The Sri Lanka Series: Kandy (July-August 2015)


Toy Shop

On the way to Kandy there were plenty of these water flotation/toy shops. I found it to be a little strange, but pretty great if you aren’t much of a swimmer!

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.

Dancers Girls

The costumes of the dancers were elaborate and detailed.



The males showed off their acrobatic skills.

Drummer and Twirlers

Drummers and fire twirlers.

Fire Eaters


Fire pit preparations.

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.

Helgas 2

Helga’s Folly. These pictures do not do it justice at all.

Helgas 1

Helga’s Folly

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.

Water Supply

Views from the top of the mountain range overlooking Sri Lanka’s water supply.

Monkeys 2

Cheeky Monkeys eating tea cake

Monkeys apparently love tea cake buns.

Fresh Corn

Enjoying freshly picked corn cooked and eaten on the side of the road.


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The underutilisation of the humble car horn

I for one, use my car horn only when I am REALLY annoyed at someone which happens quite a lot on the Gold Coast. People are always cutting you off, not allowing you to merge or running through the roundabout without giving way. Traffic and road rage is a very real thing that I experience a couple of times a year. When I do engage with my horn, it is usually used sparingly to jolt the other driver awake or make them aware that you are “not happy Jan” (anyone remember that ad?) about what they have just done. It is a blaring alarm, punched hard with the palm of your hand in anger, often followed with a crude hand gesture or perhaps some swear words for effect. Then, if the opportunity arises and you happen to pass the offender or stop at the lights, it is proper road rage ‘etiquette’ to glare at them even when they don’t look or pretend not to notice your crazy eyes boring a hole into the side of their head. This of course, infuriates you further.

If you have ever been to a third world country, you are probably familiar with the constant honking and erratic driving that is both thrilling and terrifying all at once. However throughout my travels, I have come to appreciate the many opportunities of the humble horn that most westerners seem to have let slip away.

Indonesia was one of my first overseas trips and the driving style really was a shock for a fresh faced 20 year old me. The ducking and weaving, the horns blaring at all times of the day (and night), the stop, start rhythm and the squealing brakes. I watched out of the taxi window in horror and thought to myself, how am I going to get around? I can’t surely drive in that. It still humours me to think that it took only two days before I felt like the chaotic driving was perfectly normal and I then proceeded to hire a scooter and join the rat race (yes, just like every other Australian tourist).

The memory of these roads had begun to fade from my mind as my last two holidays were to developed countries where structure and order were the main ingredient of their well organised transport cake. Once I arrived in Sri Lanka I was quickly jolted back in time and suffered déjà vu with that familiar backing track of many horns honking.

One night at dinner, my partner and I were discussing the variety of ways Sri Lankans use their horns. The next day, I started compiling a list. Here is the list of my observations.

Go faster
Go slower
Me first
You first
I am overtaking you
I can’t overtake you because I am a bus full of people and can’t speed up so please slow down so I can overtake you
Move out of the way
Get off the road
I am bigger than you
I am smaller than you
I am coming up in your blind spot
I am on your left
I am on your right
I am behind you
I am in front of you
Move (insert object) usually person, dog, cart, cow, bus, car, tuk tuk, bicycle, scooter…
Look a tourist
Move tourist

Hey tourist
Turn around tourist
Tourist you want tuk tuk?
Are you sure you don’t want a tuk tuk?
No reason at all honking (on an empty street)
Hey friend
Hey stranger
I am blocking an entire intersection and I do not care
Get out of the intersection you idiot
I’m stopping right here
Train coming
Train not coming
Anyone around the corner?
I’m coming round the corner so you better stop
Move over further so I can pass you as this road isn’t big enough for both of us

I am sure here there are a myriad of other reasons for their horn honking that I will never fully understand, but it does slowly become the familiar background noise of the cityscape, and it only diminishes slightly in the villages. I have started to wonder if horns wear out and need replacing just like brake pads? Feel free to let me know.


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