Abercrombie & Kent Sri Lanka October 2018

My travel experience to Sri Lanka with A & K was fantastic.

Sri Lanka itself is a fascinating country and its people are beautiful.

For a relatively small island it has such diversity in geography, weather and culture.

You only need to consider the weather to realise this, as depending on where you are going the differences are great. In the Cultural Triangle the best months are January through to May. Colombo has the highest temperature in April and May is the wettest month. In Galle it is also wet in May and in the southern beaches February is the driest month. Generally it is always hot with averages rarely below 29 degrees except for the Central Highlands where it can get down to 17 degrees in June – August.

The best month to see wildlife is March but it can be seen pretty much year round.

The south coast is best for surfing with its sandy yellow beaches.

The northeast boasts the white sandy beaches and is best for water sports and diving.

Colombo is a very vibrant growing city. There is plenty to experience in both the old and new.

There are some fabulous restaurants, roof top bars and live music.

October is not the best time to travel to Sri Lanka as it is hot and humid with quite a bit of rain.

The A & K team provided cool water, snacks, handtowels, umbrellas and even fresh socks when required. The driver always seemed to get us right to the door and the coach was always cool when we returned. It is these little but important things that make travelling with A & K so wonderful.

We had days when things didn’t go as expected and the team just made contingency plans and showed complete flexibility. They handled everything with lovely calm composure. The Driver was amazing as the roads are busy and mostly single lane. The traffic and the daring takeovers are eyeopeners but our driver managed perfectly. It is very reassuring to be in their capable hands.

The guide even found us some shopping time and took us directly to the three stores that would provide what we wanted. Such patience and consideration.

You will see from my report below we mostly visited or stayed in A & K hotels with some special excursions in between. When you book the hotels through A & K the guests will also receive a special gift of some kind; this could be a spa session, wine or late check out.

However, when I reflect on my experience it was not really about the hotels they use and more about the level of service, and the effort that was taken to ensure that we all experienced Sri Lanka and A & K at its best.

Monday 08 October Airport – Kotugoda

Our flight was on time and we were promptly taken through Immigration and Customs.

The online visa worked well and they did not even ask to see for the hard copy.

The Representatives from A & K were very easy to spot with their smart attire and signage.

We were greeted with an orchid lei and very broad smiles.

After a fifteen minute drive we arrived at The Wallawwa Hotel for our overnight stay.

The Wallawwa was once a private home built 200 years ago. It was converted to a hotel in 2008 and the hotel and grounds are beautiful. There are 17 rooms.

I stayed in a Garden Suite (A$514) which was very large and well appointed.

This hotel had a very modern feel but with a four-poster bed. The shower was completely open and may not be suited to everyone as there were no rails to be seen.

Do be careful not to book the lead-in rooms as some of these are completely internal with no windows.  There is also a fair amount of walking and stairs.

There is one massive family suite with a private pool which sleeps six.

This is a great option for clients heading to the Cultural Triangle as it cuts the driving time substantially the following day.

Tuesday 09 October Kotugoda – Dambulla – Sigiriya

After a fabulous breakfast and a hotel inspection we headed off on one of many wonderful but busy days travelling.

The 3.5hour drive went quickly with delightful commentary on our surroundings and its history from our Tour Escort, and we soon arrived at the Dambulla Cave Temple. Again, quite a hike and many stairs but worth the visit.

The caves were amazing and were filled with Budda statues of all sizes. The caves are completely decorated throughout and well preserved.

       

We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant where we enjoyed a buffet lunch for A$10 per head.

At Habarana we inspected Cinnamon Lodge (A$300) which is thirty-two years old and covers a very large tract of land.

There was a wonderful pool and restaurant area and even some shops.

Again, I would book no less than the deluxe rooms and ensure that it is on the ground floor.

The beds were raised requiring a step up to the bed which could be an issue for some.

There were four family suites which were a great size but they are over two floors.

In Sigiriya we inspected the Jetwing Vil Uyana (A$547) which is set in almost a jungle.

The rooms were very modern with sunken baths and multiple floor levels.

A great place for the adventurous and fit travellers.

The next stop was Water Garden Hotel where we stopped for two nights.

I stayed in a Deluxe Villa (A$43) without plunge pool. We also inspected one of the four family villas.

The resort is on 37 acres and only has 36 rooms so you need to use the buggies to get around.

It was quite dark at night time and I myself would not like to walk the distance from the restaurant back to my room. The villas themselves were very big and modern and felt very homelike.

We enjoyed two fabulous dinners and wonderful breakfasts at this hotel.

Wednesday 10 October Sigiriya-Polonnaruwa- Minneriya-Sigiriya

We drove 1.5 hours to reach Polonnaruwa where we walked though the ruins. Our guide was very informative and made this a very interesting exercise. They have only excavated a third of the area so you are quite free to climb all over the ruins. I guess they will just find more if they wear out.

Whilst there we inspected The Lake House (A$244) which was one of my favourite hotels. This was very colonial and was originally built to accommodate visiting government officials, and included lots of memorabilia on display from a visit from Queen Elizabeth II.

Each room is decorated differently but all were spacious and very tasteful.

The rooms lead out into a lovely terrace that faced the Lake and there was a very enticing pool overlooking the Lake.

The restaurant looked amazing too.

In the afternoon we went on a game drive in one of the national parks near Minneriya where we saw various wildlife along the track. We came into a delta area and there were hundreds of elephants just going about their business. It was wonderful to see how unaffected they were by the noisy visitors. Even with very young calves they were not perturbed by our presence.

Thursday 11 October Sigiriya – Kandy

Today we headed to the rock – Sigiriya Rock Fortress. This is an amazing place. We first visited the museum, housing many artefacts older than one can fathom. Then we began the climb, first through the terraces where there were swimming pools and working fountains. Then up the many, many steps to the next level. I did not complete the last part of the climb as my knees were a bit wobbly but most of our party did. This is very popular and would definitely be best early in the morning.

A & K even had a special guide to accompany climbers and carry the water bottles.

There was plenty of opportunity for the less adventurous to return to the coach if they wanted to.

Hiti, our guide, explained that they often arrange for non-climbers to visit a nearby hotel for morning or afternoon tea after the museum.

Kandy was the next stop after 3 hours drive. Here we inspected Kandy House which was a delightful 9 roomed hotel. It is not close to the city centre and you would need to take a car.

We did a tour (thankfully by buggies) of the Botanical Gardens with a very enthusiastic botanist.

He made the tour very interesting. The gardens are superb and are well visited by the locals.

We visited the Temple of the Tooth relic which was also amazing.

Our hotel for the night and dinner was the Kings Pavilion (A$521). The hotel only has nine rooms and they are all different. The food here was wonderful and very generous.

Friday 12 October – Kandy – Peradeniya – Hatton – Dick Oya

After a leisurely breakfast we were transferred to Peradeniya station for the train to Hatton. The station was very cute and historical. The train was clean and comfortable and the views were amazing. The travel time was about 2.5 hours.

On arrival we were taken to Summerville Bungalow; one of the five Tea Trails bungalows.

The bungalows are all different but all are very appealing. I stayed at Summerville for the night and my room was huge and very comfortable and well appointed.

We also inspected Castlereagh, Norwood, Dunkeld and Tiensen. My favourite was Tiensen because it is the oldest and most elegant. The costs vary but A$405 would be close. Each Bungalow only has up to 8 rooms.

The scenery around the mountains and lake are breathtakingly beautiful. It is very serene in this area.

Guests at any of the bungalows can arrange Lunch or dinner at any of the other properties and they will arrange transfers for you between bungalows.

SAT 13 OCTOBER – Dick Oya – Colombo

Hotel inspection at Camelia Hills. This is a modern take on the bungalows and was a good alternative. I was unable to find a rate for this hotel. They did also have one family room for up to two children.

The tour of the Dunkeld Tea Factory was very interesting. It was wonderful to see the tea pluckers at work and the process of sorting, drying and crushing the tea. There is a wonderful history and a great sense of pride at the factory.

We then travelled 4.5 hours to Colombo.

Time to change and head for dinner at The Gallery Café. This is one of the oldest restaurants in Colombo. The food and setting were amazing.

Overnight accommodation was at the Galle Face Hotel. I stayed in a superior room (A$234) which was well appointed and very comfortable. The room seemed small but I think that was only because I came from the room at the Summerville Bungalow.

Sun 14 Oct – Colombo – Seeduwa

Today we inspected Maniumpathy (A$357) This is another Luxury Boutique hotel with only 8 rooms. It is also the sister hotel to The Kandy House. No children under 12 are accepted.

Tintagel  has 10 rooms (A$404) and is really cute – probably one of  my favourites.

Uga Residences, 11 rooms (A$365). This is probably in the best location as it is opposite Ceylon Spa and around the corner from one of the main restaurant streets in the area – Park Street. There are many shops here too. The area is Cinnamon and it is the equivalent of Toorak.

We also had some time to do a little shopping at a supermarket for Hopper pans, Paradise Roadfor special souvenirs and gifts, and Barefoot Gallery for fabric and goodies. In the courtyard there was a live band entertaining the locals. It looked like a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

We then did an old Colombo walking tour with Mark Forbes. This was really special and Mark was an amazing historian. The old buildings in this area are gradually being restored and this will continue to improve over time. The government uses the Army and Navy to renovate the old buildings and breathe new life into them. What wonderful idea!

The area around the Dutch Hospital is full of restaurants, bars and shopping. There was live Jazz music in the street and a fabulous atmosphere. I loved Colombo and wished I could have stayed longer.

Off to the Gateway Hotel by Taj (A$182) near Colombo airport for the last night.

This is an average hotel hosting airline crew. Facilities were fine – large swimming pool and good restaurant. Great for the late night departure we had the following day.

MON 15 OCTOBER – Seeduwa – Negombo

Headed to Negombo for an inspection of the Jetwing Lagoon Hotel (A$332).

This is an interesting hotel with 55 very comfortable rooms. It has a lake on one side and beach on the other. There is a beachside swimming pool as well as the hotel pool which is 100 metres long.

The next inspection was at the Heritance Hotel (A$384) which I really liked. The ground floor rooms had verandahs that lead directly to the beach side swimming pool. The rooms were modern and well equipped.

Negombo would be a good option for the last night too as it was only 20 minutes to the airport.

FLIGHTS

Sri Lankan Airlines economy class is pretty average. The flight over was not too bad as it was half empty. The seats and headrests were so hard it was almost impossible to get comfortable.

The meal and inflight service was ok. It is a 10 hour flight so if business class is an option I would definitely recommend it.

Colombo Airport is clean and functions well.

I do have plenty of photos of rooms and bathrooms if you need them.

Thank you for the experience!