Unawatuna is about 150km from Negombo. Between the two cities is Colombo which is the capitol city of Sri Lanka. Between the three cities is the most developed part of Sri Lanka and the best infrastructure in terms of roads. It is largely flat and follows the coastline all the way up. Yet due to the absolute inefficiency of Sri Lanka’s public transportation and the fact it must be the worst in the world – The journey takes around five hours, give or take.
It begins with either a three and half hour bus journey to Colombo, or a three hour train journey. Realising that whichever mode we took we would not have a seat and would be cramped the train made more sense. The prices are ridiculously cheap and it was 180 Rupees for the journey (a quid) yet gain we found ourselves without a seat. That is four train journeys, every one being cramped and standing or trying to find a centimetre square piece of floor to sit on. It is beyond a joke and the buses are no better. I am convinced beyond doubt that Sri Lanka has the worst public transport system in the world. Certainly the worst I have ever experienced – By far.
Naturally the train arrived late and departed even later. Pissed off the entire journey, when we finally pulled into Colombo we were in no mood for the hassle that awaited us from the tuk tuk drivers – Who also happen to be amongst the worst in Asia for their over pricing.
This vein actually runs right through Sri Lanka including accommodation and food. I worked out that for every one day we spent in Sri Lanka we were spending what we would in three days in India. Accommodation seemed to float around the £15 per night mark and food around £10 a meal with drinks. A perfect example to illustrate the mentality in Sri Lanka is this – Every country in Asia prints what is known as a MRP (Maximum retail price) on the item. So for bottles of Fanta for example the MRP is 25 Rupees. A local will walk in and pay 25 Rupees – Foreign price 40 Rupees, 35 if you’re lucky. Now this happens everywhere, but anywhere else in Asia will not refuse the sale, in Sri Lanka they will point blank refuse the sale and lose your custom before giving you the local price. Tuk Tuk drivers will sit without a job for the whole day rather than take you for fair price and it is this arrogance that really drives your budget up.
The government is no better and they think nothing of charging you $20 for a permit whilst locals pay $0.20, a hundred times less.
We stayed firmly on the backpacker trail and so managed to take advantage of the benefits that brings, but it would not surprise me one but to hear some people come here for a fortnight and leave after spending thousands. A German couple we met for example were budgeting 100EUR per day and struggling with it.
In any case we arrived into Colombo and headed for the bus station where the national buses leave from – Saunders Place. It was red hot and busy and so wading through crowds of people with all our bags really woke us up from the laid back beach vibe we still had. The little we did see of Colombo made me realise that I don’t really care to see any more of it. Actually once we found where we needed to be we were glad to be in the air conditioned mini bus and watching Colombo slowly become a distant, albeit short memory.
We finally made it to Negombo much later than we should have, grateful the journey was finally over and that we would not have any more public transport to negotiate again in Sri Lanka.
The next stop on our trip is Dubai, and it is where I have really been looking forward to. We aren’t by any means glad to leave Sri Lanka, but if we have to leave, where better to leave to!
Despite the hassles that travel in Sri Lanka throws at you and the expense you incur by being robbed daily it is difficult to dent the memories we will have of this place. The beautiful nature of the country and the spectacular scenery mean it is very hard to be mad at Sri Lanka any great length of time.
We came looking for paradise, unsure of what to expect and without a plan we arrived at Colombo airport and wondered what next. What actually came next was something we could have never anticipated. I am not joking when I say we didn’t have a single hotel booked throughout the entire trip, no transport pre booked and no plan.
Ten days after arriving we finish where we started in Negombo and looking back over climbing huge mountains, breathtaking scenery, scaling waterfalls, tea plantations and walking along the railway lines en route through spice gardens and coconut plantations, or standing at the worlds end looking over the precipice, seeing the whole of Sri Lanka beneath us I have to say – We have lived the dream here in Sri Lanka – Genuinely.
I was speaking with a friend of mine (Terri) the other day and she was saying how she has been to Bali and Mauritius and Sri Lanka twice, yet she will return here next time and prefers Sri Lanka to anywhere else on earth. She actually convinced me to come to this amazing island and I must thank her for that. Terri asked why I thought Sri Lanka held the draw that it does and why it lives in people’s hearts that have visited and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It is more than the beauty of the place, it is almost beguiling in its nature. One thing is for sure though – We won’t forget Sri Lanka in a hurry. It’s one of the most amazing places we have ever been to and is somewhere that will certainly live in hearts long after we have left.
Thanks Terri x