to the heart of ceylon
There is no LCC direct flight from Manila to Colombo, the only and cheapest possible way is to scour the web for seat sale that will fit our flight connection puzzle and compete with other people booking online deals for their last minute holidays. It wasn’t easy, it took us a dusk to dawn skype session to connect the dots and come up with a transit plan that is perfect for the budget.
Manila-Singapore, 3 1/2 hours
Singapore Layover, 8 hours
Monette, arrived mid day in Changi Airport while I was still at work absorbing patients’ endless whining. Monette didn’t wait any further and headed straight to Bugis Junction for her seasonal dose of I <3 Taimei’s Tofu Fries! She says it’s orgasmic! But I don’t want to know what she’s been doing with those tofu sticks when I’m not looking!
Singapore-Kuala Lumpur, 1 hour
… and I swear, we wished it was shorter. We boarded almost midnight and the whole afternoon of non-stop catching-up took a toll on our mortal bodies, I have already taken out my head-buff to cover my face for a power nap on that quick flight. We settled, stuck our earplugs and reclined our seats after the aircraft’s steep ascend. Then POOF! We looked at each other with a given understanding of the dilemma that we are about to endure in the next hour. Somewhere in the airbus, someone/something is stinking profusely like a rotten shallot. We’re not really sure if somebody threw-up some nasty half-spoiled dinner but whoever/whatever it is, the olfactory assault made us consider suicide by jumping off the plane.
Kuala Lumpur Layover, 6 hours
KLIA LCCT is horrifying, perhaps not the happiest place to get stranded. But it is definitely a good training ground for backpacking newbies. Lesson number 1 is figuring out where and how to sleep! In fact this is the same airport where we first got acquainted with the ‘art’ three years ago en route to Siem Reap. Piece of cake!
Kuala Lumpur to Colombo, 4 hours
We queued up half asleep to the check-in counters and we realized that other than a French couple, a bunch of boy band-looking Korean kids, we were the only non Sri Lankan passenger in the flight. Given that census, we were baffled and worried why there were not a lot of foreign tourist going to the capital and the only flight hub in the country. There’s nothing else to do but to wait and see.
Flying thousandths of meters above the Indian ocean, I found an amusing pastime of reducing Monette into a squirming squeaking noise-making machine by simply pointing out and counting passengers with ear hair. Yes, the gremlin inspired ear hair fashion is still terrorizing mankind in this modern day and age.
It is a given fact that Philippines and Sri Lanka got a diplomatic agreement and Filipino citizens can enter Sri Lanka for 30 days. But if you are freakishly anal about pre-trip preparations, pre-approved visa can be obtained at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Manila. Monette applied and after several chikahan sessions with the Consul and PhP 1,900, entry guaranteed. With that documentary stamp-looking visa pasted in her passport, she passed through the immigration counter with no hassle, easy-breezy-beautiful.
In my case, I opted not to apply for one and trusted my Pinoy diplomatic right. After Monette’s PhP 1,900 worth of graceful entry, I walked straight to the immigration counter and handed over my passport, the immigration officer looked at my picture, then looked at me, stamped a leaf and handed back my passport.
Immigration officer: “Welcome to Sri Lanka!”
Bandaranaike International Airport (also known as Katunayake International Airport, Colombo International Airport or CMB) is not in Colombo at all, it is in the city of Negombo an hour to two hours away from the capital city, travel time is highly dependent on the traffic situation and the driver’s death wish.
Just like anywhere else in the world, tourists are most likely the easiest target of the big network of ripping-off biz. Upon stepping out of the arrival gate, taxi drivers will start hawking you and offering a ride to the inter provincial terminal in the tune of LKR 2,500 (PhP 1,000 = USD 25). It is just ridiculous because there is a free shuttle service that actually goes back and forth the airport and the bus terminal.
FLIP TIP: Once you are out of the terminal building, turn to your left, wear a big “I’m a rockstar” sunglasses, hold your chin up, and walk as fast as you can passing through a crowd of hawking taxi drivers. Continue walking with a superstar swagger and avoid a paparazzi ambush. You will see an ordinary bus parked by the curbside filling-up passengers. Thats your LKR 2,500 rescued! cha-ching! cha-ching!
Negombo to Kandy, 4 hours
We bypassed Colombo and decided to go straight to the ancient capital of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. Onboard the red rickety government bus to Kandy, we held on to dear life as we were taught the first lesson on backpacking in Sri Lanka: That there are things that are nonexistent in this part of the world, namely air-conditioned buses, traffic rules and concepts like two way road, beware of blind curve, pedestrians first, the right of way and no swerving. It was a 3 to 4 hours of amusing, poop-suspending, death-defying bus ride to our first destination.
Being the only tourist in the bus, we were the visual beguilement to the local passengers. It could be our out-of-place fashion sense, huge backpacks and vague ethnicity that may have tickled the curiosities of some Sri Lankans. An old lady actually went out of her way to approach us and touch our arms to make sure we are human being.
The exhaustion of the 24 hours of continuous moving in transit, plus the extra kilo of dust, sweat and grimes covering our earthly bodies, we gave up and quit the Dora the Explorer enthusiasm. We took the first tuktuk that we saw and said ‘yes’ with the USD 5 fare to our home for the next several days.
Upon entering Theva Residency, the past 24 hour whirlwind stopped. Peace and serenity enveloped us as the mystifying silence of the slopes and valley made us remember why we wanted to go here in the first place…
Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma, Pearl of the Indian Ocean… So, we finally meet!