kandy

Kandy (Central Sri Lanka)

Downtown Kandy

Downtown Kandy

If visiting Kandy in Central Sri Lanka TripAdvisor suggests visiting the following sights

1. Royal Botanical Gardens

2. Temple of the Tooth (Sir Dalada Maligawa) - a temple housing one of Buddhas teeth.

3. Kandy Garrison Cemetery 

Nowhere online, not on TripAdvisor not anywhere did it suggest befriending a tuktuk driver and spending however long you have in Kandy hanging with him and his mates. But you know what? It should.

After getting off the train from Colombo and meeting the family and friends of various people I had talked to on the train, I got a snack (on this occasion a steamed spicy chick pea number). And whilst eating it, turned down countless offers from tuktuk drivers to take me to my hotel. 

You see it being 2017 and all means you no longer have to haggle with tuktuk drivers to get places. Nope, there is an app for that. Well there is in Sri Lanka anyway. It’s called PickMe and it is Sri Lanka's answer to Uber. Uber is here too, but you can only order cars with Uber. With PickMe you can order tuktuks, small cars, normal size cars, vans, pretty much whatever you like.

Understandably the tuktuk drivers hate it. No longer can they charge three, four times the usual price because you are a tourist and know no better. Nearly through my chick peas I declined yet another ride from yet another driver only to have him ask how, if I didn’t need a tuktuk was I going to get to my accomodation? Good question. I then told him I  had PickMe, which took him like it had the others I'd informed by surprise as few tourists knew about it. He then went on to explain how PickMe was not good for the full time tuktuk drivers, as its arrival had seen their earnings drop. He said most of the PickMe drivers were people with good Government jobs that wanted to make some extra money on the side, and so were happy to accept whatever extra money they could. But the cheaper PickMe fares had had flow on effects for those that didn't work with the app. Long story short, he got me. Was it true? Who knows. But he got the trip. I got him to take me to my hotel and, I didn’t even haggle with him on price. It was only US$3. Anyway, surprise, surprise we got chatting and by the time I was at the hotel, I had been invited to watch the Federation Cup with him and his mates later that evening. 

And the rest, as they say, is history. I then spent the next three days with Chana and his mates, drinking by the river, playing football and touch rugby, and watching the Federation Cup. I know, I can’t really believe it either… Watching football. Who am I? 

Saapu, Me & Chana drinking by a river somewhere in Kandy.

Saapu, Me & Chana drinking by a river somewhere in Kandy.

I did begrudgingly go to the Temple of the Tooth on my last day in Kandy as I felt kinda guilty I hadn’t really done anything ’touristy' since arriving, and it was the major attraction in the city. And guess what? It was crap. Temples, Churches and Cathedrals, i’m sorry but I just don’t care anymore. Seen one, you really have seen them all. Annnnnnnd, you couldn’t even see the tooth! It was holed up in a wall. So I paid $15 to see a wall that one of Buddha’s teeth is ‘supposedly’ kept behind. Bah! 

Outside of my temple visit my time in Kandy was fantastic. It really was just me and the locals 24/7. Well, me and an army of tuktuk drivers. I got taken to all their favourite places to eat, their favourite places to drink tea, their favourite places to hang. Each day at 5:30pm we’d meet at the local field and play football. I generally just sat and watched and played with their favourite street dog Cindy (although you’d think given the name it was a bitch, nope it was a boy), but one day there was a game of touch happening down the other end of the field, so I joined in on that. On a side note, rugby is surprisingly big here. There has been a tonne of cricket chat, but surprisingly large amounts of rugby chat too. They love Jonah Lomu.

Once it was too dark to kick the ball around we would then head inside to play Carrom (kinda like shuttleboard) and watch whoever was playing in the Federation Cup. We’d then hit the boys favourite late night haunt for Kottu (a Sri Lankan rice or noodle based dish), and the most incredible tea I have ever had. FYI I’ll do a post on the food here once I leave. And then following all that it was home to sleep before we did it all over again the next day. 

The boys playing their nightly game of football.

The boys playing their nightly game of football.

I learnt so much about Sri Lankan life in these few days. I also learnt number of Sinhalese words, most of which I won’t mention as Mum reads this. And I also scored myself a nickname. Not a particularly original nickname I don’t think. But kinda fun none the less. My nickname is ‘Sudu’, which is pronounced ‘Sudda'. And means white. Any of the locals that overheard the boys yelling it at me, loved it. They thought it was hilarious. On a number of occasions I tried to explain that I wasn’t really white, but brown (especially after the sun I have seen). That I had friends at home that were well and truly white, and had Irish friends that are so white they are almost translucent (you know who you are...), but they didn’t care. In comparison to them, I was white. 

You know I don’t think I said boo to a single tourist my entire time in Kandy. I mean I love the Germans, the Aussies, and the Americans, but this is kinda the goal yeah? Experiencing local life. I’d be interested to hear what others did with their time in Kandy, what, if anything I missed out on. 

After Kandy the backpacker trail splits, with some heading north to the beaches in and around Trincomalee, and others east through the tea plantations of Sri Lanka, on what is meant to be one of the most incredible train journeys in the world. I decided to go north. And wanting to be a supportive mate instead of paying for a car or mini van to take me there, I opted for Chana to take me in his tuktuk. Three to four hours of solid travel in a tuktuk, how did it go? You’ll just have to wait for the next blog. 

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Colombo to Kandy by Train

Waiting for the train to Kandy at Colombo Fort Railway Station

As I mentioned on Instagram the other day, some of my favourite memories of travelling India involve public transport. My initial foray was riding the local trains in Mumbai. Hanging out/off the doors of the trains with all the kids. Ducking in and out to avoid other trains, air conditioning units, and various other items that could’ve seen us loose whatever was outside of the train at the time. I have countless other great public transport memories too. And so, with Sri Lanka being similar to India in many ways, I was excited about my first train trip here. 

It didn’t disappoint. Although my trip from Colombo to Kandy (in central Sri Lanka), was slightly more civilised than my trips on the local trains in Mumbai - I had a pre allocated seat for starters, the experience wasn't lacking. There were three classes available on the train. First, which included WIFI and A/C and to which I saw a number of backpackers get on. Rookies. Second, allocated seats, but no WIFI or A/C, just open windows and doors. And third, of which I imagine was like most third classes (I don’t know because I got a second class ticket), your run of the mill 'stuff ‘em in where and however you can’ type scenario. 

I had been told by a number of people the scenery on the way was breathtaking. Through the craziness of the city of Colombo, into the rural hinterland, through the jungle, and finally into the mountains to Kandy, it all sounded amazing. And so you can imagine how stoked I was, when by total chance, I got a window seat. 

Sitting opposite me on the train was a young Buddhist Monk. I think it’s safe to say he thought I was odd. I feel like we both spent a good amount of time trying to work each other out. Me wondering how he ended up a Monk, and why he was going to Kandy? Also, how many of those robes he owns? Him, probably where on earth I was from, and what a strange sight I was. This wasn’t the first time in Sri Lanka I had been looked upon with a ‘Whaaaaat the hell?!?' expression. The Monk had some cash though. He bought up one of everything that was offered up by the hawkers. He even purchased a ‘Wonders of the World’, colouring book.

I should only be nice really, a) because he is a Monk, and although one should be respectful of all life, I feel you should probably be especially respectful of Monks. And b), because while I was being all ‘artsy’ and taking the photo below, obviously unable to look behind me (or to the front), and therefore see where the train was going, he pulled my head and body inside the train so it wasn’t separated from me by an oncoming bridge. Thank you Mr Monk. Eternally grateful. 

The final part of the journey was the most fun though. As we approached Kandy and the locals got off at their respective stops, the train began to empty. This meant there was space in the exits. Previously all the doors were jam packed, at least three or four people deep. 

So it was towards the end of the trip that I finally got to relive India and hang outside the door of the train. However, my 'hang time' was rather brief. You see a lovely soul in the door of the carriage in front thought it was funny to spit each time I popped my head out. And thus the game went. I pop out. He spits. I see him spitting and pop back in. Only to wait until he’s not facing me and pop back out. 

Disgusting? Yes. But he only got me the once. And aside from not having more time to nail a ‘look-at-me-im-hanging-out-of-a-train' selfie. All was ok. 

Of course no train journey would be complete without some chat with some randoms. I can’t say I made any friendships that will last the test of time on this particular trip - best friends breathe a sigh of relief. But I did meet a lovely man who had been in Colombo to see his sister (and once off the train I also met his wife and three kids, also lovely), and Lakshitha Lakmal (see photo below), we didn’t talk huge amounts, but as you can see, a photo was taken. 

Arriving in Kandy after the intense heat and chaos of Colombo really felt like entering another world. Travelling there through the jungle, the mountains and the clouds, without a doubt added to that feeling. I loved the journey and the best bit is, Colombo to Kandy isn’t even the renowned train journey of Sri Lanka. That title goes to the trip from Kandy to Ella, through the tea plantations. Obviously, I cannot wait. But first Kandy and then north to Sigiriya or Lion Rock, what has been described to me as the 8th Wonder of the World. 

M

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The photo that nearly cost me my head. Again, thank you Mr Monk.

The photo that nearly cost me my head. Again, thank you Mr Monk.

Trying to nail a 'hanging-outside-a-train' selfie without getting spat on. Easier said than done.

Trying to nail a 'hanging-outside-a-train' selfie without getting spat on. Easier said than done.

And finally me and my new friend Lakshitha Lakmal

And finally me and my new friend Lakshitha Lakmal