Sri Lanka Temples on a Shoe String

Busy in Sri Lanka

I first heard the name Sri Lanka when I was a wee young lad. I was reading a novel by Arthur C. Clarke. In the novel he mentions Sri Lanka (previously know as Ceylon & Serendipity) quite a bit. Obviously he had fallen in love with this small island nation that is sometimes referred to as the jewel that hangs from the continent of India. This is an Easy ActivityFrom those earliest stories and the way he wrote about the numerous ancient rock wall carvings, statues, temple complexes and cities, I was hooked. However, many things have changed over the past 50 years since he penned those novels. The ancient sites are no longer un-excavated, nor are they sitting idle and ignored by the locals. Now they are all part of a well oiled government moneymaking machine (think Angkor Watt, but smaller in size and more spread out). What did I expect though? On an impulse I bought the airline tickets with a goal of visiting Sri Lanka temples on a shoe string.  And I figured it would be a good way to shoe horn a bit of travel while spending two months with Cristina in Thailand.

Map of Sri Lanka

Click to watch Enlightenment Video

After a month of lying in a hammock on the balcony of a Thai bungalow during the monsoons, I was ready to go any place with sunshine. Unfortunately Sri Lanka wasn’t the sunny place I had envisioned. We were greeted in Colombo, the capital, by more heavy monsoon rains and were informed that the island experiences at least three monsoon seasons, and the timing depends on which side of the island you are on at any given time. We decided, on another questionable impulse, to buy into a private package venture that would give us the major ancient cites (mostly in the north-central parts of the island) over a four-day period (costing $180 each). The deal included a train ride, car, driver, accommodation and some sunshine at last.

———————————————— cost table

cost range

Total Cost Range of this Activity is: $$


Ruins Private Package: 3 Day, 4 Night, Train (Columbo to Kandy), Driver/car/gas, & Breakfasts (Per person- 2people)
Entrance Pass 14day, most sites (per per.)
Other sites not on Pass ($5-$10 each)
4 days x 2 meals a day pp


Total Ruins Package


2010 prices

Ruins Package Details

Note that the ruins package used the same private and remote house each night which resulted in at least 2 hours of driving (each way) per day to visit the ruines. That sucked. We should have made sure that each night we stayed at the location of the next days sightes. The location was south of Damulla so we covered the same ground each day in the car.

Let the Tour Begin

We set out the next day by train. We were booked into the premium observation car on an ancient rickety train. We bounced and wobbled our way to Sri Lanka’s second largest city called Kandy where our driver met us. We then paid the ridiculous entrance pass fees to the ancient sites ($50 each, not included in the package). The pass was good at most of the prime locations but not all. A good number of sites charged as much as $10 each to visit so ancient sites have obviously progress from the days of Arthur C Clark’s novels.

Click to watch Public Baths Video

Link to Adam’s Peak
Link to World’s End

It turned out that our driver, Lal, was from Colombo and that he had driven over (essentially following the train) that morning. This seemed quite silly, but seemed to fit in with the silliness of the entire venture at that stage.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the car, on the main “highway” which consisted of a “paved” two-lane road with thousands of very old buses vying for customers and to be in the front of each other. The roads were endlessly winding as they wove their way in a lazy northward direction. We stopped a number of times to check out local temples and herbal gardens before turning onto a dirt track that took us to our accommodation for the next few days.

Area Temple Map

Day 1

We spent the next day temple hopping to Nalanda Gedige (Tartaric Monument), Dambulla Cave Temple and the Anuradhapura Ancient City Complex. We did the Anuradhapura Complex by bicycle but only covered a small portion of the sites (because of the two hour drive to and from the complex from our remote guesthouse). In spite of our time limitation we did manage to find the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi Tree. A tree grown from a cutting of the original that Buddha sat under while attaining enlightenment. It was an interesting concept and the number and types of pilgrims were just as interesting. Unfortunately time was fleeting so we returned our bicycles and climbed back into the car for the long drive back.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Day 2

The following day we visited the sprawling ancient city complex of Polonnaruwa (check spelling here). This time we arrived early and made use of our driver but even so, it was difficult to cover the entire site in a day, both because of the number of ruins and because of information overload. There were too many temples to see in too short a time.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Day 3

On the third and final day of our driver-escorted package we visited the ancient city located on top of a giant rock called Sigiriya . This is a seriously silly place to put a capital city but definitely impossible to attack. Think in terms of Gibraltar but with steeper cliffs. The climb to the top was only matched in its scary-ness by the even scarier descent. The site also housed a very good museum that our driver/guide told us was not worth visiting. It made me wonder about his other negative suggestions over the past few days.

The following day our driver dropped us back in Kandy. It is geologically part of the Hill Country, located at an altitude of 600m, and sits on the edge of a small lake and another set of temple complexes. It served us as a good base from which to do some planning and some Internet.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Link to Adam’s PeakPeak
Link to World’s End

Accommodation in Sri Lanka

Accommodation Rating *=sucks **=OK ***=Very Good
Name of Guest House

Price Per Night

Mrs Marie Barbana Settupathy’s (Bahbalapitiya)
2500R – $25
Green Palace, remote private part of package
Ruins Package
Gem Inn II (outside of center)
1200R – $12
Lakshmi GH (central with wifi)
1500-1700R – $15-$17
Nuwara Eliya
Hunting Cottage (on main rd edge of center)
1200R – $12
French Garden – Uppuveli (on beach)
1000R – $10
Soorya GH
1000R – $10
Adam’s Peak
Green House
800R – $8
Mrs Wijenayake’s GH
1000R – $10
King Fisher GH (on beach)
800R – $8
Sandhika GH (off beach but family run)
800R – $8
Breeze GH (on beach family run)
800R – $8
Homestay -family front room
500R – $5
Sunnyside GH (off beach outside center)
$1500R – $15

Business Cards & Contacts in Sri Lanka

Surathura Spice Gardens No 3
Athula Delpearachchi, Managing Director
Thotagamuwa, Palapathwala, Matale

Gem Inn-II
102/90 Hewaheta Rd, Talwatta, Kandy
2.5 km from Tooth Temple

Lakshmi Guest House, Plam Garden 2
Gopal Kanna Fathima, Mgr
Siththi Fathima, Cook
57/1/1 Saranankara Rd, Kandy
94 (0) 81.222.2154
94 (0) 81.223.3903

Hotel Shalini, (opposite the water tower)
41/388 Harichandra Mawatha, Anuradhapura

Place to stay Thailand, Koh Pha ngan

High Life Haad Yao
Suratthani 84280, Thailand

Place in Rome

Hotel Des Artistes
via Villafranca 20
Roma (3-4 blocks east of Termini)

Click the big yellow button to become a patron!

Link to Adam’s Peak
Link to World’s End