Hello again and welcome to what appears to be a veritable production line of posts about my first trip to Sri Lanka in early 2014, the 17th instalment in as many days. At this rate I shall catch myself up and be writing about the same date exactly seven years on from the events reported and I really wish I would stop having these daft notions as I’ll probably have to make that happen now but I have a couple of months to catch up.
just my usual quick one-liner before we get cracking and it is aimed at new readers who have stumbled on this page other than part of the series and that is advice that this post will make more sense if you start from the beginning.
Please read on.
29th January 2014.
There is no point in trying to tease you about what I am going to to on this day as I have given you enough clues already and the title of this post is a bit of a spoiler!
I had loved my time in Galle, especially my accommodation, but the truth is that I had just about exhausted the possibilities. It is a great base if you want to explore the surrounding area but outside the wonderful Fort area, there is not too much to see or do and the beach is certainly not much to write home about although there are better ones nearby. Just for the city itself I would suggest that a couple or three days would be sufficient.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I had taken a day-trip to Matara and really liked it, even though it is not a traditional tourist destination so I had decided a few days there would be in order. I had ‘phoned Nihal, the manager, who I had met on my previous visit, and arranged a room at a very competitive rates so it was just a matter of getting there which wasn’t going to be a problem.
I had enquired of the wonderful lady owner of the Galle Centre Home where I was staying what time check-out was and she told me it was just whenever I felt like it, it was that kind of place. I woke none too early, showered and packed and then had my last coffee and cigarette on the verandah which was a little morning ritual I was going to miss. I bid a very fond farewell with a promise to definitely stay here again should I be back through the city and I meant it.
Off down the hill I went for the last time with the one-wheeled semi rollalong kitbag and headed for the bus station or at least that was the plan. I very nearly made it. I was in no rush and the entirely predictable happened which my original notes will tell you all about.
A late but decent find.
I had seen the Sydney Hotel a few times as it stands right beside the rather large bus station in Galle but it was only on the day I was leaving the city that I managed to visit as I was always getting a bus somewhere or returning lateish when it was shut (most bars in Sri Lanka shut @ 2200 hours). This turned out to be somewhat of a double-edged sword as I shall explain in another tip but I am glad I did it.
Frankly, the wisdom of drinking several beers and then getting on a bus without a toilet for a long journey is dubious to say the least!
Enough of my ageing bladder, however, I am sure the reader wishes to know about the bar. The outside looks pretty opulent but the inside is just a typical Sri Lankan drinking venue. What actually detained me was that there was cricket on TV that day (isn’t there always in Sri Lanka?) and I got a bit engrossed in it.
My Lion Lager was about usual price nd certainly cheaper than the posh places in the Fort and I got to discussing the cricket with the locals without much of a common language, if that makes any sense. Just the usual hand signals and mime sufficed, as always. I had a great time there.
As is usual with Sri Lankan bars, there was not a local woman to be seen in the place although a couple of groups of Caucasians including women did come in and were politely ushered out towards the back. I presume there must be a “posh” bar there but I did not check it out. I was having a great time where I was!
There are a selection of inexpensive bar snacks available should you fancy a nibble with your beer.
You really cannot miss it, it is the large building pictured right beside the bus stand and I do recommend it for a drink if you want to get a bit of local flavour away from the more touristed Fort hotels.
I had no problem finding a bus as they ran along the A2 Coast Road fairly frequently and I use the past tense here as I believe they now use the E-101 Expressway which was opened shortly after my visit. I shall once again use my original notes to tell you a little about Galle Bus Station here although they were written a little later just after the Expressway opened.
Jump on the bus.
“Whilst I had arrived in Galle on the train, I departed by bus and took a couple of daytrips by bus when I was there. Galle Bus Station seems to be slightly more organised than the usual Sri Lankan set-up even though it is pretty large and has a useful information desk. Although the guy in there did not appear to understand me (hardly surprising given my accent), he immediately summoned his mate who told me exactly which stop I needed and even the bus number. Nice work, guys.
Being on the main coast road South from Colombo, it is well-served with buses in both directions which mostly terminate in the capital to the North and Matara to the South although there are a decent number that continue on the either Tissakaharama (Tissa as everyone calls it) or even Kateragama if that is your destination. Do ask though as it may be quicker to get the first bus to Matara and change.
Also note that if you are going North to Colombo you now have two options now with the opening of a new expressway. The journey by the old coast road takes between three and three and a half hours but the express bus along the expressway is only one hour 15 minutes. There are only a few a day and are considerably more expensive. Also, you’ll miss the lovely scenery along the coast, so you need to decide on your option, speed over
A few sample frequencies and times will give you an idea. Hambantota – every 30 minutes, three hours 30, Hikkaduwa – every 15 minutes, 30 minutes, Matara – every 15 minutes, one hour 15, Tangalle – every 30 minutes, two hours 30, Tissa – every 30 minutes, four hours 15.
There are plenty of hawkers about the place and even on the buses plus a good selection of “coolspots” (drinks places) and eating houses dotted all around the vicinity.
As I have mentioned numerous other places on my pages about Southern Sri Lanka, this building is new as it had to be rebuilt after the appalling tsunami of 26/12/2004 although it took until 2011 for it to be officially opened by the President. Interestingly, it is the longest bus stand (as they are called here) in Sri Lanka at 161 metres and services an amazing 700 buses a day.
There are separate waiting rooms for men and women and, most surprisingly in this country, a lounge for disabled people so full marks for that. I am still not sure how someone with serious mobility issues would get on or off a bus here but it has to be seen as a positive.
The picture above is not here for any artistic merit because it doesn’t possess any but rather to make a practical point for the traveller. Although Sri Lankan buses are built to a fairly standard international design and have certainly got cargo holds, the conductors seem very reticent to use them and the luggage racks are far too small for anything large so the preferred option is as you see above. You just dump your bag on what I believe is the gearbox beside the driver. It is fine, nobody will touch it.
What happened next is an amalgam of a couple of old Vitrual Tourist tips written at the time, an introduction and a restaurant review.
Talk about a flying visit!
“I have had the privelege of contributing to Virtual Tourist for some years now and I can confidently say that this is going to be my smallest page here. Allow me to explain.
I was en route from Galle to Matara on a local bus (it is not that far) when about midway, and I do not wish to be indelicate about this, the call of nature was getting somewhat pressing. It was obvious that Matara was going to be a bridge too far.
I should explain that Sri Lankan buses do not have onboard toilets, in fact most of them don’t even seem to have suspension! All part of the fun of being on the road and I would not swap it.
We pulled into Weligama and I debussed fairly rapidly into what appeared to be a tidy and quite busy little town. A quick scope of the bus station appeared to offer no solution to my problem and I didn’t want to be explaining myself to the local police (albeit I have had nothing but positive encounters with Sri Lanka’s finest at time of writing) so I had a quick recce.
I spotted a modern fast food type of place and headed in there. Well, I hadn’t had lunch so it was a case of two birds with one stone. I headed into the restaurant where, amongst other things, I had an absolutely excellent and inexpensive meal, before jumping on the next bus South. OK, probably all too much information but that is why I only have one tip on the place which I believe makes it my sparsest ever page”.
Here is what I wrote about the restaurant.
Accidental but a great find.
“If you have read my introduction to Weligama you will have got an idea that it is not a very much travelled place and you will also know that I didn’t even intend to be there, I merely needed to use the facilities!
Fortunately, within 100 yards of the central bus station I spied Jonee’s which looked like a modern fast food sort of operation as opposed to some of the little shacks (normally calling themselves hotels) that constitute such a percentage of eateries off the main tourist beat. I have no problem with them, indeed I love them but this was close by.
I wandered in, availed myself of the spotless bathroom (not always the case in Asia), took a seat and had a look round. The entire place was as I described it, an eatery of a type that I would never patronise at home. It was MacDonalds’, KFC, Burger King all rolled into one but please read on.
I have made some very interesting culinary discoveries in Sri Lanka. Firstly, the food may be sold in large quantity with a huge turnover of tables but it is not necessarily “fast food” in that, depending what you order, it may well be made from scratch and can be absolutely delightful, totally unlike the often sorry offerings we get in UK.
I was served by a young man with reasonable English who provided me with a very extensive menu. I had a little bit of a delicate stomach that day so didn’t want my usual rice and curry which can be a little fiery and opted instead for something Western, namely fish fingers and chips (fries). OK, I know it is fried but it seemed wiser than devilled chicken.
The young man told me it might be a few mnutes and I told him that was quite OK as I was in no hurry and ordered myself a Bitter Lemon (the premises are not licensed).
The wait gave me a time for a closer look at the premises and, more importantly for me, the clentele. There was a large buffet area where people came to have their lunch packets made up and packed in boxes.
This is a common practice in Sri Lanka, you basically choose what you like from a large selection of dishes and they put it in a box whereupon you take it back to your office and eat it. It is the ultimate in takeaway food. I have regularly eaten lunch packets in this country and they are gorgeous.
My word, the place even had it’s own fresh fruit chiller full of excellent looking produce.
I digress, as always. The young man told me that someone was making my fish fingers. What? Making fish fingers? Where I come from they are something you dig out of the freezer when you feel lazy. When they arrived, as shown in the image, they were in fact what I would describe as fish goujons containing the most beautiful firm white fish imaginable which were literally out of the fryer along with the chips (fries) which obviously had not been sitting under a lamp for an hour. Everything was crisp and dry with not a trace of grease.
Offered with the usual slightly spicy tomato sauce and well-presented, it was a meal that would not have disgraced a much more expensive place. Yes, I know I am going on a bit about a simple meal in a fast food place but eating in Sri Lanka really is that good”.
I walked back to the bus station and proceeded without mishap to Matara where I made my way straight to the Nawathana Hotel.
A very lucky find.
“I had initially visited Matara on a daytrip from nearby Galle and had popped into the Nawathana Hotel for a beer as it appeared to be a tidy place with a sea view and I ended up chatting to the manager, a most delightful man by the name of Nihal, who was to become something of a friend.
As usual, I was not working to any sort of pre-planned schedule and had not even decided whether or not I was going to spend any time in Matara but I had been quite taken by the Fort area and was beginning to consider it as an option for a few days. In the end, I wound up staying for almost two weeks which must tell you something.
Nihal had presented me with his business card and told me to contact him if I wished to stay at some future date and that is exactly what I did. Having checked several of the major booking sites online I know that I got a decent discount on the quoted online rate by direct contact and I recommend travellers to use this approach.
I had a bit of a look round on my initial visit and, as I mentioned earlier, the place looked very fresh and tidy which is due to the fact that the place had only been open about four months. I am writing this tip in March 2014 and there are still limited reviews online about place so I hope this assists.
I noted that there was a swimming pool, some well-tended garden areas and access to the beach. OK, the beach around Matara Fort is not the most alluring beach in the world, or even Sri Lanka, but it is pleasant to have a little wander along.
When I arrived in Matara by bus I walked to the hotel in about ten minutes, it is very close. I checked in and was shown to my room which you can see in the images. It was spotless and even had a canopied bed which I thought was a bit classy. Well, classy for me anyway! It turned out to be as comfortable as it was aesthetically pleasing. The room was air-conditioned and had a TV equipped with satellite and the bathroom was of the wetroom variety with hot water, although I never needed to use it in the climate.
I ate in the hotel on several occasions and the food is exceptionally good. I suppose it should be as the head chef was formerly employed by the Qatari royal family. I shall deal with the food elsewhere.
I have mentioned in many other tips here on Virtual Tourist that any establishment is only as good as the staff employed there and Hotel Nawathana really has got it spot on. I got to know all the staff and they really were a delight.
As a brief anecdote I shall tell you about Nihal’s lunch packet. It is very common in Sri lanka for a working man to either bring his lunch wrapped up or have it delivered from home.
I had had the privelege of meeting Nihal’s wife and two children and it came to the point that the good lady was making a larger than usual meal so that I could share it at lunchtime. Delicious it was, too. I am not suggesting that that particular pleasure would be afforded to all guests but it goes some way to explaining why I did love the place so much.
Matara is quite a bustling town but the area inside the Fort is relatively free of traffic and so there is no issue with road noise, it is beautifully peaceful. The hotel is well-positioned for exploring Matara and the staff are more than happy to arrange excursions like whale-watching at nearby Mirissa, turtle watching, trips to the lighthouse etc. and I really do recommend this hotel”.
With all my diversions during the day it was late afternoon by the time I arrived and had vaguely considered a wander around town that evening but the images above show why that did not happen as the weather took a hand. It was not just raining, it was sheeting down and the images don’t really do it justice. If you want to see how bad it really was, there is a short video clip here.
Thankfully I did not have any pressing need to go out in this deluge as I could get a beer here and so I spent the evening alternating between my room and the verandah supping ice-cold Lion, reading and catching up on my writing before retiring to that lovely bed.
In the next post nothing much happens for a couple of days and then I start to explore again so stay tuned and spread the word.