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Old 5th February 2016, 18:58   #1
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Default A Family Holiday in Sri Lanka

Hello All,

This is my first travelogue in Team BHP. I'm happy to share with you all my travel experiences in this beautiful island nation - Sri Lanka.

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Quick Facts:

Destination: Sri Lanka
Places Visited: Colombo, Galle, Mirissa, Matara
Overnight Stay: Mirissa - 2 nights, Colombo - 3 nights
No of Days: 5 days
Travel Dates: Dec 23rd 2015 PM to Dec 28th 2015 PM
No of People: 3 Adults + 1 Kid
Cost: < Rs.2 lacs approx
Rewards: Pleasant memories for a lifetime

The Planning:

For annual vacation, it's almost became a tradition in my family to travel to some place utilizing the X'mas vacation holidays. Apart from annual vacation, we travel to tourist destinations almost every quarter (most self-driven in my Xylo). This time we wanted to go out of country and we zeroed in on Sri Lanka as we had been wanting to go there for some time.

We started the prep work around Oct 2015. The following sequence of items were part of the prep work.

1. Itinerary finalization:
The first thing we did was drawing up the itinerary as per the number of days we planned and the budget we had in mind. We didn't go for any set itineraries offered by travel operators. After extensive reading over the Internet, we drew up the plan as per our interests. This item in your prep work helped in knowing where to stay overnight.

As we have traveled quite a bit of the forests in & around Karnataka, we were keen to skip them in Sri Lanka and focused more on beaches and of course the capital city of Colombo. The Temple of Tooth in Kandy was also in our list.

After so much browsing including flight timings, our itinerary finally looked like this:

Day 0: Arrive at Colombo, travel to Mirissa along the west coast. Check in at Hotel Silan Mo at Mirissa
Day 1: Local sight seeing at Mirissa
Day 2: Whale watching off Mirissa at AM, local excursions around Mirissa at PM
Day 3: To Colombo, check in at Ocean Colombo Hotel and local sight seeing.
Day 4: To Kandy to see the famous Temple of Tooth.
Day 5: Local shopping at Colombo at AM and depart for Bangalore at PM.

Day 0 is there for a reason as you would understand when I explain what it is in my next post.

2. Hotel accommodation
Most hotels especially the up market ones were already booked months in advance since it is peak holiday season - we intended to travel during X'mas vacation. Finally, got a sea-facing room booked at Hotel Silan Mo, Mirissa directly. The booking experience was hassle-free; only I was a little worried about them keeping promises as I read lots of adverse comments about other hotels. I got all the amenities they offered in writing via email just to be sure.

Charges: $105 per day for triple bed, sea-facing room inclusive of breakfast.

We didn't pay a penny in advance (quite rare these days). On trust basis, the hotel allotted the room and we made payment on arrival in SL rupee. Speak to Ms. Madhusha who was very helpful in providing info or organizing things at Mirissa. The entire staff is friendly and you get a warm hospitality. The only downside about this hotel is they do not have elevators to the 7 floors and you'll have to climb up the stairs (a very tiring experience after an exhausting time at the beach). Otherwise, I'll give a 5 * to this hotel.

For the hotel at Colombo, we finalized Ocean Colombo for its ocean-front location at Marine Drive. We booked through booking.com website.

These guys charged 50% advance payment.

Charges: $265 per day for triple bed, ocean-front room inclusive of breakfast.

Trip Advisor site reviews were very helpful in evaluating the hotels.

Tip: Since it was Christmas vacation, most hotels were imposing Christmas Supplement charge of roughly $ 35 per person which I was not interested and after lot of arguing back & forth via email the above hotels reluctantly dropped these charges. This is primarily a special dinner with dance, live music, etc celebrating Christmas. Since we were not sure whether we would be around to dine at the hotel or choose to dine elsewhere we were not keen on this. IMHO, the partying types would love to participate in this.

3. Flight booking
After lots of comparisons on pricing and departure time, we booked Sri Lankan. They have a low-cost subsidiary too - Mihin Lanka. But the flight timings were same meaning it is the same flight that operates. From Bangalore, we found only Sri Lankan convenient in terms of timings and duration. There were other carriers which had stop overs enroute lengthening the travel duration. As we all know, the is differential pricing every day and closer to the departure date the prices go up. So it is better to book much ahead.

The standard baggage allowance of 23 kgs per person with 1 hand baggage of 7 kgs is allowed + 1 laptop bag.

Cost: Rs.18000/- odd totaling around Rs.75000/- for 4 of us.

4. Visa processing
You have an option for Visa on Arrival at Sri Lanka. But we preferred the online visa application just to be sure.

You need to feed in your address of your hotel and flight details in the online visa application form. That's the reason its good idea to book the hotel(s) and flight first.

Visa application is online and a quick 5 min filling up and submission, the approval is even more quick - it just took 5 mins to receive the approved visas for all of us. Tourist visa is approved for 30 days. You need to fill in individually for each traveler in their website and you'll get individual visa email for each traveler.

Cost: $20 per person for online application
$25 per person for visa on arrival

Check here: http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/visainfo/center.jsp

5. Local Transport booking
As we didn't go for package tours, it fell on us to figure out our transport around the country. Browsing the net, we zeroed in on an organized taxi service provider - Mal Key (www.malkey.lk). After so much of ISD calling, email confirmations of our itinerary and charges, we transferred advance amount of Rs.5000/- and agreed to pay the balance based on actual usage when we depart from there.

One key reason why I chose Mal Key was (apart from good reviews online) they are up front in their rates which is published in their website. You can have the option of self driving cars too. For our budget (of SL Rs.4950/- per day 100 kms travel, SL Rs.49.50 per extra km), they offered a Toyota Corolla or a 6-seater Mitsubishi Van L300 dual A/C and we chose the latter for space.

Closer to the travel date, they provided the driver contact details and assured the driver will be awaiting us at Colombo Airport with my name in the placard.

Cost: Rs.45000/- SL rupee.

Other Tips:
1. SL Rupee was about Rs. 2.15 for 1 INR. (22nd Dec 2015 rate)
For once, you feel better if not richer when you are abroad.
2. The same three/two pin plugs work there. So charging your cell phones / tabs isn't an issue.
3. Just like in India, they drive left.
4. Check weather websites for the travel dates for any rain, pack an umbrella.
5. For sea-food lovers, the island abounds with eateries. For vegetarians (like me), it's quite tough though manageable. However, Colombo has many options for both Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil cuisine catering veg fare.
6. Avoid talking or referring to the Civil War, LTTE, Ethnic problem, politics, etc. On the surface everyone is happy to get on with life. Since we were not sure how the reaction would be, we avoided as much as possible talking in our mother tongue Tamil. That said, the average Sri Lankan is friendly and helpful.
7. Avoid changing forex in the Airport as the rates are quite high when compared to what you get in the city.
8. The weather was hot and humid (in December itself) and I'm not sure how it will be during summer. Perhaps, we Bangaloreans can't put up with tropical weather! In fact, I get rashes even in Chennai weather :(
9. Sri Lanka, especially Colombo, is a neat and clean place. Do not litter.
10. When they greet you with Ayubowan (Hello), greet them the same.

Day 0: Arrive at Colombo, travel to Mirissa along the west coast. Check in at Hotel Silan Mo at Mirissa

Our onward flight Sri Lankan as delayed by 1 hour (scheduled departure at 21.05) from Bangalore and we touched down at Colombo Airport close to midnight. Sri Lankan has good variety of in-flight entertainment channels, movies, (English, Sinhala, Tamil, Hindi), etc.

The immigration formalities at both airports went without any issues. With Christmas around the corner, the Colombo airport (formal name - Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake)

Our pre-booked cab driver Mr Mangala was awaiting us with placard and off we boarded it for our destination Hotel Silan Mo, down south at Mirissa - about 180 kms away. The van was spacious. The drive was smooth via the tolled Southern Expressway for most part. The expressway road, signages, etc are world class.

By around 3.30 AM we reached and checked into the hotel. The long journey left us tired and we soon hit the bed to catch some winks.

Day 1: Local sight seeing at Mirissa

We woke up leisurely at around 8 am and got ready to see a few places around Mirissa town. The reason why we chose to stay here was to do the whale watching trip. Mirissa is the main town from where whale watching expeditions are organized by private boat operators. Apart from this, I found that only in Galle the Sri Lankan Navy organizes such trips. These trips typically start at around 7.30 am and winds up by noon.

Traveling from Colombo to reach the port by 7.30 am was not a great idea for us and so we chose to stay here to complete this activity.

After a hearty breakfast, we hopped on to our ride - Mitsubishi L300 van to explore the places around Mirissa. We drove along the coastal road and stopped by at Weligama beach. My daughter loves the beaches and everyone had a good time though the weather was quite hot. This place has many shacks offering surfing and the local youth are the surfing instructors or guides. The place was teeming with foreigners. Soon the heat got the better of us and we returned to relax at the hotel.

Around 4 pm we went on a short drive (12 kms) further South to a coastal town called Matara and we enjoyed the beautiful sunset by the beach. The scenery around all the coastal areas almost resembles Kerala with tall palm or coconut trees.

Now let the pics do the talking!

Our ride during most of our trip
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Matara beach
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Matara town - neat roads
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Being a car enthusiast (lay one at that, not a techie), what caught my eye was the sheer variety of brands, makes, models of vehicles plying in Sri Lanka. Throughout the 12 km trip, the roads were dotted with new/pre-owned car showrooms and workshops for all sorts of vehicles. Saw a lot of pick up trucks from Japanese brands - Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Isuzu, etc. The car market, as I saw, is dominated by the Japanese and saw a few Kia vehicles too. The luxury cars are from the Germans. American vehicles are much fewer to be seen. Indian cars from Tata - Indica, Nano are quite popular though. Tata Ace mini trucks are also quite common. I saw a few Mahindra Scorpios but they were used by the police department.

Last edited by grkonweb : 29th February 2016 at 23:29. Reason: To make it more complete by adding content and pictures
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Old 10th February 2016, 15:57   #2
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Day 2: Whale watching off Mirissa at AM, local excursions around Mirissa at PM

The hotel staff were helpful in arranging for the whale watching trip and by 7 am they organized an autorickshaw (they call it tuk-tuk) to take us to the fishing port at Mirissa. The whale watching trip costs about Rs.3000/- INR per head (inclusive of breakfast - veg/non-veg sandwich) with kids below 6 free of charge.

The highlight of our stay at Mirissa, as I said before is to go on this whale & dolphin watching expedition into the Indian ocean. The trip lasts about 3 - 5 hours depending on the sighting. Online reviews warned that people could suffer from sea sickness and could throw up. They said the boat crew would provide some tablet to manage the sea sickness and plastic bags to throw up. Our boat guys didn't give us any tablet but handed out plastic bags and sandwiches for breakfast.

Our boat was not crowded (hardly 12 tourists) and we we offered the upper deck and it offered great views of the ocean. Initially, the journey was good but soon the boat began to rock consistently and I felt like throwing up but didn't. One mistake I did was I consumed the sandwich which I should have avoided. The pitch and roll of the boat was normal it seems with no adverse weather conditions. The day was warm and sunny. My tummy was on a roll and I was only hoping that I don't throw up.

After a 2 hour bumpy ride into the Indian ocean, we caught glimpses of few whales when they came up to the surface to exhale air. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures thanks to the fleeting glimpses and the rocking boat.

There was a flotilla of boats teeming with tourists excitedly pointing to sights of jumping dolphins and occasional sighting of whales. We could also see large cargo ships anchored in the mid seas.

Dolphins were dime a dozen and they all swam in groups and at times jumping in pairs. It was fun to watch. Soon the bumpy ride due to choppy sea, drone of the boat engine and raising heat made us tired and we longed to be back at the shore. We returned to the fishing harbor by around 12 noon and the tuk-tuk took us back to the hotel a couple of kms away.

Here are some pics:

Mirissa Fishing Harbor
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A typical whale watching boat
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Day 2 Evening - Local excursion around Mirissa, off to Galle


We relaxed at the hotel after our tiring whale watching trip. Around 4 pm, we started off to Galle town (up North 40 kms) to visit the famous Dutch fort by the sea.

For cricket lovers Galle would ring a bell as it is one of the venue for cricket matches. You get a good view of the stadium from the Dutch Fort. The Fort is old and was full of tourists. Panoramic views of the Indian Ocean can be seen from the ramparts.

However, one has to be careful around the ramparts as there are no safety rails and there is risk of falling off. The Fort abounds with vantage spots for selfie lovers.

Galle is one word that rings different sounds to different ethnic groups. The English call it Gaawl, Sinhalese call it Gol, Sri Lankan Tamils call it Gali and we thought it sounded it Gaaley! Wonder what the Dutch would have called it!

Here are some pics of the Galle Fort:

The Fort's Clock Tower
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The Entrance
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View of Galle town from the Fort
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Galle Cricket Stadium
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Last edited by grkonweb : 29th February 2016 at 20:56. Reason: Adding more content
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Old 10th February 2016, 16:59   #3
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Day 2: Galle Town

Galle town being a Dutch built town has a Pondicherry-esq feel about it as with any other colonial town. The place retains the charm of old world - replete with colonial buildings, houses, churches, cobbled pathways, etc.

We roamed a bit around the town to get a feel of the place.

Some pics:

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Last edited by grkonweb : 29th February 2016 at 20:56. Reason: Additional content
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Old 10th February 2016, 17:23   #4
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Default Annual Vacation in Sri Lanka - Dec 2015

Day 3: To Colombo, check in at Ocean Colombo Hotel and local sight seeing.

After breakfast, we departed for Colombo city, a good 150 kms up North. This time instead of taking the Southern Expressway, we went along the coastal road - Colombo-Galle Road passing by a number of towns like Galle, Bentota, Mt Lavinia enroute.

While the Southern Expressway would have been faster, yet to visit the towns enroute it wouldn't be convenient as you need to take 10-12 kms detour every time to enter any coastal town. Here's the route map:

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We stopped by at Kosgoda Turtle Farm, Bentota, Mt Lavinia before reaching Colombo around 2 pm. Throughout the route, the road offered great views of the sea. At some places, the sea water is so crystal clear you can see through it.

Some pics clicked enroute to Colombo:

View from my hotel balcony - Hotel Silan Mo, Mirissa
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A very common scene after all this is Elephant country
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Neat, Clean Highways
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An old plane, now an attraction for kids
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Last edited by grkonweb : 29th February 2016 at 20:55. Reason: Additional content
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Old 16th February 2016, 17:45   #5
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Day 3: Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery, enroute to Colombo


The turtle hatchery is a conservation project. They have a small collection of different species of turtles some with injuries, some born with congenital problems like born blind, etc. The place is small and very basic but they are doing a great job in spreading awareness for tourists like us and saving turtles.

Here are some pics:

Tiny turtles
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They let you pick them up, but no pocketing!!! Serious offense! And no flash photography allowed.
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We spent about 45 mins in this place and hopped on to our van and were on our way to Colombo. Since it was mid-day, the place was quite hot.
Attached Thumbnails
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Last edited by grkonweb : 16th February 2016 at 17:48. Reason: Additional content
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Old 16th February 2016, 18:06   #6
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Default Annual Vacation in Sri Lanka - Dec 2015

Day 3: Finally at Colombo

By the time we arrived at Colombo we were hungry. It was around 2 pm when we stopped by Mathura Indian Restaurant (http://www.yamu.lk/place/mathura/) for lunch and the place came highly recommended by our driver. The food was good and I relished it as I was craving for good vegetarian dishes after the dull food I had to put up with at Mirissa.

Post lunch, we checked into Ocean Colombo hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean.

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Some more pics from our road trip to Colombo:

Driving by Bentota
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See the orderly fashion traffic halts at a level crossing, no gates, no gateman, no policeman but still disciplined
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And imagine our notorious traffic at Horamavu (Bangalore) railway crossing...grrrr!
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Great view of the sea, the road and the railway track
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Last edited by grkonweb : 29th February 2016 at 23:25. Reason: Adding pictures
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Old 16th February 2016, 19:41   #7
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Day 4: Local sight seeing & Shopping at Colombo

Thanks to the humid weather, we had second thoughts about pulling off another long drive to Kandy for the Tooth Temple visit. Eventually, we dropped the idea as none of us were in a mood to spend the whole day on the road. We heard being hilly terrain it takes good amount of time climbing up & down Kandy.

Instead, we choose to do some shopping - mall hopping and visit the Dehiwala National Zoo at Colombo mainly for the Elephant Show.

The breakfast was really good at The Ocean Colombo with good spread of food - Continental, Sri Lankan & South Indian dishes.

Our first stop was at the Govt-run handicraft emporium called Laksala. It has a great collection of souvenirs you can buy but IMHO they are a bit expensive.

Some pics for you:

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Evening view from the hotel roof top:

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Felt onset of cold so I bought cold tablet and after consuming saw this...grrrrr!
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Last edited by Aditya : 1st March 2016 at 07:22. Reason: Adding more pictures
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Old 19th February 2016, 19:39   #8
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Day 4: Local sight seeing - Dehiwala Zoo

After shopping, we had lunch at Shanmugas Restaurant (http://www.yamu.lk/place/shanmugas/) at Colombo. The Tamil Nadu-style buffet lunch was delicious and the ambience was more of a large bungalow converted into a restaurant. They cater Tamil-style vegetarian dishes.

We headed back to our hotel for a short nap and at around 4 pm off we went to Dehiwala Zoo in Colombo. We had heard that the Elephant Show is the main attraction and it was a treat to my 4-year daughter as much as it was for us adults.

The entry fee for SAARC country citizens is LKR 500 and for kids LKR 250. We skipped viewing the animal enclosures since we were hard pressed for time and we had to rush to the amphitheater-style area to grab our seating place ahead of the elephant show. In fact, people were literally running shoving everyone on their way to grab a seat - basically you sit in the dusty concrete step. We too joined the run, settled down in the amphitheater and awaited the arrivals of the jumbos. The show was for approx 45 mins.

Here are some pics:

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The elephant greets everyone with a sign board painted Hello, Ayubowan and Vannakkam....a round of applause follows
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Show time over....they head back home
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Soon after the show, we just passed by the animal enclosures but the big cats like tigers were housed in a concrete enclaves rather than near-natural green habitats. Sorry to see them. Mysore Zoo and Bannerghatta Zoo are much better in terms of maintenance and presentation.

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We were tired by the end of show and didn't want to go around the usual attractions. On the way back to the exit gate of the zoo, we just peeped into the whichever animal enclosures we were passing by.

En route to our hotel, our van's A/c went kaput. It's very hot without A/c in Sri Lanka. We asked our by now friendly & compliant driver Mr Mangala (yeah some Sinhalese names like our Hindu names are female-sounding e.g. Sameera, Priya, Anuradha, etc) to get it fixed the next day.

Dinner was at almost next door Dwaraka restaurant (http://www.yamu.lk/place/dwaraka/) - another vegetarian Indian food outlet catering both North & South Indian cuisine. It was a very enjoyable dinner.

Last edited by grkonweb : 29th February 2016 at 20:28. Reason: Additional content
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Old 29th February 2016, 20:18   #9
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Default Annual Vacation in Sri Lanka - Dec 2015

Day 5: Shopping at Colombo and Off to Airport

The last day of our trip to this beautiful island. We wanted to roam around Colombo shopping areas and heard about Pettah - the traditional shopping district of the capital city.

After a heavy breakfast at Ocean Colombo we were surprised and delighted to see our new ride for the day - spanking new Toyota Fortuner - thanks to the A/c problem in the Mitsubishi van which apparently couldn't be fixed overnight the travel operators had provided this SUV instead.

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Loved the ride, at least I felt like royalty driven around in the roads of Colombo.

We didn't enjoy Pettah as it was crowded - lots of jostling, pushing while walking but you could see shops selling all kinds of stuff. Soon we got out and asked Mr Mangala to take us to a good shopping mall. He dropped us at Majestic Mall - it looked a bit old-style mall but we enjoyed. Being Christmas time, all the places were decked up with Santa, reindeers, snow, festoons, balloons, etc. and overall had a festive atmosphere.

Yours truly with my daughter
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We did a Colombo darshan while traveling around. Colombo is a very neat city, clean and wide roads, very good traffic sense and overall people followed rules. They respect cops and once our van was pulled over as our driver forgot to wear seat belt. It's mandatory for front seat occupants to wear seat belts.

Some sights of Colombo city captured by my camera:

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The Old Parliament building before it was shifted out of city due to security concerns
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Another view
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Reminds me of Singapore's Merlion
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Buddhist Vihara's are common like our very own Ganesha temples
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See posters of our Bollywood movies...they are popular
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Saw this in the mall...it's been years since I saw one of these....
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Last edited by grkonweb : 29th February 2016 at 21:15. Reason: Additional content
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Old 29th February 2016, 20:45   #10
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Default

Some more pics:

Newspaper ad featuring movies including Hindi & Tamil languages:

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Pink bus!
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Cop
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En route to Katunayake Airport along the Expressway
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Our return flight was delayed by 40 mins and we reached Bengaluru by around 8.45 pm with loads of memories.

Thus came our end to a dream vacation to Sri Lanka. It was very refreshing break from the routine, going to a paradise so near yet so far....would like to go again sometime to explore Central and Eastern parts of the island. Truly, Sri Lanka is serendipity at its best!

Last edited by Aditya : 1st March 2016 at 07:23.
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Old 1st March 2016, 07:30   #11
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Default re: A Family Holiday in Sri Lanka

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 1st March 2016, 12:03   #12
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Default Re: A Family Holiday in Sri Lanka

Thanks for sharing. We did a family vacation to Sri Lanka in 2014 December and have many almost identical photos! The additional places we visited were Dambula and Sigiriya. We also stayed at Long Beach Resort in Galle - right next to that old airplane (which was operating as a restaurant then - Catalina grill).
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Old 1st March 2016, 14:36   #13
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Default Re: A Family Holiday in Sri Lanka

Nice pics and well written. Did contemplate hiring a bike and riding around Sri Lanka some years back through IndiMotard.

My fav pic of it all - where people are standing at disciplined distances and lanes at the railway crossing - which doesn't even have a gate!!
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Old 1st March 2016, 15:52   #14
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Default Re: A Family Holiday in Sri Lanka

Amazing and well narrated travelouge with superb pictures to match.
Hope to visit this beautiful island some day.

The best picture for me was the one of the tablet strip. Hope you did not have any after affects

Its amazing that you coordinated this trip yourself without a travel agent. Any particular reason for that?
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Old 1st March 2016, 15:56   #15
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Default Re: A Family Holiday in Sri Lanka

Quote:
Originally Posted by @Chaand View Post
Amazing and well narrated travelouge with superb pictures to match.
Hope to visit this beautiful island some day.

The best picture for me was the one of the tablet strip. Hope you did not have any after affects

Its amazing that you coordinated this trip yourself without a travel agent. Any particular reason for that?
After seeing the tablet strip I felt like throwing up

With travel agents, you'll have set itineraries mostly crammed with no liberty to visit the places you want and the pace you want. And moreover, the travel agents rates were premium for so-so hotels they offered. So we decided to look up the itineraries to get an idea and draw up our own!
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