Kandy Travel Guide
Kandy Sri Lanka – If you wish to watch a practical video on visiting Kandy, here is a link to my YouTube Channel (please subscribe to connect and keep up to date with video updates).
If you are coming from Colombo or Galle then you have the choice of either a train or bus. Simply head to either the Colombo Railway Station or the Central Bus Station and tell staff where you wish to go. (If coming directly from Colombo Airport, take the bus from out the front (to the left) of the airport to Colombo City Centre – bus #187).
As i chose rail as a means of transport around Sri Lanka, as i like hanging out the window, taking photos and videos, having space for my legs and fresh air.
The Colombo Railway Station is clearly set up with a ticketing area displaying big boards of the routes, destinations and prices.
Second Class is a good option if you wish to do as i do on a train. There are luggage racks above seating and a few vendors that board the train at times to sell bottled water and juices, as well as some un-identifiable fry snacks i was told was some sort of fish ball batter that was spicy with a small prawn indented to the top.
The train to Kandy took 3 hours 20 minutes (12:50 train). The trip was a little bumpy during the first hour. On the way back from Kandy to Colombo, taking an earlier train (10:30) was much more pleasant as it was not as hot.
It is important to arrive at the station early, as the train will often arrive early. This means, you can board the train and still find a seat. I would highly suggest bringing ample water, as well as hydrating fruit and snack foods. But make sure you don’t drink too much water and need to use the toilet on the train, trust me, you DO NOT want that to happen! And go to the toilet before arriving at the Railway Station!! (you will thank me later!).
For more information on rail travel in Sri Lanka, and world wide, check out seat61.com
Attractions & Experiences
Temple Of the Tooth
Firstly, you are not allowed to enter if you are showing your legs or shoulders. Males included. Most travellers who did not know about this and look for something suitable nearby to wear usually opt for a wrap around long tie skirt or of course the fish,an style elephant printed pants.
I decided this was an excellent opportunity to do as the local ladies do and wear a sari to the temple. I walked about 50 meters from the temple gates down a backstreet and found a shop selling saris with big signs saying “SARI 350”. Perfect. $AUD 3.50 and about 30 minutes later, i had chosen a dark blue sari and was fitted and ready to go.
After passing security and dress code check point entrance, you are met with a nice (yet hot) walk to the temple entrance.
Locals take off their shoes and leave them around the temple steps, however, their are signs stating foreigner visitors must leave their shoes at a shoe clock room and take a ticket to return once you have finished visiting the temple so you can claim your shoes back.
Just a warning, your feet will burn as you run from the shoe room to inside the temple (i have a welt turned blister on the bottom of my foot). Once inside, you will think your feet are safe, however, if you do choose to visit the small glass flame room, your feet will burn again unless you walk along the side of the grass which is roped off (i did so and no one seemed to care, many people actually followed suit.
Foreign visitors must also pay an entrance fee to enter, you will receive a ticket that needs to be shown once you reach the temple door. This fee is 1000LKR ($AUD 10).
The Temple of the Tooth is famous in Kandy for housing what is believed to be a real tooth having once belonged to Buddha. Whether you believe in such things or not is irrelevant as the temple itself is quite a nice experience. It is by no means exquisite or stunning in photographs, it is not. It is however, a good chance to observe locals praying, chanting with a string, and giving thanks with flowers.
Outside in the temple grounds there is also a candle burning room that is worth walking to. With glass walks, this place is filled with racks covered in individual flames lit by hundreds, maybe even thousands of people each day. The area looks over the temple grounds, giving you a good idea of what else is around in the complex and a good view of the city.
On exiting to the side of the temple, there is a quaint water fountain where locals wash their faces, hands and feet after their visit to the temple. I followed suit and washed my feet, as they feel so dirty after walking barefoot around the grounds.
I did not see a tooth however, i was not so disappointed that i missed it. The tooth, if you are interested, inside its casket, is available for viewing at ceremony times (reported to be around 6:30pm).
For more information on the temple, check out the official website: http://sridaladamaligawa.lk
Cultural Dance Performance
I am totally not the type of traveller who seeks out such performances aimed at foreign visitors, nor did i realise such thing existed in Kandy. I was walking around the lake and approached a crowd of foreigners listening to a local man informing that there was a cultural dance performed on Fridays only, and described a few of the performances.
He mentioned fire walking, fire dancing and cultural dances and since i had found the quality of attractions in terms of excitement in Kandy on the low side, i decided to attend. I followed the crowd of people to the Cultural Arts Hall (just behind the temple of the tooth).
Tickets were 1000LKR ($AUD 10) with the performance lasting 1 hour. As you entered you receive an information sheet about the various dances and traditional stories behind these.
The dances were very entertaining and costumes beautiful. There were 12 performances, seeing girls perform traditional dances, and males perform flips and twists and high speed local dances mixed with extreme moves to highlight various aspects of the story the dance was depicting.
At the conclusion of the dancing and fire performances, the crowd was ushered outside to watch fire walking. I was sitting in the front row and the use and splashing around of petrol on the fire and waving fire sticks made me nervous in my 5 metres of polyester material which formed my sari. Various men danced and walked across the fire pit, before closing the performance and wishing the crowd well. Optional donations were taken after the show.
For more detailed information about the Kandyan drumming and individual performances, read the Rough Guides informative entry on the performance, http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/
Visiting a temple and receiving blessing from monk
As i had previously done so in Colombo, i did not plan on seeking out such experience in Kandy. However, when visiting a temple along on the the inner city (village) streets, i was invited to a room by a monk and given a blessing. It was a very different experience compared to the blessing received in Colombo.
The monk gave me white and orange strings to hold in a pray like position in front of me. He then proceeded to chant while fanning me and putting the fan on my head, arms and string and chanting again. The whole chant lasted about 2 minutes however felt like it lasted a long time as it was a very different and unique experience for me.
I had only seen this type of chant briefly in the same temple as i walked past the room, before being invited in. After the monk finished chanting, he tied the strings i was holding around my wrist.
Kandy Lake is listed as the top attraction falling second in many guides to the Temple of the Tooth. This lake is a peaceful area, surrounded with mountains that give good opportunities for photographs at sunset. In terms of an actual attraction, i think it is a good landmark in terms of navigating to other attractions.
Central Market is an undercover market area with small concrete park area with trees above. Take the steps down to visit the various clothing vendors selling the typical elephant print pants, souvenir t-shirts and saris. There are also a few stores selling bags, suitcases, hair wear and various accessories. Stall holders here will over change you if you are foreign, to the point where prices are 4 times more than they are in Hong Kong – so be prepared to haggle.
The Garrson Cemetery can be found directly behind the temple of the tooth (outside of the temple grounds). The cemetery itself was established in 1817 just after the British capture of Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). Taking a close look at the 163 graves gives quite an interesting glimpse into life during the colonial times. Many of the graves belonged to very young people, often perishing in their 20’s. Of the many causes were sunstroke, elephants and jungle fever.
Local Wholesale fruit and veg market
This place is an experience. The ground floor is filled with fresh vegetables, spices, fruit and not so fresh fish vendors who shout out about what they are selling to attract customers. Locals meander around inspecting various goods and going about their daily lives. It is interesting to observe such a different type of produce shopping than you would experience at your local market or supermarket.
Not so much an attraction or even a shopping worthy mall. However, on the basement floor there is a supermarket and clean toilets with toilet paper. There are also some steps that everyone seems to take a rest on. A great thing after exploring the town for hours, as there are no public seats or toilets anywhere to be seen in Kandy.
Kandy is a small village, if you are staying within the city area then you are able to walk to all attractions within the city very easily. If you wish to visit such attractions outside of the city, such as Sigiriya Rock or the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, the you will need to seek alternate transport.
There are various tours available to take day trips to either of these mentioned attractions, as well as many more day trip experiences available.
No i do not support that – Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage.
I did not visit the Elephant Orphanage, although at first i had planned to. I decided to research a bit more about this in the hope it was a true orphanage for needy elephants to recover and grow. As someone who travels globally i believe there is an importance to also travel responsibly, support only what you support.
All reports and descriptions i found online stated this orphanage had developed and changed over the years to form basically a captive breeding of elephants for the sole purpose of tourism. Elephants are moved to bathing and feeding areas at certain times to cater for tourism. Overnight, elephants are chained up.
Accommodation in Kandy Sri Lanka
I wanted to stay somewhere that was walking distance to the main attractions and city streets, as at this stage of my trip in Sri Lanka (and i am sure many can relate from travels in Asia) i had had enough of tuk tuk drivers. I chose to stay at Clock Inn Kandy, which was in Hill Street in the city. From here it was a short 1 minute walk to the markets, temples, lake and shopping streets.
Clock Inn Kandy Sri Lanka, has dorm rooms and capsule style accommodation, as well as private rooms – really catering to all budgets and travel styles. They also offered a range of tours such as attractions and adventure activities such as kayaking. The building, rooms and fittings were all brand new, they provided breakfast, a water dispenser and microwave, as well as shared lounge room and outdoor seating area.
As always, i hope this article has been both helpful and maybe inspires you to consider travelling in Sri Lanka. For information on visa requirements for travelling in Sri Lanka, head to the Government Immigration Website, https://eta.gov.lk/etaslvisa/etaNavServ, where you can apply for an E-Visa online. This is what i did, there is then no need to print out anything, as the information is stored electronically. Arriving in Colombo, i simply showed immigration staff my passport and i was on my way.
If you have any questions on visiting Kandy Sri Lanka, feel free to ask 🙂