Travel Blog for Fredrik and Gunnhild

Bohol

We had a private car from Bongo Bongo to the ferry terminal, and had planned to have plenty of time there. That was a good idea, because we first needed to stand in one line to pay port tax, then in one to get our seats assigned and finally in one to check in our luggage. We had bought business class tickets, which meant that we got to sit on the upper deck in good seats with air condition, large windows and watch a movie. Two hours later (about 1 hour delayed) we arrived at the port in Tagbilaran. It took a while to get our bags, and we stopped by the ticket counter to buy tickets for the ferry back to Cebu in 3 days. We found a cheap tricycle to take us to our hotel in Alona Beach, Alona Kew Resort, which looks like a resort from the outside, but is quite basic and is located in the main beach road with short distance to everything. The best part was that we got a room in the garden, so we didn’t have any noise from either the main road or the beach.

We had originally planned to spend 4 days in Bohol, but because of lost luggage, typhoon warnings and fully booked ferries, we only had 2 days here. Since the weather wasn’t great either, we decided to skip diving, relax and try to go through some photos and write a bit on our blog. The first evening we found a Belgian restaurant, with quite a few Belgian beers on the menu. We stopped by for at least one beer there every evening, and really enjoyed drinking something other than lagers all the time. Especially the slightly sour Rodenbach was perfect in the heat.

Fredrik got a sting of some kind while diving in Dauin, and since the rash didn’t get any better, we decided it was best to get it checked out before the liveaboard. The hotel got him an appointment at the hospital right away, and after a quick and efficient visit he got back with a lot of medicines. The doctor was great and gave him stuff that should heal the rash as soon as possible, and have as little impact as possible on the rest of the vacation (diving, sun, beers). He’s not at all used to taking pills though, so it’s a bit of a hassle. 😀

Fredrik was told to be careful with too much sun for a couple of days, and also noticed that the rash got a lot better of the dry air condition air. So he stayed home going through photos, while Gunnhild went on a short sightseeing tour by tricycle. The first stop was the Blood Compact Monument, celebrating the March 1565 blood compact between Spain and the Philippines. Baclayon church was closed for visitors as it was still being rebuilt after the 2013 earthquake, but it was still interesting to see the coral-stone church from 1727 from the outside. Lunch was had at a very local fast food restaurant in Loboc, instead of on the tourist packed floating restaurants on the Loboc river. The final and most important stop was the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella. Tarsiers are the world’s smallest primates, needs space, silence and gets easily stressed, so they had guides to take you around to make sure the tarsiers were not disturbed. It was a short 20 minute walk on muddy paths. Since the tarsiers are territorial, the guides knew where to find them, and 7-8 of them were easy to see from the path. They were very cute clinging to the trees looking at you with their large, sleepy eyes.

In the evening we packed all we needed on the liveaboard in our backpacks and all the dive gear in one half of the suitcase, so it would be easy to take out. We had a couple of rum and coke in the room, got a good nights sleep, and took a car to the ferry terminal in the morning. This terminal was a lot more structured than the previous one, but it still took some time to get through all the lines. They had departure screens, loud speakers for announcements that was almost possible to hear and the ferry was less than 30 minutes delayed. Again we had business class tickets (only slightly more expensive than the other ones) and had a smooth 2 hour trip to Cebu.

Dauin

It was a 1,5-2 hour car ride from Moalboal to the port in Liloan (South Cebu), and after buying the tickets we waited for about half an hour for the ferry. It took just 20 minutes to get to Negros Island (Sibulan), and from there we took a tricycle through Dumaguete to our hostel/home stay/dive center in Dauin. It was quite a fun ride, with a lot to see on the way. We arrived at Bongo Bongo just before sunset, and were welcomed by owners, dive guides and guests. Such a friendly place. We had a private room in one of the bamboo huts on the property, but again spent most of our time in the common areas.

One of the owners at Bongo Bongo is Danish, and quite a few of the guests and instructors/dive masters were Danish too. But this was also a popular place to stop by for expats from all over the world and quite a few locals. They had a shared kitchen for the guests, but we ordered from the nearby restaurant Cat’s instead, which delivered for free. Very good and quite cheap food. The hostel had a self-service bar with cheap beers, and the owner, Magnus, even managed to get us some craft beer from a Norwegian brewer in Dumaguete while we were there. We also shared some aquavit, but especially the Danes were not big fans. We spent most of the time between and after dives in the common area in the front. We played music, cards, games (tumbling towers was especially popular), learned Danish kids songs, shared info on places to stay/dive etc, cuddled the 5 house dogs and laughed a lot.

Dauin is famous for muck/macro diving. We had most of our dives with dive guide Marvin, who was excellent at spotting all kinds of marine life. We had a few dives just off the beach outside the hostel, but normally drove a few minutes along the coast in either direction. On Sunday we were supposed to go to Apo Island by boat, but the government issued a typhoon warning, and we were not allowed to go. We went by boat to other dive sites along the coast instead. Fredrik still needed to rent equipment, and this was a great place to do so. They had high quality gear, a lot of the same brands as our own gear.

 

A lot of ferries were also cancelled because of the typhoon warning, so the day before we were leaving we sent a guy to the ferry terminal to buy tickets. They had no availability, but we got tickets for the ferry one day later. Luckily our room was available, so we could stay a day longer at Bongo Bongo. That was a very good idea, because a bit after we originally should have left, Fredrik’s long lost suitcase finally arrived on a motor bike, 8 days after he arrived in Cebu, 10 days after he checked it in in Norway. Happy-happy! We even signed up for two more dives, just so he could dive with his own gear. After checking the labels on the suitcase, we found out that it had been on a little vacation of it’s own to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. 😮

Dauin, Philippines from Gunnhild Bringsvor on Vimeo.

Moalboal

 We finally found each other outside the airport in Cebu around 5 pm, both very tired, Fredrik with no suitcase and Gunnhild with a damaged one. We said goodbye to Fredrik’s new friend, Helle, and got into our pre-booked van. It turned out that it was the end of the holiday in the Philippines, so the traffic was terrible. The trip that should have taken 2,5 hours ended up taking 4. We had one short stop at a super market on the way, buying some basics (t-shirts, shorts, toothbrush, flip-flops etc) for Fredrik.
Our hostel in Moalboal, Chief Mau, was very nice and just a few months old. We were welcomed by the staff who had received updates on Fredrik’s delays, and were very happy that we both finally arrived. We got a private room which was so new it was still lacking a few things (night lamp, mirror, hooks, curtains), but the beds were comfortable and the staff was very accommodating with whatever we needed. We didn’t spend much time in the room anyway, since the hostel had a great social area by the bar. They served basic but good food, had hammocks and other places to relax. Most people there were divers, so we had a lot to talk about.

The hostel staff where amazing trying to track down Fredrik’s suitcase, and we left most of the communication to them. After a couple of days we got a message that it would arrive the next day, but it didn’t arrive to Cebu as expected, and we had to go shopping again. That was an interesting experience, since the local shopping center had different departments for everything, and we had to pay at different counters. Also it was completely impossible to understand the sizes, and all packs had to be opened to see if a shirt had long or short sleeves. After more than an hour we finally got out of there, with almost everything needed for the next few days (we gave up finding shaving cream and a couple of other things). After that we didn’t receive any useful updates about the suitcase at all. We did some laundry and extended our stay by one day, but had to give up in the end and plan our next stop.

 We had a total of 7 dives over 3 days with Cebu dive center, just down the road from our hostel. Fredrik had to rent gear since his was still stuck at an airport somewhere. He was a bit unlucky with the regulator on the first dive, but after that there were no problems. Most dives were a short boat ride away, in their traditional bancas (double outrigger boats), but the house reef just outside the dive center was also a great dive site.
 We saw lots of frog fish, turtles, small moray eels and pipefish, a few sea snakes, octopus and leaf fish, several different nudibranchs and sea slugs (the electric one was pretty cool), reef fire gobies, flounders, scorpion fish and barracuda. We also got to see what Moalboal is famous for, the sardine run. We just noticed that it got dark, and when we looked up we saw a million sardines moving around, creating different shapes and forms. Pretty cool!

 The dive center had a bar, so we normally had a beer or two there after our last dive. We spent a long evening talking to an Irish couple there, and also some late evenings in our hostel. Especially our last evening got a bit later than planned. Everyone had trouble getting money from the local ATM, but one of Fredrik’s cards worked fine. We met a quite desperate Swedish girl there, who didn’t have any money at all. We ended up lending her 10000 PHP, and spent the evening (and most of the night) drinking beer with her, a Swiss guy and two Canadian brothers. Good times!

Moalboal, Philippines from Gunnhild Bringsvor on Vimeo.

Phillipines

Since Gunnhild was already long gone, I had to travel alone to the Philippines. When I came to the airport the airplane was already 3 hours late into Oslo, and it was a small chance that I would get on to the connecting flight. I only had 3 hours and 20 minutes between flights in Dubai. Everyone told us that it was a good chance since all airplanes to and from Dubai was delayed, so everyone kept up a good mood. I have never seen so few people at OSL. This was on new year’s eve, so a few hours after we were supposed to fly, there were less than 10 flights left on the departure screens. By chance I started talking to a nice girl from Gjøvik (Helle), that was travelling the same route to Cebu, Philippines.

When we took off we were about 4 hours late. Since we were supposed to land in Dubai just before New Year we had to celebrate it aboard the airplane. The captain announced it, and we had a countdown to the new year, with following drinks. We landed in Dubai when my flight to Cebu was taking off. When the captain turned off the seatbelt sign, and we where standing up, I realized that Helle was sitting in the seat in front of me. We agreed that since both of us were traveling alone, we should try to tackle the airport together. That was a good plan, since the first customer service desk where packed. Helle went to ask if there were more customer service desks, and there were! So we kept on through security, and got to the next customer service desk. Here there were slightly less people, but still a mess. We somehow got to the counter in about 2.5 hours, to be told that the guy behind there could not find a solution for us, and that we where in a ticket line, not a customer service line, and that we might have better luck there. We went out of the line, and looked at the customer service line. Nothing moved. We found an Emirates representative, and she could tell us that the booking system was down, and that we were better off coming back in 2 hours or so. Our next question to the representative, was where do we find beer 🙂 She answered fast that the closest one had to be Heineken lounge, and we went there with a short pit stop at an eatery on the way.

After a few beers, we went back to get some food vouchers. We got them and they told us that the booking system was up. After a short discussion about food or tickets first, we agreed to go for tickets. Then the long wait started, we were kind of happy, so we were laughing and smiling and giving out candy to the kids that were standing with their parents in line. After about 4 hours we arrived at the counter, and after another 30 minutes we where the lucky holders of 2 seats on the next flight to Cebu, arriving just 24 hours late. We found out later that others on the same plane with the same destination where on a waiting list, and had to wait at least 48 hours.

We also got hotel vouchers and were looking forward to a shower. We should just go down to the baggage carousels and we would be off to the hotel, we thought. We were not that lucky. Since it was January first, there were no hotel rooms available in Dubai, so they gave us lounge access. Helle and I agreed since we only had about 15 hours left for our flight we will not go to a hotel, as long as we got a shower and some toiletries. The guy behind the counter lit up, at least someone he was not responsible for anymore.

Since we where at the baggage carousels we had to wait for someone to take us through some restricted doors before we got to the security counters. From there we walked the entire terminal 3 at Dubai airport, after standing still for 4 hours. This was refreshing at first, but soon our legs hurt like they had never hurt before. We arrived at a non alcohol lounge with no hot food. We could at any time go to the reception and get a voucher for warm food and go outside and eat, so we had no complaints. After a hot shower and coffee, we decided to go for some hot food. On the way back we saw a shop selling whisky, and decided to buy a bottle.

Now the day with the most laughing I have ever done started. Helle and I could not stop laughing, after a few hours we had finished the whiskey (sharing with some others in the lounge). So we went for another bottle. The next 6 hours were gone in no time. I think I have a new best friend! At midnight we left the lounge area to get to our flight at 02:45. We needed some hot food, and it was a long walk back to the gate. We arrived at the gate about 10 minutes before it opened, and got to our seats in no time. Both of us fell asleep immediately, and we do not know when we departed (probably on time).

We arrived before scheduled arrival time, and went fast through immigration. Then it was the wait for our baggage. We waited for a long time and Helle’s backpack was at last on the carousel. She went out because she wanted to get a local SIM card, and I was waiting until the “last bag on belt” sign came up, and I did not have my suitcase. After some paperwork and ATM work, Helle and I left the airport only 24 hours late!

The Maldives

After 3 hours in Colombo airport, and a 1,5 hour flight I arrived in the Maldives in the late evening on Christmas day. I got some cash and a local SIM card, before meeting up with the Emperor crew who would take med to MV Leo. I was picked up together with one guy from Bangladesh and a big group of Chinese divers, which worried me a bit, but it turned out that we were just sharing a dhoni (traditional Maldivian boat) out to our liveaboard boats. The Chinese were going on a separate boat. When we arrived there, most of the other guests had gone to bed, and we had a boat briefing, set up our equipment at the diving dhoni, got our cabins (I got one all to myself) and finally got to sleep around 1 am.

In the next 6 days we had a total of 17 dives, normally 3 dives per day (an additional night dive one day, and only one dive on the last day). We were woken up around 6 am and jumped in the water less than an hour later. Breakfast was served after the first dive, lunch after the second and dinner after the third. Sometimes we moved to a new location between dives, sometimes we stayed in one place and went to the different dive sites in the area using the diving dhoni. The itinerary was called “Best of the Maldives”, and was concentrated around South Male and Ari atolls, but also included North Male and Vaavu atolls. I was teamed up with a Danish dive buddy, and also had an American couple in my group. We were a great group that looked after each other, pointed out things we saw, and when the guys were low on air, Anne and I teamed up and continued a bit longer, so most of our dives were around 60 minutes.

We saw lots of moray eels, turtles, various rays, barracudas, tunas, trivallies etc. We visited a wreck, saw mantis shrimps, stone fish, leaf fish, several different nudibranchs and sea slugs, scorpion fish, large schools of small fish, anemone fish everywhere, beautiful corals and a few octopuses. In some dives we had quite strong currents, and used reef hooks to stay put in the location we wanted. This was mainly to watch sharks or manta rays searching for food or being cleaned by other fish at the cleaning stations. One of my favorite dives was Alimatha Circus on Vaavu Atoll. As soon as we got down a few meters we saw several large nurse sharks, curious to check us out. The biggest ones were 3 meters long, and they got really close, even bumped into some of us. They have really small mouths though, and are not scary at all. We also had two dives at Moofushi in South Ari, enjoying the magnificent manta rays at their cleaning station. Absolutely amazing!

We spent a bit of time searching for whale sharks, hoping to snorkel and dive with them, but the sea was a bit choppy and the visibility was not at it’s best in this area, so we would have been very lucky to spot one. A few evenings we put a big light on the back of the boat shining into the water to attract plankton and small fish. 2 nights we were lucky and got visits from several nurse sharks and manta rays. Especially the manta rays doing loops at the back of the boat was impressive.

We were a very international group on the boat with people from Germany, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, USA, Switzerland, England, Ireland, Spain, Bangladesh and China. Also the bar manager was from Sri Lanka, so I got to use the few words I learned when I was there (mainly “Thank you” and “Cheers”). We didn’t have fixed seats during the meals, so we moved around and got to talk to a lot of different people. There were also several social areas on the boat, and a big sundeck with bean bags and sunbeds on the roof. Great places to relax, talk and have a few beers in the evenings, even though we were a bit unlucky with the weather, with a lot of clouds and some rain.

Our first full day on the boat (December 26th) we had a Christmas dinner. We dressed up the best we could (sarongs, beach dresses and curly shirts), enjoyed a great meal with Turkey and other Christmas food, had free wine, and finished with Christmas cakes, Santa strawberries and other nice desserts. Our last full day on the boat was New Year’s Eve. We anchored a bit away from Male city, but could still see the firework from the city and the surrounding resort islands. We played music, drank prosecco and had a great time on the upper deck.

We also visited a local island, Guraidhoo, with a population of about 2700. Most of them work in the tourist industry, health sector or boat building. The closest resort island was just a short swim away, and the contrasts were significant. We also had a couple of hours in Male city, one of the most densely populated cities in the world (over 130000 in 5,8 square kilometers). The highlight was probably the Italian ice cream we had. Other than that is was noisy, hot and chaotic. On January first we all packed our bags and got ready to leave. Most of the people on the boat were only on a 1-2 weeks trip, and were flying back home, so I got a lot of sunscreen and things they did not need. I also gave away my Sri Lankan SIM card to a couple going there. We shared e-mail addresses, said goodbye to the great crew and went to the airport in the diving dhoni.

After a few hours waiting, I took a 5 hour flight to Singapore, where I planned to spend the night in one of the transit hotels located inside the airport. I had some food and a couple of European beers before I went to get a room. Fully booked! All of them! I checked the nap areas in the lounge, but they were full too. After checking the airport map, I found a quiet snooze lounge at the end of one of the piers, and lay down to try to get some sleep. After a few minutes a nice airport employee covered me in a blanket and gave me water and cookies for free. Wow! With a lot less sleep than planned, I continued my travel to the Philippines early next morning and arrived in Cebu after another 5,5 hours. I did not get any forms to fill out on the plane, so I was almost the last one through the airport. Also my suitcase was missing a wheel when I picked it up, so I had to fill out a damage report. After getting some money from the ATM and buying a local SIM card, I sat down outside waiting for Fredrik to arrive.

Negombo

We had a boring 4 hours car ride from Habarana to Negombo (close to the airport), with no interesting sights to stop at on the way. We were staying at Beach Lodge, a rustic and quirky small hotel at the beach. The location was good, but the service was very slow, they often closed the doors early and they messed up our booking (because we cancelled the first night), so it took us a lot of time to sort it out and avoid being overcharged. It was nice to be back at the beach though, and we spent quite some time playing in the big waves, relaxing on the sunbeds, watching the sunset and people going out in the traditional wooden catamarans.

 

It was also nice to be back in a city, where we could get our laundry done, buy a few more gifts, and have plenty of restaurants to chose from. One of our waiters in Habarana Village had recommended the Waves restaurant, and we went there on our first night. We talked a lot to the owner, who had been working as a chef all over the world, and we ordered a big seafood platter, with a lot of delicious food. The waiter who recommended the place also came to visit us in our hotel on our last day there, since he was in town visiting family.

 

We had a short trip to Negombo City, but it was warm, chaotic and noisy, so we didn’t spend much time there. Instead we enjoyed the quiet, small beach restaurants in our neighborhood. On Christmas Eve we went to the highest rated restaurant in the area, Lords, where they had live Christmas music, the waiters were wearing Christmas hats and there were a lot of happy people celebrating. We spent most of the evening together with a Canadian with a lot of great travel stories to tell. At the end of the evening we all wrote wishes on lanterns and sent them up from the back yard. We also had some Norwegian craft beer and aquavit that we had carried around for 4 weeks, and called home to our families in Norway.

    

 

December 25th was kind of a sad day, since Linda was going back to Norway and I would continue to the Maldives. We finished the craft beer, gave away our left-over beer to a happy tourist (no alcohol sales on Christmas day), packed our bags, shared photos and talked about everything we had seen and done the past few weeks. We had such an amazing trip, and it will be very strange to continue alone.

Cultural triangle

We had planned a few stops on the way from Kandy to Habarana, but it started raining on the way, so we skipped most of them. The Hindu temple “Sri Muthumariamman Thevasthanam” in Matale was an interesting stop though. Beautiful statues and decorations with incredibly many details. Sadly it was closed, so we were not able to see the inside of the temple.

 

We spent quite a bit of time in Colombo deciding where to stay in the Cultural Triangle. We ended up in Habarana Village by Cinnamon, which was pretty much in the middle of all the things we wanted to see in the area, and we got a very good discount. We had our own little house, with plenty of space, and a nice porch outside. It was located close to a lake, had some monkeys, squirrels and iguanas on the grounds, large gardens, a treehut and a beautiful multilevel pool. We also had access to the spa, travel desk and other facilities at the neighbor hotel, Cinnamon Lodge, but that was quite expensive. We still had a wonderful “couples massage” there, and booked the elephant safari through them, mainly because we didn’t have time to organize anything else.

 

We were really lucky with our safari guide, Kalum. It was just the two of us in the back of his jeep, and there was so much to see, so we were standing most of the trip. He spotted even the tiniest of animals that all other cars drove right past. We saw alligators, lizards, all kinds of birds and eagles, peacocks, monkeys and two large groups of wild elephants. We spent a lot of time watching them eat, flirt, play and protect the small kids. Awesome! We were served fresh pineapple half way through the safari, and Kalum had so many stories to tell and information to share. We were happy to book with him for 2 more sightseeing days.

 

 

 

The day we were going to Dambulla and Sigiriya it was raining, but we decided to go anyway. In Dambulla that was actually a good thing, because there were not a lot of people there at all. Our guide, Kalum, knew a shortcut, so we only had to walk the upper part of the steep trail to the top. 5 of the 80 caves dating back to the 1st century BC were open to the visitors, and they contained a lot of statues, murals and paintings related to Gautama Buddha and his life. There’s also 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of gods and goddesses. We also had a short stop at Dambulla Golden Temple downhill from the cave temple. We ended up skipping Sigiriya rock, since it was barley visible through the clouds.

 

 

Our last sightseeing day in this area we went to the royal ancient city of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lankas capital in the 11th century. It was a very warm and sunny day, so it was hard to walk around a lot, but we got to see the most important sights. The area contains hundreds of ancient structures, tombs and temples, statues and stupas and a museum displaying a lot of the relics found in the area. One of the highlights were Potgul Vehera or the Library Monastery, a circular shrine where the sacred books were deposited, and the ruins surrounding it. The rock temple, Gal Viharaya, was also impressive with it’s 3 enormous buddha statues carved out of a single granite boulder.

 

 

Our resort was a bit outside the city, so we spent quite a bit of time there. They had big buffets for lunch and dinner, but we mainly ordered from the ala carte menu (except one evening). After a couple of days all the people who worked there knew us pretty well, and we were offered free desserts from the buffet (and later soup and salads as well). We’re not really dessert people, but this was too impressive to skip. The first night they had a mediocre keyboard player, but luckily a couple of pretty good troubadours with guitars took over the next evenings, so we had a great time there. We got a lot of recommendations for the rest of our trip, had some great drinks and local arrack, and were given a very cute goodbye present (cookies and chocolate in an elephant shaped box) from the waiters.

 

Kandy

 We took the highly recommended scenic train ride from Colombo to Kandy, even though it meant we had to get up at 5.30 am. We bought first class tickets and expected an observation deck and a bit of luxury. What we got was dirty windows, seats falling apart and a bun filled with onion for breakfast. It was a really bumpy ride, so we didn’t dare to accept the tea or coffee being served. The views were not that spectacular either, probably because we are spoiled Norwegians. A few waterfalls and some hills far away wasn’t that impressive, but it was interesting to see all the people living along the railway and how green it was everywhere. We arrived 30 minutes after schedule and were picked up by a driver from the hotel. Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka, but it felt a lot smaller. It was a little bit colder (but still warm) since it’s 500 meters above sea level, and the city center was nice to walk around in with lots of shops, restaurants and markets. We stayed in Hotel Suisse, located close to the artificial Kandy Lake, and just a short walk from the city center. The colonial style hotel had large rooms, an open-air reception, a classy bar, a billiard room, a nice garden and a big pool. During our lunch just after we arrived, we got a visit from two of the monkeys living in the trees surrounding the hotel. They finished our sandwich, licked the ketchup jar clean, and even had some salad for dessert. Fun!
 We spent a bit of time in the hotel, just relaxing by the pool, watching the hundreds of bats living in the trees by the pool, playing snooker, talking to other guests and having a massage. The only problem was that they didn’t have Lion beer (there were some delays in deliveries because of a recent flood), and the alternatives were quite tasteless. But they had some nice cocktails, and very accommodating staff (although quite slow as in the rest of the country). We had dinner in the garden two evenings. There was a buffet dinner, but they had a terrible keyboard player singing in the corner, so we stayed away. The first night we shared a curry, and the waiter got a bit eager bringing all kinds of side dishes from the buffet, so we couldn’t even finish half of it. The next day we shared an Australian beef, which was really, really good.
 We did some sightseeing while in Kandy as well. We went to a nearby tea factory named Geragama, where we got to taste some of their tea, have a short walk around the plantation and a guided tour around the factory. All their machines (except one) were over a 100 years old (left by the British), and they were doing a lot of manual work like turning the drying leaves. We learned about the process of making the different tea types and about the different qualities of their finished products. We also bought some tea to bring home to Norway.
 We also stopped at a view point with great views over the city center, the lake, the large Buddha overlooking the city, temples and the surrounding hills. We visited Temple of the tooth, which houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. You don’t get to actually see the tooth, but there’s a lot of other relics, statues and paintings telling the history of the tooth.
 

Colombo

It was a 4 hour drive from Tangalle to Colombo, but with a lot to see along the road. Several temples, one with two elephants living in the garden, small towns and larger cities, an area known for cashew nuts had stands selling these every few meters, an old Portugeese fort, a romantic beach full of couples with umbrellas, crazy traffic, pimped up tuk-tuk’s and full families on small scooters. In Colombo there were some demonstrations towards the new government, for raising taxes and fines with several 100 percent, but our driver was prepared and got us to the hotel without any problems.

    

Our hotel, Cinnamon Red, was everything Ceylon Sea was not. Efficient, elegant, artsy, 24 hour service, quiet, great food, surprisingly cheap and with an amazing roof top terrace with an infinity pool on the 26th floor. We probably spent more time in the hotel than we should have, but we had such a great time there, and never really figured out Colombo. The city was quite loud and dirty, and we didn’t really find any nice areas to walk around. We spent a lot of time trying to find a cheap place to do laundry, and ended up in a strange place with no signs quite far from the hotel. When picking it up the next day, the place was closed, and after calling the owner we still had to wait 45 minutes for someone to show up.

    

We booked a 4 hour city tour, but got a very strange driver, driving in 20 km/h most of the time, and who was more interested in showing us bus stations and military buildings than the actual sights. We still got to see Galle face green, the parliament, the lighthouse, the Independence Hall, Sambodhi Chaithya stupa, several beautiful mosques and churches, an impressive Hindu temple, old and new city hall, large hotels, ports, courts and statues. We had a relaxing stop at Beira Lake, with a romantic island in the middle and several couples in swan-shaped boats on the lake. The most interesting stop of the tour was Gangaramaya Buddhist temple, built in a mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. The temple itself with statues, pagoda, Bodhitree and assembly hall was interesting, and we got very fascinated by the museum. It contained some old artifacts and a lot of worthless gifts and souvenirs (like old pens, beer mugs etc.).

  

    

We spent a lot of time in Colombo booking the rest of our trip. High season starts in the middle of December, and it was a lot harder to find good and cheap places to stay. The biggest challenge was the train ride to Kandy. We were told we needed to pay in advance for luggage online, but after several email back and forth with the helpdesk we gave up and asked the reception to call them. We were advised to go to the station to arrange everything, but their printer didn’t work and they said we could pay for luggage on the train (which we never did).

  

Our best meal in Colombo was without a doubt at Lagoon restaurant. It is part of the posh Cinnamon Grand Hotel (with pink Christmas trees and decorations all over the place), but is located in a quiet, green oasis in the back. You pick the seafood of your choice from their display, and select how it should be prepared. We ended up with a starter (lobster tail), and 1,5 main dishes (Tuna steak and a couple of scampi in a sauce that sounded too good to miss). Everything was absolutely delicious, and we even had room for a small dessert in the end. Great night!

Tangalle

We booked a private air conditioned car from Unawatuna to Tangalle, an even smaller beach town on the south coast. There was a problem with one of the tires, so we had a short visit at a turtle hatchery & hospital while the driver got it changed. In one pool around twenty 10 days old turtles were swimming around, ready to be released in a couple of days. There were also several turtles injured by fishing nets that were receiving treatment, and one disabled turtle swimming in circles. We also had a short stop in Weligama to see the poles used for stilt fishing, and in Mirissa to see yet another beautiful beach.

   

After 2,5 hours we arrived at our hotel, Ceylon Sea Hotel & Spa, where there was a wedding party going on in the garden. The hotel was less than a year old, and is rated as a 4 star hotel, but it didn’t really live up to the expectations. The location was superb, with a short walk through the garden to a beautiful beach, but with weddings in the garden pretty much every day (starting with loud drums at 8 am) it wasn’t that easy to reach after all. The hotel is built with the balconies away from the sea, there was two dining room chairs and no table on the balcony, the 24-hour reception closed at 4 pm, the spa was a yoga instructor with a table, and none of the other advertised facilities were available (including internet). The young trainees were superb tough, showed us around, fixed what could be fixed, and always met us with a huge smile.

  

  

In addition to the loud weddings, we also had quite a bit of rain while in Tangalle, so we spent a lot less time at the beach than originally planned. But we spent a lot of time in the warm ocean, fascinated by the waves, the super soft sand bottom and “being all alone in the sea”. We went to the local bottle shop to buy some dark beer, which was kind of a crazy experience. Locals pretty much climbing on top of each other waving money around, but after a while one of them helped us to the front of the line. There were not a lot of tourists at all in Tangalle, so everybody wanted us to eat at their restaurant (mainly family owned places it seemed). We had dinner twice at Sea View restaurant, which was highly recommended on Tripadvisor, had really good food, a few cozy tables at the beach and a very friendly waiter (Lali). Our first night there it started raining, so we were invited for some arrack and soda with the owner and friends until it stopped.

  

We also had dinner at Kura restaurant one day. Afterwards we were invited over for some drinks with some locals and an American couple. We had a great time for a few hours, but then more and more friends kept showing up, and they all wanted a piece of us, so we figured it was time to leave. Friendship Beach Bar was also an interesting place at the beach. It was very laid back, and some young locals were playing drums and guitar. They were quite good when playing local songs, but we struggled to keep a straight face when they tried to sing modern pop songs. Fun for a while though. All in all, Tangalle was not the paradise we were hoping it would be, but we still had a good time there, and it felt a lot more genuine than Unawatuna.