I wasn’t totally ready to leave the beach, but I was excited to see other aspects of Sri Lanka.
Michael had found and booked a safari guide for Udawalawe National Park, which was around 2/2.5 hours northeast of Talalla. We had contemplated staying a night or two in Udawalawe (maybe in a treehouse), but in the end we decided it didn’t require that much time so we planned it as a stop over between Talalla and Ella. Which was the right decision.
We woke up at 3:30 a.m. and then got a knock at our door at 3:55 a.m. from the lovely villa manager who had came in early to make us tea and coffee. Seriously, Handun Villas was one of our favorite places we stayed.
We had arranged a driver for the day to pick us up at 4:30 a.m. and wait for us while we did the safari before taking us the rest of the way to Ella.
Now, there are a few different national parks to choose to visit for a safari tour. The most popular is probably Yala, which is east of Tangalle. It’s known for its leopards, which there are still only 20 or 30 in the park. The sightings are rare and if one is spotted all the safari jeeps race to view it causing a clogged traffic jam. But if you want to see one head to Yala.
Udawalawe is the place to go to see elephants. Seriously, I was not expecting to see that many, and it was so magical to see them out in the wild instead of in some sort of enclosure. There were also a ton of beautiful birds, which I’m normally indifferent to, but our guide was really enthusiastic, knew a lot and had a great eye for picking them out. We saw water buffalo, crocodiles, a chameleon. But the best was seeing a maybe 2 week old baby elephant.
A few other places you can go and what you’ll see in Sri Lanka:
+ Wasgamuwa (NE of Kandy) — elephants
+ Sinharaja Forest (N of Mirissa) — birds
+ Minneriya (N of Dambulla and Polonnaruwa) — in Sept/Oct 300 elephants converge on the Lake
+ Horton Plains (S of Nuwara Eliya) — birds + ‘World’s End’. The train from Ella went through Horton Plains and boy oh boy it was beautiful.
+ Wilpattu (NW coast) — sloth bears and it’s the largest park
+ Knuckles (NE of Kandy) — lizards
The following day we hiked Little Adams Peak, which was such a chill hike past tea fields and ended with a stunning view of the valley and Ella Rock. We sat up there for quite some time taking it all in, and then made our way down and decided to stop for lunch at the swanky 98 Acres. The prices there are super reasonable so I suggest making that stop. We decided to hit the Nine Arches Bridge on our way back to town, and it was a fun little path to get down to it. We waited to watch the train go by and then walked along the tracks back into town.
We had planned to hike Ella Rock, which is a 3-4 hour hike (Little Adams Peak took an hour to get to, plus a little more to hang out up there). But we all woke up the next day feeling a bit iffy so we decided to hang out around town. Everything I had read about Ella was pretty misleading. Everyone said the town was crap, but to go for the surrounding area. And while the scenery did not disappoint, neither did the town. There was a little strip on the Main Street that had a ton of food and cafe options.
While in Ella I had one full body massage one day and a head and leg massage another day. Neither of them were very noteworthy. I mostly felt like I was just getting oiled up, and I always find myself wishing they would put a little more umphf into their massages, but the prices weren’t bad.
The following day we made our way on the train to Nuwara Eliya. The manager of our hotel was kind enough to go to the train station that morning to get us tickets with reserved seats. And because he got the tickets they set aside for employees they were a steal of a deal. But you can very easily get 2nd or 3rd class tickets for next to nothing, and if it’s not too busy you’ll probably get a seat. But if not find a door to hang out next to.
The train from Ella to Kandy is said to be the most beautiful train ride, and we did about half of it on our way to Nuwara Eliya. The station is actually 20 minutes away and called Nanu Oya, which confused us at first when we were looking up train schedules.
We got some veggie samosas on the train, talked to a family who were both English teachers and spent a lot of time hanging out by the open door.
Ok, so Nuwara Eliya. It’s the weirdest place we visited in Sri Lanka and possibly the weirdest town I’ve gone to. It wasn’t a town until a Brit came through and said, this reminds me of England, let’s build a town here. So, it became known as the home away from home for those visiting Sri Lanka from England. So, it’s this odd mix of Sri Lanka and England.
We had high tea at the Grand Hotel, which was my first high tea experience so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but our friends from Bristol said it could have been a lot better. I’d still recommend it, and to check out the hotel.
That night we went over to Saint Andrews Hotel, which was probably my favorite place in Nuwara Eliya. They have a 100+ year old billiards table. I’ve only ever seen pool tables and billiard tables are huge in comparison. It has all the original parts and has only been buffed. The boys decided to play a game, which I think cost like 650 rp ($4) for 45 minutes. They have a guy who’s only job is to work in the billiards room. He was awesome, and very encouraging to the guys, who started off the game a bit rough.
At one point another traveler came in, he was a professor in South Korea and informed us that the billiards table had been brought from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya by six elephants, and it took them 6 months to get there. I would love to see a drawing of that.
They also had a few fireplaces in the hotel, which felt great to curl up next to because it is noticeably chillier in Nuwara Eliya. We had to wear pants and a sweater or two to stay warm at night.
Nuwara Eliya is worth seeing, but I would only spend a day, maybe two there if I had to do it again.
Our friends had to leave a few days early so we all decided to head up to Negombo together, and ended up stopping at Bluefields Tea Factory and Ramboda Falls on the way there. Which was a much needed stop because that was by far the windiest, vomit inducing ride I’ve gone on.
The tour at Bluefields was fascinating, and free. I learned a lot. For example I didn’t know that black tea was fermented or the difference between white, green and black tea.
Ramboda Falls doesn’t look like a place you want to stop from the road. I could have easily passed it by, but Michael wanted to go for a swim. So, we made the 20 minute hike up to the top, and man I was happy we didn’t skip it.
One week left.