Places not to be missed!
Here are some interesting places that most people don’t get to – more interesting than some of the more famous places. Also, when visiting these you feel and can become more involved with local people as they are not in big Buddhist tourist sites. Things happen there such as someone tells you about their health problem and asks if we have a cure for it in the West and can you tell them how to get it or the local guide says he has a knee problem do you know what it is, or you are asked if you know their relative who lives in England, or someone else invites you into their home. These encounters make it feel less as if you are just a regular tourist. There is no substitute for human contact. Many of these places are close to the Project and can be reached in half a day, day or weekend.
Click here to download this page as a word document that you can download and print should you wish to bring it with you.
This is a short note to tell you that the whole area along the coast, adjacent to the Project, was devastated by the Tsunami. Most of the coastline of Sri Lanka was affected. The Unawatuna Beach to Periliya areas were devastated. Please be aware that, when talking to locals about it, you will find that some will gently encourage you to give them money. Please don’t be offended. They have been through a lot and it is just human nature to ask those who are so wealthy compared to themselves. It is kind to listen when people want to tell you, as every telling contributes to healing.
Look out for the signs of NGOs that helped and are still helping in the area. Many newly built houses have signs on them or flags showing the countries of the people and organisations that built them. Near Unawatuna beach is a boat yard where Austrians made new fishing boats for local fishermen whose boats were destroyed.
The Rough Guide waterproof map is truly excellent - as well as the Rough Guide to Sri Lanka guide book.
Mulkirigala – amazing rock cave temples with wall to wall (and ceiling) frescoes and statues. This is an interesting site where the local guides are very friendly. The kiosk is often manned by a man suffering from albinism and you may be asked if you know of a cure. There isn’t one. However, sun glasses are a great help as they suffer from sun damage to the eyes and sun cream is an obvious help as well. You may need to explain this to the guide and the sufferer if you decide to make such a donation.
You may also be approached by ancient old ladies trying to make a few pence from selling you bananas
Bundala National Park – great for bird watching. The painted storks are beautiful and there is a lot of other bird life, too.
Yala - for game viewing. If you have done any game viewing in Africa, it’s possible it may disappoint. There are lots of elephants and you can see leopards if you’re patient. Dawn and dusk are the best times.
Sitalpahuwa - ancient site in Yala, with a resident monk who feeds a wild elephant everyday at his house.
Kirinda – site of previous tsunami, 100s of years ago. You need someone who knows to explain the story properly. An interesting and rarely visited site.
When you hear chanting after you have paid the very small entrance fee, it is a monk chanting for your well being.
Kataragama - Best time to go is about 4pm and stay for several hours. Go with a guide who knows his stuff. It’s on a very big site, very interesting with lots going on and each temple is different, plus people camping by the river and doing pujas in and by it etc. Many shades of different religions. Parades, weddings, dances, noisy music, a market……
Maligawila – very interesting site with 7th century statuary and close to a very humble rural village.
Budurawagala – a magnificent site near Wellawaya with mysterious rock carvings including the tallest Buddha image in the world (since others in Afghanistan were blown up by the Taliban). These are extremely old and of a totally different form and tradition than previously seen in Sri Lanka.
Moonstone Mine - a short drive from Galle. You can actually go to the mine itself (not just the shop) and can look down the shaft to see the dreadful working conditions of the miners. Take a torch.
Supem Uyana - a home for children with learning difficulties (intellectual handicaps) run by some wonderful nuns. You can drop in any time. The Sister Superior is Sister Rose Marina. It is a truly wonderful place. They will show you round and you can play with the children. Photography is allowed. Often they will try to sell you some little cards they have made with the children, to help funds. You could even make a side trip there to volunteer for a weekend. They have accommodation for volunteers and will be glad of the help. It’s near Hikkaduwa, just a few miles from Galle. Click here to read a newspaper article about Supem Uyana.
Periliya – the site of the terrible Tsunami train disaster and the two, old and new memorials – not far from Hikkaduwa, near Galle.
The area was totally devastated. Many local people jumped onto the train which had been stopped by the first wave, thinking that they would be safe. In total, approximately 2000 people were killed on the train alone. Now, the whole area has been rebuilt and there is little evidence of the disaster.
Aluvihara - north of Kandy near Matale is a very important Buddhist site and totally different from any other you will see. It is the site of the 5th Buddhist Council (Theravada Tradition) where the Tipitakaya (Core Buddhist teachings) were written down for the first time after a huge gathering of monks assembled to compare notes on what they thought the Buddha had actually said all those years ago. If you knock on the door of the monastery a lovely monk will come and explain the process, showing you exactly how it was written onto palm leaves as well as showing you round the site. Very few tourists ever go here. Click here for more information.
The Millennium Elephant Foundation - one mile down the road from the elephant orphanage at Pinnawela. Home for retired and orphaned elephants. It’s better than the elephant orphanage, quieter, less supported and they often let you go into the water to wash the elephants.
Visit the Men in the old men's home in Galle. Visit the men and play some cards with them. Just to be visited is good.
Also in the area there are the turtle hatcheries/rescue/conservation centres, visits can be made to people’s homes for craft demonstrations, there are spice gardens, boat trips out over the reef and to see turtles swimming in the ocean from the Coral Sands Hotel at Hikkaduwa, a river trip for the scenery, monitor lizards and to visit an island monastery where a young monk will come out to chant for you plus visits to other islands in the river where you can see cinnamon products being made.
You can also request to visit schools, hospitals and orphanages that you come across and this will give you additional insight into the life of Sri Lankans. Please be sensitive when you do such things.
These, together with more distant and famous sites in Polonnaruwa, Kandy, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Anuradhapura, Mahintale, Giritale, elephant riding at Habarana where the guides and mahouts are great fun if you relate to them, the tea plantations around Nuwara Eliya (can be freezing cold and rainy at any time of year) and climbing Adam’s Peak overnight to arrive at dawn to watch the sunrise with the pilgrims, will keep you going!