants were on a two week long trip, which started on the previous week and we joined them at the place they spend the last night at Sigiriya. We had a cup of tea while they checked out. Then headed to Anuradhapura. We talked about their travel experiences in Sri Lanka on the previous couple of Days and they were really friendly.

It was about 11am when we reached Anuradhapura town. We all were hungry and decided to look for a good place to eat. Once we stopped the car and got out, we realized how hot it was. We quickly went in to the nearest restaurant and luckily we had a tasty Brunch and appreciable service there. Around 11.30am we got back in to the car and started driving through the complex road network, in search of the Anuradhapura Old (puja) Town.

Being three out of us five are locals, it was hard to find the ticketing office for foreigners. We saw “Isurumuniya” name board and parked the car. Though I have visited Anuradhapura few times in my childhood, I haven’t been to Isurumuniya before. So I was excited as much as our two German friends! It was early May and we felt like sun have came closer by few light years. As it was a temple, we had to remove our shoes and hats. The floor was burning hot so we darted to a shady corner inside the premises. There wasn’t much to see in the left side so we went in to the “Vihara geya”. There are some paintings in the ceiling. We saw two famous stone carvings called “Man and the horse head” and “Elephants playing in the water”. There are few explanations about the “Man and the horse head” carving, but the famous idea is a soldier resting with his horse. The elephants were carved in the bottom of the rock, just above the water. So it seems the elephants are playing in the pond.

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It was too hot to walk outside. One of us was holding a shawl over the head to cover the unbearable heat. One of the guards screamed saying that it is not allowed inside the premises. Knowing the teachings of lord Buddha, we decided  it is not worth to spend our time explaining it to him and went to a shade near the entrance. There we met a local elderly female who quickly became friendly and expressed her worries about not providing a reasonable service for foreigners for the money they charge to visit Anuradhapura Puja Town. We came back to the car park and went to the “Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi”, a sapling of the Bo tree which gave shade to Lord Buddha for Enlightening. There were many fences with gold plating around the “Bodhi” and a stone outer wall. Normally it is not allowed to go inside those fences, so we walked around the the “Weli Maluwa” observing the pilgrims worshiping the sacred tree. Surprisingly it was much cooler under the “Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi” and we spent some time there before going back. With the not being able to bear the rays of mighty sun, we decided to go back to our accommodation (A Circuit Bungalow of my friend’s Company) and come back in the afternoon. After a shower we went straight to a nap, woke up around 3pm for our evening session. But the sky was gloomy and we hurried to cover all the places before a heavy shower.

On the way back we located the tourist information center in google maps and contacted the telephone number. The three of us Sri Lankan were embarrassed as a lady answered the call and explained that it is not an information center, but her house.  There was no direction alongside of the road about the tourist ticketing counter either. So we followed google maps for the tourist information center. Unfortunately the rain started and we were forced to go back to our accommodation by the half flooded roads and lightening. So it was time for us to re-plan the itinerary. As our German friends needed to visit the remaining places in Anuradhapura, we thought it is best to cover Anuradhapura in the next day morning quickly as possible and then visit Polonnaruwa via Aukana in the evening. We had an early dinner and went to sleep as soon as we could.
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We woke up in the morning and had our breakfast from the place we stayed. Food was tasty but we quickly finished it to start our visit. As we inquired from the Circuit keeper, he directed us to the Jethawanaramaya Museum where we could purchase All-in-One Anuradhapura Ticket for our German friends. We quickly covered the museum and went to the mighty Jethawanaramaya by the vehicle (You also can walk there, but the distance is considerably high and we were in a hurry, so we used the car).  It was amazing to imagine how things were at those old times while walking around them.

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Then we went to the Ruwanweli Seya, The Pagoda made by king Dutugemunu. Folklore reveals that even The king himself contributed the construction by bringing up bricks. In the final stages of the construction, Younger brother Saddhathissa takes over the project as King Dutugemunu falls sick. At the deathbed King Dutugemunu requests to see the completed pagoda. As there was not enough time to complete it before the great king dies, Prince Saddhathissa covers the uncompleted parts of the pagoda by white linen and take the king there. It is said that the king believed the construction was over, Worshiped the pagoda just before his last breath. At the time we visited there was a “Kap-ruk Pooja”, an offering of linen to the pagoda and it was getting crowded as it was two days before Wesak holidays. Between Ruwanweli seya and Sri Maha Bodiya (which we visited the day before) there is another special location called Lowamahapaya. Though now there are only ground level stone pillars left, It is said that there were a nine story building with a Bronze colored roof (hence the name, Lowa-Maha-Prasadaya) which remained the tallest building of the country except the pagodas Ruwanweli seya, Abhayagiriya and Jethawanaramaya between 155BC and 993AD. This building was destroyed by the attacks during the reign of King Saddhathissa and he had reconstructed it with seven stories.

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Our next stop was the Abhayagiriya Complex, which was used as a college to Bikkhus (Buddhist Monks) in the Anuradhapura era. Therefore, the ruins are spread around a vast area. Credit of Abhayagiri Pagoda construction goes to the youngest son of King Saddhathissa, king Walagamba ( 103 BC, 89-77 BC). As soon as he came to the throne there was an Indian Invasion which he couldn’t withstand, he retreated. At that time there was a Jain Shrine in this place and it is said the priest named “Giri” insulted the King “Here the great black Sinhalese King is retreating”. It took another 14 year for King Walagamba to defeat the invaders, but when he did He built this giant Stupa on the location of that Jain Shrine and named the Pagoda by combining the King’s name (Abhaya) and the Jain Priest’s name (Giri).

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After that we went to the “Samadhi Statue” of Lord Buddha. It was wonderful to see how the craftsmen have finished the live-like stone statue. It is believed there were four statues like this around a Bodhiya (Bo Tree), but the tree and other three statues are destroyed.  Then we stopped at “Thuparamaya” which is considered as the first Pagoda constructed after introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. This was constructed by King Devanampiyathissa, enshrining the color bone of Lord Buddha. As the name reveals Thupa (Pagoda) + Aramaya (Where monks reside), there are ruins scattered around the pagoda which are suspected to be the roof for monks. With Thuparamaya, we finished our Anuradhapura tour and started our journey to Polonnaruwa via Awukana.

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It was around 12 pm when we reached “Awukana” after a long ride on countryside roads. The name “Awukana” means “Under the harsh sun rays”. The Standing Statue of Lord Buddha was constructed during the reign of King Dhathusena, Father of King Kashyapa (who resided in Sigiriya). Recently a roof over the masterpiece of skillful Sri Lankan craftsmanship has been constructed, but as our German friend highlighted it obstructs the grand view. It will be better if the roof height can be increased, but don’t know about the feasibility. They charge 1000LKR from foreigners just to see the statue. Sadly it would have been better if they could do some value addition to the visit at least like a Ticket with the Image of Awukana Statue with related information for the price foreigners have to pay. We brought some biscuits from a nearby shop, so we can wait until we reach Polonnaruwa for Lunch (A very late Lunch) . On the way back we slowed down a bit to capture the breathtaking view over the waters of “Kala wewa” which was also constructed and treasured by the King Dhathusena.

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It was around 3.30 pm when we reached Polonnaruwa. One of our friends had recommended a place to have the lunch, so we tracked the location. Google maps directed us along a narrow road off the main Road (A11) in between light green paddy fields. When we arrived the place, all we could see was a garden adjacent to a house and a young man working with some banana trees. We were worried that this must be a wrong place, but gladly the he confirmed that it is “Jaga Food”. We got a warm welcome and he ushered us to the restaurant i the back of the garden. It was an open area next to a pond with visitors’ comments all over on the ceiling. Though it was very late for lunch, they had their Lunch Buffet open. It was one of the tastiest rice and curry buffets i have been and they had Curd & Trickle, Papaya and Sri Lankan Pan cakes (A yellowish pan cake wrapped around a lump of pol pani – a coconut and trickle mix). Our hungry tummies as well as the souls were filled with their delicious food and hospitality. Our German friends took a minute to made a comment on their ceiling and we hurried to Polonnaruwa town after thanking Jaga and his wife.

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It was easy to find the Pollonnaruwa ticketing place at the Archeological museum as Jaga gave us the directions. Pollonnaruwa ruins were fairly located near to each other and we could access them by a vehicle (must-walk distance is very low). First we took a right turn as we entered the from the gate to visit ruins of the palace called “Vaijayanthi Prasadaya” of King Parakramabahu the first (1153-1186 BC). The main building is said be of seven stories and consisted of 1000 chambers but there is only signs of three stories and 55 chambers at present. South Indian invader called “Maaga” had set fire to this palace to destroy and you still can see burn marks on the brick wall. There were numerous remains of the royal palace scattered around and we were amazed to see that the drainage network of that time is still in good condition. We walked along the ancient paved pathway to visit the “Kumara Pokuna” (The royal bathing Place). It is said that this was constructed by King Parakramabahu, in his garden called “Nandana Uyana” which was below the level of palace. A nearby canal was used to bring water and poured into via two sprouts made like “Dragons”.

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Then we moved to the next ruins cluster, which is to the left from the main entrance. “Thivanka Pilimageya” is an image house as the name implies which was constructed by King Parakramabahu (1153-1186 AD). “Thivanka” means bent in three places,and the Buddha statue in here is bent from the Shoulder, Hip and the Knee (This pose is common in the guard stones). The Buddha statue is  believed to be about 8m in height but now it is less as the part above the head has been destroyed. Interior wall of this building is decorated with Polonnaruwa era paintings of “Jathaka Katha” and Incidents from the life of Lord Buddha while the exterior walls are decorated with various stone statues. It was so dark inside the building at that time, so i couldn’t take a good picture of the statue and paintings inside.
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“Watadageya” is in front of Thivanka Pilimageya and it is a Round (Wata) Stupa (Da) House (Geya).  There are few “watadageya” s in Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa Watadageya is considered the best remaining of it’s kind. Madirigiriya and Thuparamaya (both in Anuradhapura) are other best examples. This is believed to be constructed by King Parakramabahu to safe keeping of the Tooth Relic or a work of King Nishshankamalla to hold the “Pathraya” (Alms Bowl) of Lord Buddha. A stone fence with very detailed designs and columns covers the inner brick wall which encloses the Stupa and Buddha Statues.

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Then there is “Atadageya”next to it, which once hold the sacred Tooth relic. This said to be a two story building constructed by King Vijayabahu the First. There is another more closed sturcture called “Hetadageya” adjacent to “Atadageya”. There is a Stone Door frame with very deatailed carvings and the stone walls have inscriptions. Walls are believed to be decorated with frescoes and carvings. This building too had multi stories and the remaining section of stair case is still in good condition. Finally we visited “Sathmahal Prasadaya” at the same site. As the name Sath (seven) Mahal (Story) Prasadaya (Building) implies there are seven stories to this building (Which are still can be seen). This is said to be a Square shaped Stupa, which is very rare in Sri Lanka.
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Then we drove to the Pollonnaruwa Gal Vihara complex car park under the gloomy dark sky. It started to drizzle as we walked towrds Gal viharaya but as it was our last stop, we didn’t care to wait till it stops. The distance we had to walk is less than 500m. There are four Granite Statues of Lord Buddha in all three poses. One large statue in seated pose adjacent to a smaller similar statue inside a “Kuti” (room) called “Vidyadara Guhawa”. A standing statue and a reclining statue. The place said to be called “Uththararamaya” andconsidered to be a work of King Parakramabahu the First. Recently a roof has been constructed over these figures in order to protect them. We couldn’t spend much time there due to the rain and we came back to the parking lot and started to drive back home. We reached Kandy around 9pm and our foreign friends stayed with the plans to visit Kandy on the next day. Read about our visit to Kandy.

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Hot Air Ballooning

MapCrew : 13
Transportation : Cars (To Dambulla), Hot Air Balloon
Duration : Two days

One of my friends invited  me to join for a Hot Air Balloon ride. I was surprised by the invitation as i thought it was a bit unaffordable luxury, and immediately inquired about the cost. It was way cheaper than i was expecting, so i confirmed my participation without a hesitation.

The Balloon ride starts early in the morning, so me and few other friends thought it will be best to go to Dambulla on the day before. Three of us came from Colombo directly to Dambulla by bus. The one who invited me, drove his car all the way from Kurunegala and picked me and another one from Kandy. We all reached Dambulla around 2.30 pm and decided to have a late Lunch. It took us more than an hour to finish the lunch as we were busy talking, than eating.

We had reserved a place in Dambulla for six of us to stay, and it took a while to figure out the exact location. It was a hot evening in Dambulla, so we rushed in to the rooms and turned on the AC’s. It was around 7.30 pm when I finished resting and had a shower.
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It was time to search for a place to have dinner!
We walked to Dambulla town under the faint street lights. The streets were less crowded, but there were few long distant buses waiting for passengers. We settled for a place with privacy and Air condition after checking out few other restaurants. They offered the menu and we had a very hard time deciding what to eat. But when we are going to place the order, the waiter said there is only Fried Rice and Noodles! So we had to select again, but it was easier to pick one out of two.

When we were going back to the hotel, I met an old lady selling “Pera” (Guava) outside the restaurant. I was wondering, are there anyone interested in buying Guava from the street around 9pm. I felt bad for her and bought one. We had to take showers again after the walk and felt asleep as soon as head hit the pillow.

The alarms rang and I woke up within a second with the excitement for a ride of a lifetime. We were ready by 5am and the guys from “Sri Lanka Balloon” contacted us to inform that they have arrived to the Hotel gate. We hurried in to the van. They picked up two foreigners on the way and started driving on a narrow road towards a village. Soon we saw a Lorry, carrying the basket of the Balloon. It was the first time for all of us to see a Balloon, so we focused our excited eyes and cameras for a glimpse of that through the darkness.  The take-off point was a school ground. The rest of our team arrived there by two cars. One was from Colombo and the other one from Kandy. There were 13 of us in the team, five girls and eight boys. We completed the payments before take-off and watched the crew working hard to prepare the Balloon.

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There were two Balloons, one for us and another one for few foreigners. It took two lorries to carry the basket and the Inflating part of a Balloon. They assembled them together and started filling air with portable industrial fans. Our pilot then took position in the basket and blew “Hot Air” in to the Balloon. It only took about 15 minutes to fill the balloon with air and we were asked to jump in to the basket.

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With another shoot of gas in to the Balloon, we were ascending over the trees. It was a gentle take-off and no one was afraid at that moment, though we have analyzed the risks earlier. Still the sun was sleeping and sky was dark. Within few minutes we were about 700 meters high and watching the very first rays of sun light over the Kandalama Lake. That was a breathtaking scenery to watch, up from the sky. We all were busy with our cameras to capturing that awesome moment. Our Turkish pilot, Umit was very friendly and shared his experiences and showed photos of his Balloon rides in Turky.

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There were another two Balloons in the sky with us. We had to spend some time over the Kandalama Lake as there was less wind to carry us away. We saw people coming out of the houses to have a closer look at the Balloons floating over. Though ballooning has started some time ago, most of the villagers were excited to see us. We saw the lorries (witch brought the balloon to the take-off point) were following the balloon. Umit said that as the pilot can only control the vertical movement of the balloon, the landing destination depends on the wind at that time. We were able to see Dambulla Cave Temple, Sigiriya and Pidurangala from the distance, after the mist faded off. After about 1.5 hours we were floating tree height in search of a good landing place. We were able to pick the leaves from top of the trees and wasn’t afraid of a crash landing as we saw how skilled our pilot was.

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I was hungry at this point and was glad that I took the Guava (that i purchased last night) with me. It was tasty and I regretted not buying more. There was an empty space between few houses near a road. Our pilot descended the balloon about ten feet high above the ground and threw the Sand bag attached to the basket by a rope to the crew in the ground. They pulled the rope and tied it. The landing too was gentle and we didn’t feel a thing. The crew asked us to stay in the basket and the pilot opened the top part of the balloon to let the hot air out. Then we came out and the crew was busy folding the balloon. There were around 20 people staring and photographing our landing. The Crew gave us small gifts to distribute among the village kids and we felt like celebrities!
😀

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After few minutes we gathered in a nearby open space, There was a Champagne to celebrate, and soft drinks. There was an action camera hanging from the side of the balloon and they were recording our ride. We purchased the video and received certificates for the balloon ride. It was around 8.30 in the morning and they provided transport back to our hotel. We quickly packed our bags and checked-out. Our next stop was the place we had brunch yesterday. The Breakfast was tasty and we had a lot to talk about until 10.30 am. Then we decided to visit Sigiriya, the rock fortress of King Kashyapa and came back to Kandy around 5.30pm.

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Photo Credits : Amila Dananjaya De Silva, Chamitha Rathnayake, Chamith Nilanka Wijesinghe, Cabe Abeyrathne

Contact : Sri Lanka Balloon, https://www.facebook.com/srilankaballoon/