A Travellerspoint blog

Day 4 and we're on the road...or rather on the train

Off to Mirissa

semi-overcast 91 °F

10 April 2017

It's time to leave our little resort...but we'll be back. We'll be spending our last night in Sri Lanka here on the 28th.

Our train doesn't leave until 235pm so we don't have to rush off. We savor our last waffle and ice cream breakfast treat and finish packing. Down to one backpack and one day pack. Traveling by train that will definitely make things easier.

As far as transportation, it's a repeat of our trip to Colombo. Tuk Tuk to bus station, bus to Colombo. We're dropped off at a different bus station - no, I don't know why - so it's a tuk tuk to the train station. The monitor on the bus told us to pay "no more than 100Rp" - which is exactly what we paid. Arriving at the train station - we're early. Its a holiday- Poya - which is the Buddhist Full Moon Holiday (this occurs every month on the full moon) - so the traffic was very light. We grabbed some water and snacks, buy our tickets (230Rp per person) and head into the station to see if we can find a place to sit. We're leaving from platform 5, the seats in that area are full but those people are waiting for the train that will arrive shortly. It's a good time for people watching.

View of Platform 5

View of Platform 5

Good Information

Good Information

The 1pm train comes and goes leaving plenty of seats. We settle in, watch the different trains, all which seem to be about 50 years old and an assortment of people, young and old with a smattering of western tourists.

Colombo Rail Station

Colombo Rail Station

Waiting

Waiting

Standard Sri Lankan Train

Standard Sri Lankan Train

A weathered gentleman sits next to Brenda and they start up a conversation. His name is Iman and he is working for the Chinese company building the new Chinatown project. We come to find out that Iman's wife teaches English so his skills are fairly good. Each day, coming from Hikkaduwa, he rides the Express Bus for 2 hours into Colombo in the morning and takes the train home (3 1/2 hours) each evening. Brenda and Iman share family stories and pictures. We find out that today he had received a termination notice from the company. Come May 1st, the whole project shuts down due to monsoon season. It will reopen in the September but Iman doesn't know if he'll have a job.

A few minutes before our train was due to arrive, Iman makes sure that we are in the right place on the platform to get on and get towards an open door way. There won't be a place to sit for at least an hour - maybe two. At least, we'll have a breeze. The train jerks and sputters and we're on our way. Along the way, Jim notices a young chinese couple and thinks they look like one of our students from HUST which begins a long conversation with them. (Unfortunately, I didn't get their names but they have one of our business cards - maybe we'll hear from them). They are early 30's and traveling to experience the world. She had just finished seven years working on Germany. Amazingly, we come to find out - Iman speaks German. I think there is more to Iman than meets the eye.

View from the train - Colombo to Mirissa

View from the train - Colombo to Mirissa

No seats!!

No seats!!

Iman and our new Chinese friends

Iman and our new Chinese friends

Brenda at the open door

Brenda at the open door

A seat...finally

A seat...finally

One can get a little jaded when traveling and sometimes people will help you and then ask for money. Iman did not - he actually wanted us to come to his home for a meal. As his stop approached, he wished us well, never asking for anything other than good wishes. Brenda did make sure that she extended a small token of our thanks. Not requested but from his smile she could tell it was appreciated.

The route this train takes is right along the coast of Sri Lanka that was struck by the tsunami in 2004. Along the southern and eastern coasts more than 30K people lost their lives. Sri Lankans have been rebuilding over the past 13 years. It has been difficult but they have incredible resilience. It is a bit eerie to know that we are traveling the same tracks that were decimated and so many lives lost. (more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effect of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake on Sri Lanka

The train terminated in Matara which was our stop. By the time we got there the train was virtually empty. We knew that we would need to get a tuk tuk and Sujani (from Mirissa Harbour View - our guesthouse in Mirissa) had emailed me and let me know that we should pay no more than 500Rp. We were approached by a driver who asked for 800 and we settled on 500Rp but we added a little holiday tip when he dropped us off. FYI- this is Sinhalese New Years Week Holiday.

Our driver had to stop and ask a couple other tuk tuk drivers for directions to our guest house. FInally arriving,Sujani, her Mom and two daughters were at the gate to meet us with huge, warm smiles. After being shown to our rooms and after not eating other than crackers since the morning - we were hungry. Sunjani drove us up the road to the Surf View - very cute restaurant right on the beach. Just what we needed after a long day. The dinner special was Seafood Platter - one whole fish, one crab, grilled shrimp, grilled squid, french fries and salad - all for 2000Rp (about $13) - Brenda and I shared one and it was plenty - Jim, or course, had his own.

Table with a view

Table with a view

Fresh...right off the boat that morning

Fresh...right off the boat that morning

Fish, crab, squid and shrimp....yummmm

Fish, crab, squid and shrimp....yummmm

Jim did a good job on his fish

Jim did a good job on his fish

The walk back took about 15 minutes, enough to stretch, digest our wonderful dinner ...now we were ready for bed.

Posted by pjburke 03:44 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged mirissa Comments (3)

SL - Day 3

Relaxing in Negombo

semi-overcast 91 °F

09 April 2017

As I mentioned before...it's warm here. No HOT!!! I have to say we've been places that are warm - this is like no other. But it is so beautiful and interesting that we're loving it. Just have to take it a little slower and drink tons of water.

Also, thank you to all who have followed us this far. We really enjoy reading your comments. :-)

One of the things we always enjoy is a good massage and Gerry has suggested a local Spa - Jasmin. Sounds good to us. 75 minute massage - 2100Rp each = $14 plus tip which also included pick up and drop off in a full sized van. After squeezing our three full sized American butts into tuk tuks - the van felt like a limo.

(I'm added prices to things like our transportation, spas, etc to give you all an idea of how inexpensive it is to travel in this area of the world).

The spa is located a short ride from our guesthouse at a small hotel. It always amazes me how these small women can make you think your masseuse is a 250 lb body builder. They are so strong. Also, a quick note about massages in most Asian countries - other than a small private area, everything else gets massaged - butts, chest - if there is skin - it's fair game.

Jasmin Spa

Jasmin Spa

Courtyard at Jasmin Spa

Courtyard at Jasmin Spa


After a good massage, in my book, comes a good nap. I find them very relaxing. Also in the late afternoon heat of the day, good time for A/C and work on this blog.

We hadn't gotten to the beach area (primary tourist area) of Negombo so we decided to head over for a sunset drink and dinner in town. Clouds blocked the sunset but it was a nice relaxing vibe and only one vendor trying to sell us a table cloth. Compare to other areas where the hawkers don't let up, this was great.

Negombo Beach

Negombo Beach

Traditional Fishing Boat

Traditional Fishing Boat


DInner was at Sugar, a chinese restaurant that our guesthouse owner has an interest in. The owner, Michele, is also his lobster connection so we decided to give it a try. It was good.

We're heading off in the morning for Mirissa (about 3 1/2 hours south by train). We've decided that even though we have minimal baggage - we're going to break it down even more. We'll be staying our last night at Palms Villas and Gerry has offered to let us leave a bag...or two. We'll be leaving one of our bags and one day pack. Without realizing it...we actually overpacked.

Posted by pjburke 03:59 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (9)

SL Day 2

Exploring Colombo

semi-overcast 91 °F

08 April 2015

===Off to Colombo===

We had a "great" night sleep.

Breakfast today had to be one of my favorites.....a Sri Lankan speciality - String Hoppers served with Curry, shaved coconut and "something else". Homemade noodles with tasty toppings. The traditional way to eat it is to eat with our hands - we have to work on that.

Sri Lankan Breakfast - String Hoppers and Curry

Sri Lankan Breakfast - String Hoppers and Curry

Waffles and Ice Cream...Breakfast tradition

Waffles and Ice Cream...Breakfast tradition


Our plan today is to head into Colombo - the Sri Lankan capital. It's Saturday and it's the beginning of a long holiday. We know we'd run into a holiday traffic but this all seems to last for weeks so we'll just go with it.

Our Tuk Tuk picked us up at our guesthouse and dropped us at the bus station in Negombo (200Rp=$1.30). From Negombo we take the Express Highway A/c #240 bus (120Rp=$.80) for the 1 hour ride to Colombo. We got dropped off in front of the Pettah Market. It was busy, it was crazy...it was Great!!!
Colombo Police Officer watching the Pettah holiday traffic

Colombo Police Officer watching the Pettah holiday traffic

Pettah Market

Pettah Market

Market shoppers

Market shoppers

Besides seeing the city, we also wanted to find the train station to see if we could get tickets for our Monday trip to Mirissa (next stop). We found out that there are only 2nd class seats on that train and only available day of travel....Counter 4 (230Rp=$1.50 per person).

Train Station in Colombo

Train Station in Colombo

After getting our information we were approached by a number of tuk tuk drivers asking if we needed a tour. We finally found a gentleman who we felt comfortable with and went with him. We agreed on a price (4800Rp - about $10 per person for a 3 hour tour). With all that we saw, it was well worth it. Also, one thing that I haven't mentioned....It's pretty damn hot here. Think: summer in Florida and 10x more humidity. On our own we would have never seen the sights we did. Sonta took us to some interesting sites but didn't overload us. At the end of our tour, he dropped us off at the bus station to again get the 240 A/C Express bus back to Negombo (230Rp=$.50).
A few of our stops: Hindu Temple, Buddhist Temple, Independance Hall, Cinnamon Park

Jade Buddha at the Buddhist Temple

Jade Buddha at the Buddhist Temple

Colorful statue at Hindu Temple

Colorful statue at Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple

Rooftop Carvings at Hindu Temple

Rooftop Carvings at Hindu Temple

Small Temple inside Hindu Complex

Small Temple inside Hindu Complex

China Town

China Town


For being a holiday, the bus station was busy but not crazy. The buses to Negombo run about every 15 minutes and we got on the 2nd one.

Arriving back at the Negombo bus station, we called our favorite TukTuk driver (Asitha) and he was there in a flash. Back to Palms Villas where the pool was a welcome site.

We were more than ready for Dinner and it was again - wonderful. Gerry had gotten fresh lobster (spiny Caribbean type) and I couldn't resist. Jim had fish and Brenda Lemon Chicken. The lobster grilled with garlic butter was so nice. Brenda's chicken needed a little spice so Gerry shared his homemade hot chili sauce. Just what Brenda needed. Also, Gerry had a 2nd lobster which of course must be cooked ...he split it with Jim.

Sri Lankan Lobster Dinner

Sri Lankan Lobster Dinner

You just can't waste lobster!

The other Sri Lankan delicacy that Gerry introduced us to was Sri Lankan Arrack. Made from coconut, it's quite different from the homemade arak we had in Indonesia...more like a coconut brandy. I googled "Arrack" to find the correct spelling and came up with some interesting information regarding it's production...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrack#Sri Lanka

Posted by pjburke 03:15 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

Sri Lanka - Day 1

Negombo

semi-overcast 91 °F

07 -10 April 2017

Negombo - Day 1

I'm really hating these early morning flights....BUT it is the start of brand new adventure - Sri Lanka. We woke up about 0215 for 0500 flight. Surprisingly, Bangkok does sleep - at 0315 the streets were virtually empty and it was a quick trip to the airport.

We're not the only ones with early flights. The airport was buzzing but getting through customs and security was easy. A short wait and then on to our SriLankan Airline flight to Colombo. As far as airlines go - SriLankan was very nice. Sounds strange but I noticed how "clean" the plane was and Jim really like the sari uniforms the flight attendants wore. 3 1/2 hours and we were on the ground. We had applied and received our Evisas back in February. We "assumed" that there would be no problems...right!! Brenda and I came through but Jim got stopped and sent to another room for further "questioning". He'd been stopped one other time but we never knew why. Well....apparently his name triggers an INTERPOL hit. James Burke is a fairly common name. After clearing that up, he was released. We now know to be aware that it might happen again.

Waited a bit for our bags and then headed towards the meeting spot for our driver from Palms Villas. It's normal to see shops and duty free areas but we were amazed to see stores selling refrigerators, stoves, televisions, A/C units,etc. People were buying them left and right. ????what the????

Our instructions were to head out the front doors, turn left, call for our ride and wait in front of the Post Office. We got ahold of British sounding gentleman who said he'd be there in about 10-15 mins. Jim laughed and said our driver's name would probably be Tony. Jim's generic name for anyone, when he doesn't know their name. About 15 minutes later, a tall, strapping Sri Lankan man walked up to us and in a strong British accent - ??Palms Villas?? Yup, that's us. We introduce ourselves and "what's your name"..."Tony" - we started to laugh and we had to explain ourselves. It was then that we found out Tony has a great sense of humor. Tony is the driver (among other jobs) for Gerry the owner of Palms Villas. He was born in SL but lived in the UK most of his life. We had a great conversation on our way to our guesthouse. Tony and Jim got along way "too" well.

With the change in our flight times, I had email the owner (Gerry) that we would be arriving early. He graciously told us we could get into our room when the tenant cleared and they could get it cleaned. In his words "we'll make it work". Part of that was to feed us, which was greatly appreciated. Especially, the delicious breakfasts offered at Palms Villas. Eggs, toast, fresh fruit, fresh fruit juice, coffee and/or tea - Ceylon tea, of course.

P1220195.jpg270_DSCF0068.jpg

Gerry introduced himself and sat and chatted with us until our room was ready. A Brit himself (from the London area), he is quite diverse and makes sure that his six room guesthouse runs like clockwork. He was also a chef in England and is either cooking himself or with Auntie (a lovely Sri Lankan woman who he has trained). Along with Auntie and June (who reminds me so much of my Aunt Mary) and Sunji(a hearing impaired man with a wonderful smile), Gerry has a gem in Negombo. It's not near the beach but only about 10 minutes by tuktuk and it really has a small resort feel.One question we asked Gerry was "what is it with the items sold at the airport?" Answer: there is a 60% tax on things like stove, refrig etc..no wonder people take advantage of the duty free.

The rest of our day consisted of sleep, pool and then dinner. Before headed in for a nap, June had asked us when we wanted dinner and then pretty much told us when we would be having dinner. She asked us what we wanted. They only serve what is fresh. Again, with June's "help" we picked our dishes.

When dinner time came, we were not disappointed. Jim had the Sri Lankan Curry and Rice. I had fresh grilled fish and Brenda had Chili Prawns.

270_DSCF0082.jpgFresh Grilled Red Snapper

Fresh Grilled Red Snapper


Patty, Jim and Brenda......Welcome to Sri Lanka!!

Posted by pjburke 22:48 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (11)

Jet Lag and the 2nd Day Slump...

...no it's not an 80's rock band....

semi-overcast 91 °F

03-06 April 2017

I'd really forgotten how jet lag can affect one's general well being...

We left Tucson at 0500 embarking on a long trip that ended in Bangkok - Tucson to San Francisco to Tokyo and on to Bangkok...arriving just about 30 hours later. There are different theories as to how to avoid jet lag. I've decided the only way is to "not travel" which is not in our playbook. We know it will go away...but you just never are sure how long that will take. And it definitely affects each person differently.

As I write this from Sri Lanka, I'm feeling pretty good. But even after two days in Bangkok, Jim and Brenda are still feeling that "2nd day slump".

Bangkok was not all sleep. We arrived late on the the 4th with a winning smile from Karan, the owner of Focal Local.

I can't usually sleep on planes and this trip was no different. I did catch about an hour on each long leg but not enough to impede sleep when we got to Bangkok. It was right to bed and we all crashed..until about 0600.

Yes, we've stayed at Focal Local on a past trip. This time we are staying in their new building - and it's all Karan - light, comfortable and very welcoming. Right next door to their original building, this one works in the outdoor space that building #1 lacked. Having coffee on the third floor patio, watching this small neighborhood wake up, made us feel immersed in a slower paced area of this crazy city.

Focal Local

Focal Local

Focal Local - the new building

Focal Local - the new building

We started our first day in Bangkok with a local dish - Chicken Basil and rice and a plate of sweet succulent fruit....yes...breakfast.
Patty and Brenda - First tuk tuk ride of the trip..

Patty and Brenda - First tuk tuk ride of the trip..

Brenda hadn't visited the Golden Buddha so our goal is to make our way to Chinatown. Tuk tuk to the ferry to cross the river and another ferry up the river ....but we miss the ferry stop #5 and end up at #6. That gave us an opportunity to wander the morning flower market to the color and fragrance...most being made for temple offerings.

Golden Buddha

Golden Buddha

With the Golden Buddha still in mind and our trusty map in hand, we knew we were headed in the right direction. We did decide that before the afternoon got too long that, maybe, just a little lunch would work. There is no science as to how we pick places to eat....it's more like "this looks good" and I have to say there haven't been too many that weren't. We were the only three for lunch today ( it was about 2pm) which meant we had the chance to chat with the owner of this family run business. She shared that her family was Chinese and she was the youngest of 10. Her two young sons (5 and 2 1/2) played in the dining area while we ate - grabbing quiet glances at the "customers". The young proprietess shared info about the photos hanging on the walls and also pulled out her five year olds class picture and proudly shared that he is going to school at the "Grand Palace" - which is as one would assume, on the grounds of THE Grand Palace. With photos taken..we were off.Chinatown lunch stop

Chinatown lunch stop

Jim and I had visited the Golden Buddha on our first trip to Thailand in 2002 and the temple complex has definitely changed. The temple itself is still small but now shares the area with a museum. The story of he Golden Buddha is quite interesting.

The hot weather drove us back to our guesthouse for an afternoon nap and our goal was foot massages early evening and then dinner. A stroll down the busy local street brought us to the massage parlor (though that sounds really bad ...it's just a good foot massage) :-) There was a wait for the massages so we decided to forgo and head to dinner - local Thai/Chinese place just around the corner from our guesthouse...good local food at good local prices. Hopefully it will help us sleep tonight.

Day 2 - sleep was restless but we enjoyed coffee on the balcony waiting for the rest of the guesthouse to wake up.
(Travel tip - I pack coffee packets called "3-1" which have sugar and creamer. I get them at the LeeLee's Asian Grocery store but I know that Starbucks also has them without the extras. Most guesthouse rooms in Asia have a electric tea pot. It's nice to have that option)

Having missed our massage the night before it was Jim's job to find a place for some relaxation for later this afternoon.

Destination today...Jim Thompson House. Jim Thompson was an American who was integral in bringing Thai silk to it's present day status. Again, we'd been there back in 2002 and the whole complex has vastly changed. You used to be able to just wander through on your own before or after visiting the silk shop. Now, there are guides and one is asked to secure bags/backpacks in a locker before the tour. I have to believe that valuable items may have "gone missing" over time. The young woman who was our guide was very informative and on this trip I really appreciated the items in Mr. Thompson's collection.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim Thompson House

Around the corner from JIm Thompson's house is a main shopping area - Siam Paragon/MBK etc. Huge shopping, eating, cinema complexes. I realized when I got here that I had forgotten to pack my SD card adapter. FYI - MBK sells "everything". If they don't have it ..you don't need it.

From MBK it was off to find Asia Herbal for our hour foot massages ($15).

Hopefully our relaxing massages will help with sleep tonight as we will be off EARLY for our flight to Sri Lanka. Originally, our flight was scheduled to leave about 10am but the airline changed it to 0515...aghhhh. So we're up at 0230 for a 0315 pick up and a 0400 check in.

We're really excited about Sri Lanka..beaches, mountains, lush and tropical and our first time....

Posted by pjburke 19:54 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

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