Our publisher Hilary Bradt recently visited Sri Lanka and sent me the following updates & observations:
Colombo:Bandaranaike International Airport’s troubles now seem to be in the past and I can honestly say it’s now one of the best I have ever been to. We were told to get there four hours before the flight but I’m sure that if you check in on line three or even less would be OK. Best to go through security (two of them) immediately because there are masses of good shops and restaurants the other side.
Bentota: We went on a river trip up the Bentota which was as you describe – we saw several river monitors and a crocodile or two.and plenty of birds. I’m with Stella Martin who wrote Bradt’s Australian Wildlife; she’s good on birds. Then we went to Brief Gardens which I thought were amazing – both the gardens and the house. Some good bird-watching there as well. Your book is enormously helpful – so comprehensive and informative.
Induwara: We stayed at Janus Paradis Rest. It’s not in your book but nice. The rooms are small and plain but with fans and mosquito nets and the place is right on the beach. Friendly staff, Janu himself always hovering around poking at his mobile phone. It cost each of us US$90 (more-or-less) for three nights, a double room each. It’s at 664 Galle Road, tel: +94719420744
Beruwala: The Harbour is very photogenic but you will be compelled to go into the mosque courtyard by the caretaker and to pay 400rps “for the children”. It’s worth it for the view but you need to be forewarned. We liked the sound of China Fort Gem Market and persuaded our driver to go there although he was very reluctant. Big mistake. We were almost physically dragged into a private office by a dozen or so Muslim traders and subjected to intense gem sales talk and sapphires etc poured into our unwilling hands. Even if you want to buy this isn’t the place, and if you just want to wander and look, this certainly isn’t the place.
Galle: We went on a day trip – took the train there and bus back, which worked fine. We loved the old part of the fort. Quiet and hassle free.
Sigiriya: We went there on the strength of your description and loved it. Maybe worth saying it’s 1200 steps to the top. I found it quite tough. But I did it.
Matale Situated between Kandy and Habarana, Matale is famous for all the spice gardens. Our driver said around 100, most of which seem to be open. We didn’t go (I’ve seen enough of these in my time) but they’re certainly a tourist attraction and someone should describe one for you).
Kandy: On the way to Kandy from Yala, we visited Glenloch Tea Factories, which is one of the oldest, and quite interesting (in conjunction with your tea box). In Kandy, the gem place in the same complex as the Kandy Lake cultural display (good recommendation) ends with such a hard sell we felt embarrassed having taken their time on a slide show and (very interesting) tour and not buying. So unless you might buy this sort of jewellery it might be best avoided. It was a visit pushed on us by our driver who no doubt gets a commission on sales.
Electricity: One thing the book doesn’t seem to mention is the type of plug needed for SL sockets. They’re English-type square sockets
Tipping: We adhered to your advice for out long-term driver and it felt about right. For upmarket tourists, we were given the following guidelines by a local resident and other tourists –
Bell boy & luggage carriers: 200.
Chambermaid/cleaner (who so often get forgotten because we don’t see them): 100-200 per night.
Safari driver: 1,000 for standard 3hr safari.
Safari tracker, 1000-2000, depending on how good they are.