1 February 2019

3 Days in Sri Lanka

Location: Sri Lanka

ආයුඛෝවන්! Hello from Sri Lanka!
This is the first part of a two week, six city trip. Sri Lanka is full of surprises and has so many different parts to explore and different things to do - we were spoilt for choice! We chose to take on the Southern part of the island and travelled in a circle, looping back to Colombo at the end. I understand a lot of people aren't able to travel for an extended period of time, so this is a little journey plan for those of you who only have a few days in Sri Lanka!

Accommodation: Highbury Colombo
We booked two rooms for 6 people which averaged out to be approx. $72.50AUD/person/night
Centrally located in the heart of Colombo, around a 10-15 minute drive to everything. 

It is a house converted into a bed and breakfast. 
The grounds were lovely, the bathrooms weren't the best but the room was clean 
and the grounds and staff were lovely. 

We hired a driver for the duration of our trip (details will be left at the end of this post) 
so he picked us up from our hotel and took us for a one day trip around Colombo!

The Dutch Hospital shopping precinct was recommended to me as a food spot. There are a few local and international restaurants in their and a few small shops. The famous Ministry of Crab restaurant is located inside but we couldn't get a booking so we ate at Black Pepper Crab down the road instead. We had a feast of garlic chilli crab, curry prawn, Jaffna traditional Sri Lankan curry crab and black pepper crab of course! 

Galle Face is sort of like a beach park, a lot of families came out at sunset to play in the water and cool down. There are a lot of street food stalls that line the beach as well.
We were also recommended to try out the cocktails at Galle Face Hotel which sits at the end of the beach. Do take a peek inside if you get the chance - it's beautiful!

On our way to our next city, Kandy, we decided to stopover in Pinnawala to see the elephants. We did a lot of research on the elephant sanctuaries and parks and couldn't find any with amazing reviews. It took around 3 hours to drive to Pinnawala and it is filled with all things elephants! We saw an elephant crossing just as we arrived.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage 
I read some reviews that described it as a tourist trap. Some of the elephants had chains around their legs but all of them looked to be in good health. Their are 'bathing times' when the elephants are brought over to the river. The elephants seemed to really enjoy cooling themselves down in the water and their handlers even helped bathe them. There is a restaurant overlooking the river where you can get the perfect view and a food recharge! 

Accommodation: Maya Residence
We struggled to find suitable accommodation here for 6 people that wouldn't break the bank but also looked comfortable and clean. This was a house converted into a hotel. The rooms were simple and clean but we couldn't get a wifi signal and had plumbing issues with our room. It was a 5 minute walk to the centre strip of restaurants. We booked 3 separate rooms and it ended up being approx. 25AUD/person/night, which is a definite bargain!

Another one hour drive and we finally made it to Kandy. It was the last capital for the ancient king's era, so it is full of history. It is surrounded by forests and is known for the Temple of the Tooth. 
We opted to do something a little different and went with a traditional Sri Lankan cooking lesson instead!

Highly rated on Tripadvisor, I was skeptical at first but it was such a fun experience! You can choose from a lunch or dinner class, which lasts around 3 hours each. You can also choose to go shopping with them for all the ingredients and see how they choose everything. The price includes the ingredients and pickup/drop off as well. Our chef and guide Wasu brought us into his home and taught us all we needed to know about all the herbs and spices that are used in traditional Sri Lankan cooking. I'm a terrible cook and know nothing bout spices and flavouring but Wasu made sure the experience was entertaining and interactive. We started off with a pop quiz on spices and preparing all the vegetables. He had a few crazy side shows of chopping onions blindfolded and crushing garlic with his bare hands as well haha.

We were taught how to flavour all the curries and then had the opportunity to cook in their traditional kitchen. We made 7 vegetable curries, 1 chicken curry, coconut symbol and even fried up our own papadams! I assumed it would just be our group of 6, but we were combined with 2 other groups which made the experience even more fun and we got to make some new friends as well. We had some hilarious cooking encounters and a truly traditional Sri Lankan experience! 

We woke up bright and early on our second day in Kandy at 6.00am to start the 3 hour drive to Sigiriya or Lion's Rock. My friend recommended us to get there by 9.00am or it starts to get REALLY busy. We got there around 9.30am and there was already a line to get in and there were human traffic jams on the actual stairs of the rock to get up. 

Approx. 4500LKR/person
This hike isn't too tedious but it is a lot of stairs. The stairs are mostly man made with the exception of a few mud stairs so the climb isn't too difficult. You don't need to wear hiking gear, but a good pair of grippy shoes will be required. The stairs at the top of the rock get quite narrow as well, I have tiny feet and still ended up climbing them sideways. The climb to the top is probably only 20-30 minutes but it took closer to an hour because of the amount of people, so the line was going VERY slow.

The gardens at the bottom are well maintained and lusciously green! But the view at the top of Lion's Rock was amazing. It was used as the base of King Kashyapa's Palace in the 5th century and the palace ruins are still there today. It is very well maintained and truly an experience! Don't forget to stop by mirror wall on your climb up to Lion's Rock, it was built by King Kashyapa over 1600 years ago and was so highly polished that you could see your reflection in it as you walked along. Now it is covered in messages and graffiti from visitors over the years and has been corded off to prevent further graffiti.

That concludes the first part of our trip to Sri Lanka.
I made a vlog of our trip as well, that can be found here on Youtube.

Driver details:
Mobile & WhatsApp: +94 77 035 1030
Email: shiyanfazool@gmail.com
Web: www.srilankaprivatedriver.com

Our driver's name was Asanka and he was the best! Super lovely and patient and looked after us and protected us from getting overcharged. He found places for us to go and had good knowledge of all the cities. He is an experienced and safe driver.
Our fee was just under 1200AUD for a van for 14 days. The fee covers all meals and accommodations for the driver. Most hotels/villas have driver accommodation in Sri Lanka, but if that isn't the case the driver can book a place to stay, which is also covered by the fee.
I highly recommend getting a driver, it would have been so difficult and stressful getting from city to city with all our bags, navigating our way and finding new transport everyday.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our Sri Lanka trip to Ella, Udawalawe, Yala and Galle!


30 July 2018

a guide to ubud, bali

Location: Ubud, Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia

Hi again, welcome to part 2 of our Bali guide! 
This post will focus on what we did in Ubud. I had previously been to Ubud before, but just for a day trip (as most of the famous tourist locations are all in this area). It is about a 2 hour trip from Seminyak and is possible to do within a day - for example, Monkey forest, Rice Fields and Tegenungan waterfall but you will be exhausted! 

I wanted to try something different this time and booked a bamboo villa in the jungle of Ubud. We booked it through an amazing deal on Scoopon and it was nothing like anywhere we've stayed before! Bali has a lot of villa deals on Scoopon and Groupon but I do recommend you individually search the hotels, as sometimes the deals are the same price but just include a lot of bonuses and you can find a lot more cheaper villas/hotels on booking websites. 

Our Scoopon deal however was a fantastic deal and this is what it included:
3 nights at $299
One way pick up or drop off to airport
2 x three course meals for 2
2 x 1 hour massage for 2
One full day tour or half day tour with private car
Villa tour can be found here on Youtube

The villa itself was amazing but there were some negatives to staying in the middle of the jungle. It was nowhere near anything and about a 20-30 minute drive to Ubud centre. Cabs do not drive that far out but you can order a car from the Villa for 100,000IDR/10AUD which is a lot more pricier than what a regular cab would cost. Their little restaurant, while tasty had a limited menu and after eating mie goreng for breakfast and dinner almost three days in a row, safe to say I won't be eating another one of those for a good while. If you are scared of bugs, lizards all sorts of creepy crawlies, BEWARE. I saw the biggest flying bugs I have ever seen in my life here. The villas do come with a mosquito net over the bed, however the bathrooms are semi outdoors which would bring in bugs and lizards. Our villa had a communal pool which is shared by about 6 other villas so we never had it to ourselves, but a private pool isn't a necessity as I didn't even use the other one in our villa. Besides that, it was great great to get away from everything and stay there for 3 nights. We fell asleep to  the sound of cicadas and woke up to birds chirping and completely surrounded by nature. 

On our way over to our new villa the first stop of the morning was the famous Bali Swing! 
We were recommended to arrive early as the line gets quite long. We arrived at 9.30 and there were a few people there but not busy at all. The grounds were very well designed and safe but it is also VERY expensive. It was 35USD around $50 Australian per person which gave you unlimited rides on the swings, nests, etc and also included a meal. However, we only really went on 1 swing and about 2 nests and the food was....questionable. 
As we ventured around Ubud, we found that almost every major tourist attraction had their own swings which were about 200,000IDR/20AUD for a ride or even less! In hindsight, I would have preferred to take the swing at the rice fields, coffee plantation or waterfalls where I could've gone on swings with different views  instead of 7 swings with more or less the same view. For those who are worried about the safety and height, it does go up quite high but you are safely strapped on with a harness (not sure about the other locations but the swings are much smaller) and the swings vary in height so you can choose whichever one you feel comfortable with. I would definitely say this is a must-do in Bali though! Just explore your options!

After spending an hour at the Bali Swing we headed over to the Sacred Monkey Forest! We visited it last time but there's already been some changes in the three years since I've been there. They've renovated the entrance and there'a whole information desk/ticketing area now that is BEAUTIFUL. Previously you were allowed to buy bananas off ladies there which would lead the monkeys to climbing onto you and getting VERY close and friendly. However too many bananas made the monkeys aggressive as not all the monkeys got them and also made them very picky as they are usually fed a diet of sweet potato and corn. We arrived at around 11am and there were a few people there but it wasn't crowded or busy and the entrance fee was 50,000IDR/5AUD per person.

Our driver asked a staff member for us if we could get a photo with one of the monkeys and we tipped him around 10,000IDR/1AUD. However, a lot of the younger monkeys are so cheeky and will happily come up to you and play with your skirt and in my instance, try to take it home with them haha. I loved coming here for the second time, the grounds are beautifully kept and the monkeys are looked after by the staff.

I've previously visited this waterfall and it wasn't the best...it's quite crowded and not the cleanest, the water is also a lovely tinge of grey and the falls are too strong for you to actually go in. I have seen people standing around in the waterfall, but it is quite shallow and VERY rocky at the bottom so it is not a pleasant experience. We originally had plans to visit some of the other beautiful waterfalls such as Git Git, Sekumpul, Nung Nung, Aling-Aling but they were too far away. Tegenungan, whilst very popular, is also probably the easiest to get to. It was around 30 minutes from the monkey forest so most people visit this waterfall when they take a day trip to Ubud. 

Entrance fee is 15,000IDR/1.50AUD per person and you have to climb down a couple steep steps to reach the waterfall - would have been much easier if I wasn't in thongs! The walk up is even worse, I had to take a few breaks but I'm also not the fittest person soo... Once inside there is also a "Bali swing" which you can pay extra for and if you would like to go ontop of the waterfall it is an extra 10,000IDR/1AUD. I would recommend you go up higher as there is a bit more to see up there. There is also a little "bath" area with pure holy water that you can have a wade around in, the water was clear and much cleaner than the actual waterfall water. We spent about 30 minutes here. 

After waking up to the sound of birds and bees, we decided to take advantage of our free half day tour included in our villa package. A member of their staff accompanied us and we had a private car for our entire journey. Just a mere 5 minutes from the villa was our first stop, the coffee plantation! I initially thought this was going to be very gimicky and a tourist trap, but I actually really enjoyed our time here. We were greeted with a member of staff and she took us around the grounds and explained the whole process of the famous 'cat poo coffee', how the Luwak coffee is made collected and then how it makes its way into your coffee haha! The grounds were beautiful and overlooked a lush forest and rice fields. They also had their own 'Bali swing' here that looked very safe and had beautiful views, for only 200,000/20AUD. We were able to fly our drone and they have a few 'Titanic' photo points which makes for a super cute cheesy photo. 

We were offered to try all their teas and coffees for free and the added option of the famous Luwak coffee 'catpuccino' for an extra 50,000IDR/5AUD - which of course we did and it tasted like filtered coffee just in case you were wondering. It did prove to be a tourist trap though, it trapped me into buying a few packets of coffees and teas before leaving, but how could I leave empty handed without a taste of Bali coffee even though I don't drink coffee!! Overall a lovely experience and glad we did it, and you feel very awake and ready for the day after 10 cups of various coffees and teas.

A 15 minute car ride from the coffee plantation, the Tegalalang rice fields is one of the most popular locations in Ubud. There is another UNESCO rice field that is much further away, so most people opt for Tegalang, which is BEAUTIFUL anyway. I do recommend coming earlier in the morning or around sunset as it gets very hot during the day. If you're not too into trekking through the rice fields, you can take in the views at one of the restaurants that line the streets. For the rest of us, the entrance fee is 15,000IDR/1.50AUD per person, but you do need to give a donation of around 5,000IDR-15,000IDR to the families in each section of the rice fields. I think each section of the rice fields belongs to a separate family. We passed through around 5 donation points, but we did walk prettttty far. 

Once you get inside there are more cafe's and Bali swings, but the walk is not for the faint hearted! It gets VERY hot and super sweaty and climbing back up the stairs...I wanted to throw myself into the soggy rice fields. We also bumped into a few people actually farming their patch of field and they even let us have a shot! (For a small donation of course). I do recommend you walk into and amongst the rice fields as it is a completely different experience, compared to just viewing it from the top. 

Lunch break finally!
Our tour guide asked us 'Do you want some lunch with a beautiful view of Mount Batur?'
He took us to the Grand Puncak Sari Restaurant, it was a buffet style with plenty of options. Although not very tasty and a bit overpriced, the view of Mount Batur was definitely worth it! There are quite a few restaurants lining the street, so perhaps check out if there are any other food options! 

Thus concludes our 2 days in Ubud and our week in Bali. I am already itching to go again and hopefully these two posts inspired you to visit Bali too! 
Here is a link to our full itinerary.
Here is a link to our travel VLOG on Youtube
Our driver, Budha was 500,000IDR / 50AUD per day 
Super friendly, fluent in English, LOVES Aussies