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Originally this was to be a ride in Oman. To get there I noted that I could do so cheaply via Sri Lanka so the idea to ride there on the way formed. The Oman ride unfortunately could not proceed. The one and only motorcycle rental option closed down. I tried very hard to find a bike but nothing. I regret not going there sooner but decided to do the small ride in Sri Lanka I had mapped out still.
From Laos I flew to Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia, one of my least preferred airlines but being a ‘cheap charlie’ I keep coming back for more haha. I like KL, I think it is under rated as is Malaysia which is still affordable and not too touristy like its neighbor to the north. I really want to ride Malaysia again but cannot find any affordable motorcycle rental. (if you know of something then please message me)
I stayed at what might be my first McDonald’s hotel. Actually very good hotel, modern comfy room, nice price.
After a short visit I flew on to to Colombo, Sri Lanka again with Air Asia, it cost about $100. Rather than stay in Colombo which is 50km from the rental shop I stayed in Negombo. This turned out to be a beach tourist trap area with grossly inflated prices thanks to a number of mega upmarket resort hotels which seemed to be popular with the predominantly older German and Russian travelers on the streets.
But it is the home of Sha Lanka motorcycle rental so it suited me to stay there.I arranged a Honda Baja 250 at $22US a day. Older bike but a proven model and I think will suit the roads here better than a road bias model. I also arranged for a Sri Lanka driving permit to be obtained in advance for me by Sha Lanka and this cost $50. Technically you are required to have this locally issued document to drive in Sri Lanka but in reality most people will not bother with it. I did for insurance reasons. In case of some accident I don’t want my travel insurance to find a loop hole.I had read that Sri Lankan roads were dangerous but leaving Negombo they seemed no different to roads in SE Asia.
Cows wandering freely and 100’s of stray dogs were my main focus but I had chosen small back roads as a start. Perhaps too minor as the road turned to dirt for about 20km but I was in no hurry with only modest distance to cover today. Elephant in a truck is something you don’t see on a ride everyday.
Back on the main road towns look similar somewhat to those in Philippines except with tuk tuks instead of trikes. Traffic congestion in towns like a child emptied his box of toy cars and they ended up pointing in every direction, but not too hard to negotiate. However the open road was dangerous, and I don’t say that lightly since I am used to crazy stuff in India, Philippines and Indonesia (which easy beat out Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan). The Sri Lankan public buses just take things to a new level of madness. They travel really fast and pull out to pass everything anywhere never pausing. Like the bus in the movie Speed. Forcing oncoming vehicles to take evasive action as well as making the vehicles being passed to slam on brakes to avoid being side swiped.
Now imagine these are every few minutes operating in both directions with 100’s of tuk tuks weaving randomly all over the roads as well as cars driving at breakneck speed in wrong lane flashing their lights until a bus plays chicken and they lose and lock up brakes in a cloud of smoke to avoid impact by inches. But I’m still not painting the real picture, there was just so much going on, if I looked away for even a moment something was about to kill me. It was like playing a PlayStation game – but you won’t bounce off things and keep going here.
The two most common things on the road. Old Leyland buses and tuk tuks.
What this teaches however is really valuable. Knowing that everything else on the road will kill you makes you realise how foolish the idea of even slightly thinking wearing high vis or headlights on will help you in the west and I dare say it has made me a far better rider in some ways.
My Tatanka bag that was damaged in Laos lives to ride again on the backseat. So glad as it is just the right size to motorcycle tour.I was following the rail line for a part of my ride and seeing the old passenger trains running was interesting. I like trains a lot, but to travel and see a place two wheels is best.
Riding you are much more aware of your surroundings, you need to be for survival and people have empathy for you and will try chat to you not to mention total freedom to stop and go as you wish. The riding became easier later when I turned off main roads and rode a less direct route into Kandy.
I stopped at small town having spotted a bakery and had a late lunch, 125 rupees with a large drink. Same in tourist trap Negombo 1000 rupees. I was stopped by police out of town, upon raising my visor the officer asked where are you from and hearing Australia replied ah I like your country! you like cricket? me: yes of course, ok then well enjoy your stay and waved me on immediately past everyone, no checks of licence or anything. Being part of the Commonwealth has it’s benefits.
I did a walking tour of Kandy, a busy city and not being interested in temples or religious stuff I just wanted a quiet coffee shop or bar to people watch but could not find such. There are many fruit juice bars. I had a fresh juice of unknown type being curious and watched the produce sellers in the street awhile.
I met a couple of Sri Lankan guys also tourists there themselves and we chatted at length and they invited me to come to a small drinking party with them but I declined. Despite being a intrepid motorcycle traveler, in recent years I sometimes feel anxiety when invited to speak with others be it a group or even just one on one. I don’t understand why as I am not shy or unconfident. Another thing about getting old perhaps, but doing so beats the alternative right. Overlooking Kandy from town lookout.
Leaving Kandy the next morning I hit peak hour and it was an intense riding experience. Gridlock, the only way to not drown in a sauna of perspiration and diesel fumes was to pull into the wrong lane and ride straight at the oncoming traffic pulling back in beside a car at last second leaving the smallest of space and repeat a few cars burst at a time. Who needs espresso coffee when you can get this sort of rush instead.
However once free of the city traffic lessened and the ride became a winding mountain road for the rest of the day. Around any corner could be a bus in your lane being driven by a finalist in tv’s Worlds Worst Drivers but they thinned out and the scenery became quite pleasant. Many waterfalls along the way on either side.A nice scenic ride. Modest mileage again which suits here.
I had such a huge breakfast that I ate just a couple of banana’s for lunch. The afternoon saw me riding some excellent roads.
The town of Ella was not what I expected. On the net it looks like sleepy village but actually it is super touristy full of backpackers and expensive restaurants serving very poor food indeed. I heard mostly German being spoken around me, few Chinese travelers here which is odd as they make up the overwhelming majority of tourists everywhere now. I went to the old train station to get away from everyone until the sun had set.
On the walk back I found a kind of off licence alcohol shop but you could also sit and drink there and at half the price of a restaurant so I had a couple beers and met a nice couple from Poland/Germany and then a nice Sri Lankan guy and we ended up drinking together the rest of the night. I guess that is the flip side to being in a tourist place. Great night.
A late start next day but not a long ride planned. Today I was going to ride through the tea plantations and visit Lipton’s Seat, a viewpoint Sir Thomas Lipton used to sit and overlook the tea empire he had helped to build. I rode there via some less used roads that took me right through the working tea plantation. But first I had to deal with only having a very large 5000 rupee note on me. There was a gate with a 30 rupee toll to enter the plantation on my route and I had to backtrack to the last town to find a bank to break the note for me.
But this worked out well as next door was a street food type stall and I had a early light lunch of some deep fried items like Samosa and got some water both of which set me up for the ride ahead.Inside the plantation there is another world with it’s own schools and churches and turn of the century bungalows for managers and this is repeated as the plantation goes on up the mountain for 20-30km of tea. Then it continues over the whole high mountain area.It is beautiful and the scale is hard to convey.
Eventually I reach the view point. There is modest 150 rupee fee, good thing I had the change here as long way to go back.Alas the view is obscured by cloud but it was nice journey to sit here with the Scot. Only a couple other people who came via a very bumpy tuk tuk ride.And a great thing was I met a fellow rider here from Netherlands riding same model bike from Sha Lanka rentals.He was riding here for a month with no drivers licence at all haha, hope he evades the police checks and has a safe ride. Try a Aussie accent mate
My route today was a loop of sorts. The GPS did not have the roads inside the plantation so I was at a bit of a loss leaving how to ride south but eventually found my way there through the clouds.
I made my way down to visit the Adisham Bungalow monastery but upon arrival it is only open for visitors on weekends. Oh well the roads were really good.It was a good day exploring and chatting with a fellow rider.
I was not unhappy to be leaving Ella. The food again last night was terrible, prepared by people with no knowledge on how to cook. Laundry lady ripped me off. The hotel was a bait and switch broken down place. You get this in tourist trap towns around the world and unfortunately it can easy tarnish an opinion of a country so when the gas station attendant would not give me my change I started todays ride with a less than positive mindset.
But then everything turned itself around. The road was a long gentle descent, well surveyed comprising of nearly all sweeping corners of a great radius for riding. It was a wonderful ride for 2 1/2 hours non stop like this with only light traffic. As good as riding gets really. Small aftermarket speedometer fitted to my bike. Not that it is needed. No fuel light but a reserve tap which took me back. Fuel checks were old school, remove the cap and shake the bike to see. The view out of the mountains was obscured by haze. There are endless small fires burning rubbish like in the Philippines or Indonesia. People in my home town think banning plastic bags will save the planet but in countries with no rubbish collection it is all burnt and gives you a different perspective on what needs to be done. We are all on one small planet but that seems lost on some.
I stopped in a large town at a pizza hut restaurant. Simply because I reached a traffic jam and it was next to me with spot to park. By sheer chance I happened to be there but experienced one of the best moments of the ride. After my meal a group of women arrived and a foreigner in a regional town is uncommon sight so people are surprised and I always smile and try say hello. To my delight today a beautiful girl bravely got up and came over to ask me about my travels in Sri Lanka. It was a special moment to chat with her and one that lifted my spirits for the rest of the day.
It made me also think not of the negative in Ella but of how away from there everyone has been so friendly. School children wave as I ride past. Stopping for people at pedestrian crossing they often look at me and I say hello and they then smile or women giggle and say hello back. Meals at the road side places are so cheap, 10 rupee each for fried items and everyone wants to talk to me and nobody overcharged me despite the price so low that I felt guilty. The people of Sri Lanka actually were really wonderful. It was a long ride today. I just made it to the bike shop at 5.00pm despite not many stops.
I really have only seen and experienced such a tiny amount of Sri Lanka. I prefer to take a small peek somewhere rather than commit to a huge trip like many seem to do since I am not sure if I will enjoy a place because I go to ride and having travelled so much am no longer interested in things most travelers are. There are many mountains to the north and now I know a little about the place like where to rent a bike and how things work I feel I could look at doing a longer ride in the future sometime to less touristy places which I think would make a terrific adventure. As always thanks for reading.
I didn't know Macca's were branching out into accommodation, what next?
I was only looking at Sri Lanka the other day on google maps with a work colleague and looking at some of those roads you went on thinking that it looks like some nice twisty roads to ride then you put this up, and from all the pics it looks like a nice place to tour.
Did the tea plantations have a peculiar smell at all? It looks beautiful and green. Nice pics.
Another great post Warren.
The Road to Nowhere
The tea plants did not have any bouquet that I detected but perhaps when being picked they might Steve.
It’s well worth adding to your list, lovely people once away from the tourist places but don’t underestimate the riding challenge. It combines all the SE Asia dangerous road behavior.
Wow. Such lush scenery and friendly people must make the dangerous driving conditions worth it.
It always makes me shake my head that here in the USA we have the widest roads in the world and such a high accident rate and in other countries where driving is more dangerous they don't. I think folks here are too complacent and distracted and don't give driving the attention it needs.
Great read. And I had no idea that McDonald's even had hotels but the tea plantation piqued my interest.
Thanks Brandy it sure sharpened my focus on what was going on around me riding there and supports the argument that many rider accidents might be avoided in the West with a different approach.
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