I strongly believe that every child deserves the right to an education. Having been lucky enough to be University educated in the United Kingdom, it is something I value highly.
One thing I have learnt since being in Uganda, is that things don’t often work out as expected. After all, this is Africa. Yesterday, my plans to start health screening on the oldest nursery school children, were knocked on the head. We needed to print more screening sheets but as the power was down, we were unable to.
On my way back to the lodge to sort the papers, I passed a small boy. Bare foot and dressed in rags, talking to the staff outside the gate, they were trying to round up enough money for a bus fare. It turns out the boy had been found earlier in the morning, sleeping in a ditch outside the lodge. He had spent the night there. Visibly in pain, he limped towards us.
His name was Paulo and he was 11 years old. With nurse Rosen’s help, we established that his father had taken him to his sisters, where he was to work for an old lady as her cow boy. He walked there and back each day and after working two months, reasonably asked for some money. At this request, the old lady ‘chased him away’. He went back to his sisters, who instead of helping him, made him start walking back home.
It had taken him 4 days to reach here and he lives near Mburo, another 3 hours drive away. There was no way, with any conscience, that I could have just let him get on a bus when he could barely stand. Instead, I picked him up and piggy backed him to the lodge where he could shower and change.
This was very emotional.
This photo captures the moment perfectly. Sitting outside the staff showers, waiting. It is heart-breaking, in this moment, to see a broken child.
He stripped off his rags, torn and dirty and dropped them on the floor. Standing malnourished, naked and vulnerable, he just looked at me. He was placing all of his faith in a complete stranger. More than that, in a white stranger, whom he could only communicate with on a basic level.
I fetched a bar of soap from my room and my towel and ran the shower for him. I have no idea if he has running water at home, although it is still rare in our region, so I doubt it. Despite his fears and exhaustion, it was obvious the pleasure he took as soon as he stepped under the water.
Naked, swollen-bellied and eyes closed, a small smile danced across his lips. Despite his ordeals, he stayed in the shower and scrubbed every area of his body with the feverishness of someone who has not washed in days and the conscientiousness of someone much older than his years, who knew to take full advantage of this opportunity.
Dripping, he stepped out of the shower and I wrapped him in a towel. I’d set Rosen the task of trying to find some spare clothes from the donations that may fit him but after holding a recent market to make money for the school, we had no children’s or men’s clothes left. We managed to find an old shirt and school jumper but no bottoms would fit his tiny frame. Eventually, Tony found a smallish pair of shorts with a draw string waist, some of his own, that did the job perfectly.
Stepping out of the store room Paolo looked like a completely different child and I showed him a photo of how he looked in his new clothes. Lifting him up onto my back I grabbed a banana from the kitchen and a large bottle of water from the bar.
We got back to the others and little Paulo was unrecognisable. Sitting down under the shade of the registration tent, I took a look at his feet and his left ankle was acutely sprained. Very tender and swollen he was now struggling to even stand, so I grabbed our only bandage from the clinic and strapped it as best I could.
We grabbed him a soda and some bread and set up a mattress for him to lie on in the shade. He tried to stay awake to listen to our conversation but eventually drifted off into the most peaceful looking sleep.
When he woke, he finished his food and drink and, well rested, I carried him back to the road to wait for the bus. Along with bus money, we packed a bag with his rags, some biscuits, a few pencils and a letter folded in his top pocket explaining how we found him and that a bright young boy like him should be in school and not working. We explained that as a school, we are able to provide bursaries and hope that the family will contact us to let Paulo continue his education.
He is the sweetest boy. I’m so glad we were able to take him in and show him kindness, even if just for the day. However, it is heart-breaking to know that once he gets home, we have no way of knowing how he will be received or if his family will agree to let him continue school instead of working.
There are so many injustices in the world and it is so sad when it happens to young children. I pray that the letter we sent with him will be enough to change his future. If he were able to return, I would pay his school fees myself without hesitation to keep him here, safe and away from child labour. It is so sad to be in this situation as, despite all that appears best for him, the only option, the right option, is to send him on his way and return to his parents. I guess all I can do is hope that they get in contact with our director when he returns.
If you want to contribute to my overseas work, then please follow this link below to my crowdfunding page.
Believe it or not it has taken over 2 hours to write the title. I am fully submerged into Ugandan life and finding any spare time to blog is as hard as ever. I’m finally getting out my laptop and I have an excitable 11-year-old next to me who won’t let my concentration drift even for a minute. We have discussed the reason for a belly button; worked out basic mental arithmetic and pretended to talk without teeth. Needless to say, it makes writing a little tricky; when school term starts in a fortnight it may become a little easier, but I’m not too convinced.
Life in Africa is exactly as expected, everything runs at a slower pace, on African time. The nearest town to where I am staying is Ntungamo, in Western Uganda, near the Rwandan border. The people of Uganda are friendly and inviting and as area I’m working in is fairly remote, it is still rare to come across white people which makes everyone is excited to see you! They point, stare and wave shouting ‘Muzungu’: white person.
Whilst staying in Africa I’m residing at a guesthouse adjacent to a school and when not working at the local hospital or health centre, free time is spent renovating the school before term starts and rounding up and playing with the local children whenever possible.
In addition to a school, the guesthouse I am attached to has a medical centre over the road and a development building which has brick making, sewing machines, shoe making and a barber to teach local trades. Much of this is still under development and they are hoping to set up more vocational style work for children to go into, that are unable to study at secondary school due to academic or financial reasons.
The whole development was started by a single, remarkable man named Denis. As a child he did not attend school, along with many other children in the area and the at the age of 13, became a child soldier. Now he is older, he still works for the Ugandan army but has started up this entire project with the aim to ensure that every child in his neighbourhood can get an education and access to health care.
The money Denis makes through various projects and volunteer opportunities is all reinvested into the community with any money being contributed to the school’s development and bursaries for the local children that cannot afford it. All the government schools in Uganda charge for attendance about 35 000/ term, this is approx. £7GBP. As this is a private school the fees are a little higher, also offering the addition to board for children from further away, however as this is heavily subsidised by charitable donations it generally works out at a similar price to the government run schools. Any families that cannot afford to pay cash are often allowed to pay in goods, for example beans or bananas and as long as it can be utilised by the school they are happy to accept it.
As mentioned, fees can be heavily subsidised, children at the school can be sponsored to attend and bursaries given to poorer households. Yet despite this, some children still cannot afford to attend. The area I am in is predominantly farming land and this also contributes to the main conditions seen at the health centre.
Due to the poverty there are limited water supplies and water is collected by children and families from water sources often polluted with animal waste, this gives rise to high incidences of typhoid and H-pylori. On my first morning at the clinic, every child that attended had one of these conditions and it is generally related to poor water access and not boiling water before drinking.
Other conditions common at the clinic include malaria and mosquito born pathologies. To reduce incidences of malaria in Uganda the government have issued free mosquito nets to families however, despite this they are seldom used. Often when visiting homes mosquito nets are found unused, for storage or even on occasion as fishing nets. This leads to large quantities of people catching malaria, however, as it can be fairly easily treated if caught early, the locals treat it in the same manner as catching a cold in the UK.
If you want to read more about the types of medical conditions I’ve seen then read my posts on [The Local Hospital] and Ugandan Community Visits.
Nuwara Eliya (pronounced as one word) is often referred to as ‘Little England’ and it is easy to see why. This beautiful city in hill country in Central Provence is full of quintessentially British charms and with the addition of the temperate climate, it’s a welcome change if like me, you struggle in the heat!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all Brits LOVE tea and being a stereotype, tea was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Sri Lanka and it has not disappointed. The first tea plantation in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was cultivated in 1867 by James Taylor, having made a trip over to India to learn about tea plantations. From here the business boomed.
Nuwara Eliya is world renouned for tea and if you have the time in Sri Lanka I would definitely recommend visiting the tea plantations here instead of Ella. 2 days is a good length of time to spend here and below is my suggested itinerary:
Visit Victoria Park
Tour of a tea factory and estate
Lover’s Leap waterfall
Take high tea at the Grand Hotel
Walk around the racecourse and down past the lake
Onwards train from Nanu Oya to Ella
Visit Victoria Park
Victoria Park is a public park by the centre of town and a nice place to walk around and sit and read a book. Compared to the rest of our trip around Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya was a good place to wind down and relax a little, so take the most of these opportunities.
Despite being a public park, tourists are expected to pay entry to maintain the park and this is a common theme in Nuwara Eliya, even some footpaths have tourist fees!
Also the disadvantage to this is that often it is all fenced off so there is only one clear entrance and exit and you essentially become trapped, so to get out we cheekily jumped a bit of fencing by the bus station in order to get out without having to go all the way around and along the main road again.
Tour of tea factory and estate
On the drive in to Nuwara Eliya we passed hundreds of tea estates as we winded our way around the hill sides passing through plantations with very English names, my favourites being Devon, Somerset and Blackpool!
Just out of the main centre of Nuwara Eliya there are tea plantations as far as the eye can see and some are better renowned than others and produce better quality teas (so do your research before hand – we were advised against the main ones such as Bluefield Tea Factory on the road from Kandy) and instead were recommended Pedro Estate by a few Sri Lankans. It may not be the most picturesque but it was very convenient; just a short tuk-tuk ride from town and a short walk over to Lover’s Leap waterfall.
Many reviews discredit Pedro on the basis that it is not as beautiful and has some pylons running through the plantation. This is true, however, I don’t think it dampend the experience at all as we had already seen the untouched, picturesque plantations on our 3 hour drive to Nuwara Eliya. Also, I think it’s impossible to expect a fully operating tea factory next to a town not to have pylons.. this is 2018 and although some people are searching for that fully Nomadic experience we are about 100 years too late.
We actually met a lovely French couple who were going to try find a smaller and less corporate plantation, however, most of the tea production in Sri Lanka is government controlled and have certain standards to meet. You can’t always sure that what you’re getting is 100% fair trade and that people aren’t over-worked but I believe the larger estates will be better at maintaining workers rights. Pedro, at least from the outside, appeared to try and uphold these values.
Also, it turns out Prince Philip visited in 1954 and if its good enough for Phil, then it’s good enough for me!
Whichever tea factory you visit it will be an amazing experience. We learnt so much about tea that I’ve filled about 3 pages of my travel diary just with interesting facts.
Also, I was exceptionally lucky to be travelling with a fellow tea-addict. Normally, we are proud Yorkshire Tea girls but I have to admit, since my return I have only been drinking black Sri Lankan tea.
Lovers Leap Waterfall
Just over the road from Pedro Tea Estate is Lovers Leap waterfall.
We were short of time when visiting as wanted to get back in time for tea (yes – more tea! But this time of the afternoon variety) so we actually asked our tuk-tuk driver Samanta to take us up. This is definitely not accessible in a car as the roads are very narrow and bumpy but after nothing but trekking for our first week I rather enjoyed the bumpy tuk-tuk ride.
Now for anyone like me who just thought Lover’s Leap was a lovely name it has a bit of a darker story attached. It is a small waterfall which got its local name as it was the rumoured point where a prince and his fiancee jumped to their deaths after they were refused the right to marry….. maybe not such a sweet name after all.
High Tea at the Grand Hotel
The only thing better than tea, is tea with all the trimmings, aka. an English Afternoon Tea. Coming from Yorkshire and being a frequenter of Betty’s I know I probably have high expectations when it comes to this and The Grand Hotel did not disappoint.
A beautiful establishment and very colonial. It reminded me of being in Kenya and some of the hotels we stayed at with a traditional facade, decadent interior, bellboys and chauffeurs. I have never seen so many waiters, overstaffed is probably an understatement and working in the NHS it is something completely foreign to me!
Initially our intention was to sit on the front lawn and take tea in front of the hotel but the waiters (who were obviously more knowledgeable then us) wanted us to sit closer to the hotel and we took a seat of the veranda.
Lucky we took their advice as the weather in Nuwara Eliya can change. Like I said previously it is much cooler than the rest of Sri Lanka, with low cloud cover that often creeps down in the afternoon until you are surrounded by a blanket of mist… glad we didn’t stay on the lawn!
High tea at the grand was perfect, just what we needed the day after climbing Adam’s Peak. It is served from half past 3 and as we were enjoying it so much we stayed the entire afternoon and then decided to treat ourselves to a cocktail each… when in Rome.
The highlight of the hotel, despite the incredible tea, stunning on-site jewellers and beautiful interiors, were the toilets. They deserve a mention as they were such a welcome change and were the only toilets of the trip that we awarded a 10/10 – yes, we graded toilets but this is an important element to travelling.
I know for a fact it was a highlight as when I flicked though Becky’s photos it appears we both took snaps of the loo; it was just that good!
Many people if they are short for time often cut Nuwara Eliya out of their trip and instead visit tea plantations around Ella. However, Horton Plains is a good enough reason on its own to visit here.
It is a nation park about an hours drive from the city and boast beautiful views including the famous World’s End. Unlike the rest of Sri Lanka this reminded me more of African Plains than anything I have come across before in Asia, the park being split into two distinct categories, the grasslands and the evergreen forests.
Even if you just stop off overnight and do a morning hike around the plains and then catch the train onwards I think it would be worth it. It is completely unique.
Horton Plains is best seen early morning just as the sun is rising and the whole landscape is surrounded by cloud forest: a thin layer of cloud that covers the floor and transforms this place into something magical.
If you’re planning a visit, you will need a driver, the roads are just not made for tuk-tuks. We actually stopped to pick up some German tourists whose taxi had broken down on the way.
The two main attractions of the park are the viewpoint at World’s End and Baker’s Falls. With a name like Worlds End you would expect a rather impressive view and it doesn’t disappoint.
It is at World’s End that Horton Plains comes to a sudden end, as a stunning vista overlooking the escarpment. Sitting on the edge of the precipice it is easy to see how this place got it’s name.
Depending on which way you are walking there is also a smaller but equally lovely viewpoint ‘Little World’s End’ you will come across. It is a circular walk around the park, we took a left turn on entry which took us to this first, then the larger and finally round to the falls. I personally think this was a better way to see it as in my mind the viewpoints were more impressive and if you are a quick walker you can miss the crowds.
Baker’s Falls, named after the famed Samuel Baker who attempted to settle in Nuwara Eliya and build an agricultural village, is a pretty waterfall within the national park. At only 20 metres it is by no means the most impressive but the setting is lovely and a great way to break up the hike by taking the short walk down and back again to see them.
As previously mentioned the weather in Nuwara Eliya can be unpredictable and an early morning walk here is essential. If you arrive any later than 9 or 10 am it is unlikely you will see anything at all due to the dense cloud cover often referred to as the ‘white wall’. The park opens at 6am and is an hours drive from town, so it is best to make an early start. Even though we left at 5.15, when we arrived the queue of traffic to get into the park was unbelievable. Although our driver said this was the longest he had seen, it is worth setting off a little earlier so that when it hits 6am you are front of the queue to get through and get hiking sooner, before the swarms of tourists.
By 9am there must have been thousands of people at the reserve, both international and domestic tourists.
A fast pace goes a long way so I’m thankful I was with the Machine Mason who loves a yomp as much as I do.
Racecourse and Lake
My favourite feature of Little England was the racecourse, proud of place in the middle, it even had a grandstand. Although used infrequently for one or two races a year, it was a nice touch, especially for Becky whose granddad is a racehorse trainer… Lets just say the ponies out there wouldn’t quite be up to scratch in a UK meeting.
As we were walking through they actually had the racecourse in use for a sports day with all the governors sat watching and the tannoy announcing the next house events. I could not stop smiling as this was scarily reminiscent of home and yet we were in the middle of Sri Lanka.
The main difference between this scene and home was that a few rouge horses which had been running around the fields, were being chased away by dogs and some of the maintenance team. I’m not sure our school groundskeeper would have been quite so relaxed in this position!
Lake Gregory is slightly further away from town past the racecourse and has that air of British summer times past. There are more ponies around the lake and pedelo swans, as well as picnic spots and well maintained childrens play areas. The perfect place for a summer getaway and mainly utilised by the Sri Lankas, both local and tourists which is amazing to see.
The disadvantage with the lake is, like Victoria Park, you have to pay to walk around it. And yes there is no way around…. I hate breaking rules but we couldn’t see a way in and all around it is fenced off, even with barbed wire in some places. So, Becky and I tried to jump over for a closer look, before being chased away by a security guard – yes, they actually have guards patrolling the lake!
So I would be lying if I said we actually walked alongside the lake, we didn’t. Being cheap (and yes I’m aware it’s probably pennies) we walked along the road adjacent to it instead and got just as good a look at what was going on.
I’ve added this to my list of things to do in 48 hours but having said this, if there is one thing to cut out of the itinerary if you are worried about time, it would be this.
The gardens were unremarkable and although lovely to walk around and sit and read a book, Kandy botanical gardens are equally as good. Also, unfortunately as with the UK because Nuwara Eliya is higher, it has a more variable climate. This brings more distinct seasons and with it, good and bad times to see the gardens.
I was desperate to see the rose gardens but these, along with a lot of the other enticing subsections to the garden do not come into season until May. Therefore my advice would be to visit during Spring and see the gardens in full bloom and they will be beautiful, otherwise it is nice to kill some time but is also quite expensive to visit if none of the displays are actually in flower.
Nanu Oya is the closest station to Nuwara Eliya and the only way to travel from here and onwards to Ella is by train. It is a must. For more travel tips/ advice on this check out my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’.
The Travel Stuff
Nuwara Eliya has lots to offer and is completely unique compared to the rest of Sri Lanka, from the climate to the people. Over half it’s population are actually of Indian Tamil origin and this also has a notable impact on the community. There is not as much to offer in the way of Sinhalese cuisine (I was dismayed), instead lots of Indian restaurants and street food. Also, to me there seemed to be a more obvious class divide between the workers and the wealthy living in the larger, typically British houses.
As a result, we were warned by our host to be careful in the evenings as some of the locals have been known to drink and she had mentioned of one or two female tourists who had been walking around had been targeted. This is not something to put you off, it felt a completely safe place to walk around during the day but just to beware it does have a different atmosphere to the rest of Sri Lanka and as a female traveller who often goes solo travelling I would want to pass this advice on. As I said, there is not much in the way of eateries or anything that would particularly entice you out past dark so my advise would be to avoid it unless necessary or grab a tuk-tuk back from town after dinner.
The other thing to be aware of, as I’ve already mentioned is the higher tourist prices that we noticed here more than anywhere else. They maintain the city well and therefore the odd tourist fee is expected but the gardens and the reserve are fairly expensive. If you’re travelling on your own you might want to look into that before you go, or if I were travelling solo just go for the day, try and grab a taxi with some others for an early morning hike around the plains, view a tea factory and then catch the train onwards.
I hope you enjoy Nuwara Eliya and happy travels!
If you decide to follow this at all let me know how you get on. x
Ella is the most beautiful place. High in the hills, with breath-taking views it is understandably one of Sri Lanka’s most popular stop-offs.
Ella is one of those beautiful places where it feels time stands still. It has much more of a backpacker vibe than the rest of the centre; which means if you have time on your hands, it would be an amazing place to while away a few days relaxing here.
If I had the time I would grab a bike and head up to the surrounding hills and visit even more tea plantations (as you can never have too much tea). But having said this, I think two or three days is more than enough for what we wanted, so for those with a tighter time-scale, these are my top 5 things to do in Ella:
Catch the train
9 Arches Bridge
Eat at Raha cafe
Little Adam’s Peak
Catch the Train
Catch the train… Now this sounds like simple enough advise but if anyone thinks this is easily done, then check out my diary entry: ‘no room on the train’. Needless to say any journey that I am partaking is unlikely to go to plan. However, despite this, we had the most incredible journey.
The stretch of railway from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful in the world; it is a must and therefore tops my list of things to do in Ella.
You can catch the train from Kandy itself or Nanu-Oya, the closest station to Nuwara Elyia. The length of the journey depends on which train you catch as there are slower, local trains that run the same route. More information on how to catch the train is in my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’.
Ella Rock is coming in at number 2. In a place of such natural beauty, hiking is one of the most popular things to do in the area, the two most popular being Ella Rock and Little Adams Peak.
Ella rock is a short walk from the town along the railway tracks. Lots of people climb Ella rock for sunrise but having done Adam’s Peak only shortly before we were happy to have an early morning walk instead. This insured beautiful views on the way up and down; still kept it relatively quiet from a tourist point of view and increased our chances of passing a train on the tracks – we saw two.
You can either set off from the train station itself or at the crossroads in the main village there is a steep path up a hill, to cut up to the railway tracks. If in doubt ask the hosts at your hostel/ guesthouse – you do not need a guide. Take a left turn once you reach the tracks and keep walking until you pass over a small, metal bridge. Soon afterwards you will pass a 166.5 marker and there will be a large granite rock on your left where you take a sharp left turn (I forgot we were looking for 166.5 and thought we were looking for 165.5 which added a bit extra onto our journey!).
If you follow these instructions you shouldn’t go wrong.. when we retraced our steps to see if there was anything to make it easier to follow there really isn’t, it is a large rock and the only one around. I don’t know how we missed it.
From here the instructions we followed told us to ‘follow your nose’ – it appears that Becky and I have a terrible sense of smell as we went wrong on numerous occasions but contrary to all the warnings we read online, any locals we met were all really helpful, correcting us and sending us on in the right direction.
If you do go wrong, it’s not far to retrace your steps and once you’ve found your way to the base of the climb even we couldn’t go wrong from there!
From the base it only took us about 30 minutes to get up (we are quick walkers) so although lots of people advise 4 hours in reality it only took us about 2.5 from the village and back.
It is a steep climb at the top so don’t forget trainers and some food for sustenance. We LOVE peanut brittle!
Also, be warned, Ella is not as hot as the coast but most of the hiking we had done so far had been very early morning. Even getting towards 11am was becoming too hot for me. I would not want to be walking up during the heat of the day between 12-2pm as I am terrible in heat! Early morning or late afternoon is best.
Once at the top you have a beautiful panorama of Ella itself and the surrounding hillside. There is an obvious viewpoint but my advice would be to turn right at the main clearing and carry on for a further 5 minutes or so through the trees, to get to a prettier spot with less tourists.
There is a small cave temple so you will know if you’re in the right place and the views are definitely worth that extra bit of hiking.
If you time your walk right, you might even be lucky enough to see a train passing.
9 Arches Bridge
Now surely this has to be the most photographed spot in all of Ella. Nine arches, also known as the ‘Bridge in the Sky’ in Sinhala, is situated at Gotuwala, between Ella and Demodara. The viaduct was built in 1940 whilst Ceylon was under the reign of the British Empire and is a fine example of engineering. The bridge itself is made of rocks, stones and cement and it was rumoured this was as a result of the war effort and the steel assigned for the bridge was instead used on war related projects.
The architecture is beautiful and again if you time it correctly you will be able to catch a train passing through the bridge. We went around 5pm and incidentally caught the 5.30pm train passing. This is a great time to visit as the heat of the day is over, there are a few less tourists than earlier and all being well, you are generally guaranteed a clearer background for photographs.
It’s easy to spend time playing around taking photos at the bridge and even though I am absolutely terrified of heights there is a slight thrill in standing atop the bridge.
The bridge is in the same direction as Little Adam’s Peak so after we had been here we did Little Adam’s Peak at sunset on our way back to the hostel. Again the bridge is easy enough to find and if you grab instructions from your guesthouse you can’t go wrong (except for we obviously did!).
For anyone that knows me it is unsurprising that a restaurant/ cafe has made it into my top 5 things to do in Ella. To me food is so important and Sri Lankan cuisine is now one of my favourites. I think it would hard to appreciate a place without embracing their culture and with that comes their food.
Ella has lots of eateries, its sad to say that over the last few years it has hugely developed with more guest houses on the way. This means lots of lovely places to eat but my favourites will always be the small, local options which more often than not also prove to be the cheapest (yay!).
Raha cafe was both of our favourites and I think we ate here a total of 4 times, which I know seems excessive and we should have tried somewhere new but when the food is that good, it’s impossible not to go back. In fact, I would be tempted to go back to Ella just to eat here again!
The menu had the basic roti, kottu roti and curries and they were all incredible. Just go! You’ll see what I mean.
Little Adam’s Peak
Last but by no means least is Little Adam’s Peak. This is another beautiful spot. An easier climb than Ella Rock and from the road only took us 20 minutes to climb up. Towards the top it does get a little steeper, but having done the real deal only a few days before Little Adam’s Peak seem like a walk in the park.
The views from Little Adam’s Peak and over Ella Gap to Ella Rock were stunning and I would definitely recommend a sunset climb.
It is quieter than during the day and Becky and I were probably the last two to come down and it’s easy enough to find your way in the dusk. We perhaps left it a little late as by the time we hit the road we were walking back in the dark but it’s simple enough to follow the road back to the town.
Sunset itself was cloudy but still worth seeing as you watch it setting over the rock to the west. As mentioned above, link this is with the 9 arches bridge as they’re in the same direction and you’ll have an amazing afternoon.
This is by no means an extensive list of what to do in Ella but what I would recommend as definitely worth doing. Other things if you are around for longer would include hiring a scooter to see the surrounding countryside; going up to Lipton’s seat and visiting Rawana Falls (although you can easily do this as you are leaving Ella and I’m not convinced would be a good use of a day).
As I mentioned, as Ella is so popular it has understandably been going through development recently and has much more of a backpacker vibe than most of the other places we visited in the centre. Lots more guest houses and infrastructure was being built whilst we were there. However, having said this although there are bars and live music it doesn’t appear to be a wild night out or huge for drinking. Peak time appears to be in the early evening and often when we were vacating around half 10 a lot of the restaurants/ bars were already clearing out. Obviously like us, getting ready for another early morning hike the following day!
Sri Lanka has been growing in popularity these recent years and it’s easy to see why…
This guide is going to cover the basics to travelling. The things you need to know/ wish you’d have known, to get from A to B.
I have been desperate to visit Sri Lanka since some of my friends worked there after we finished Uni in 2012 and with its increasing popularity in the last few years I was keen to go before it became too commercialised, like other areas of SE Asia.
With incredible history, beautiful scenery and stunning coastlines it’s easy to see why over three times more tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2016 compared to 2010 (statistical reports of Sri Lanka Tourism). These figures likely have a lot to do with the ending of the civil war in 2009 between the government and the Tamil Tigers, lasting 26 years.
Normally when travelling, I like to create the whole itinerary myself. However, we had so many good recommendations for Sri Lanka we based a lot of our route on tips from friends and with a bit of improvisation, I now think we have it pretty much sorted.
We travelled in January and February, apparently peak season which we hadn’t realised until we got there. At this time of year we were pretty much guaranteed sunshine in the centre and on the South coast, so based our trip around these areas. This worked perfectly, as they’re the best!
I travelled with one friend, Becky (aka. Machine Mason).
Having travelled some of SE Asia together before, albeit 5 years ago, we were pretty sure we could survive three weeks in each others company!
One thing we did notice travelling here compared to other areas of Asia, was the majority of other travellers were couples. There were a few groups and solo travellers here and there, as well as some other female duos but we felt exceptionally single! So lucky we had each other!
Because of this, I would say it is potentially harder to travel around Sri Lanka easily on you own compared to other places if you’re not a confident solo traveller; unless on the coast, where you will find more of a backpacker vibe.
Getting to and from a place is equally as important as travelling around it. You can get a Sri Lankan Visa (ETA) easily online. I only sorted mine the night before, it cost $25 USD and came through immediately. Then you just need to fill in an arrivals card when you get there.
The airport is fairly standard, it flies planes but don’t expect the full luxuries of an international airport.
Shopping is minimal and I had forgotten/ lost my memory card for my camera. I was hoping to pick one up on arrival and although there are multiple electrical shops which sell everything from washing machines to toasters, they sadly don’t stock anything as practical as an SD card. I managed to last my entire trip on only 16GB by constantly deleting photos – quite proud of this achievement!
The airports closest city is definitely Negombo and as an interesting town with Portuguese and Catholic influences, as well as a long stretch of beach, it is generally peoples first choice over Colombo.
Colombo itself is worth a visit but a day is enough. It is further to the airport but the buses are good, taxis fairly reasonably priced or if you want something a little cheaper than a taxi, grab a metred tuk-tuk. All of Colombo have these, don’t believe them if they say they can’t put it on a metre; just grab the next one passing.
If you want a tuk-tuk from the airport then you’d have to leave the airport enclosure and make your way towards the road to flag one down as they’re not allowed into the main pick-up/ drop-off area with all the cars.
When leaving, the airport has limited choices available for eating and drinking; all of which appear overpriced compared to Sri Lankan cuisine outside the airport. My advise would be to eat before you go or grab some roti to take through with you which is far tastier and means you don’t need to pay a fortune.
Bring any electricals you need and don’t expect to pick up anything on arrival.
Negombo is an easy place to stay when you arrive but still about a 20 minute drive away. It is smaller and more picturesque than Colombo.
If travelling round Colombo, be sure to use metred tuk-tuks to get the best price.
On departure, eat before arriving at the airport or grab food to take through with you as the airport meals are basic and dear.
We used various methods of transport on our trip. It was so easy and I could not praise their transport system more highly, it’s great! In fact, so good, the buses when direct don’t take that much longer than driving.
Also they drive on the left which keeps things simple for us Brits!
Our first week we had a lot of ground to cover in a short space of time, so following advice, we hired a driver. Including drivers accommodation you can expect to pay about 9000LKR / day and this couldn’t be easier. £20 each for us to be driven the distances we were, door to door; stopping wherever took our fancy, without the hassle of worrying about backpacks was an absolute bargain.
Just to put this in perspective, I missed my train from Leeds to Manchester Airport (as I was still packing!) and my replacement ticket cost me £30.
It’s easy to arrange; we sorted ours 9.30pm the night before and he met us at 8am. Actually 8am as well, Sri Lankans it turns out are very good at keeping time and unlike most of SE Asia which runs on what I call ‘Laos time’, aka. 3 hours late, they were on the dot for everything.
That, and our driver Palitha was absolutely amazing.
Every time he saw us he’d jump up and give a huge smile and double handed wave to welcome us. So attentive – almost too much, we tried to explore a little on our own but he didn’t want us walking anywhere!
The other advantages to a driver beside stopping at beautiful services like this…
..is if you’re anything like Becky it means you can sleep in comfort. Trust me, this girl can sleep anywhere!
Buses in Sri Lanka are great and doable if you have more time but if you want to see as much as possible, as quickly as possible, definitely get a driver around the centre.
Our driver left us in the beautiful Nuwara Elyia (pronounced as one word), where we explored the tea plantations. From here to Ella we caught the train.
I’m sure most people, like me, have the train at the top of their Sri Lanka to-do list. The stretch of train line from Kandy to Ella is one of the most beautiful in Sri Lanka and the World; travelling through tea plantations, forests and hill country. You can either jump on at Kandy and go the whole stretch or midway as we did, at Nanu Oya (the closest station to Nuwara Elyia).
Don’t feel that because you caught the train from Nanu Oya you’ve missed out on some of the scenery, in fact we drove to Nuwara Elyia and our approach via road, winding through tea estates was equally as breathtaking.
We even picked up a friendly police officer en-route!
The trains are fantastic and the majority whilst we were there, were on time. However, they can get full… very full!
We hadn’t booked and when we tried to book a few days before, all the seats were sold out. This is not uncommon, it turns out most trains are fully booked a month in advance. We actually bumped into a tour guide who revealed he booked almost double the number of seats required just for his group to travel with a little more space. Assuming these tourists book trips months- years in advance, it’s hardly surprising we couldn’t get a seat turning up at the counter 2 days before!
I was also unaware that you could book online (in truth, I didn’t bother checking!) but was told by a Dutch couple it is possible and ‘seat 61′ [https://www.seat61.com/SriLanka.htm] is a great website for doing this.
If you are lucky enough to book a seat, firstly, congratulations! Secondly, either 2nd or 3rd class would be my choice of travel. They’re fairly comfortable and although 1st class has the luxury of air-con, this means the windows don’t open and you can’t get that wind-in-your-hair train feeling or those all important travel shots for instagram!
Not that we managed to get any at all.. as we were packed like sardines for our journey.
At one stage the small area between the carriages about half a metre wide had 16 of us and a stack of precariously balance backpacks squashed together. This is no exaggeration, Becky even had to scratch an itch on her nose using my shoulder as couldn’t release her arms! An insta train photo for us was out of the question.. or at least a less orthodox one.
Our train was particularly busy as it was national independence day so everyone was travelling. We wanted to catch the first train to arrive in Ella by lunch, however, this was one of the older Sri Lankan trains with less carriages and they travel slower; so we stood, very squashed, for 5 hours. The advantage to this, is we got more stops to enjoy the journey to the full extent and with the national holiday locals in the next carriage were singing and playing music.
If you don’t have a seat and are worried about this, check seat 61 as it tends to say which train is at what time and some of the later trains are the modern blue ones imported from China. These trains are faster, about 2 hours for our stretch of the journey and they have more carriages, which means more space if you are standing.
The other option, if boarding at Nanu Oya and you want to have a higher chance of getting an unreserved seat, jump on at the station before as it will be quieter. We did read about this and considered it but thought we would be OK being early. Turns out you have to be early, some people arriving ‘on time’ couldn’t even get standing room on the train. If you do try this, let me know how you get on!
Of course it’s not always as busy as when we travelled and I for one loved our experience and am glad it panned out as it did. I am also beyond impressed at myself, and those that know me will appreciate this, but I made it nearly 6 hours without going to the toilet! That has to be a new PB.
Just to prove it is possible to actually get a seat we also caught the train from Galle up to the capital at Colombo Fort. As this is a slightly quieter line and with more locals, we managed to buy our ticket on the morning and reserve a second class seat.
The main advantage of a seat is you can actually enjoy the view instead of worrying about being pressed up against a stranger for hours. Although the seat was wasted on Becky, who as usual promptly fell asleep and missed all the views.
The views for this stretch of railway were fantastic and having basically missed the panorama on one of the most beautiful stretches in the World, this was some consolation. Beaches and palm trees instead of tea plantations but equally stunning and at about £1 a ticket you can’t go wrong with the railways.
From Ella onward we took one taxi but otherwise used buses all the way to Galle. The buses were so easy, you literally just hop on and off anywhere. The technique is they slow a little, you shout at the conductor where you’re going and if they are too, the bus slams on its breaks. They only stop just long enough for you to clamber up the steps and find some seated/ standing room for the journey.
Going from bus stations is so simple and we generally found it easier on these occasions to get a seat but people are always on and off so it’s less of an issue than on the trains.
The buses go pretty quickly and the blue/ white ones even play out music TV, generally Bhangra style and good fun.
The distances between the coastal towns are minimal and with the cost of the buses being so cheap (only 70LKR from Mirissa to Unawatuna) this is definitely preferable to drivers/ taxis, unless of course money is no object in which case you should get the bus anyway just for the fun of it!
The faithful tuk-tuk. How they make me smile!
I even saw an ice-cream tuk-tuk for the first time and thought they were the most amazing things ever!
The key with tuk-tuks is always haggle and like I said previously, if in Colombo, go on the metre.
The final mode of transport we considered were mopeds. We had the idea last minute to hire bikes to get from Unawatuna to Galle but the morning we wanted to go they were all in use! We’ve been caught out before in Sri Lanka by everyone else’s organisational skills, so if you want a bike, you’re best booking it at least the day before
If travelling to lots of places in a small amount of time definitely get a driver.
Book a seat on the train in advance, 2nd class gets you an open window.
If you haven’t booked and fancy a seat travelling from Nanu Oya to Ella try turning up the station before.
You can’t beat buses as a mode of transport along the coast.
If you want to hire a bike, don’t forget your drivers licence and don’t leave it until the day you want it. Book a bike at least a day or two in advance to make sure you get one.
What you Need
So, what to pack?
Di 5 minutes before leaving…
Becky 5 minutes before leaving…
Sri Lanka had a warm climate and minimal rain whilst we were there and I took what I would consider standard things for travelling SE Asia, some I needed, some I didn’t.
On top of the obvious packing list these were essential/ would have been useful:
We didn’t buy/ take any adaptors for non-UK sockets as believed Sri Lanka to use both UK and 3 circular pin plugs. It’s true they use UK plugs in a lot of places but not all of them. We ended up relying on portable battery chargers in between places with UK sockets, so it would have been good to have at least one 3 circular pin adaptor.
Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and like most others expect you to cover up when in temples. I never went anywhere without my shawl to cover up shoulders or maxi skirt to slip on over a pair of shorts, you never know when you might need it – essential!
Leggings and Hoodie
Believe it or not I was actually cold some days and not just from air-con! Hill country is a lot colder and although Ella you can just about get by with shorts and t shirts, Nuwara Elyia is much cooler. I ended up wearing a jumper during the days, hoodie in the evening and even needed to sleep in my leggings!
Layers are also useful for some of the early morning hikes in hill country such as Hortons Plains and Adams Peak, if you’re waiting for sunrise on top of the mountain it gets cold.
Immodium/ Dioratlye/ Senna
I won’t say which of our party (or both) needed to resort to the medicine bag at some point but I am ashamed to say I have never not needed one, or all of the above at some stage whilst travelling (except perhaps Australia) . I’ll leave you to come up with the details but don’t forget them! They save your life if you have a long days travelling ahead on public transport.
Sri Lanka is amazing for hiking but all of the terrain in manageable in trainers. I wore my trekking shoes (which are hideous but functional) but Becky wore trainers which were absolutely fine for all of our hikes, including Adam’s Peak.
Non-essential items, aka. I over-packed but don’t want to admit it:
I take this everywhere but sadly did not need it. Unlike previous travelling there were no long overnight buses to get place to place and no extreme camping that required a pillow.
Again no camping but I thought we would need it for Adams Peak ascent. This was not the case, candles and lit all the way.
I hope this is useful to get your trip planned, it is the most incredible country so enjoy every minute.
Have a look at my ‘top tips’ for Sri Lanka for ideas to plan your route in more detail! It combines our favourite things and our recommendations having made a few mistakes along the way. If you’re going on a 10 day or two week trip I have some suggested itineraries so take a look and let me know what you think if you decide to follow them.
If you want to know the basics for travelling/ getting around Sri Lanka then check out my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’. However, if you want to know the good stuff… then these are my top travel tips. Enjoy!
Don’t miss out Sigiriya, Lion Rock is definitely worth the trip.
When staying in Sigiriya, try Wijesiri for dinner. It is a family run restaurant and the food is delicious, a great introduction if this is one of your first stops. When we were here we weren’t allowed to drink as it was a public holiday so instead had a rather unusual cup of tea!
Grab a bike and cycle around Polonnaruwa as it’s the best way to see it and we ended up covering over 10km. (Yes, I logged it into Strava!)
If you’re visiting Polonnaruwa wear covered clothes for ease, even with a maxi and shawl we were taking them on and off every 5 minutes to go into the relics.
In Kandy, for a ridiculously cheap but incredible meal try the Garden Cafe by the lake, it’s on the opposite side to the Temple of the Tooth.
If you’re visiting the Temple of the Tooth, avoid going at 9am as this is when everybody goes. Either go earlier, or later, but 9am not only clashes with all the tourists but also all the locals giving their offerings at the start of the day.
A day is enough to see Kandy. If you’re staying longer then don’t miss the botanical gardens and get lost in wonderland when you try tea at Helga’s Folly, a quirky boutique hotel.
Visit Millennium Elephant Foundation, it’s amazing and about an hour from Kandy. Try walking with elephants instead of riding them. It involves a thirty minute walk around the forestry with the ellies and an opportunity to bathe and feed them. This foundation houses ex-working elephants and encourages tourists to engage in this instead of the bareback rides they also offer, in the hope to stop the exploitation of these beautiful animals.
If you do visit the Millennium Elephant Foundation go early, we arrived around 10am and it was getting busier as we left around lunchtime
Don’t forget to check out the Elephant Dung Factory next door, a great project! (We were told these Elephants can produce around 60kg of dung a day – which is impressive in itself! 10kg of dung can produce 10000 sheets of paper which if my maths is correct means 1 elephant can produce 60000 eco-friendly sheets of paper per day!!! WOW)
DO NOT MISS ADAM’S PEAK – if you like hiking that is. This was our trips highlight and I cannot recommend it enough.
Adam’s Peak is an incredible experience. Set off at 2am and you’ll have bags of time for sunrise. The best thing about sunrise was seeing the view for the first time on decent, absolutely breathtaking.
At the top of Adam’s Peak don’t forget to ring the bell. One ring = one ascent. I could go on, so if you’re going to do it have a look at my post on ‘Climbing Adam’s Peak’.
Visit Nuwara Elyiafor the tea factories, plantations and Horton Plains. You only need a short stay here but have a look at my guide for an idea of an itinerary.
Arrive early, 6am to Horton Plains to avoid queues and to avoid the ‘white wall’
Catch the train from Kandy or Nanu Oya to Ella.
As mentioned in my ‘Essential Guide to Travelling Sri Lanka’, book a seat if you want to sit down.
In Ella make sure you do my top 5!
Don’t miss out on a safari.
We chose Yala as it is one of the best and there is a higher chance of seeing leopards (we were lucky enough to see one, although too far away for a photo).
People say it isn’t as good if you’ve been on safari in Africa but I would disagree, as it is a totally different experience. It’s true, it can’t compare to the open plains of the Maasai Mara but it is still incredible. The wildlife is native to Asia and I even saw a hornbill which I spent my entire trip around Borneo looking for, but was unable to find, so I was buzzing!
Tangalle, on the coast, is beautiful. It’s slightly less touristic than others and an absolute paradise.
If you are visiting then try and get to a secluded place called Think Club in Goyambokka for sunset. We caught it just as dusk was passing and it would have been sensational. I’m not even sure how we came to find it we just jumped in a tuk-tuk who took us there and it was completely deserted. Be warned it is pricey but would be worth it for a romantic meal; or if like us you’re travelling on a bit more of a budget, you can have a few beers and head back towards Medaketiya beach for dinner.
Go blue whale and dolphin spotting in Mirissa.
Visit ‘secret beach’. To find it, walk through Mirissa harbour (you need to pay a small fee for this) and up the hill. You should pass a resort and keep going until you see signs for a ‘secret beach’ (obviously not so secret!) but definitely worth visiting. It’s a small beach nestled in behind the rocks and far nicer than Mirissa beach itself.
On our way we even stopped for a spot of cricket. England vs. Sri Lanka.
Visit Unawatuna for the beautiful beaches and take a cooking course at Happy Spice.
Take a day trip to Galle from Unawatuna by bus, tuk-tuk or moped. It gets very hot so avoid the midday sun.
Visit Dalawella beach and see what paradise looks like.
If you want Sapphires (this was believe it or not the only part of my entire trip that I looked at in advance – this will not surprise my friends in the slightest) then go to a reputable seller. Ensure you get a certificate and have it validated, there are lots of blogs on this so have a look. After reading a few I went to Salie’s in Colombo which was amazing and I would definitely recommend them. Sri Lankan sapphires are world famous and they were stunning! My new favourite is the peach sapphire, WOW!
Most importantly, eat as much food and drink as much tea as possible!
These tips are a combination of recommendations, what we loved and what we learnt the hard way. Sri Lanka is the most incredible country so enjoy it!
So, I’ve been very bad with my blog recently and a short time ago, on a trip to Wales we found my friends travel blog from when we did SE Asia. Not only could I not believe it had been 5 years since then, I also could not believe how funny it was and how many of the little things you forget… cue blog.
This time my adventures are taking me East again, to Hong Kong.
My trip started the night before, when I set off to London to stay with my friend Clemency. Unfortunately, as I was on my way down I received a message saying her key had broken and we wouldn’t be able to get into the flat, as it was too late for a locksmith and her boyfriend was away. Luckily, she has family nearby, so disaster averted and we were taken in by her aunt and uncle for the night.
The first real obstacle came early next morning, about 6am, when the tube tram in front of mine hit some metalwork on the track. As a result, the line was closed and I was unable to proceed to Heathrow. For once in my life (with Clem’s help) I had left with enough time to spare and managed to get the bus halfway around London to Paddington, catching the express with just enough time to check in (and be upgraded to business class!).
The flight went relatively smoothly until HK itself, when due to the worst storms in recent years we were unable to land. The cabin crew did their best efforts to keep us all informed but we were kept in a holding stack for what felt like hours until we were finally re-directed to land in Taiwan until the worse passed.
Several hours later we were successful and landed safely in HK despite Typhoon Pakhar’s best attempts to prevent us.
Now, despite August often being a wet month for HK, two typhoons in 10 days is exceptionally rare and I’ve only come this time of year to meet my friend Jezebel who is currently travelling in Asia.
Landing on my feet as always Jez had already booked a nice hotel to ‘treat’ herself between travels. All I had to do was jump in, perfect!
However, I was flying in a day before and as I was in London looking at hotels for the following night I was struggling to pick between an extra, more convenient night at her hotel vs. satisfying the traveler in me.
Needless to say I picked the less practical option. Instead of a fancy hotel I chose to spend a night in a rather interesting alternative. Less of a hotel and more of a complex. Only after my nights stay did I decide to actually search for the place I had stayed in.. In fact, all I had to do was type in the name of my hotel to see that it had once been described by a HK professor (who studied it for four years) as a ‘world hub of low end globalisation’. Rather condemning.
Turning up I was ambushed by people in what was essentially a maze of indoor markets. I fought my way through with my case and found the lift upstairs.
The receptionists were nice enough and at least the hotel offered the unique experience I had been looking for.
Normally I would opt for a dorm in a hostel, as it’s a good way to get to know people and get some travel tips for the city. This time, as I was only staying the night and likely to have jet lag, I had opted for a private room. This was definitely the best choice.
In fact, I slightly dread what a dorm would have been like, considering of all the places I have stayed, this was definitely the worst.
The single bed filled the whole room, except for a small fridge which not only smelt very offensive but had a pool of water collecting in the bottom. Water seemed to be the theme in this room, as although having the luxury of an en-suite, the shower head was literally over the toilet with just enough space to stand and left the whole room swimming in water after use.
Finally the additional opulence of air con was made less luxurious by the fact it was leaking. Dripping water constantly onto the view-less window sill and the bottom of the bed itself. In an attempt to be helpful, the staff gave me a towel free of charge (so generous) to place under the ceaseless drip.
The air-con proceeded to stop and start all night long to a huge whurring noise, which didn’t actually concern me half as much as the frayed and exposed wire to the broken fan underneath it!
Thankfully, as I’m writing this, I miraculously made it through the night without being electrocuted. Hurrah!
Having said all of this, it was bearable and my memories would have perhaps been fonder if I’d have been less optimistic. Always eager to explore a new city, I left my room and never one to wait for the lift, skipped to the stairwell with enthusiasm and bounded down the first few flights.
Anyone else may have been deterred by a completely empty staircase.. but as they say ignorance is bliss and I jovially made my way down past the crumbling concrete; damp, peeling walls and exposed wiring. I happily made it down to about the fourth floor when I noticed a man sitting sprawled on the stairwell, shoeless. In a typical English manner, I slowed out of politeness, in order to give him space as I passed. This was my first error (or second after booking the hotel!).
In the few seconds I slowed to pass him, he lunged and tried to grab me. Luckily and ironically, out of courtesy I had given him a wide birth. He just missed me and although he brushed my bag, my reactions were quick enough to dodge and pull my bag with me so I wasn’t held back.
In my complete naivety and shock I turned around and gave him an incredulous look. I could not for the life of me work out why he had tried to grab me! Retrospectively, I’m a moron and should have run, but it took a couple more slightly less enthusiastic flights of stairs before I realised I needed to get out of this completely isolated, rundown stairwell.
Only then, I couldn’t find a way out and obviously couldn’t go back the way I came. I stumbled upon the second floor equally deserted, full of empty street stores and came to the conclusion this was not the place to walk around on your own, especially not later on and into the night.
Once outside, the typhoon was still raging and despite my raincoat, I was soaked within seconds. I attempted to explore the streets with no map and no idea where I was, looking for food but all in vein. All I could seem to find were stores selling fried fish balls, chicken feet or intestines…. After 25 hours travelling I can’t say it was top of my list. Instead, I finally found a small place serving dim sum, so opted for the safe option of spring rolls and pork dumplings.
Obviously, that was when I was hungry and desperate. The next day in the same area I could find nothing but delicious looking restaurants… but I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes.
I made the wise decision to go to bed early and sleep off the jet-lag. Luckily, I was exceptionally tired and not kept awake (much) by the warm, damp smelling, fire hazard room that I was staying in.