We caught the bus from Negombo to Kandy by showing up at the main bus station in Negombo city and jumping on the first one we found. We waited about 30 minutes for the bus to be full enough to go and then we were on our way. 5 hours later we arrived ready to transition to a train (based on information we received from one of the information director’s at the Negombo bus station) or another bus to get to Arugam Bay that day. As it turned out, Arugam Bay was actually 8 hours drive away from Kandy on a windy mountain road AND it was closed at night due to elephants! Apparently there was definitely NO trains that go there, plus the bus would take over 15 hours and did not leave until the following day. As we stood and stared at the train times sign realising what we had been told was not accurate and wondering about what we should do, an older local man approached us and asked if we needed help. After a couple of minutes conversation, it turned out that ‘Jagger’ drove a van for a couple of the local hostels and happened to be waiting to pick up another arrival. We explained our situation and that we needed to get to Arugam Bay. He confirmed what we had learned, but did offer his private van for hire for 20,000 rupee which was a little steep for us, especially just the two of us. We negotiated him down to 16,000 rupee (AU$160) and we went on the hunt for other people who wanted to get to Arugam Bay so it would be a little cheaper. Jagger kindly drove us to one of his affiliated hostels and organised a room for us to stay the night. The staff were very understanding and helpful. The Backpackers Vibe – Tourist Lodge was a fairly new hostel who were just getting started. Their facilities were simplistic but clean and best of all, it was great value for money at AU$15 each for the night. Conveniently, there was also a German girl staying there (Hi Connie!) who wanted to get to Arugam Bay as well and so our plan was hatched: we would share our hire van, split the cost and make the 8 hour road trip the next day.
All up, I only spent about 14 hours in Kandy arriving late in the afternoon and leaving early the next morning. I do wish I had the opportunity to explore it in a little more depth. We decided to cram in as much as we could in the short time we had. So, we spent the afternoon wandering around the Kandy markets, feeding the fish in the large pond in the middle of the city and visiting the historic Temple of the Tooth shrine. As we walked home for dinner, we also stumbled across a dance troupe who were about to start a performance. For 1000 rupee, we were treated to an hour of traditional drumming, dancing, fire walking and Kandy history. The females were graceful and poised as the males demonstrated athletic ability and strength. The show was very professional and impressive with fire eaters and a finale that included hot coals bought out and stoked on a stretcher ready to be braved by the male dancers. It was quite exciting and a little terrifying when they encouraged audience members to have a go. Funnily enough, no one volunteered.
We ate dinner at Helga’s Folly, which is a strange and arty hotel/restaurant after a recommendation from a friend back home. It was fairly quiet the night we went, but worth a visit just to look around and try to understand the eccentricity. The whole place is covered in art, from murals to sculptures and the themed rooms feature antique furniture. It also has an interesting menu (though a little on the expensive side I thought – meals started at US$20 a dish and were good, but not fantastic) with decent food and plenty of it, I just felt for the asking price it could have been tastier. I’d recommend heading to Helga’s only for a drink.
The next day, Jagger arrived nice and early to pick the three of us up and start our long road trip to Arugam Bay. Jagger was an excellent guide and pointed out significant sights and interest points along the way. He bought us food from the service station (egg/curry triangles and tea cake rolls) encouraged us to feed the wild monkeys from the car window, stopped in at local stalls along the road to drink king coconuts and eat corn from the cob freshly picked. Finally, for a late lunch we stopped at another local ‘restaurant’ (a wooden structure with a thatch roof, 4 chairs and a table) for the local dish of rice and curry. The owners spoke little English and had not had foreigners stop or eat in their restaurant before, and boy, were they stoked! They were very excited to feed us their dish of the day, as well as offering us bites of their best fruit and produce until we couldn’t eat anymore. Just before we left, they wrote down their address on a piece of paper asking if I would write to them from Arugam Bay as they had never been. Of course, I obliged with a postcard shortly after I arrived. It was such a great experience and a road trip that I will always remember fondly.