Hello there and welcome to another post in my Sri Lanka 2014 tour with the usual advice to new readers that if they wish to read the entire story from the beginning they can do so here.
If you have read previous entries you will know that the plan for today was to leave Matara where I had spent such an enjoyable time and move somewhere but as Robert Burns noted, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley”. I had not quite decided where or definitively even if I would get out of town so if you want to find the answers, please read on.
11th February, 2014.
I made a point of waking at a reasonable hour the next morning, showered, packed and dragged my rollalong over to the “bar” for my morning coffee. I know Nihal would have told me to check-out whenever I felt like it but I thought I would play fair and let the cleaners do their stuff. After coffee it was a breakfast beer, break out the books (net and guide) and work out where I was heading. Easier said than done.
The late Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, wrote hilarious fantasy books about a place called Discworld which was populaced by trolls, dwarves, witches, gnomes, golems and all sorts of other weird and wonderful creatures. He suggested that trolls count thus, “One, two, three, many”. By 1600 hrs. I was at “many” beers, still sitting there and contemplating where I was going to go.
I was sorely tempted to just sit tight, book another night and ask chef what was good that day but I knew that that way lay madness. I had been stranded in places before and would be again so I knew I had to move. Eventually I settled on Tangalle which Nihal said was a pleasant seaside place. I picked a hotel online and got a very good deal on a reasonable looking beachfront hotel a little out of town. Sorted.
I asked chef and Weere if I could take images of them as a memento and for some reason they went straight into “pose mode”. Honestly, they didn’t look that stiff normally. The bill was called for and paid and I include it here if any of you even care to work it out. That was for six nights in that beautiful room, several beautiful meals, a few coffees and an utterly ludicrous amount of beer. I thought it was a complete bargain.
I shook hands with everyone again and promised to return if I was back in Matara. This is a promise I intend to keep if I am ever able to travel again. Then I hefted my kit, walked out the gate and didn’t look back, I didn’t trust myself to.
The journey to Tangalle was so uneventful that I did not take a single image on the way although it would have been fairly pointless as it was dark most of the way. I knew I could probably find my way to the hotel but it was dark, I had had a few and I was humping all my gear so I grabbed a tuk-tuk which quickly turned the journey extremely eventful!
Like most tuk-tuks in Southern Province at the time it was not metered so I was mindful to work out a price in advance before I got it. I asked for the Serein Hotel and the driver looked a bit blank so I fished out a bit of paper on which I had written down the name and address. This is not normal practice for me but I had foreseen a problem which was entirely due to the English language. How do you pronounce Serein? Did you say it like serene or rhyme it with dine as a Germanic language would? Perhaps it should rhyme with insane which is what this journey eventually became.
I showed him the piece of paper which, in hindsight was probably fairly pointless thing to do as it is extremely unlikely that a provincial tuk-tuk driver could read English. Whilst he had initially seemed unsure he told me to get in, presumably on the principle that he would ask about and find out where I wanted to go. This made his fixing of the price somewhat idiotic but perhaps there is a fixed rate round town and he had added a little to it.
Off we went and we must have driven along every road in what is quite a sizeable town so if I had to look on the bright side, which I certainly did not feel like doing at the time, I would have to say that I got a free “Tangalle by night” tour thrown in. In his defence the hotel had literally just opened and so probably was not well known to the local taxi men. Writing this in 2021 I see it is still there so presumably they have learned by now.
It is only about 25 miles from Matara and the hotel is perhaps a mile and a half from the bus stand and I reckon both legs of the journey took about the same amount of time although the latter was much more frustrating. No point in getting would up and I didn’t lose my rag but there was another problem. Remember I mentioned all the beers I had drunk back in Matara? Well, I don’t wish to be indelicate but there was one unscheduled pit-stop up an unpaved back road that he had explored on the principle that it was probably the only one we had not yet tried.
Somehow or another and after consultation with what seemed to be every single member of the “Tangalle Licensed Taxi Drivers Association” he managed to deposit me at the door of the Serein Hotel which looked quite smart and here is how I reviewed it at the time.
Excellent place but very quiet.
“I had previously booked three nights online in the Serein Beach Hotel and, after a slight hiatus with a tuk-tuk driver (no fault of the hotels), I eventually arrived slightly travel-worn, hot, sweaty and not perhaps at my sparkling best! No problem.
I dragged my case into the pleasantly appointed open foyer with views to the lovely beach a mere few yards away. The case was immediately taken from me by the young member of staff and a delightful chap who I now know to be the manager ushered me into the office to complete the formalities, offering me tea as he did so, a nice touch.
Having got the paperwork out of the way, he escorted me to my room on the first floor which I think I shall let the images describe as they do it so much better than I can. ((Some of the images were taken on subsequent days obviously).
The room was spotless, and I had single occupancy of a double room which is handy when you are as tall as me. Asian single beds just really are not long enough. The obligatory mosquito net (which I never use) was tied up over the bed and the room had a fan as opposed to air-con which I do not like as it seems to always give me a bad throat.
Although it was dark by now, a quick exploration of the balcony suggested that there would be a very decent sea view and the morning’s daylight certainly confirmed this. The word idyllic was surely invented for a place like this. Thankfully, I have never been in that position but I suspect it would be an ideal honeymoon location.
Having showered the day’s road dust off myself I went downstairs and really didn’t feel like moving too far so a meal and a couple of beers was the order of the day. I shall deal with the food (which is excellent) in a separate tip ((below in blog terms)). An early night in a very comfortable bed and I was soon sound asleep.
Up again next morning and another shower using the provided toiletries and towels. If I have a very small quibble with this hotel it is that the wetroom shower seemed to back up ever so slightly, nothing to cause any problem but perhaps they need the drainage looked at.
Then again, I had to remind myself that I was on a beach road a bit out of town in a place where the infrastructure had been totally devastated by the most catastrophic tsunami not ten years before so it maybe was not so surprising. It certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the hotel.
I have mentioned in many other Virtual Tourist pages ((and this blog)) that I believe any place is only as good as the staff associated with it and this place really does excel in that respect. Either these guys all deserve Oscars for acting or they were genuinely happy to look after you. Which brings me to my next point and the reason for the title of this tip.
On the three nights I was there, I will be surprised if there would have been 20% occupancy in the Serein, you could have the whole foyer (which doubles as bar and dining room) to yourself more or less. I was told that the place was not long open which may explain it but it really does deserve more trade than this, it is an extremely comfortable place to stay and I recommend it for a relaxing few days”.
I think you could say I was satisfied with my choice and I was more than happy with the room rate which brings me to another point. Last minute booking is a great way to go if you travel as I do and there are several huge websites for the purpose.
Hotels work on the principle that they would rather heavily discount an empty room as it is there anyway and they might as well make a very marginal profit on it than have it lie empty. Also, there is a chance you will use the ancillaries like the bar, restaurant, laundry service or whatever and this is exactly what I did.
I have a reasonable sense of direction but my “Magical Mystery Tour” of Tangalle had left me fairly disorientated although I was aware the Serein was a bit of a hike out of town so walking back in was not an option that night, something for the morning. Here is my slightly abridged description of the hotel restaurant facilities as you don’t want to hear about the tuk-tuk journey all over again!
“I asked the friendly young waiter who had brought my beer would it be possible to dine in the hotel that evening (I was alone in the place so it was difficult to judge) and he said that of course it would be, producing a menu in double quick time and telling me (in slightly halting English) that if there was anything that I fancied which was not on the menu that chef would knock it up for me if he had the ingredients.
Well, that sounds like my kind of place for a start but I wasn’t going to have to put chef’s improvisational skills to the test as there was more than enough on the menu to keep me happy. All the usual suspects were there from the Sri Lankan breakfast (order the night before) through pasta, salads, rice and noodle dishes, devilled dishes etc. Fairly standard Sri Lankan fare.
I do spout on rather a lot about trying to eat local food as much as I can when I am travelling but in Sri Lanka it is hard to know where the division is. Almost anywhere will have what I would describe as Chinese or European dishes. OK, the real little local cafes will only do rice and curry, idlis, rotti etc. but I regularly saw Sri Lankans tucking into various dishes that were evidently not traditional to the island and so I had no compunction about ordering a Chinese style chicken dish with chips (French fries). I know that may be a step too far but I really fancied some! At what point does a “foreign” dish become assimilated into a national cuisine?
After an acceptable wait, it was served up and proved to be delightful, just nicely spiced. I can do hot but generally don’t bother to, I much prefer a decently spiced dish rather than just something that has had a ludicrous amount of chilli thrown into it. This was extremely tasty and just what was needed before a relatively early bed after the travel travails (I love wordplay) of the day. I don’t normally bother about sweets / desserts / puddings or whatever you like to call them but a simple plate of ice-cream was very tasty to finish with.
Now you know that I did actually get out of Matara and wash up on Marakolliya Beach in Tangalle (more wordplay, I need to get a grip!). In the next post we shall go for a walk round the town and not a tuk-tuk will feature to spoil the enjoyment so stay tuned and spread the word.