Destinations Journal Sri Lanka

An emotional visit to the Dog Care Clinic, Sri Lanka

18. October 2016

Dog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaThe stray dog situation in Sri Lanka is probably the worst I’ve seen anywhere. And I thought Indonesia had a bad problem with stray dogs! But no, in Sri Lanka an estimated 40 million dogs live and suffer on the streets every day. Luckily a few amazing people are trying to make a difference, and so can you. Please go straight to the bottom of the article if you want to see how you can help.

As an animal lover with a real soft spot for dogs, arriving in Sri Lanka made me so incredibly sad. Wherever we went there were badly injured dogs, some with a leg hanging on by a thread and some without eyes. Most of them, even the small puppies, had wounds all over from scratching all day long. Some had such bad skin conditions, due to malnutrition and parasites, that they almost looked like rats. I’ve decided to not include any photos of the bad cases in this post, not everyone wants to see that.

Dog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaWhat’s so sad is that these dogs just want to be loved and they have so much love to give. While staying in Talalla, a sleepy beach village south on the island, we made friends with a little white dog. Every day minutes after we got to the beach, we would see this white spot in the distance running towards us at full speed. He was so cute, playful and happy to get some attention even though he was covered in scars and scratches.

After witnessing the horrible state of the street dogs, I started researching to see if anything is being done to better the situation. I mean, me sneaking food from the restaurants trying to feed the dogs at the beach, isn’t really a sustainable solution. That’s when I found the Dog Care Clinic, located in Mihiripenna-Talpe, close to Unawatuna.

It all began with Marina Möbius, a kindhearted german lady that had desperately tried to nurse individual dogs back to health for years. But Sr Lanka’s dog problem was way too much for one person to handle, so in 2007 she was able to open the Dog Care Clinic. To this day Maria is still paying for 90% of the operation costs out of here own pocket. Just think how much they could achieve with just a bit more funding.

The clinic offers free neutering for the dogs of poor people in the community that can’t afford the fee. So far the clinic has neutered over 50.000 dogs and has given over 500.000 vaccinations.

Dog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaEvery day a team from the clinic goes out in their tuk-tuks to feed and check up on dogs in different areas. If they spot some that need medical attention, they’ll bring them back to the clinic. If the dog makes a full recovery, it will be reintegrated in its old environment. If not the dog gets a permanent home at the clinic. Inside the Dog Care compound, the dogs are allowed to carry on their lives with dignity, together with a lot of friends. Today over 120 dogs call the clinic home, and the number is growing by the minute. Many sick or injured animals are placed at their front gate or simply thrown over the wall at night.

In addition to that, the clinic also does home visits to ensure that the adopted dogs are being taken care of. Unfortunately, in many cases, the adopted dogs have to be brought back to the clinic due to neglect. One of the worst cases we heard of was when the new owners of a puppy chained it to a tree in the yard and left it there. When the clinic came to check on it weeks later, they had to cut the chain out of the dog’s neck and bring it back to operate.

Another horrifying example of human cruelty is that people in a certain religious quarter in Galle are setting fire to dogs. The clinic has picked up several severely burnt dogs, some they even had to put down. I just couldn’t believe it when I heard, how can people be so cruel?

Dog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaOne of the permanent residents chilling in the shade

Dog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaThe air-conditioned operation room for more serious surgeries

Dog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaAnother great project is the 50+ program. There are no social security or pension system in Sri Lanka, so older people are usually left without any income. As for the dogs after turning 1 year old, their chances of being adopted are very slim. That’s where the Dog Care Clinic come in. The local seniors are placed with a dog that they have to take good care of in order to keep it. Every 50+ participant then receives 5.000Rs/35€ a month. A win-win situation. This might sound like a small sum, but at the moment it’s what the clinic can afford. And a small income is better than none.

Meet Neyla, another permanent resident. She really made an impact on me during our visit at the clinic. I wanted to just drop everything, give her a hug and take her back with me to Norway.Dog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaNeyla was rescued from another Animal Clinic on the island. She had an accident with a pelvic fracture and was simply placed in a box, in which she spent 2 months, leaving her bones and joints stiff and disfigured. Through persistent physical therapy and months of training, she is now able to walk using just her front legs. I was astonished by how fast she was able to move, balancing on two legs like that. Look at those muscles.

Dog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaDog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaAnother cutie pie, her fur was so soft. She’s blind but still a super happy dog.

If you’re an aspiring veterinarian, you can apply for an internship. In the clinic, equipped according to European Standards, you’ll be given the opportunity to work alongside experienced veterinarians in an intensive high-speed environment. I can vouch for the intensive part, dogs were literally being rushed in while we were there.

So now over to how you can help the Dog Care Clinic. There are several options:

  • Make a one-time donation. Remember every dollar or euro counts!
  • Set up a monthly donation. You can choose to sponsor a dog of your choice or let the donation benefit the whole clinic. If you want to become a sponsor, please take a look at the “problem child” section. All the dogs that need extra medical attention are listed there, including Neyla.
  • You can also help without spending a cent. Spread the word simply by sharing this post or head over to Facebook and like the clinic’s page.

If you are able to help in any way, it would be very much appreciated.

Dog Care Clinic, Mihiripenna / Talpe, Sri LankaA strong message on the wall outside the clinic

Sunshine Seeker Travel Blog

Destinations Sri Lanka

The Unawatuna restaurant guide – Top 5

13. October 2016

The top 5 best Unawatuna restaurants - CatamaranThrough centuries of colonization and influence from countries like the Netherlands, Portugal and England, Sri Lankan cuisine has become a melting pot of rich and diverse flavors. It also shares some similarities with South Indian food, yet still remains its own unique flair. Rice, fish and coconut are the dominant ingredients, usually made into curries or deep fried and served with some kind of flatbread. Yum!

Samosas and roti quickly became our food of choise. Both cheap and easily accessible from street vendors and small shacks like the one you see below. By the way, The Roti Shop is one of the best places to eat roti in Unawatuna. I didn’t manage to get any photos of the fried goodies, that’s how fast we gobbled it down. And for the fellow iced tea lovers out there, I’m so happy to finally have found a place where lemon iced tea is as common as it is in Indonesia. There’s nothing better than to cool off with an ice cold lemon tea after a day in the heat.

The delicious local food is of course available everywhere, but we got a bit tired of rice, vegetables and bread from time to time. Yes, that is possible. So in this post I decided to also highlight some of the best restaurants we found in Unawatuna that offers a wider range of choises.

And just a sidenote, a food guide to Arugam Bay is coming next week.

The top 5 best Unawatuna restaurants - Roti shopThe top 5 best Unawatuna restaurants - Sri Lanka

The top 5 Unawatuna restaurants

Mati Gedara

This place doesn’t look like much from the outside, but don’t let that discourage you. For 350Rs you can eat as much as you want from a buffet of six vegetable dishes. Ravi, the owner, is super eager to explain all the different items to everyone that enters his restaurant. In addition to the vegetarian buffet, you can choose between chicken and seafood that they will cook in an amazing caramelized tomato/onion glaze. I’m usually not one for a whole fish staring at me from the plate, but wow this was an exception. Super delicious! You’ll have to pay extra for the meat dish, try to get it for 500Rs, that’s the lowest I heard him quote anyone for the fish. Definitely Sri Lankan food at it’s finest.

mmmh Surcé & Salé

All I have to say is NUTELLA CRÈPE! This sleek and modern café run by a friendly young couple, bring a little slice of France to Sri Lanka. One crepé cost 750Rs, that’s more than two dinners at Mati Gedara. But it was so worth it! After having eaten nothing but vegetables, noodles and rice for two weeks, the sweet Nutella crepé tasted heavenly. So of course we went back two nights in a row. They also offer some savory options, healthy juices and coffee, perfect for breakfast and lunch. Oh if had we only discovered this place sooner!


Located right on Unawatuna’s main stretch of sand, I have to be honest, we didn’t expect much from Catamaran. I thought it would be one of those super touristy restaurants where the food is dull and you pay a premium. Anyways, we ended up here to seak shelter from the soaring heat and to chill out on one of their fun, colorful cabanas.

Luckily my slightly pessimistic assumptions turned out to be totally wrong. Not only were the food beautifully presented but it tasted incredible. The tuna filet was bursting with flavor, the wrap filled with crunchy vegetables and the fries perfectly golden. I think Catamaran has undergone a major makeover recently, none of the complaints made by Tripadvisor members seemed to be accurate anymore. I can definitely recommend this place!The top 5 best Unawatuna restaurants - CatamaranI didn’t realize until we got home that I probably should have turned the plate around so one would be able to actually see the colorful yumminess inside the wrap. I think I’m just a bit to excited about food to be a good food photographer. Let’s just say the wrap was gone in four bites.

The top 5 best Unawatuna restaurants - Catamaran at the beach

Jina’s Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant

We didn’t try this place until our last night, as my boyfriend isn’t too keen on the whole vegetarian thing. I finally convinced him to give it a try and we were not disappointed. Set in a garden away from the street, this homely restaurant specializes in Indian food but also offers some Mexican and western dishes.

We were greeted by Jina, the owner/chef, who told us that we would have to wait for some time. They explained that if we wanted some of the main courses it would be best to order the day before. There was also a poster on the wall that read something like “Sorry no fast food. Takes time to make good food.” As that weren’t an option for us we opted for a Mexican fix, burritos and nachos that were supposed to be some of the fastest dishes to make.

About 50 minutes later, our food arrived along with a clearly tired Jina. So only come here if you have a bit of patience. But I promise it’s so worth the wait. My nacho plate was incredibly tasty, though quite small. The second I tasted the first bite I wished I had ordered two portions. It was one of the freshest and overall best meals we had during our whole trip. After catching his breath for a couple of minutes, Jina explained to us about his cooking process. He is truly a passionate person and views cooking as a way of sharing his art with people. So be sure to pay him a visit if you’re ever in the area.

BedspaceThe top 5 best Unawatuna restaurants - BedspaceNestled away in a dark alley, we would never have found Bedspace on our own. Even with the directions in hand we almost gave up on finding this place. Though it might be easier to get to if you arrive from the main road. We arrived just as the sun set, which turned out to be right in the neck of time. About 15 minutes later the place was packed.

I ordered a shawarma plate and Ulrik got the burger. Both came with a soft bread, almost like a nan. So good! The meat was perfectly tender, the vegetables fresh and the tzatziki super garlicky. We finished the meal with a brownie and a couple of cocktails. It turned out to be the most expensive meals we had during our trip, but again also one of the best! This is the nr. 1 restaurant in Unawatuna on Tripadvisor for a reason.

You should also check out my last post where I talk about Wijya, a great beach restaurant just three minutes down the coast.

I hope you can put this Unawatuna restaurant to good use. Let me know if you have any favorite restaurants in the area.

Destinations Sri Lanka

Dalawella Beach – Unawatuna

4. October 2016

Dalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Palm Tree Swing// Contains affiliate links, full disclosure at the bottom of the post

Dalawella beach is located in the Unawatuna area southwest on the island of Sri Lanka. We discovered this tranquil spot while staying in central Unawatuna. Though the main beach is quite nice it’s also very touristy with lots of hawkers and restaurant owners eager to have you eat at their establishment. So to escape this we got a tuk-tuk and ventured the mere 3 minutes down the road for some peace and quiet under the palm trees at Dalawella beach. You shouldn’t pay your driver any more than 200Rs for the short drive, though they will probably quote you double that.

The only part of the beach that is swimmable is in front of an awesome beach restaurant called Wijaya. They specialize in pizza and have a large wood fired oven. Not so great for your bikini body but I promise your taste buds will thank you. We got one with smoked chicken, peppers and loads of cheese. It was delicious, one of the best meals we had during our whole trip.

If I were to visit this part of the island again I would definitely stay in the Dalawella beach area as opposed to the main Unawatuna beach stretch. We walked past so many nice looking hotels and the whole atmosphere was just more relaxed. And best of all there were almost no other people. We found a fun palm tree swing and a local guy made sure we got our daily dose of coconuts and fresh fruit. So in other words, our time here couldn’t have turned out much better.

Get $35 off your first stay with Airbnb here!

Salt Beach House was one of the places we saw that looked amazing. The open plan villa can accommodate up to 5 people and has a private 8m swimming pool. At $350 a night, it’s quite expensive, so whenever I find 4 other people willing to pay up I’m there.

Cheaper options are Eka Beach B & B for just over $50 a night or the picturesque Rockside Cabanas Hotel just south of Wijaya for $75 a night.

Dalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Wijaya Beach pizza restaurantDalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Wijaya Beach pizza restaurantDalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Palm Tree SwingDalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - SurferDalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Pura Vida BraceletsDalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Pura Vida BraceletsDalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Pura Vida Bracelets Pineapple bracelet – white braided braceletpastel bead braceletgold bar bracelet   

I had to take advantage of the tropical location and the pineapple we got for lunch, so we snapped some shots of my new arm candy. Pura Vida makes some of my favorite jewelry for travel, their bracelets are all 100% waterproof. Perfect for a trip like this. From now until November 30th you get $10 off when you spend $50(FALL10PVB) or 10% off your entire order(PVSAVE10).

Be sure to check out their charity section where a portion of each sale goes to different charities. As you probably know October is breast cancer awareness month, so Pura Vida has made this gorgeous pink elephant bracelet to support the cause. 20% of the profits goes to “Boarding for Breast Cancer”, a charity that advocates early detection and a healthy lifestyle as the best means for breast cancer prevention. It’s a limited edition with only 1000 pieces made, so get in quick before they’re all gone.

Dalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Pura Vida BraceletsDalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Palm Tree SwingDalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Fresh CoconutDalawella beach right next to Unawatuna, Sri Lanka - Palm Tree Swing


Some of the links above are affiliate links and I will earn a small percentage of the sale if you purchase through them, at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my site – so thank you in advance ! I only ever link to products and services I use and love myself!

Destinations Sri Lanka

The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa

26. September 2016

The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka// Contains affiliate links

From the 11th century up until 1310, kings ruled the island of Sri Lanka from Polonnaruwa. The medieval capital grew to be a thriving commercial and religious centre, replacing the previous Kingdom of Anuradhapura. After holding the power for almost three centuries, the seat of government was moved yet again and Polonnaruwa was abandoned for good.

In 1982 the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa was declared a World Heritage Site.

As mentioned in the last post, we drove up here while staying in Kandy, which worked out great for us. Because of the extremely hot weather we only ended up spending abut three hours inside the actual city, so we had more than enough time to do the three-hour drive each way. We left Kandy at 7 in the morning and were back at the hotel around 17, just in time for dinner. You also have the option to stay in a hotel right outside the city, if you want better time and to explore the area.

A great choice would be to stay at the super cheap Seyara Holiday Resort, for only about $17 a night. The ancient city is only a short, 2km, tuk-tuk ride away. I’ve heard great things about their staff, the breakfast and the large pool.

Another cheap option is Tishan Holiday Resort, which actually has got even better reviews. People rave about their pool area, the food and the very friendly staff. At $24 a night and also only 2km away, they offer great value for money.

I had been looking forward to renting bicycles to be able to explore the city at our own pace. But when we arrived it was clear that biking would be more of a challenge than I first thought. It was so hot out! After a lot of discussing back and forth, our driver convinced us to go by car. I’m so glad he did, it turned out he had so much knowledge about the place. And of course, in addition to that we got to cool off in the air-conditioned car between each stop. We drove past quite a few bikers almost passed out at the side of the road from the unbearable heat. So please take the weather into consideration when deciding on your mode of transportation.

Before entering the actual city you have to go to the museum to purchase the tickets. All together with the driver, this was the most expensive attraction we visited in our three weeks in Sri Lanka. The tickets were 3550 Rs / $25 and as mentioned in the Kandy post the driver charged 12000 Rs / $80.

You should really take your time in the museum and read up on everything, I think you’ll get more out of your visit that way. I wish we spent more time there, looking at what the ruins might have looked like once upon a time. But I was so stressed about beating the crowds to the site, so we just skimmed through.

Anyways, I’m not going to bore you guys with all the details about each structure. I get that not everyone finds it too interesting, so I’ll let the photos do most of the talking this time.

The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - The Royal PalaceThe royal palace complex of King Parakaramabahu is the first stop after you enter the city. His majestic palace is said to have been seven stories tall and the whole complex supposedly consisted of 1000 chambers. Be sure to look at the miniature model in the museum to get an impression of what it might have looked like 800 years ago.The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - The royal Palace

King Parakaramabahu’s Council Chamber, was the meeting place of all his ministers. The structure is 23m long and 10m wide and the walls are decorated with lions and elephants. It was fun to stand up there thinking of all the ideas and plans that might have been discussed within those pillar walls.The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - The Audience Hall

The Royal Bath, also known as the pond of the Prince. The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - The King's Swimming Pool

The Sacred Quadrangle is the most concentrated collection of structures in all of Polonnaruwa. In the middle you’ll find the Vatadage, a circular relic house with four entrances and four Buddhas. It is thought to have been built to hold the relic of Buddha’s tooth or the alms bowl used by Buddha.The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - The Sacred QuadrangleThe incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - The Sacred QuadrangleThe incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - The Sacred Quadrangle

Rankot Vihara is a huge dagoba in excellent condition, one of the most impressive structures in the city. At 55m tall, it’s the largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest in Sri Lanka. This is a photo from the side, as there were quite a lot of selfie-stick action going on at the front entrance.The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - Rankot Vihara

The construction of the incredible Kiri Vehera, meaning milk-white, is thought to have been initiated by King Parakramabahus Queen. At 24m tall, it’s the second largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa after Rankot Vihara. It was so white it almost looked liked an optical illusion in the bright sunlight, like it was moving from side to side. Remember to remove your shoes when going inside the small brick fence, I got yelled at.The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - Dagoba Kiri Vihara

Lankatilaka is a cathedral like Buddhist shrine with impressive 17m high and 4m thick walls. Even though the roof is long gone, the structure is still a majestic sight. It’s not allowed to take pictures of someone with their back facing the Buddha statue, and remember to remove your shoes. Be careful though, the sand was so hot I got blisters under my feet.The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - Lankatilaka Buddha StatueThe incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - Lankatilaka Buddha StatueThe incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - Lankatilaka Buddha Statue

Gal Vihara is a group of four Buddha statues, carved from one large granite rock face. According to our driver, this is the most special place in all of Polonnaruwa. And because of the pristine condition of the statues, it’s also the most visited.The incredible ancient city of Polonnaruwa - A must visit while in Sri Lanka - Gal Vihara Buddha StatueThere’s not a lot of food options in the city. My number one tip would be to have a big breakfast before you go, especially if you’re driving up from Kandy. Once inside the city, we had an ice cream at the King’s swimming pool and then at the parking lot in front of Gal Vihara there were finally some food stalls. Pretty hungry at this point we filled up on vegetable roti and freshly squeezed lime juice. Yum! And we actually managed to track down one diet Coke! For some reason, light sodas are not common on the island. Just in case you were curious about that!

Have you ever visited Polonnaruwa? What was your experience like?

Some of the links above are affiliate links and I will earn a small percentage of the sale if you purchase through them, at no extra cost to you. This helps me cover the costs of running my site – so thank you in advance ! I only ever link to products and services I use and love myself!


Destinations Sri Lanka

What to do in Kandy – A quick guide

19. September 2016

A quick guide to what to do in Kandy - Tea Factory Museum// Contains affiliate links

About 3 hours inland from Colombo at 465 meters above sea level, you’ll find Kandy, the last royal capital of Sri Lanka. The island’s second largest city is surrounded by a lush mountain chain, rugged peaks, manicured tea plantations and Sri Lanka’s largest river, the Mahaweli Ganga. Because of this dramatic location, Kandy enjoys a tropical salubrious climate, with temperatures ranging between 19-28C all year around. A cool and comforting contrast to the sizzling hot coastal lowlands.

As we didn’t get much sunny weather in Norway this summer, we wanted this trip to be centered around beaches and the ocean. Because of that we only sat aside two nights for Kandy, and the one full day we were planning to spend in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. I’m kind of a history nerd, so that was something I’d been looking forward to for quite some time. I’ll tell you more about it in the next post! That meant we had to cram a whole lot of sights into one, short day.

After what felt like forever on steep, windy roads coming from Pinnawala (but in reality was probably more like one hour), we arrived at Sevana City Hotel. A fairly new establishment on the west side of town, squeezed between a pharmacy and a “little bit of everything” shop. Don’t get discouraged by the modest entrance, it opens up into clean and modern facilities. We paid about $50 for the two nights, which got us a fan room with breakfast and wifi included. I wish we’d paid up for an ac room though, as it got pretty hot and humid at night. But other than that I feel like Sevana City Hotel offered great value for money. They even organized a driver to take us to Polonnaruwa for only 12000 Rs, much less than we got quoted other places.

What to do in Kandy

Royal Botanical Gardens PeradeniyaA quick guide to what to do in Kandy - Botanical GardenA quick guide to what to do in Kandy - Botanical GardenAfter a quick stop at the hotel, we hit the town to soak up as much of Kandy as we could in the little time that we had. I was quite surprised by how busy it was, not at all the calm green oasis I’d made it out to be in my head. People yelling, construction going on, crazy traffic, yes just like any other large Asian city. So we hailed a tuk-tuk and headed for the Royal Botanical Garden. By the way, a tuk-tuk is the main mode of transportation over here. It’s a small moped cart thingy with three wheels(first picture), super cute and handy for shorter distances. Keep in mind that you should always agree on a price up front, to eliminate any surprises.

A quick guide to what to do in Kandy - Royal Botanical Gardens Apparently, there was something very interesting happening up in the treetops.

At one time the entire 60 hectares of gorgeous gardens were only available to Kandyan royalty. Today however, everyone is welcome into what are the largest and most impressive botanical gardens in all of Sri Lanka. Located about 5.5km to the west of central Kandy, it’s easily reached by tuk-tuk. We agreed on a price of 500 Rs, which included the driver waiting for us outside. You might think the entrance fee of 1500 Rs is a little steep, but I say it’s worth it. Wandering around the calm and beautiful gardens was a welcoming change from the noisy city center.

Altogether the gardens include more than 4000 species of plants and attracts around 2 million visitors annually. It’s renowned for its huge collection of orchids but the highlight for me was definitely the royal avenue of palms. As the palm tree enthusiast that I am, this was something I had been looking forward to for a while. And it didn’t disappoint! Another fun thing to see is the giant Javan fig tree on the great lawn. Covering 2500 sq meters, it’s a majestic sight.

I would set aside at least two hours here to really get to explore and enjoy the sights without having to rush.

Entrance Fee: Non-resident adult 1500 Rs / Child (younger than 12 years old)  750 Rs / Student 1000 Rs

A quick guide to what to do in Kandy - Botanical Garden MonkeyI wonder what he uses in his hair to get it so shiny!

Ceylon Tea MuseumA quick guide to what to do in Kandy - Tea Factory MuseumThe next stop on our Kandy adventure was an old tea factory from 1872, now turned museum. The drive up the steep hill was an interesting experience in itself. About halfway up I started doubting that we would make it to the factory at all. The squeaky sound coming from the engine and a couple of close calls on the edge of the road didn’t seem too promising. But I have to give those tuk-tuk drivers some credit, they know what they’re doing. Anyways, we made it to the top and was greeted by some incredible views of the lush green hill country.

We learned that coffee actually was the island’s main crop up until the 1860s, when a fungus killed most of the coffee plants. So the farmers had to diversify in order to survive. James Taylor, a Scottish man recently arrived from India, was put in charge of the new tea experiment. By 1872 he had his own fully equipped factory and in 1873, his first teas were sold at a London auction. Taylor is today regarded as the reason Ceylon(now Sri Lanka) tea industry was a success so early on. He’s got his very own museum inside the factory.

The tour of the factory was short but quite interesting. I had no idea that many different processes went into making tea. It thought it was merely a case of pluck and dry, but then again I’m not a tea drinker. At the end of the visit, you’ll get a complimentary cup of tea (no surprise there) and be encouraged to visit the different tea shops.

Entrance fee: Non-resident adult 750 Rs / children 400 RsA quick guide to what to do in Kandy - Tea Factory MuseumView from the tea factory

Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue
A quick guide to what to do in Kandy - Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue

After about one hour of tea history and tasting, our driver convinced us that we should finish the day with sunset at the huge Buddha statue overlooking central Kandy. I’m so glad he did! The panoramic view from the top is just incredible. Keep in mind that you ladies will have to cover your knees and shoulders, the entrance fee includes a sarong if you need it.

It’s a great little physical workout to climb to the top of the hill. I have to say I felt a little lazy when we whizzed by all the hikers in our tuk-tuk. But then again we got to enjoy the views sweat free, as it still was quite hot out even at sunset. Once inside you’ll be encouraged by an older man to make a donation. By encouraged I mean he’ll yell “miss, miss” until you give in, while smiling of course. Don’t worry, a small amount will do just fine.

One of the coolest things about this spot is that you can actually climb the stairs going up the back of the statue for an even better view of the city.

This was probably my favorite part of the day or… no, my second favorite after the palm trees. It was also the cheapest of all the attractions we visited, which doesn’t hurt. So this is definitely a must while in Kandy.

Entrance fee: 200 Rs per person.Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue View

Temple of the Sacred Tooth RelicA quick guide to what to do in Kandy - The temple of the sacred tooth relicThe tuk-tuk driver dropped us off by the lake in town, a man-made lake dating back to 1807. Next to it is the Temple of the Tooth or Sri Dalada Maligawa, famous for being the home of one of Buddha’s teeth. The temple is housed within the royal palace complex along with numerous other museums and temples.

Unfortunately, the temple was closed to the public due to some kind of ceremony, so we didn’t get to look inside. Apparently, it gets super crowded in there, and you’ll need some serious moves to actually get to see the casket. Yes, that’s right you won’t be able to see the actual tooth. It’s kept in a gold casket shaped like a dagoba (stupa), which contains a series of six dagoba caskets of diminishing size.

The tooth relic plays an important role in local politics, because it is believed that whoever holds the relic will rule the country. It brings millions of Buddhist pilgrims every year from all over the world, as it is regarded as the most sacred place in the Buddhist faith. Much thanks to the temple, Kandy was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988.

Entrance fee: 1000 Rs / additional 300 Rs if you bring a camera

Have you ever been to Kandy? What was your favorite part of the city?

Destinations Sri Lanka

My experience with the elephants of Pinnawala

3. September 2016

The Pinnawala Elephant Experience, Sri Lanka - Elephants bathing in the riverThe Pinnawala elephant experience – An animal haven or just another tourist attraction?

Pinnawala village is located 90 km northeast of the capital, Colombo, in Sabaragamuwa Province of Sri Lanka. Over the years the name Pinnawala has become synonymous with elephants. Mostly because of the orphanage that was established in 1975, to provide much-needed care and sanctuary to orphaned baby elephants that were found in the wild. There are also several other places in town, where you can go for rides and interact with the animals.

After deciding on Sri Lanka as our next travel destination, we quickly put Pinnawala on top of the list of places we wanted to visit. I had seen so many dreamy pictures on social media of elephants playing and cooling off in the Maha Oya river, so I couldn’t wait to experience these gorgeous creatures up close myself.

We decided to stay one night so we would have two opportunities to experience the elephants, first in the afternoon and then the next morning. After researching all the hotels in the area, Hotel Elephant Park seemed like the perfect spot, as it’s located right next to where the elephants enter the river. The price is reasonable, I paid $45 / 380 nok, and the rooms of pretty good standard. I also have to point out that the breakfast is among the best we’ve had on the island so far. Juice, eggs, fruit and lots of different pastries, which you can enjoy on the balcony overlooking the river.My experience with the elephants of Pinnawala, Sri Lanka - View from Hotel Elephant ParkI might have been a bit naive while dreaming about this place. When we first arrived at our hotel, there were about six elephants in the river. To our surprise, they were all chained to different rocks. Of course, I understand that they need to have some method to keep the animals in place while herding them through the city, but to see the animals try to free themselves from the chains were quite heartbreaking.

As mentioned most of the elephants come to the water twice a day, at 10am and 2pm, with large groups of visitors from the orphanage following. However, a small group comes down about an hour before. They all wear thick chains, so I guess they are more difficult elephants that have to be separated from the rest. It looked like the chain gang coming down the street, not a very nice sight at all.Pinnawala Elephant Experience - Animals in chainsPinnawala Elephant Experience - Elephants in chainsAfter talking to some other travelers and researching online, we decided not to visit the orphanage. So I haven’t seen the conditions the animals are being held in with my own eyes. The scars from the chains were enough for me. However, we were told about clearly distressed elephants being chained down in small quarters with lots of people being able to freely touch and interact with them. I don’t know if I’m just being super sensitive, but that certainly doesn’t sit right with me.

Pinnawala is probably much better than many other captive elephant facilities in Asia, like Sri Lanka’s Colombo Zoo or the horrible Phuket Zoo with their elephant shows. As it truly seemed like the elephants enjoyed their time in the river, the once without chains that is. However, as a sanctuary I believe that they should have the welfare of the animals as their highest priority, not pleasing the tourists to earn money.

The Pinnawala Elephant Experience, Sri Lanka - Elephants bathing in the riverThe handlers were pushy about getting people to wash, feed and take pictures with the animals. Once they had someone willing, they grabbed the elephant by the ear with a pointy metal spear and dragged it over. And expected a tip afterwards of course. Be sure to pay up or else you’ll have a pretty uncomfortable situation on your hands. I saw more than one handler demand a larger tip, using quite rude hand gestures. So the river ended up feeling more like a tourist attraction than anything else, and from what I gathered the orphanage definitely is.

Also, there were a lot of younger elephants with their mothers, which points to the orphanage breeding for the purpose of keeping the animals as a tourist attraction. I thought the whole point of the orphanage was to be a home only for elephants that wouldn’t survive in the wild.The Pinnawala elephant experience, Sri Lanka - Elephants bathing in the riverAfter our visit, we’re left with quite mixed emotions about the whole experience. Yes, the orphanage takes in hurt and mistreated animals and I get that they have to earn money for the project to survive. But it seems like there should be better ways of going about it. Less close interactions with the public would be a great way to start. Somehow I don’t see those tips make their way back to the orphanage anyway.

That said, I don’t want this to come off too harsh. I’m by no means an animal expert, these are just my thoughts and reflections. The chains might be a necessity to be able to bring the elephants to the river and keep them there, I don’t know. They were quite concerned about people’s safety. And another huge positive is the gorgeous riverside location itself, definitely worth a visit even without the elephants.

Have you ever visited Pinnawala? What’s your take on it all?