Nights 8th – 9th December. Villa Talangama
We were met promptly by our guide Supurna Hettiarachchi (Hetti) and taken to Villa Talangama where we were to spend our first two nights.
The Villa was beautiful and very comfortable, the food was delicious and the staff were delightful. They were so very kind and welcoming and nothing was too much trouble for them. Mr P and Mrs Nimal took such great care of us. We were spoiled!
Very early (5.45 a.m.) we took a walk to the tank just outside the villa. We were absolutely amazed at the number of birds we saw there (30 species in the first half hour). By the time we left, the following day, we had seen over 40 species as well as monitor lizards and purple – faced leaf monkeys. We just couldn’t believe that all this was within 20 -25 mins of Colombo city! We live in Bangkok and, as is the case with most big cities, we would have to travel for hours before we could enjoy this kind of bird watching – if at all!
N.B. Just one small oversight. We would have liked to have a blanket or warm cover on the beds as we sleep with the air-conditioning on. Mrs Nimal kindly gave us towels and said that she would ask for blankets to be provided.
Nights 10th – 11 December . Martin’s Simple Lodge & Singharaja Rain Forest.
A 4½ hour drive with a very rough last hour’s (about) drive to the lodge. It’s well worth the trip to the rainforest as we had fantastic views of the endemic Sri Lanka Blue Magpies that visited the lodge at about 6a.m. every morning to catch their moth breakfasts. Also saw many other birds, butterflies, giant Indian squirrel, lizards, a few snakes and plenty of leeches! Hettie, our guide, provided us with much needed leech socks.
The accommodation lived up to its name – ‘simple’. Although very basic would be a better description. It was clean but v. shabby with the toilet seats falling off the toilets and the rooms badly need a coat of paint. The showers worked . There was one very small pillow and a thin cloth for a sheet. It was quite cool at night, but blankets were not provided so we used our clothes. The food was simple but tasty. We feel that as this is the only place to stay that gives very easy access to the forest and saves the ldifficult hour long drive from the entrance maybe Mr Martin does not feel the need to upgrade his lodge.
Night 12th December
A short and enjoyable afternoon visit to Uda Walawee National Park. Saw family of elephants, Torque Macaques, the Pied Malabar Hornbill and at 37 species of other birds. We were impressed with the new park centre which had quite a lot of information.
The hotel, Centauria Inn at Embilipitya, was very comfortable and blankets were provided!
Nights 13th – 14th December
Great birding (waders) on the way to Yala at the turn off to Bundala.
Arrived at Elephant Reach hotel in time for late lunch. Staff very nice but the service was very slow and the waiters (apart from one) could hardly understand English. The room was pleasant with big, clean bathrooms. However, once again no blankets were provided and our guide had to ask several times for extra towels for us to use on the bed. The only place to sit in the room was on the bed as no chairs were provided. It was also difficult to read as the lighting was poor and no reading lights (none of the hotels we stayed in provided reading lights.) The swimming pool was pleasant. The highlight was seeing the scarce and endemic White-naped Woodpecker (male) in the hotel grounds.
Yala N.P. was wonderful. We had an excellent driver, organised by Hettie our guide. It was quite rainy and overcast and we were lucky enough to spot one leopard sleeping in a tree. Also saw Ruddy Mongoose, Indian Grey Mongoose, Wild Boar, Jackel, Spotted Deer, Samab Deer, Land Monitors,Black-naped Hare, Wild Water buffalo, Porcupine Crocodiles and plenty of Elephants, Grey Langurs and birds (about 35 species). We were impressed with the strict control of people entering and leaving the park.
Nights 15th & 16th December
Long trip to Nurwara Eliya and a very welcome arrival at the St. Andrew’s hotel. Our rooms were cosy and comfortable and the food was superb. It was very chilly so the log fire in the bar and hot water bottles in our beds ( what a great tradition) were most welcome. The hotel staff were excellent and friendly. We enjoyed a trip around the kitchen and were very impressed with the standard of hygiene and organisation that we saw there.
Hettie took us to Victoria Park to see the Indian Pitta and only through his amazing tenacity and patience did we finally see this elusive little bird in two locations.
Our trip to Horton Plains was rather disappointing as a thick, grey, cold mist had descended so birding was almost impossible.
Night 17th December
Very pretty journey to the Royal River Resort. A lovely tucked away resort in an amazing location. An afternoon walk up through the tea plantations gave us some very rewarding birding, but a telescope is essential (more about this later). We saw a good variety (16 species) in about an hour.
The hotel room was situated right over the river with a natural pool that we could swim in right next to our room. The room was spacious and pleasant. There was a T.V. and a smart music centre but more practical and useful would have been a hair dryer and a kettle to make tea as service from the restaurant was amazingly slow.
The food was poor and the service ( but the staff, as always, were very nice) was so slow that at breakfast time we went to the restaurant and ended up collecting our own omelettes! Once again there were no blankets (we didn’t use the air-con and it was quite cool at night ) so we requested extra towels.
Nights 18th & 19th December
Trip to Sigiriya via the Botanic Gardens, Kandy and Spice Garden at Mathale. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to both the Botanic Gardens and the Spice Garden where we were thrilled to see the Chestnut –backed Owlet and enjoy a wonderful, much needed neck and shoulder massage. We also fitted in an Ayurvedic massage which was quite an experience (positive!),
Our stay at the Sigiriya Village Hotel was comfortable and the room was very nice but we were very upset by the managements attitude towards our wonderful guide Hettie.
During our trip Hettie was fantastic. Not only is he a very knowledgeable and superb guide but he’s also a delightful travelling companion, full of good humour and kindness. He’s also a very competent and safe driver. He was friendly, but never over familiar and we came to regard him as a lovely person and a friend. It became our habit to invite him to have a drink with us to reminisce over the day’s events and plan the following day. On a few occasions he joined us for dinner. Sometimes he would come to our room/verandah and sometimes we would meet in the hotel lounge or bar. On this occasion we invited him to join us for a drink in our room/verandah. The hotel duty manager, Mr Heenthilaka, informed us that our guide/driver was not allowed to join us. After some discussion we asked him if this rule was extended to others e.g. our family members and he said that it was so. We objected most strongly as we felt/feel that it is not the hotel’s business to dictate to the guests who they can and cannot invite to their rooms. Also how dare they treat an educated and respectable man like Hettie in such a way. It’s quite disgusting and we would strongly recommend anyone not to stay there as long as the hotel continues to pursue this policy.
After bird watching around Sigiriya Rock we drove to Negombo where we had a room booked at the Seashells Hotel to change and rest in before flying back to Thailand. This hotel was disappointing. It was difficult to put our drinks on our bill to pay when we left (in spite of being checked in) and the dinner was very mediocre. The lamb chops were so tough they couldn’t be eaten.
Re the telescope. We were surprised to learn that our guide was not equipped with a telescope. Luckily our friend and travelling companion, Robert Samson, brought his with him. Without the telescope we would not have been able to see so many birds, especially in Sinharaja and at the tea plantation near the Royal River Resort. We think that it would be a good idea to ask guests, when they book their trip, if they intend to bring a telescope. Probably most do, but maybe others are on their first birding trip and are waiting to find out if they like bird watching before they buy a telescope or they may, like us, assume that our guide would be provided with one. We think that the company should consider supplying all their guides as it’s an essential part of the birding experience.
We were very impressed with the efficiency of your company and how well everything was arranged for us.
This summary of our trip hasn’t included very much about the birding as this was excellent and exceeded our expectations. We had a wonderful time and we would be happy to use your company again and to recommend it to anyone who is thinking of a trip to Sri Lanka. The country is beautiful and we found the Sri Lankan people to be friendly and very kind. On the whole our accommodation was fine, but we hope that our comments will prove to be constructive and helpful.