Sri Lanka is a small island nation, barely a blip on the vast geoscape of our planet, yet well known world over.
I decided to start my trip visiting the central province of this beautiful country.
There are many things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka. So many attractions and places to see, so many experiences to live.
Sri Lanka has something for everyone. Rugged rainforests, beautiful beaches, ancient archaeological ruins, amazing wildlife, tea plantations from colonial times and all this underpinned by a rich history.
The people will welcome you, their culture will enrich you and the food will awake dormant taste buds. You will leave Sri Lanka sated. And isn’t that what any global traveller wants? To be completely immersed in a world different to one’s own,and to leave all the better for it. And if the happy side effects of travel include learning from each other, building tolerance and understanding, bring it on I say!
So many things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka….where should I start
Instead of writing down a full list of things I preferred to group them in 3 big reasons….and a quarter (more on it later 😀 )
-1- The Cultural Experience
Temple of the Tooth Relic
A big reason any sight seeing traveller would visit Kandy is its cultural attraction. Sri Lankan kings ruled the island for over 2,300 years. Kandy was the seat of the last kingdom before British rule. The last king of Sri Lanka, Sri Vickrama Rajasinha ruled until the Kandyan provinces were captured in 1815.
The 17th century Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy is believed to house the tooth of Buddha. Throughout Sri Lankan history, the tooth relic has been central to political governance.
Every day, throngs of white-clad worshippers walk through the temple with flower offerings. Not only is the temple one of the most significant religious sites in Sri Lanka, but it is also one of the top tourist sight seeing attractions of the country.
Footwear must be left outside the temple so flip-flops/thongs are probably best for your visit. You must also have your shoulders covered and wear long pants/skirts.
Foreigners pay between Rs 500-1000 (5-10 AUD) for entry including a Rs 300 video camera fee. There are no restrictions using your camera inside the temple but I would suggest you exercise some judgement and respect as most visitors to the temple are worshippers.
Nobody is actually allowed to see the tooth. It is housed in an inner shrine and large elephant tusks guard the entry. The interior of the temple is beautifully carved and decorated with ivory, lacquer and inlaid timber.
The Kandy Market is a short 15 minute walk from the Temple of the Tooth. Head down Dalada Veediya toward the clock tower. Dalada Veediya is the main street in the hub of Kandy. The Maligawa is at the start of Dalada Veediya and the bell tower is at the other end.
Stop at Devon or the Bakehouse for some traditional Sri Lankan “short eats” (snack food) and a cup of sweet, milky Sri Lankan tea.
The Market is not big but you will enjoy the sensory experience. Try some fruit that you haven’t tried before like Wood Apples (nothing like apples) or the very fragrant Jack fruit. Or try the many varieties of bananas and mangoes. Sri Lankans love bananas and mangoes! Don’t forget to buy some spices for your Mum before you leave.
-2- The Scenic Beauty
Another reason to visit Kandy is its natural beauty. As well, its cooler climate is a welcome respite from searing temperatures around other parts of the island. Kandy is nestled in the hollow of a valley and is surrounded by rolling green foothills.
The city’s central point of interest is the large man made lake. Spend a couple of hours soaking in the atmosphere, walking around the lake or reading your guidebook on one of the lakeside benches. Try and ignore the noisy bedlam of three wheelers and buses 🙁 .
You can very often see monitor lizards and turtles sunning themselves on logs over the lake.
If you are traveling with family like I was, hire a boat from Joy boat services at the south east end of the lake. A leisurely motor around the lake will keep the kids entertained and will give you a chance to photograph Kandy from a different aspect.
A boat hire will cost you Rupees 2,500 (approx. AUD25) for 15 minutes around the lake and will include an informal commentary if you’re lucky.
Trinity College Open Air Chapel
Trinity College is a private boys school founded in 1872. It is a well regarded school nationally. Why am I telling you this? One of my favourite places in Kandy is the open air chapel at Trinity College.
The chapel has no walls. Fifty four granite pillars support the traditional Kandy style double pitched roof. If you want a quiet moment away from the crowds or if you want to photograph traditional indigenous architecture, make sure you visit. Sundays are best. Grab a pew, spend some moments in solitude, feel the gentle breeze on your skin, say a prayer and don’t leave without a closer look at the carvings and murals.
-3- A Gateway
Kandy is a gateway to other sightseeing attractions in Sri Lanka. Many points of interest are only a short distance from Kandy.
From Kandy, the highlands of Nuwaraeliya (literally “city of lights”) are 2.5 hours drive up country.
Whilst you are in the region, do also visit Horton Plains where you can sit at the edge of “Worlds End”.
The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage and the Knuckles Mountain Range are both approx. 1.5 hours drive from Kandy.
The Knuckles Mountain Range is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you enjoy trekking and camping, don’t miss this. I didn’t have time to check this out this time around but it’s definitely on my list when I return.
-3.25- Kumar’s Kade (pronounced “Ka Dey”)
Ok, so he may not be your big reason to visit Kandy but if you do make Kandy a part of your Sri Lankan itinerary, check him out.
You won’t find Kumar’s Kade in any guidebook you buy. But if you are looking for a delicious, cheap local eating experience, you can’t go past Kumar’s street Kade (literally “shop” in Singhalese). Very local and very authentic.
He sets up his food cart on Kotugodella Veediya (approx. 40m away and perpendicular to Dalada Veediya) daily from 7pm to 4 am.
I rocked up at 1am with some friends after a few too many cocktails at the Earls Regency Hotel and his freshly cooked Egg Gothamba Rotis were the Sri Lankan equivalent of a fat souvlaki. His deft fingers stretched and flipped the rolled up ball of oiled dough until it was transparently thin. He slapped it on a hot plate, beat an egg into the centre, neatly folded it into shape and voila…a perfect foil to a night of excesses.
Just a disclaimer…I am in no way affiliated to Kumar or receive royalties of any kind. Just a fan of his ingenuity.
Queen’s Hotel in Kandy, Sri Lanka
Travel & Photography Tips
- The best way to get to Kandy is by train from Colombo (the capital). Trains run throughout the day but take the Intercity trains which are an express service. Your journey will take 2.5 hours and cost approx. AUD15 one way for the premium air conditioned coach. Book early as tickets sell out fast.
- Intercity trains leave Colombo at 7am and 3.30pm daily. Return trains from Kandy to Colombo leave at 6.30am and 3pm daily. Aim to spend 3 days in Kandy. More if you want to explore the surrounding points of interest.
- In Kandy, three wheelers are plentiful and convenient. Drivers will inflate prices for foreigners so definitely negotiate a fair price before you start your travel. A chat to your hotel/rest-house hosts will give you an idea on what a reasonable rate is.
- If you want to travel like a local, hop on a bus for a tenth of the price and hold tight around the lake! Alternatively, if you want to work out all that rice and curry, Kandy is a great city to navigate by foot, if you are able.
- There are no issues with photography in the Temple of the Tooth Relic but please be respectful.
- Kandyans are generally happy to oblige any requests to photograph them.
- When taking photos around the lake, don’t climb the surrounding walls or you’ll get a stern word with the local police, like I did!
Suggested accommodations for Kandy
Some of the accommodations in Kandy are really majestic and unique, something to remember for the rest of the life.
The Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge is an amazing place based on luxury tents with a view to remember for many days to come, which makes Madulkelle a special lodge to visit, even for just an afternoon tea.
The Hanthana Holiday Rooms is a place you would call a home away from home. The breakfast can be based on local food or international taste. Clean, simple, very friendly staff and very economical too. It’s not at walking distance to Kandy but they can organise a tuk tuk for you
The Polwaththa Eco Lodges are another eco-friendly solution. You can experience Kandy from a different corner, a green corner, with lots of walks all around. Lovely staff, always available to help out
Above accommodations are suggested by MEL365.