Why do we travel? Sights, experience, a new form of migration? No matter why I travel the most important component of the experience are the people of the place that you end up visiting. And the people of Sri Lanka are probably the nicest and the most helpful I met in many of my travels in Asia. They love to be photographed and I shot a lot of footage with them, here being just an albums of frames from this shoot. If you are interested in more info about traveling in Sri Lanka read this post.
Category Archives: Sri Lanka
We published an albums of frames from the shoot on the Southern shores of Sri Lanka. We shot in the old Dutch fortress town of Galle, the charming beaches of Mirissa, the fisherman on stilts in Ahagama, Unawatuna going all the way to Negombo. For more info read our blog posts about Galle, Mirissa and Negombo.
We published an album with frames from the shoot in and around Tangalle. We shot on the beautiful Indian Ocean beaches and the fish market in Tangalle, at the holy caves of Mulkirigala, the largest Buddha in Sri Lanka in Wekurukanala Vihara and the Ho-a-Maniya blow hole. For more info read our blog post about Tangalle
We published an album of frames from the shoot in the Hill Country of Sri Lanka. We shot in Delhousie, the village at the base of Adam’s Peak, mountain that we hiked in the night getting at sunrise on its top and in Ella , a hill station surrounded by tea plantations. if you want to know more about his read our blog posts Delhousie, Adam’s Peak and Ella
We published an album of frames from a shoot in the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. We shot in the fortress/monastery of Sigiriya, the painted meditation caves of Dambulla and and in the defacto capital of the country for so many centuries, Kandy. If you want to know more about these places read our blog posts about Sigiriya, Dambulla and Kandy
We finally published a webpage about Sri Lanka that includes a demo clip with highlights from the footage we shot in this destination.
We also posted an albums of frames from the shoot we did at the beginning of March in the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. We started the shoot in the oldest capital of Lanka, Anuradapura, continued to the cradle of the Sinhalese Buddhism, Mihintale, to the tall Buddha statue in Aukana, ending in Pollonaruwa, a capital established 1000 years after Anuradapura. If you need more information read our posts about Anuradapura, Mihintale, Aukana and Pollonaruwa.
I think that most of the pleasure being in this island stems from its people. The people are so nice here in Sri Lanka. I wrote this piece several days in my trip but I decided to wait till the end and post it, but nothing changed my opinion in the time I spent here.
Everybody beams a smile at you, first shy but when you salute them the smile is all over their faces. No matter how much English they know they always ask you where you are coming from and try to engage you somehow. In spite of the obvious relative poverty people look happy and content in a way that you encounter only in Asia, as I could tell. Even that tourism came to the island a while ago, before the war with the Tamil Tigers, the people of this island were not perverted by it. I am not talking about politicians, whose cause I will never sustain in any country, but the general individual you encounter on the streets. You have the same level of happiness that is displayed in Burma, the place that I considered till now to have the nicest inhabitants. People need money and always want to do something to be paid by the tourists, and sometimes is a little annoying, but they do it gracefully and with no rancor if the deal did not go through even if they went out of their way to help. How a people so close to India, and probably under its economical influence, can be so different? Is the difference in attitude coming from religion, the gaudy Hindu religion of India vs the tranquil Buddhism of the Island? I really don’t know but I noticed this tranquility in everybody I met and got help from in this trip and I want to gracefully thank them for this.
Most of the people speak English, an inheritance in learning the language maybe from the colonial times. But like in many other isolated places, the language was preserved with original expressions and you see signs that use words that are long out of use, like “footboard” for the train steps, subway for the underground passage, etc. People address you deferentially keeping a pleasant distance and giving you the space to breathe.
When you travel and never know the exact situation of the ground and especially coming from the world of set prices, you may occasionally get annoyed if you feel that the price was higher than is supposed to. And not a few times, you enter the game and start haggling for something that in the end it can be just few cents. I read once a piece of Sebastian Junger that talks exactly about this, based on his own experience and I knew how real and, in hindsight, how stupid it is. Everybody I met here Sri Lanka let me feel that they try to help, make you feel good and make your stay enjoyable. They do expect to be paid, for sure, but they really try hard and you feel that they care.
This world of Sri Lanka is very relaxed and a minimum income is what they are looking for. One told me that if you make lots of money you will do bad things and ruins friendships and yourself. And how real this thing is. Even in Kandy, that is the second largest city, everybody is so courteous and salutes you and even the rare encounters with aggressive touts is not as bad as in many other places in the world. I had an exchange in Kandy only with one street guy, the type of tout that was trying a regular scheme and when I hushed him away he tried to protest but left.
Transportation is great and readily available. Trains are running often enough and tickets can be either reserved, for a higher fee, or bought from the station right before the ride for very low price. A train ride of about 4 hours can cost around $2. And the train rides are gorgeous in a country that is so green. The country is covered by its lush vegetation in spite of the fact that the development encroached into it and the statistics show that only 29% of the country is covered by jungle.
Buses are also an excellent way to move around. Small AC buses, larger long distance shinny ones, or the local dark red rattlers, all move swiftly and they take you anywhere for a extremely low cost. You just have to show up on a road and a bus will be there, no matter where you go in less than 10 minutes. They may be crowded but in any case not Indian style…
Because of this affluence, efficiency and low cost public transportation, travelers move by either train or bus so you make lots of friends. Everybody salute each other and stop for a little chat. Since I traveled in Burma I did not find a place that is so friendly with locals and foreigners alike. It was hard to spend one evening without having a new friend and chatting with him about lots of issues. Of course the travel was the main topic of conversation and, as is usually the case, you get lots of tips and change on the go your schedule based on the info you were able to dig out. So I want to thank to all the new friends I met here for their tips and graceful chats.
Self driving car rental is available and, as long as you can drive comfortable on the “wrong” side of the road, the roads are good and the traffic is manageable. I did not see the aggressive attitude that you see on the Indian road, where the smaller traffic partners must fled for their life the approaching larger ones, no matter that even in Sri Lanka sometimes the traffic can be crazy. Like Sri Lankans in general, even the drivers’ attitude is permeated by the relaxed atmosphere of the country or maybe is the Buddhism….
As I understood to rent a car is somewhere around $25/day and the cost of the gas is not a lot because over all the country is small.
Most people rent scooters for about 1000Rs/day with helmets but these are mainly to travel inside the cities not on longer hauls.
The car or tuk-tuk with driver is a different story as I described before. An agency in the airport was advertising $50/day but this proved to be bogus when you start adding and the real cost is probably somewhere a little less than $100/day. For a 4 day tour a friend paid $450 with accommodations included but the price go down dramatically for longer time rentals.
For a long day drive around in the Cultural Triangle I rented a van from a local for 8000Rs that came with driver and the guy who made the arrangement that was fluent in English. See the post about Pollonaruwa for details.
And on the geeky side what bad things can you tell about a country where EVERYWHERE you go you get free wi-fi. Every guesthouse or hotel offers free wi-fi and most of the restaurants. The quality is very good that you can make free international calls with no problem, way better than in the USA….The main result is that you see most of the foreigners on their gizmos connected with friends in the entire world.
Overall I consider Sri Lanka one of the best destination from a traveler perspective. Culturally diverse, with great hikes in the mountains and gorgeous beaches, inexpensive, with great accommodations, safe and good food and CLEAN. It is at a par with any place in SE Asia no matter that is South Asia and so close to India….
Mirissa was so beautiful and I kept pondering when to leave. But mornings are good for decisions and I woke up at 5:00 am, packed and went for the sunrise to the temple on top of the hill. Again, if you are living on the beach why sleep? The sunrise was OK but not so spectacular and I decided for the last bath in Mirissa at 6:30 am. The Ocean was as warm as somebody would have boiled it over night. For now I’d accumulate heat and I will chill in the Atlantic in the Long Island summer. Around 7:15 am I left and I boarded the first bus to Colombo, a small AC bus (370Rs) that brought me in exactly 4 hours in the city. From there I jumped right away in a beaten red rattler that was going to Negombo (23rs) that took more than 90 minutes for less than 30 km. Now I understood why nobody wants to go to Colombo and in all guide books is mentioned the traffic. The traffic jam is for miles and is combined with the fact that the city sprawled and the traffic is the same for miles before the bus stop. Between the two buses, out of the 5 hours it took to get to Negombo, probably 90 minutes were spent crawling in the city.
In Negombo I took the first tuk-tuk that brought me to Ocean View Guest House, on the Shore Road, and found a hotel near by, Angel’s Inn (3000Rs) and start exploring in the midday heat after a short late breakfast. Unfortunately I cannot tell that I am impressed. The city has a long main street where are tons of restaurant, shops, gems places, resorts, etc. very typical for such a town. The main hotels are very large and the crowd that occupied it is for sure not my cup of tea. For the other travelers, Negombo is just the place that is the closest to the airport and you can spend the night at the beach. I went to the main street for several km and I did some final shopping in Sri Lanka and after a bath in the Ocean, peeking at a traditional wedding on the beach, the sunset and another bath in the Ocean close to dark, I went in town for a dinner of prawns and doing the blog in the same time. For sure Negombo lacks the charm of both Tangalle and Mirissa, being meant to compensate with luxury accommodations and spas, people coming here mainly to be pampered. I arranged for tuk-tuk for tomorrow morning, (800Rs, 25 minutes) to go to the airport and I will do the last shopping in Sri Lanka.
The yesterday choice with the accommodation was a mistake. I wanted to stay in Sunbeam Hotel and decided for something with more character, a guesthouse Anasinghe. It definitely had character but the room was small and stuffy and it made it very hard to sleep. Besides they turned off the water in the night!!!! I woke up for the sunrise and walk on the island in the middle of Mirissa, the best spot for sunrise or sunset. The fishermen were moving their boats in sunrise hoping for a good catch. A very picturesque fishermen on the shore was trying to get a good spot to fish.
I spent some time and left with a bus to Mirissa’a harbor, about 1 1/2 km away. It is about 15 minutes walk from the bus stop to the harbor.
The harbor (25Rs, yes you have to pay a gate fee) was busy managing the catch of the day, the boats unloading lots of fish on the landing. The fish was hacked by guys with machetes and all the insides were pulled out in a gory scene. Tuna and hammer head sharks and many other fish that I do not know. Besides the fish scenes the harbor is really pretty with old boats painted in various colors and equipped to go out in the ocean for fishing or to bring the tourists for whale and dolphin watching, that is big here in Mirissa.
There are poles like this even in Mirissa but I could not find anybody there. However yesterday When I got in Galle I saw fishermen in Kolchaga or Dalwella. There were no fishermen in Midigama and I had a quick breakfast and moved on but right after, in Ahangama I saw two groups for whom I stopped and took all the necessary pictures. I had to pay both groups somewhere between 50-200Rs because they figured out that they make more money this way than from fishing.The fishing positions are inherited and a pole like this is passed along in the family. Besides the money, one woman who was managing the photo ops asked me for school pens that I gladly gave.
With the fishermen in the bag I got on another bus and went to Unawatuna. that used to be the best known resort on the coast.
But the look it has now is completely depressing. The tsunami wiped out 90% of the beach and the 70 meter of beach in the bay was reduced to a sliver of sands right under the houses walls, under which people try to lay their towels or if it permits some lounge chairs. It is obvious that any other storm would wipe all the guesthouses that are now just few feet from the water. Besides you still can see what was left behind by the tsunami almost 10 years after. I did not want to spend too much time, neither on the beach nor on the very commercial street going there and I got a bus getting back in Mirissa around 1:00 pm. I tried to find a room in one of the guesthouses but none were available. If people leave in the afternoon they keep the room till late hours and lock it. In the end, after several failed tries, I gave up and went back to Sunbeam Hotel. The reception guy remembered the yesterday discussion and obliged with the same rate of 2500rs no matter that I was yesterday actually a no show. I went to Anasighe and took my bag and went quickly for a dive in the warm Ocean and some lunch.
I had a dinner of fish Kothi Roti, a dish where they chop the fish and mix it with some veggies, I guess,, but it makes it very tasty. After I had a long talk with Michael about the end of money and some possible scenarios in the current financial crisis. Not the best topic for Tangalle but for sure very interesting. He was reading again “Black Swan” and he found lots of interesting points Taleb is making there and we talked about it.
In the morning I woke up for sunrise but the clouds were over the horizon and the sun came up from behind them. No fisherman was pulling the nest on the entire beach so I walked a little on sunrise, took some beautiful shots and went for breakfast in the Villa. The coffee these guys make is extremely strong and very good and they make an entire pot for you. Around 9:00 am seeing that Michael did not show up I left him a note and got a tuk-tuk to the bus stop and boarded a bus to Mathara (60Rs). It takes about 1 hour or such to Mathara where you have to change the bus to get to Mirissa (23Rs) for another 30 minutes. I got around 11:30 am to Mirissa, on a busy street and I entered the Beach Spa resort, or something like this, that has nice room but lacking character. So I decided to find something more personal and I found a guesthouse where I left my bag and I started to collect the info: only one bus direct to Negambo, 5 hours, fishermen on stilts, the harbor, etc. With all the info in the bag I left and caught a bus to Galle, (50Rs, 45 minutes) and bumped into the Italians from Bologna with whom I took the tour in Tissa, In Galle I went straight to visit the fort. The entire coast was for long time in the control of the European maritime powers. First the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and finally the Brits controlled the area. However, finally only the Brits were able to unify the country under their rule, all the other limited themselves to more or less the coastal region, the hill area being ruled by the Sinhalese kings from Kandy. In Galle the Dutch scraped everything built by the Portuguese and built a fort with bastions and ramparts to be able to be defended. They did a pretty good job and it withstand the time and recently the tsunami that affected otherwise the city. However, the Dutch fort is way more than just a fortress. The main offices of the city of Galle, pronounced Gool, are there including the the Magistrate and District Courts, that are side by side with the original buildings from the 17th century and many nice hotels and restaurants. Galle is the fourth largest city of Sri Lanka and the inside fort is full of French restaurants, Italian Gelaterias and everywhere is advertised Lavazza Coffee. And when you go up North in the Cultural Triangle you are happy for Rice and Curry….Besides the entire fort is dotted with stores selling souvenirs, in general nothing remarkable just regular cheap and non representative stuff but I found a gallery, Sihuvarli(?) with remarkable paintings on wood that is worth a visit. You can have a very pleasant stroll on the ramparts and surround the fort but I did not have enough time for the entire walk and I preferred to wander the small streets and alleys that may bring always surprises when you turn a corner. The old churches are all there, Reformatted, Dutch reformatted, Anglican and the Catholic Mission where I spoke with one of the nun who wants to bring everybody together and stop the in-fight. Now the war with the Tamil ended but I understood there are some conflicts with the Muslims. At one point I was called from the street by the teachers from Montessori to show me the art work of the children, looking so similar with what is done in the US at Montessori schools, and I donated some money and a set of my kids’ pens that I carry with me to spread around. The city is full of tourists and it looks very different of that I saw till now in Sri Lanka, the patrons being mainly the tour bus people, older Europeans, many Dutch or Brits, coming to see the old colonies. And they impose on the feel the city permeates, the old charm being replaced by a touristy atmosphere. I walked all streets, ate from the Gelateria and went for the bus that would bring me back to Mirissa. I intended to get to see the fishermen on stilts but it was about 6;30 Pm when I got to the bus and probably I would not have been able to see anything.
The bus brought me back to Mirissa in about 45 minutes and I went to the hotel and change, make some calls and find a place to eat. I was famished, staying in the heat all day only with some peanuts and ice cream. So now I am having dinner of tuna on the beach in Mirissa surrounded by candle lights….Mirissa feels mirific.
If you stay in Tangalle where else you can stay than on beach location. So I woke up around 5:45 am planning to walk to the fisherman’s boats but the they were right in front of the villa pulling the nets out of the ocean in sunrise. The process is long and arduous. First the boat is driven full throttle to the beach and is pushed by 6-8 people up on the beach. Latter all these people and many others come and help to bring the nest out of the water the occasional foreigners who are taking pictures being invited also to join the party. The nets are pulled from both sides by 4-5 people on each side. But when it came out is not much inside.
After the show was over I walked to the other two places were the fishermen come, where there were lots of boats and people, a very interesting photographic scene. Boats were coming from the ocean and the process was repeated in pushing the boat on the ground but no more nets were pulled out. Further, at the end of the beach is the harbor where the big boats are anchored and where is also the fish market. The hassle and bustle of the market was typical with lots of fish on the scales, trucks ready to load, all sorts of deals being made. I asked a guy who had lots of tuna and he said that the price is 300Rs per kg and one fish goes for 3-4 kilos. I was dehydrated and I had to drink some water and I walked from there directly to the villa where I had the classical Sri Lankan breakfast, omelet, bread, butter, jam, juice and coffee and I drank almost a bottle of water feeling much better after that. Michael, from Germany, whom I met last night and stays here 3 months was on the dining patio and we had a chat about TV and finance, him being the host of a main financial advising German website and used to work many years as anchor for financial news in Germany and CNBC. When my tuk-tuk arrived I said good bye and leave for a previously discussed tour to rock temple at Mulkirigala, “the Big Buddha” at Wekurukannala Vihara and Ho-o-Maniya Blowhole (2500Rs).
The rock temple at Mulkirigala is named Weherahena temple (200Rs). The huge rock with occasional caves, similar but smaller than the one in Sigiriya, was converted centuries ago in a temple.It has four platforms. On the first three platforms are located the caves that, similar with the ones in Dambulla, are painted inside. What makes this temple very weird is that the painting dates from the 19th century, a time when Sri Lanka was under strong European influence and all the paintings are done in Baroque style. You see Lord Buddha dressed in European attire and the scenes represented are typical for European church painting. And if this was not enough, on one painting, or probably on more paintings, is represented an 18th century baroque Madonna and Christ adoring Lord Buddha. The adoration is represented in each and every scene, a thing that you don’t normally see in Buddhist representations. In each chapel is a large Buddha statue in resting position, not in paranirvana because the eyes are wide open. Interestingly I did not see one reclining Buddha in paranirvanna in Sri Lanka, all are resting positions. However one cave has remarkable paintings of punishments for sinners. In total there are about 5 painted caves.
Wekurukannala Vihara is relatively closer to Tangalle and it hosts the largest Buddha in Sri Lanka, a 50 meter technicolor tiled structure (Rs200). It was built in 1960 and behind it is a 8 story construction painted naively inside with scenes from Buddha’s life. You can walk up and get straight into Buddha’s head and maybe get enlightened. On the grounds is an old temple in not a very good shape that has a chapel dedicated to Hindu deities. But what strikes the most, beside the gigantesque structure, is the newer temple. It was built around 120 years ago and it is super gaudily decorated temple with plaster figures from Hindu and Buddhism, more appropriate with what you expect in a temple in India. Buddha sits in meditation and is guarded by Hindu Gods that had already slayed some gruesome characters. The entire main chapel is surrounded by Buddha statues that have in front a man or an animal that prays to the Lord in a scene of adoration typical of European ecclesiastical art. The main chapel has a large Samadhi Buddha, faced by two huge standing Buddhas and one in resting position. If you look closer you will find also a corner niche where is Madonna and Christ in the manger. That’s the globalization of the religions during the colonial times. I spent maybe a little too much time in awe about the 19th century kitsch and driver who was hungry, these guys MUST eat lunch around 1:00pm, came to pick me up and quickly drove me to the Blow Hole (Rs200), a narrow formation in the shore’s rocks where water from the ocean surf can blow up up to 23 meters water columns in summer, but now it showed some limited action. We drove fast to Tangalle and after a short chat with Michael I went for a swim, a walk on the beach, the blog and finally dinner.
Wake up time 4:30 am, Departure time 5:00 am. I packed and left the luggage in the office of the Travelers Home, the guesthouse where I stayed in a charming cabana surrounded by palm trees. The jeep was waiting and boarded it together with two Italians from Bologna and drove in the dark about half hour till we got to the Yala park’s entrance. The park fee of about 3500Rs was included in the 5900Rs I paid for the tour, in a jeep with two other people. Probably if you are 6 in the jeep is cheaper. We waited to enter the park about 15 minutes and when we got in flashes of lighting where on the horizon. Luckily the rain went some other way and the weather was perfect till we left the park, around noon, when rain pelted us till we got back in Tissa. The animals were awake waiting for tourists….First we saw an elephant swimming, Pumba wild boars crossing the road, stork and ibises, etc. The drive is intense and the jeeps are chasing locations where they hear from other drivers, or from cell phone calls, that there are animals. But you may just bump into animals by simply cruising, The highlight for the spotters, employees of the park that may come with you in the jeep, is to see a leopard, We did not have a spotter but our driver was a pretty good one anyhow. There are about 250 leopards in the park but they are very elusive and is very hard to spot them. At one time we waited for a while because in a tree we saw monkeys who were having a commotion , an indication that the leopard was close but after a longer wait we gave up. We drove around going to all the lakes from Block 1 and we saw a bear, jackals, water buffalos swimming and sitting in the mud, lots of occasional elephants very close, one of them doing a mud bath, lots of birds of various colors big and small, peacocks, etc. At one moment it happen a commotion because the word was passed that a leopard was spotted in a tree. All the jeeps rushed there driving at full speed on the unpaved and very bumpy road and when we got at the right place we found a jeep line like at the gas stations during Sandy. We waited for a while and we got our position to spot the leopard who was sleeping on a branch in a tree, oblivious of the human commotion he created. If he were able to sell ticket for the show of his existence he would have been a rich leopard. But the interesting part was when we left the spot and we realized that the jeep line was really huge, maybe 30 cars or more being in line to spot the animal. So probably because of the leopard show the park was emptied and we almost bumped in a elephant family of 5 who were roaming and eating happily on the road with no spectators. So we assisted them for a while till other jeeps joined us for the show and we left toward Tissa on the way out bumping in jackals and large lizards hidden in the trees, spotted deers and bocks and many others. When we got off the park the rain that was threatening us in the morning materialized and we had to close the jeep on the way back not to be drenched. All of us considered the safari being of an excellent quality including Mario, the Italian from Bologna who was also in Kruger National Park in South Africa. We all loved what animals we saw, the diversity and richness, but mainly we loved the park being so green and full of life. The drive itself, bumpy and intense, is a pleasure and added to the value of the trip. It is definitively a do-not-miss destination in Sri Lanka. In Habarana they told me that there are no elephants in Yala; we saw more than what we needed so don’t believe the touts ever. We got to Travelers House, paid for the night and got a recommendation for Starfish Beach House in Tangalle the next place where I was going. They have this way of doing business, they recommend each other, guesthouses of the same level of comfort, and they even call to let them know that you come. But meanwhile I had to go in Tissa, or Tissamaharama as is officially called, to change some money. The banks were closed on Saturday but obviously I easily found somebody to change in a store and I was able also to get, as I was advised from Ella, a battery to bring to life my watch that decided to stop at one moment. I returned to the hotel and said goodbye to my nice host praising the Yala trip, send some emails from the always-anywhere free wi-fi, a far cry from the “first world countries” where you have to pay for wi-fi through your nose and got soon in a bus to Tangalle (1 1/2 hours, 120Rs) on the Southern cost of the island. The driver was driving like a maniac, like all do, but the traffic is more manageable than in India and we got in close to 2 hours in Tangalle. …Tuk-tuk (150Rs) to the Star Fish beach Hotel who knew that I come but they did not have rooms and they pointed me to the neighbor, a German, Walter who came here 30 years ago and never left again. He had a bungalow available around 5:00 pm in Villa Abaliya (2500Rs) so I left my luggage and asked them for a coffee that it work as my day brunch at 3:30 pm waiting for evening for the only meal of the day. Again! It is no time when you travel and food is optional…I left for a walk and it looked like everybody in the village wanted to have a chat because I was approached by many, one telling me about his pleasure to have foreigners come, another showing me his decoration from military and his wounds fighting the Tamil Tigers and offering me a very good fruit, medicine fruit, that he prepared with palm honey and it was delicious. I found out where the fishermen are coming at sunrise and and somebody said that they will meet me tomorrow morning there. Quite a hectic life here in Tangalle! I took a late evening bath in the warm Indian ocean replacing the shower that I could not have after Yala. When I told Walter that people are so nice, he told me that some just act nice… I am sure he knows better but still I did not have bad interactions this trip. Finally I returned to Star Fish and had the promised fish BBQ they were talking about all day and a well deserved beer on the beach writing my blog.
I was waking up around 5 am when I start hearing the rain coming down on the roof. The weather is unstable in March, ready in a way for the hot season and the monsoon. And in the hill country, where the tea plantation are located, is raining even in the dry season. I did all my transfers but I noticed that the Internet did not work. At 8:30 the host placed the breakfast on the table and told me that a tuk-tuk driver will come to pick me up at 9:00 am for a trip to the tea factory. I had my breakfast of papaya, bananas and pine apple but meanwhile I started to work on the blogs and post them and everything got delayed till about 9:30 am when I left to visit the tea factory that is located at about 8 km. The tour was excellent, about one hour of explanation and technology of this old trade. The machinery that separated the good leaves from the bad ones is the same technology used 160 years ago, obviously improved with current control systems. The process is relative clear, the tea being laid on some plates and dried, further separated about 4 times, the tender tea leaves from the one that are coarse, dried in hot air, sieved based on size and filtered electronically again with new type of machines creating about 4 types of different first quality tea. The bad tea that was separated in the first step will be used as second quality tea. He explained extensively in engineering terms the difference between the green and the black tea and in the end we all tasted four teas, that differed in lightness, flavor and color. The best quality tea is made only in the dry season months. This was considered first quality, but not a special “vintage” because the weather was damp. Also, the bigger the tea is, the lighter it will be.
At the end I bought a small pack to bring it home and I left back to the guesthouse. We looked on the way to find the women who were picking leaves but they either left or we found some that were packing to go home because of the rain. At the guesthouse the friendly Swiss with whom I had a beer yesterday were on the patio admiring the rain. We chat a little bit about the tea factory and they made up their mind to go in a visit, no matter that they have been before in Nuwera but it turned out to be just a 10 minutes fast tour with almost no information. But meanwhile we decided to go together by bus to the waterfall, 6km away from Ella. And it was worth it! We got some rain coats from the guesthouse and left to the bus station. The bus (25Rs) is running almost every 10 minutes and dropped us in front of a majestic waterfall. Rawana Ella is impressive coming down from the top of the mountain and continuing under the road in a wild river. We hanged out there for a while playing with the monkeys who were coming to us signing like humans from their hand to give them some food and eventually took the bus back. In Ella we wished each other to have a good trip and they went to the tea factory and I went home to pick up my luggage. The owner gave me a free ride to the bus stop where his sister, who found me yesterday, was waiting for me and called the contact in Tissa telling him that I will board the 2:40 pm bus, (2 1/2 hours, 112Rs). In the bus stop I was joined by a French living in Moscow and his Russian girlfriend and we started to chat when some school kids who were around came to us and asked if we have to give them some school pens. Last time when I was in India many kids asked me for pens and I did not have any and this time I decided to bring some. I gathered an immensity of pens and pencils that were all over the house from my kids and I put them in a plastic bag that may weigh about 2 pounds. So I started to pull out pens and give it to them. They were thrilled and started to come in droves till, after I thought that everybody got at least one, I closed my bag. Meanwhile the bus showed up and we boarded and during the ride I had a mesmerizing discussion about Russia with the Frenchman, one of the most interesting and fulfilling conversation that I had till now in this trip. The bus was going to Matara. I got off at the Tissa junction and I was taken over by some touts who wanted to hijack me to their businesses with the classical touting rap that I know so well. But finally my contact came and brought me to his hotel, Travelers Home, a set of beautiful chalets surrounded by palm trees and I got a beautiful room with a terrace from where you can watch the time go by. After some phone calls home, in which I found out that it is a snow storm in New York and there are already 5 inches of snow and the schools were delayed, I went to eat in town, at Roots, a one street affair with gas stations and some banks. Meanwhile I spoke with the owner for the tomorrow safari and I already paid about 5900Rs, a not so bad price for a 6 hours tour of the park, considering that about 3500Rs is just the park fee. I have to go to sleep to make sure that I wake up at 5:00 am before all the animals….
This time the jet lagged that still lingers helped and I crashed in a deep sleep at 8:00 pm and woke up without an alarm at 1:30am. Outside I could hear the other people staring to move and when I got out of the room around 2:00 am I realized that I was the last.
I started walking on the village road under a sea of stars and a crescent moon looking towards Adam’s Peak that could be seen lit in a perfect cloudless night. The path to the 2840 meters peak is lit with neon lights and this makes a beautiful image in the night when you can see the entire way to the top. But this also inhibits: Am I suppose to get there?!!!
After I turned the first bend I started to see some of the foreigners who were walking still asleep and some cheerful Sri Lankans. From the village road a right turn brings you to a shrine where Buddhist monks have a book where you would write your name and write also how much you want to donate. Interesting! The path goes on the margin of a valley till it gets to the steps. There are 5400 steps on a path that has 7 km to the top.
walking the steps up was like a meditation. And this is probably is supposed to be. It is perfectly quite and you can hear just the whisper of some water from a spring on one side and the bips of the frogs all over. And if your thoughts drift and bring them back to what surrounds you it is so rewarding.
On the way there are places to rest and the stalls selling coffee, tea, drinks and food are open all night. The huffing and puffing is coming from all pilgrims no matter of age, race, location or gender. You continuously climb steps, one after another, and some are steep and is not easy at all. I stopped on the way like many others but in the same time I tried to shoot something in the night. I wonder how it would look on the big screen when I get home.
On the way I met again most of the people I saw the day before and exchanged jokes and cracks in the same pleasant atmosphere from the previous day. From the stalls you could hear religious chants being played. At one point a set of banisters showed up on the way, an indication that there are only 1500 steps left. We continued our ascent till a stall that displayed the sign, “Last Hotel”, all the stalls being named hotels here, where we stopped knowing that we are very close to the peak. A spirited young Brit, the grandson of a Sri Lankan, who climbed bare footed at his grandparent’s suggestion went to the top and came back announcing that there are only 10 more minutes to the top. The climb is listed between 2 and 1/2 hours to 4 hours and it took me about 3 hours and 15 minutes, So we timed and starting to get up close to 5:45 am to be there when the sun starts showing its first glows. And the effort was not in vain because after a clear night we had a gorgeous sunrise. You look at all these pilgrims, travelers and tourists how all congregated and looked at the sun and they, maybe without knowing it, were worshiping it. They worshiped the miracle of resurrection of the sun and their life. It was way more than just people watching at a beautiful scenery and here on the top of Adam’s Peak you could feel it.
After the sunrise most of the people started to descend but a religious ceremony started at the temple on top. With cymbals, drums and trumpets the priests were celebrating the sunrise and were dedicating it to Lord Buddha. I stayed with lots of pilgrims and travelers who wanted to attend and pray. From the temple top platform you can see also how right after the sunrise the shape of Adam’s Peak is projected on the back clouds in a magical triangular shape that lasts for quite a while, descending in time to the base of the mountain.
The serene atmosphere was enhanced by the puja and at its end all pilgrims were allowed to enter the top chapel of the temple where is embellished the footprint of Adam who, after he was expelled from Paradise, according to local tradition, first stepped on Earth here right on top of this mountain . But also here was Lord Buddha himself and the footprint can be also be his and it looks like a classical Buddha footprint. Remains to be determined….
Around 7:00 am I start the descent that together with stopping for shooting took about 2 hours and a half. Now you start seeing the pilgrims. Some of them old, barely moving or in crutches they made this pilgrimage, for some a last effort to gain merit in this incarnation. Going back we saw also some late coming foreigners, some young but also some older, barely moving, brought to the mountain by her daughter or even one man legged coming to beg to the returning pilgrims or monks asking for alms. There were also lots of workers climbing the mountain caring cement and sand bags with their back to be used for the restoration of the steps. Down in the valleys the tea picking women were congregated near the plantation for the beginning of the new work day.
I made it in time to the hotel but the 9:30 am bus to Hatton, the last direct one and also the only that can assure that you make the 11:00 am train to Badula decided to leave 10 minutes earlier and pass nonchalantly by the hotel. I paid for the room and planned now to have the breakfast and I went to the room to start packing and do some files transfer but when I got back to the terrace two Germans from Leipzig wanted to hire a tuk-tuk (1500Rs) or taxi (2500Rs) to Hatton and make the train and invited me to share it. I decided to skip breakfast and went to pack and quickly back I joined them in the taxi and made it in time for the train. The distance is short only 23 Km from Delhousie to Hatton but even a taxi takes an hour. However the train was delayed and I met in the station the Vermont girls who were going somewhere into the hills and started an alert conversations with the Germans who were going to Haputale.
Riding the train in Sri Lanka is probably giving you the best view about the country. The lush and diverse vegetation is with no par in the parts of the world I have seen. The immense palm trees, the huge banana trees with long leaves, the deodars and lots of trees in bloom of exquisite colors make the train ride a joy. The tea plantation around Hatton and Nuwera were replaced by lush vegetable gardens, by rice paddies and again by tea plantation. And all this on a mountain background with dense forests. The ride took about 4 hours. We were entertained by some Sri Lanka young guys who played drums and sang very nicely.
Foreigners were boarding the trains in the junction for Nuwera Elya and the World’s End National Park and we all got off in Ella.
A enterprising lady came to show me her picture of her guesthouse, Freedom Inn, and we left with a tuk-tuk and made all the arrangements. The deal was the same, 2500RS with dinner, breakfast and wi-fi. The rooms are beautiful and, like everywhere I slept in Sri Lanka, on top of each bed is a mosquito net that I use, no matter that here are no mosquitoes for the moment. But they will come….The lady also made arrangements for me with a friend of her in Tissa ( 2 1/2 hours by bus to Tissa junction) for the following night and also will arrange for the safari in Yala National Park.
In the guesthouse, that has only two beautiful rooms, there were also two French Swiss who I started to chat and latter, after I went in town for a walk, we bumped into each other and continued to chatter over a beer. When we returned to the guesthouse, the power that was off when we first arrived was restored and I went to have dinner and had a great conversation with two couples, one from Tennessee and one from Belgium over some friend noodles and dal, my first meal of the day.
In the morning I woke up again very early and did my blog and around 7:00 am I hired a tuk-tuk to get me to the top of the hill where a grand Buddha on top of the temple surveys the city of Kandy in his sleep. I shot some video of the damp city after a rainy night and when I left the temple a guy coming in asked me the usual question: Country? I answered America, that I realized that is more probably to be understood than United States and his answer was: God Bless! I was astounded and start laughing but I kept thinking about how this got in his broken English. But in any case in his mind this was his gift of our short encounter. God bless you too!
I walked down from the monastery and eventually I gave up to go anywhere else and being still early I went for breakfast at the Baker House, a nice restaurant on the main street. After pondering upon the following days schedule, I decided to stay a day longer in Sri Lanka and I went to a place where I did some flight inquires yesterday and bought a flight out of Colombo going to Trivandum ($120) for March 14. And rushed to the hotel to get my backpack and go to the train station where I bought a ticket (110Rs) for Hatton, a 2.5 hours train ride. In Sri Lanka you go to the station and can find and buy a no reserved seat ticket train. But the trains are not crowded and most probably you will have a seat if is no major festival happening.
The train was full of foreigners, many going to Nuwera or Hatton. I ended up on the bench, by pure coincidence, with a guy Alberto from Bilbao who was shooting for a travel video of train riding in Sri Lanka. So that makes two of us…All these foreigners got off the train in Hatton and boarded a local bus to Delhousie with benches so crammed that would make a Guatemala chicken bus the envy of the village. Delhousie is the closest village to the base of the pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak the most important religious place in Sri Lanka where everybody plans to start walking up the 5400 steps for 7 km around 2:00 am tonight. The entire area is full of tea plantations and tea factories that you see mostly on the second part of the train ride.
After getting off the bus everybody spread through the guesthouses that are all in one place, all with color name like White, Yellow and Green House or in my case Achinika Holiday Inn. Fancy! But all have free Wi-fi and offer for about 3000-3500Rs a double room with dinner and breakfast and single for 2500Rs.
Because is nothing else to do, in no time everybody was walking the main road to the center of village where there are some stalls selling waters, munchies and lots of trinkets, the main shopping mall of the village. After a while you bump in the same people repeating many times the hellos, the atmosphere of a small village. For dinner we got most of us congregated on a top under-construction-terrace made out of rough cement and stick out bar wire and eat the rice and curry and ready to go to sleep around 8:00 pm. The atmosphere is unique, like we are all part in a common journey. And actually we always are but we are just mislead in not understanding it.
Kandy’s lake is a charm. When you wake up in the morning cool the lake reflects in the entire Sri Lanka‘s spirit, so fresh and relaxed. The lake is the middle of the town and its heart. In terms of locations everything is related to it. In the morning I had breakfast in the hotel with David from California and an Austrian woman, both very seasoned travelers. She filled me in with the hill country, the area south of Kandy full of tea plantations and rice fields. The tips she gave me in regards to Adam’s Peak climb and the train ride to Ella were great and I planned to follow up when I get in town with info in this direction. So I walked to town’s center on the lake’s shore and got on the main street with the restaurants where I had dinner last night.
Kandy is the town where you find all services and here, after a long discussion with a very nice and helpful girl from the information office I crystallized my plans for the days to follow, the flight to India and for all this I had to extend my stay in Kandy for another night.
The most important place to visit in town is the Temple of the Tooth relic, that holds, as the name says, a tooth from Buddha. It is considered “the” most important national treasure and is considered the symbol of the sovereignty of Sri Lanka, the ones being in the possession of the tooth being allowed to rule the country. The history of the tooth and its locations in time is well documented and on my way in the Cultural Triangle I saw several temples that used to hold it that were built only with this purpose. In order to achieve their goals both the Portuguese and the Dutch wanted to have it destroyed and more recently in 1998, the Tamil Tigers exploded a truck bomb at the temple’s entrance. The temple is a major pilgrimage place and lots of children are brought here in school in day trips. The tooth is encased in a number of ivory cones and is located in the upper floor of the temple. People come and pray in front of the close door of the altar that holds the relic all day.
On the way to the temple I bumped again into David who, following my advice, went to rent a car to in the Cultural triangle and the price he got was $450/4days with accommodations included, a far cry from the $50/day that the guys from the airport were advertising.
Besides the temple there are several devales, Hindu prayer places, all around the main temple, several other Buddhist temples and monasteries. After I visited them I had to swing by the hotel to extend my stay and drop some shopping, right in time before the last room to be snatched in front of me. Rushed back to town to get to see a Kandian Dance show, the typical for tourists but very interesting and ending with a fire show and a walk on burning cinders. After the show the entire horde of tourists went to the puja for viewing of the Sacred Tooth. This procedure happens three times a day and you could hear from far away the noise of the trumpets and drums that are used in the ceremony.
At 6:30 PM the doors of the altar open and long lines of pilgrims are passing in front of it, each having the chance only to have a peek up close at the relic’s encasement. One of the things people come to do in Sri Lanka is ayurvedic massage and it tempted me but being too late I passed upon the offer. I had a short demo of it the day before right before we reached Dambulla and it felt very good.
Kandy, being a religious place, has a different vibe that many other cities. The restaurants close early and none are serving alcohol except some that are well regulated and are mainly catering for tourists. I hardly found at 8:00 pm an open restaurant and had dinner pondering upon my future schedule and when I got out, around 9:00 pm, the town was completely deserted, I noticed this the night before and I realized that I never saw this level early evening quietude of a town anywhere else. Kandy was asleep.
Descending from Sigiriya, I got back to the car where Atish was waiting with my luggage, (there is no place to leave the luggage anywhere at the site) and with the proposition to drive me to Dambulla for another high offer. We negotiated for a while and left to visit the famous painted caves in Dambulla.
Right before we reached Dambulla, we stopped at a spice garden. The nice people working there show you the plants and what oils and balms they make out of them and what are they good for. Also, I got as a demo a short massage using one of their balms and it felt very good. Their store runs a very good business and like everything that is catered for tourists the prices are pretty high
Located right in the middle of the town and guarded by a huge modern and technicolor temple, you reach the caves after another steep climb. Again you have to leave your shoes and hurt your feet on the uneven pavements of rocks. It is so bad that I started to dream of the Indian temple where you walk barefoot on muck but at least is shinny cement…The caves, named the Royal Rock Caves, date from 1st century BC and they are fully painted inside and filled up with Buddha statues. There are 5 caves in total, the most spectacular being the second that is 82 meters long and has Buddha statues in various positions on its entire perimeter.
From Dambulla I said good bye to Atish and board a bus to Kandy where I arrived after two hours and after finding a hotel and having dinner I stroll the main drag full of various stores and restaurants stopping for sweets and latter a beer in The Pub, the travels’ hangout.
The reason I stayed in Haberana was to join a safari the following day in one of the nearby parks in the area. But when i woke up the rain was pounding on the roof. The safari guide, who helped me the previous night and brought me to a close-by resort-hotel with wi-fi, came to pick me up but even he said that it does not make sense to go in the rain. So now I am typing this blog post in a monsoonish atmosphere, outside on a covered deck looking at the deluge.
Meanwhile I enjoyed the excellent breakfast of Sri Lanka omelet prepared in Eagle’s wing Guesthouse and after I chat more with the caretaker who filled me in about their life, around 10:00 am I left to Sigiriya. Atish, the safari guide, offered me to rent his jeep and get there and did everything possible to get more business from a rainy day, so I took upon his offer and for 3000Rs I got in Sigiriya, The rain tapered off but it was still going for a little while so I got an umbrella and started to visit the site. Sigiriya is a huge rock that stands spectacularly out in the middle of the plain. It used to be the capital of the kingdom when Kassiapa, one of the kings, ungracefully killed his father and king and took the power. He ruled for 18 years and build enormously during this time, till his older brother, whom somehow he missed came to take over and after the battle Kassiapa killed himself.
Sigiriya is named the Lion Rock and most probably it was always the site for a Buddhist monastery and retreat. However it is presented, more prominently, as the fortress built by Kassiapa. The entire area in front of the rock was manicured and a sophisticated system of irrigation is still operating today.
When you walk around the rock, a protective wall was inscribed for thousands of years with markings. On top of the wall, if you climb a spiral staircase, are amazing murals of celestial beings, or Kassiapa’s concubines, depending on the version you hear.
At the base of the rock where the climb starts,there are two huge lion’s paws and you walk up between them, the body of the lion vanishing in time. The rock’s climb is spectacular on staircases that go and go all the way to the top from where you have an view over the entire plateau.
After about a two hours drive we stopped to have a great lunch in a side restaurant catering for foreigners right before getting in Pollonaruwa. After lunch we descended in the archeological site that I found impressive. In size is relatively smaller than Anuradapura and is grouped much closer. The immediate result is that you have no chance to avoid the hordes of tourists coming from fat buses that are guided in the site. Pollanaruwa was the second capital of the Sinhalese kingdom and is about 1000 years younger than Anuradapura, started to being built in the 10th century. This is one of the reason why the site is a much better shape and many decorations are present.
The temples are diverse and I found them to be extremely interesting. Surprising is that lots of decorations carved or precious carved writings are still outside not even covered by a roof to preserve them. And they are world class. Looking at them you realize the power and development of the kingdom and the evolution at the time of all the kingdom in South and SE Asia, that represented the heart of the world civilization and the time.
Besides the classical locations of 7 floors royal palaces with 3 meters walls, ponds and bath, assembly halls and many temples, all embellished with decorations on plinth or facades, the site has amazing collection of Buddha statues in temples. One of the temple is named Gal Vihara and it has Buddha represented in three positions, samadhi, paranirvana but also an unusual and maybe unique mudra, Buddha with his hands crossed on his chest.
We left the place after dark and drove in the night to Haberana. The roads are OK and not dangerously crowded and in surprise comparison with India the cars have all the lights working and nobody honks. Maybe is the Buddhist spirit in driving and road manners not as flamboyant that the Hindu one. Usually if you get on the road in the night in India is a real danger and the drivers sweat when they have to do it. Here it felt normal and you have a feeling that cars, tuk-tuk and trucks all respect each other, sharing non-aggressively the same road. In Haberana I got in a nice place, Eagle’s Wings Guesthouse, and from where I told good bye to my tuk-tuk driver who instrumented the car arrangement and everything in the last two days. This guy gave me the feeling that he really cared and he went out of the way to help. But I sensed this in many others and no matter that the business interest drives all this you can make the difference when somebody does it only for the money and when he really wants to help.
From Mihintale, we moved to Aukana, that has the tallest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka cut in a rock. I watched mesmerized the cleaning process of the statue and the relative stability of the workers, who were balancing on a metal structure with no security of any kind. They were villagers who come to do this work as an offer to the temple like they did it for hundreds of years before.
Aukana is not on the beaten path. Close by, at another site, is another Buddha carved in a rock but that statue was left unfinished by its builder,
Standing in front of this majestic statue that dwarfs you at his feet you wonder how it would have looked the Bamyan Buddha in Afganisthan destroyed by the Taliban that was standing three times as tall. How sick can be a mind to destroy something like this?
Mornings are quaint here in Sri Lanka and If you wake up early you see the forest coming to life. Egrets are flying in flocks, one meter iguanas cross the road and the spirited monkeys abound ready to steel some fruit or food.
The night before I asked the tuk-tuk driver to make arrangements for a car for the next two days. The prices that he gave me were outrageously high, around $100/day and only when I told him that at the airport were advertising cars for $50/day he went back to check again. I almost gave up because it looked that nothing worked out and I went to bed with the idea that nothing can be arranged but in the morning after a quick stroll I found him in front of the gate. The price went down a bit but not much and we went to talk with the car owner. In the end we made an arrangement with his friend who had a van rentable for 8000 SR for only day. The price was still high but the offer was very good because we chose to go to Mihintale, latter to Aukana and last to Pollonaruwa, all three being on different directions, and to stop me for the night in Sigirya. On ThornTree I saw many questions about the car rental being too expensive in Sri Lanka, but after I negotiated with them for a while I realized that if you are not dealing with a reputed agency, the locals have their own idea of the deal being worth while and would not go for anything less that their rate.
Mihintale is the cradle of the Sinhalese Buddhism. The legend says that the great Indian king Ashoka sent his son Mahinda to Lanka to spread Buddhism. Lanka was a logical destination, because in the Indian tradition Lanka was always present in the legends,Hanuman, the money general came here in his search of Sita, Rama’s wife held in custody by the monster Ravana, the northern strait separating the the island and India being just the step the monkey had to do to jump over. In the Buddhist tradition Buddha also was supposed to visit the island several times. So Mahinda came and met the king of Lanka, in 247 BC here in Mihintale and passed the Buddhist knowledge and with it Lanka became Buddhist.
In the early hours of the morning, the place is bathed in a pleasant light helping the throngs of pilgrims coming to visit to bring offers to the place. The location is magnificent, the views from its premonitory being spectacular, one being from the cave were Mahinda was supposed to meditate, or at least had a great time with the views.
Mihintale has the classical inventory of such a religious place, the Bodhi tree, maybe from the same Bodhi tree from Bodhgaya, the Samadhi Budddha, the footprint of Buddha, two dagobas, the way the stupas are called here, the meditation caves and, a little unusual a hospital with quite of modern instrumentation, one being a stone cut in the human shape for ayurvedic bath, a tradition still alive in Sri Lanka.
Climbing down the steps from the sacred area I was in the middle of eating an ice cream when with a perfect leap the ice cream was stolen by a monkey that barely touched me. I felt just a touch of hair and everything was gone.
My flight with Qatar Airlines was at 10 pm on Thursday night. After 12 hours to Doha, 2 hours of layover, another 4.5 hours to Colombo, another hour from the airport to the train station and another 4.5 hours in a train I reached Anuradapura, the old Sinhalese capital established around 5th century BC and lasting till the 4th century AA. The train ride was very comfortable, trains being not as crowded as in India and this is one of the few differences. The country looks cleaner, more modern in people’s attire to the pointy that hardly you see anybody dressed in traditional clothes. And if it is a word to define it, the word would be “leafy”; the entire ride was through palm trees and banana trees that gives you the feeling that you are riding a train in the jungle. If you ever thought as Sri Lanka as a Buddhist meditating in jungle, your thoughts were closer to the reality. The Buddhist tradition is deep in the country, the Sinhalese for being the prime and, even today, the inspirational form of Buddhism for the Theravada Buddhism. All other countries from SE Asia were actually descends of this original form. I felt the deep devotion here in Anuradapura, that represents the main pilgrimage place in Sri Lanka where buses congregate all day bringing people from all across the country. They come with offers to the temples and they circumambulate the white enormous stupas in prayer. This form of Buddhism is more austere and no matter that influences from Hinduism are present , including the pujari equivalent, it lacks the flamboyancy of the Hindu temples or the Mahayana ones. The austerity consists even in the fact that you have to walk barefoot and with no hat on the stupa and temple platform, and this is normal everywhere except that here the platform is made out of rough stones and they are huge and in the middle of the day the stone is hot and beside the fact that you are hurt by the uneven stones your feet get fried. After a while you try to give up and look from outside at the beautiful immaculate white stupas. I took a tuk-tuk from the train station (Rs100) that brought me at a hotel, Levi’s Tourism (!?), just a regular guesthouse of a guy who probably liked this jeans.(Rs2000 with hot water, no AC, Wi-Fi) and I negotiated right away to go and visit the archeological and sacred area for an overpriced Rs2000. The area is very large and without a mode of transportation is hard to cover in a day. Luckily after so many nights sleeping in various locations but not in a bed I was rested because of the sleep I got in Qatar Airlines and I left around 11:00 and returned completely exhausted with my feet hurt and burnt around 6:30 pm after we were able to cover all the sites. The entrance ticket to the site is $25/day and the Cultural ticket available since last year was no more. The driver can get you without paying for a steeper fee but I chose not to do it and encourage the country to preserve its treasures. Over all the impression of the place is not so deep because the ruins are very similar and apart from the spectacular stupas most of the stuff are pillars of the old and ruined palaces, monasteries, refectories, etc. almost the same. However the size of the place is monumental and to wander in it is a treat that should not be missed. But for anybody who visited SE Asia’s Angkor or Bagan it may be a little of a let down and this is a general impression among the travelers I encountered. The sites are getting animated by the pilgrims who come in large number but their obvious deep devotion is not displayed outwardly, like you would see in Burma or Thailand. The guest house was full with Russians, French and some Germans. I stopped for a shower and I left with the tuk-tuk in town to eat something, realizing then that the driver did not eat the entire day. I did not even have breakfast, not talking about lunch but other people may not be used with this non-Buddhist austerity, so I treated him with some biriani while he was trying to find me a car for the following day. When I returned at the hotel I was so exhausted that I barely was able to make some calls and start this posting and crashed into a deep sleep.