Outside Terminal 1 at Dubai Aiport after catching the Metro from my apartment.
Checking in for my Oman Air (WY) flight to Colombo (via Muscat). The return flight cost $319 and was ~30% less than a direct flight on LCC flydubai (FZ) and half as much as on Emirates (EK). There was only two check-in desks open for the Muscat flight, so it took a while before I could collect my boarding passes.
As well as flying to Colombo via Muscat, the plan for the trip was to also fly from Kandy (KDZ) to Colombo (CMB) on a floatplane on Cinnamon Air.
Although check in took a bit longer than expected, I still had enough time to grab a last minute dinner of Thai green curry and rice before heading to the gate for the 8:40pm flight to Muscat.
The flight was almost full for the ~45 minute journey to Muscat. As it is only a short distance away and being a relatively easy country to visit, I had been wanting to visit Sri Lanka for quite a while.
We were served a chicken sandwich and orange juice despite the short flight time. It was my first time flying Oman Air (WY) and I was reasonably happy so far, with decent leg room and friendly service in economy. They also played a 1920's era Charlie Chaplin silent movie (and hence no need for headphones) on the overhead TV's.
Disembarking at Muscat International Airport (MCT) for the short bus ride to the main terminal.
After clearing transit security my connecting flight to Colombo wasn't until another ~4 hours, so I found a quiet corner, put in my ear plugs and crashed out for a few hours.
Boarding the Oman Air 737 just after 1am for the flight to Colombo.
We were then served breakfast shortly after take-off despite it being just after 2am local time. The 737 was equipped with a half-decent IFE, but I elected to grab a couple hours of sleep before we landed at Bandaranaike International Airport in Sri Lanka.
After arriving on time at 7:30am, I was then through immigration in only a few minutes as I had already pre-paid for my visa online beforehand. I then stopped to get a local SIM card with 5 gb of data for a very reasonable $10 before heading to the taxi booth to organise a ride into the city (2600 rupees).
In the taxi for the ~45 minute ride into Colombo. We took the toll road (for an extra 300 rupees / ~$2 in tolls) for the 33k ride into the city so it only took ~30 minutes.
And finally arriving in the Colombo Fort area just after 9am. My initial impressions of Colombo was quite good. I was expecting a bit more chaos, but it was relatively clean and organised. No beggars or pollution to sully your day.
First stop was to get a train ticket to Galle at Colombo Fort Station. Only 180 rupees or ~$1.30 for a second class ticket for the 2.5 hour trip.
I had another hour before my train to Galle departed so I went for a leisurely stroll to walk off the jet lag and do some exploring. An older gentleman approached me and we started having abit of a chat. I'm normally very guarded in these situations (e.g. what are they trying to sell me), but he was very friendly, said he was a school teacher and just wanted to say hello.
The market is Colombo's main wholesale fruit and vegetable market.
People would ask where I was from, and when I said I was from New Zealand the conversation would invariably turn to cricket and rugby.
They were quite bemused to see a tourist walking around the markets, and were happy to pose for a photo.
I then walked back to Colombo Fort Station to catch my train to Galle.
The Colombo - Galle train follows the Coastal Line for the ~125km, 2.5 hour journey south.
On Platform 3 waiting for my train to arrive.
The Class M2 engine pulling into the station. The Class M2's were built by General Motors Diesel, Canada, and this particular engine, #629, 'Galle', started hauling trains in Sri Lanka back in 1966, almost 50 years ago!
No air-conditioning in second or third class (and no first class carriages), so all the windows were open for ventilation. While at the station, the engine was swapped for another M2, #594, 'Prince Edward Island', an even older M2 engine that started service back in 1958.
While at the station a number of vendors came through selling their wares, including children's colouring books (right) and fresh roti (left).
The train was quite full but I managed to find a spare seat next to a local lady.
Just after 11am we headed out of Colombo for the journey south.
The western tourist posing for a selfie. There was no power in the cabins, with the open windows providing both much needed light and fresh air.
And the view out to west to the Laccadive Sea. The Coastal Line is also where the worst rail disaster in history occurred. Over 1,700 people were lost when an overcrowded passenger train was destroyed by the tsunami which followed the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
Overtaking a tuk-tuk as we head south.
We then rolled into Galle railway station just before 2pm.
The train station was only a short distance from Galle Fort, so I went for a walk in search of my guest house where I would be staying the night.
Galle Fort, situated in the Bay of Galle on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. It is also a listed UNESCO World Heritage site (Photo courtesy of Galle Media Works, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).
After the short walk and with the aid of the GPS on my phone, I arrived at Fort Dew Guesthouse, a five room establishment only ~100 metres from the Fort walls.
And my comfortable room for the night.
After having a quick shower and changing into some new clothes, I went for a walk along the Fort walls.
Galle Fort was first built in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century from 1649 onwards. The British then took over the fort on the 23rd of February 1796, one week after Colombo was captured.
It was about 2:30pm and I was starting to get peckish, so went to a local restaurant for lunch and had some Chicken Satay.
And a Cappaccino to shake off the jet lag before continuing my walk around the Fort.
A Sri Lankan couple enjoying a stroll along the western fort walls.
At Flag Rock at the southernmost end of the Fort, and a good place to see the submerged rocks that have claimed many ships through the centuries.
Some of the locals enjoying the sun at nearby Lighthouse beach.
Galle Old Gate. Above is a carved British coat of arms with the letters VOC, standing for Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company) with the date 1669, flanked by two lions and topped by a cock. This portion of the old wall also served as a warehouse for spices waiting to be exported.
All Saints Anglican Church, built in 1868.
The old Lloyd's Shipping Office.
I then walked back to the western side of the Fort, where some school students were outside doing stretches. The kids has a good giggle when I sneaked up behind their teacher to take this photo.
Fort Shri Sudarmalaya Buddhist Temple just opposite my guesthouse, before I retired for a lazy afternoon nap.
After a good rest I went out to see the beautiful sunset from the Fort walls.
I then walked through the centre of Galle Fort, which was lit with a purplish blue from the dusk light.
At the old Dutch Hospital. Built in the 18th century, the hospital was necessary for the many illnesses the Dutch were inflicted with in the tropics. In 1850 the British converted the hospital into a barracks, and then as the office of the Government Agent until the country's independence in 1948. In 2014, the building was restored and converted into a lively and upmarket shopping and dining precinct.
The Amangalla, part of the Aman resorts group, where rooms start from $500 per night. The hotel was built in 1684 to house the Dutch governor and officers. Later in the 19th century as the New Oriental Hotel, it was the hotel of choice for 1st class P&O passengers traveling to and from Europe. In 2004 the hotel was restored and reopened in 2004 as the luxurious Amangalla with a total of 33 rooms and suites.
I then wandered down to the southern part of the Fort for dinner at a local restaurant.
And had some amazing chicken curry with naan bread and a delicious banana smoothie!
After an early morning run for a few laps around the Fort, I headed out to a local café for breakfast.
I then went for a walk to the tree-lined Court Square, where there were several couples getting their wedding photo's.
And dressed in elaborate traditional dress.
As the name implies, various courts surround Court Square. From my Lonelyplanet guidebook "on weekdays you'll see people in the shade of the huge banyan trees nervously waiting their turn in court."
I then headed back to my hotel to meet up with my driver, Pubudu, whom I organised through a local travel agency a friend had recommended, Breeze Of Paradise. The plan for the three days was to drive to Udawalawa, then to Ella the following day, and then on to Kandy and Nuwara Eliya via Hortons Plain National Park the day after.
We then headed east out of town, but first stopped at an old Sri Lanka Airforce plane that had been repurposed as a café.
Makulu duuwa, a small island with a guesthouse just off the coast.
A farmer ploughing his rice paddies, with eager Egret's patiently picking for worms as he goes.
Stopping to drink/eat some fresh coconut with Pubudu (on left).
Monk and friend on a bike.
After 4 hours on windy roads we finally made it to Athgira River Camp, situated on the outskirts of Udawalawa. The camp was the top 'place to stay' near Udawalawe National Park according to my Lonelyplanet guidebook. The camp had 15 heavy canvas safari tents along the river bank, all with attached bathrooms and proper beds. My tent had a great view on to the river and forest below.
Lunch at the Camp restaurant, with rice and a selection of Sri Lankan dishes including daal and chicken curry. A great feast!
At about 2:30pm we then met up with my 4WD I had organised for a Safari into nearby Udawalawe National Park. Only ~$30 for four hours so very reasonable.
After a short drive to the park entrance to pay the necessary entrance fee's (~$25), we ventured into the park to see the local wildlife. A Peacock up a tree.
And another Peacock. Udawalawe National Park is a 30,821 hectare reservation established in 1972. It is also an important habitat for the endangered Sri Lankan elephant, which I was eager to see in the wild.
Water Buffalo relaxing in a pond.
After about an hour in the park we finally spotted our first elephants.
I had seen Asian elephants many times before at the zoo, circus and sanctuaries etc., but was it my first time seeing them in the wild.
An experience hard to describe, but it was really magical and moving to watch them roaming around, munching away, unhindered by iron bars, chains or a surly mahout.
Mum, Baby & Dad.
A mugger crocodile lurking in the river.
A couple of Sri Lankan Painted Storks doing some fishing.
A White-bellied sea eagle on sentry.
With the rarity of tuskers in Sri Lanka, poaching for ivory is thankfully not a major threat.
A big bull male huffing and puffing and walking purposefully towards our 4WD.
The driver slowly reversed to give the big guy some room though.
It was great to see him up close though, strutting about, showing who was the big boss. Very different from the docile and tormented animals that have had their souls and spirit literally crushed in order to be 'domesticated' and tamed.
A couple of peacocks on the road on our way out of the park at dusk.
Back at the river camp where I had BBQ chicken and tuna for dinner.
And some yummy banana fritters for dessert.
I then retired to enjoy a restful sleep in my tent for the night.
I went for a run in the morning through the country tracks around the camp, and then had breakfast down by the river.
I then met up with Pubudu for the ~3.5 hour journey to Ella. Driving behind a car transporter carrying a load of cars from India. It would constantly weave across the road to avoid overhanging tree's damaging the precious cargo!
An old lady giving me change after stopping to buy some fruit.
Some men fishing at Buduruvagala reservoir.
We then stopped at Buduruvagala, an ancient buddhist temple from the 10th century. Buduruvagala means "the rock of Buddhist Sculptures".
The giant standing Buddha is 16 metres in height, and is the tallest in Sri Lanka.
The centre figure is believed to be Maitreya, the future Buddha. The right figure is Vajrapani, who holds a vajra (an hourglass-shaped thunderbolt symbol). The figure to the left is either Vishnu or Sahampath Brahma.
We then continued driving up through the hills before stopping to admire Ravana Falls.
It was quite a popular stop, with plenty of other tourists walking up to get a closer look and even have a dip in the cool waters.
We then arrived in the small hill town of Ella. The amazing view down the valley from my hotel.
After dropping off my gear at the hotel, we headed down to a local restaurant, and enjoyed a tasty Sri Lankan chicken curry with all the extras. Ella seemed to be quite a popular place for European backpackers, who almost seemed to out number the locals.
At about 2pm after lunch we headed off for a walk to Little Adam's Peak.
Looking across the valley with tea tree's in the foreground and Ella Rock in the distance.
Standing on a rocky ledge while Pubudu took a a photo of me and the very picturesque landscape. It was great to take a leisurely walk in the cooler climate of Ella and take in the awesome views.
We had also brought umbrella's but luckily the weather held off while we enjoyed the amazing scenery.
On the right path.
A panoramic shot with Ella on the middle-right and Ella Rock on the middle-left.
The cloud coming up the valley as we walk back to the road.
And grabbing a roti snack on the way back into town.
Back at Ella View Hotel for my one night stay.
And my room. There was no air-conditioning but due to the elevation of ~1,040 metres the temperature was not too uncomfortable though.
I had an early start tomorrow, so after dinner of noodles and chicken curry in front of my room, I had an early night to rest up for another exciting day tomorrow.