Way Up North & Back Down The West Coast
We already had our tickets that we had booked on our arrival for the train from Anuradhapura to Jaffna, which were for 1st Class, so didn’t need to get to the station too early this time. Normally we wouldn’t travel that class, but this train was a new service and that’s all that is available, and at 1200 Rs each for the 3-hour journey, the most expensive so far on the trip.
But it was a comfortable and pleasant journey, as all the carriages are A/C and
the seats were nicely spaced too, if not a little too cold due to the icy cold A/C.
Arriving in Jaffna around lunchtime, we got a TukTuk to our accommodation for the next 2 nights, as sadly we had just missed out booking it for all 4 nights, therefore we had to book 2 separate places near each other for a couple of nights at each.
First place was called Nallur Residence, where our host Haran kindly greeted us along with other new arrivals, who bizarrely had all came off the same train!
There was a family of local tourists from Colombo, mum, dad and son and there was also a couple of friends called Swee and Michael, who had met up in Ella and went travelling together.
The latter we would spend time with as they were lovely people, Swee was from Malaysia and is well travelled and Michael is French and also well-travelled, and we all had some good travelling stories to share.
Our first afternoon there we spent just walking along from the hotel to see some old ruins and then a walk into town for a look around. We found a nice rooftop bar on the Jetwing Hotel which sold cheap draft beer, and at 1800 Rs (£6.60) for a tower which is 3ltr, it was to become a local for us.
As Sadie mentioned in the last blog, the food in Jaffna is different to the rest of Sri Lanka and has a more Indian twist to it, so it’s easy to find Dosas, Indian Curries, Naan Breads etc.
But another dish that it is famous for is Jaffna Crab Curry, made with mud crabs and is supposed to be amazing, so we asked our host for a couple of recommendations and ended up in Jaffna Authentic Cuisine for our first taste of the North.
The venue was beautiful, a semi-outdoor area with a pond in the middle and tables around the outside and a few other westerners dotted about.
Of course we ordered a couple of starters and then both opted for the Crab Curry for main, with high hopes.
Sadly, we were to be disappointed, as we discovered that the crabs, they used were very small, and although there was a fair few in each dish, they were just too small and awkward to get any of the meat out without the sauce squirting everywhere and making a right mess. The actual sauce was delicious, and we both agreed that was the best part, however we gave up eating the crabs and sadly left most of them behind.
And this was not the only disappointing meal in Jaffna, but more on that later!
The next morning, we had arranged to go on a trip to Delft
Island, a small once colonial outpost of the Dutch situated about 30km
southwest of the main Jaffna City.
It’s a bit of a mission to get there, so an early start is the only way as apparently there is only 2 ferries per day in each direction, so with alarms set for 05:45, a quick coffee (breakfast was takeaway) and with Swee & Michael also doing the trip, we had some company too.
First up is a 10 minute 200 Rs TukTuk ride to the Bus Stand, then onto a waiting bus (100Rs) to the ferry port which is around 1 hour away. As already mentioned, the bus drivers are a bit crazy here and as the bus goes over 2 causeways to other islands before the ferry port, it’s a very busy bus on small winding roads.
Eventually we make it to the ferry terminal at a small town called Kurikadduwan on an island called Punkudutivu. From here there are 3 islands you can get the ferry to, and whilst you wait you are herded into a caged in waiting room until your boat is ready.
This service is supplied by the Sri Lankan Navy and there is no charge for the ferry crossing, which takes around 45 mins to get to our destination.
The boat itself is fairly small, holds around 100+ and is a first come first served basis, hence why we had got an early bus, but it turned out there was plenty of room for us.
We had to go sit down initially which is all downstairs and enclosed, so not good if claustrophobic or feel seasick, but after leaving dock around 5 minutes later, we were allowed to go up to the outside deck which made it a pleasant crossing. The water is beautifully calm and looking across at the island in the distance, with golden sandy beaches, it reminded me of being in the Philippines but with less choppy waters!
Our arrival at the ferry terminal on Delft was strange to
say the least, firstly all the locals were queueing up to show their ID cards,
and we then got called forward to a different part of the queue to show our
ID/Passports and we just skipped a lot of the queue.
On getting outside, Swee & Michael had been befriended by a local, who was then negotiating with TukTuk drivers and a police officer to get us some transport for going round the island. At first, we were offered the back of a truck with 2 bench seats, however after quickly declining that offer, we eventually arranged 2 Tuk-tuks for us, and at a cost of 3000 Rs (£11) for what would be around 4–5-hour trip round the places of interest, off we set.
Delft Island isn’t big, around 8km x 6km and with around 4000+ inhabitants, but there is a well-established ‘tourist trail’ round 10 attractions (some better than others), and the landscape of the island is bizarre, as most of the buildings, walls etc are all made from coral rocks.
I won’t go into great detail about all the places we visited, but the highlights were seeing a lot of wild horses that were left from the Dutch Period, the ruins of a Dutch Fort and the Queens Tower which was an old navigation tower where they used to light a fire underneath it (bit like an old style lighthouse).
Other sites we visited included old Dutch stable ruins, the footprint of Hindu God Hunoman and a massive Baobab tree with a diameter of around 12m…. plus a few other places too.
After we finished the island tour, we stopped at a café next to the port to have a huge lunch of fried rice and fried chicken, and whilst not cheap, it was tasty and much needed.
The journey back was just the reverse of the way there, except the ferry was busier and when we got back to the mainland, there was 2 buses waiting for all the passengers, then pursued a mad dash on to the bus, so it was standing room only for many for the 1-hour long trip back to the city.
Once back to the city, we took Swee & Michael to the
rooftop bar for another tower of beer, before heading back to the hotel to get
freshened up for dinner.
We were planning to go to a highly rated Vegetarian Indian restaurant just round the corner from our hotel called Nallur Bhavan and was looking forward to it.
So once we all got changed and headed round, we were quickly disappointed (again!) as the young owner advised us that he had pretty much sold out of everything except for a couple of type of Dosa and Poori.
We decided to just stay, so I ordered a paper Dosa, Sadie got the Poori, and the others got a Masala Dosa and a Ghee Dosa.
I have to say mine was the least impressive, however Sadie’s was nice, so I had half of hers, and the others ate theirs too despite it not really what we wanted… guess we need to eat earlier then!
Our 3rd day in Jaffna and we planned to just
spend the day walking round the city and seeing a few sites of interest there. First
up was the market, which is just a warren of small streets, some indoors and
others outdoors which featured mainly clothing shops.
We then took a walk down past the famous library that was burnt down by the Sinhalese in 1981, an early catalyst for the infamous Sri Lankan Civil War that engulfed the island from 1983 – 2009 between the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tigers.
I won’t go into the war, as for one it is an awful thing to happen on this relatively small island, but I have linked to Wiki for anyone who does want to read up on it.
The country is moving on from that and over the last decade, especially here in the North that was the worst affected area, things are improving, and it’s being put into the past thankfully.
Next up was the Jaffna Fort, another old Portuguese/Dutch
Fort that is still in good condition. We didn’t bother paying the overpriced
admission fee of 2000 Rs each, instead we chose to walk round the outside and
then stopped at a nearby park for a much-needed ice-cream.
On the way back into town, we noticed another ‘Beer Pub’, and we know what they are like from other places… and yip we needed a cold beer, so no better (and cheaper) place to have one was here. Again, it’s a locals bar, cheap and cheerful and around £1.50 for a bottle, we stopped for a couple!
We then had to go back to the hotel to move round to our new accommodation, which thankfully was only a 10 minute walk round the corner as it was the middle of the afternoon and the heat was unbearable.
Our new place was called Allen’s Guest House, and unsurprisingly it is ran by a lovely gentleman called Allen, who spoke perfect English and greeted us with a nice cold drink.
Turns out he was originally from Sri Lanka, moved to and lived in Germany for 40 years and then moved back to Sri Lanka a few years ago and opened his guest house, well more like a homestay as he only had 2 rooms.
We had a great chat and he even offered to pick us up some beers at the shop, and arranged a friend to pick us up the following day to do a tour round the Jaffna Peninsula.
Then it was back into town to our usual rooftop bar for sundowner drinks including another tower and Espresso Martinis, before heading out for dinner.
So this was our 3rd attempt at getting a great meal in Jaffna, and
this night we decided to try Mangos Indian Veg place, which comes highly
recommended on various review sites and from our host too.
Again this didn’t go to plan, we got there around 8ish and got a table no problem. We then had a bit of a wait to order and ordered a couple of dishes each and on trying to order a Lassi, our waited said sorry only water is available, so that’s what we ordered.
After sitting for around 20-30 minutes with nothing, we noticed that a couple of other tables had come in and sat down, got served, got soft drinks and food even before we had got our ‘water’.
On having words with our waiter, he was just flapping and coming out with all sorts of excuses, he even said that his chef was drunk and throwing food on the floor!
We eventually got brought 2 Cheese Dosas, not what we ordered but then he said these were free for us. Having eaten most of them, we then got one of our actual dishes out, Paneer65 which was tasty. Then nothing else came, so we just told him to get the bill as we had been there over an hour and didn’t want to wait any longer.
Our waiter was called Vince, he was very apologetic and discounted the bill and after him pleading with us to accept the issues, we both agreed we would give them another go the following evening, as the food that we did have was delicious.
Vince was delighted and promised us the best ever service if we came back, so with that agreed we went home.
As I mentioned, we had arranged our final day in Jaffna to
go round in a TukTuk to see some other areas of the peninsula and after a
delicious breakfast with so much food, we headed out around 9am with our
driver, we would be out for around 5-hours and this was going to cost 4500 Rs (£17)
as we would cover around 130km or so.
We had a leaflet map of the Jaffna area when we got to Haran’s place, so we had already marked off the places of interest to us, and Allen had let our driver know our plans, so it was all straightforward.
It was a lovely day out, we stopped for a cold drink at some weird Army hotel up on the North Coast, highlights though were seeing the most Northerly point in Sri Lanka, damaged boats caused by the 2004 Tsunami and Dambakola Temple where it’s said that the history of Buddhism began in Sri Lanka.
Another favourite stop was Kadurugoda Viharaya, an ancient Buddhist site which has over 50 remains of stupas, which are believed to be shrines containing the remains of Araths who died due to a famine or food poisoning, depending on what you read.
It was an enjoyable day out, we’re glad we done it, same as Delft Island, but wouldn’t rush to do either of them again.
We got back mid-afternoon and just chilled out for a couple of hours and then Sadie wanted to go to the nearby Nallur Kandaswamy Kovi, a Hindu Temple and of cultural and historical importance in Sri Lanka. She went inside to see the 18:00 procession, I waited outside as it’s taps aff and didn’t want to expose my fat belly to these poor Hindus lol
Ok, so attempt number 4 to get a decent dinner, and so off
we went back to Mangos. Swee & Michael joined us, and after a long day of
travelling round Jaffna, we had built up an appetite.
Obviously we had went earlier than the previous evening, and there wasn’t as many customers in when we got in and sat down, just as I heard Vince shouting from the Kitchen ‘Hello Paul’
I won’t go into huge detail, but our experience was a million times better than the previous evening, we got everything we asked for, in good time and even a free Ghee Dosa to share. There was so much food we even had to take some away for the train the following day!
And poor Vince, there is only so many times he could say sorry, it was slightly embarrassing but very sweet of him to take it personally and we all enjoyed the food immensely.
Then it was back to Allen’s as we needed an early night with having to get the train at 06:00 to our next destination about which we were quite excited!
The train journey back to Anuradhapura was fine, it was a
different train this time and we managed to get reserved 2nd class
tickets for 600 Rs each. We had to go back there as it’s the nearest point
where we could get a TukTuk to Wilpattu, around 45 mins away.
Our plan was to get a bus there, but after a bit of confusion with a taxi, who wanted us to pay 3000 Rs to go there with him, he got his friend with a TukTuk to take us for 2000 Rs, so off we went, and even managed to see a huge snake cross the road in front of us, stopping all the traffic!
I had managed to find a little homestay just on the outskirts of Wilpattu National Park, which is the biggest one in Sri Lanka and another opportunity for us to find the elusive Sloth Bear and Leopard.
I had negotiated a deal with the owner Dylan for a package, which included 2 nights accommodation, all meals, all day private safari with driver/spotter and cold beers at night, at a total cost of around £160.
We booked 2 nights, so the day we arrived we just chilled out and went a walk to a nearby lake, which had some locals swimming in it, and we both wished we had taken our swimming gear as it looked lovely.
We were located just 5 minutes from the park entrance, so at
05:45 we got collected by jeep and whisked off in the dark to the gates, it all
feels a bit like entering ‘Jurassic Park’ as Sadie hummed the theme tune as we
drove through them!
Wilpattu is huge, it’s off the usual tourist trail in Sri Lanka and obviously due to Covid, there isn’t many tourists that come here either. So unlike Yala where there was 50+ or so jeeps in a smaller area, we had seen 10+ all day and spread out over a far greater area, so it felt better too.
Our aim was to see the Big 3 again, and although the numbers are good, the sheer size of the park makes this hard, plus it’s around a 2-hour drive once in the gates to get to the best spotting areas.
But just before 07:00, so around the same time as at Yala, I
spotted a Sloth Bear literally having a shit in the woods… so it is true!
It was only us and one other jeep initially as we watched him for a little bit before the rest of the 5 or 6 jeeps arrived as it wandered off into the jungle, very special and so lucky to have seen it.
Anyway, we drove round and seen plenty of wildlife, the end count was 30+ species which is good going plus numerous birds that I didn’t recognise.
The other big one that everyone is looking for is the Leopard, and it is much harder here too as there is no phone signal, so the jeep drivers are not able to stay connected with their mates to see if anything has been spotted.
So, it’s the old-fashioned method that our driver uses, looking for fresh footprints on the sandy tracks, listening for bird/deer alarm call and an element of luck too plus the quick chat with other drivers when we cross paths.
We did only manage to spot 1 elephant the whole day, but it was lovely as he came right towards us and then crossed the road behind us, I even managed to get a kind of selfie with it.
Just before we were going to stop for lunch at the dedicated
area with a table, toilets etc, that’s overran by naughty monkeys that climb in
the jeeps when you are not in it looking for food, our driver had spotted some
fresh tracks and another driver had caught a glimpse of a leopard nearby. We drove
around and it was spotted up a nearby tree. We sat and watched if for a bit,
thinking it wouldn’t move as it was now the heat of the day.
But it did, and with only us and the other jeep nearby, it was nice and easy for us to keep a safe distance and move back along the route he was taking. We managed to get several good photos and spent about an hour just tracking it as it wandered along the road, sitting down occasionally and we even stopped to eat lunch waiting for it to appear further along the road, which it did.
It turns out too that the same leopard was spotted in the same area the day before (he was recognisable as only had ½ a tail) by the other jeep driver who had managed to capture it mating, but sadly we didn’t get to see that or any others. What a marvellous creature, feel so privileged to be able to witness that in the wild!
In the afternoon we didn’t see as much as most of the wildlife go into hiding till it cools down, but other highlights we seen were Serpent Eagle which were swooping along in front of us looking for snakes, a Jackal disappearing off into the distance and very late on in the day we seen a Fox, Hare & Tortoise... am sure there is a couple of stories in there!
We arrived back at the accommodation around 17:00, a little
earlier than we had hoped as the late afternoon is good spotting time buts
still satisfied, as we had seen lots of species and had a brilliant day.
That evening was just a quiet one, again in the morning it was a fairly early start for a TukTuk back to Anuradhapura.
Our plan was to go to Kalpitiya next, which has a lovely
beach and the opportunity to go out and see pods of Dolphins, but with the
logistics of getting there, cost etc we decided it would be better to just head
further down the West Coast.
We had looked at Bentota before we came to Sri Lanka, so this would be an ideal place to stop for a few days on route back down South. Luckily, we could do the whole journey by train, and got the first train from Anuradhapura for 400 Rs (£1.50) each but could only get 3rd Class reserved, which is fine but a lot more crowded, not as comfortable seats and with a 4-hour journey ahead, we were glad to get off in Colombo to stretch the legs.
We then got our tickets for the train to Bentota, which cost 120 Rs each, and only had 30 mins or so to wait for our next train. For whatever reason, there are no display boards saying what train is due in next at each platform, and although we were told Platform 5, one came in just before our train was due, so we got on it. But it was more of a commuter train, laid out like the tube so I thought something was wrong. Anyway, after speaking to a local and explaining to them where we wanted to go, he advised us that we would need to get off at Aluthgama as that train terminated there. After a bit of a panic, it turns out that stop is just one before the one we needed to get to anyway, and only across the river a couple of km from where we needed to be, so it all worked out in the end.
I had picked a place called Sapara River Guest next to the river that divides Bentota and Aluthgama, with a lovely view over the river with our own little private balcony and only 10 mins walk to the main town.
Originally booking 3 nights, we both decided after speaking to our host
Bandulla and having a look around the town, that we would extend this to 5
nights. We had no real plans for this area, but to just chill out and go on a
river safari up the mangroves.
There were only 3 rooms in the villa, 2 upstairs of which we had one, and the other was occupied by a German lady who was staying for 2 months. Then there was an apartment downstairs that an English couple had booked for the week, and a lovely garden area with its own jetty.
Bandulla was lovely, we had a great breakfast every morning on our balcony and spent most days just relaxing and researching the last part of our trip.
We did go for a walk across the river to Aluthgama, where we found a lovely restaurant called Pier 88, so we had lunch there one day and another day we spent a little while on the beach going for a swim, in very choppy waves!
In the evenings, we went out for dinner which in general was
pretty decent all round, but found 1 really good restaurant in particular, called
Islanda Bentota where Sadie had a really spicy Nasi Gorang and I had an equally
spicy Devilled Beef, both absolutely fantastic and huge plates, so much we took
some home for lunch the next day.
The chef told us there his speciality is Tom Yum Soup and having seen it on the menu all over the country but not having tried it, we decided to go back there on the last night and were not disappointed again.
During our time there, we had a little kitten who appeared every morning and evening as the German lady had been feeding her, so we also decided to buy it some tuna and cat biscuits. It was very young, timid and wouldn’t come near you, but it was very cute, and we thought she was also pregnant.
But apart from that, there really isn’t much to write about
Bentota, we didn’t bother with the river cruise but would definitely love to
spend more time there relaxing by the river though, so maybe another time!
Next up we were heading back down to the South coast and our favourite place, Unawatuna for the 3rd time this trip, and we got booked in again with Milinda and Manuta at Coconut Style for 8 days.
Link to Photos
Link to Photos
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