Galle, Sri Lanka
My family travelled to Sri Lanka & this site tells our first hand experiences.
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A Day trip to Galle, Sri Lanka
Travelling to Galle
Our days in the villa in Kathaluwa near Galle were relaxing and magical. Having travelled extensively in Sri Lanka over the previous seven days we had no strong motivation to break the relaxing spell of the Indian Ocean lapping against the villa wall. Apart from our trip to the pre-school across the road we only stepped out of our villa a couple of times, the most memorable was to visit Galle.
Galle is a small but important town on the southern tip of Sri Lanka and to me it was famous for one thing - cricket. Sri Lanka is cricket mad and Galle is one of the places where the national team play. However it is also a bustling town with historic buildings such as the dutch fort. We therefore decided to take a quick trip to see the sights but for the first time on our trip, things didn't go to plan!
Travelling by Train in Sri Lanka
Our driver and guide who had shepherded us around the island had gone back to his family and this was an impromptu visit so we walked across to the tiny little railway station of Kathaluwa about 400m from the villa. It was very basic but charming none the less. Our chef came with us and helped us buy the tickets.
We had been so closetted from real life in Sri Lanka that this trip was a reminder of the depth of poverty in the country. If you want to visit Sri Lanka and be blind to the poverty you certainly can be. Like us you can be driven from luxury hotel to luxury hotel and see little other than luxury but a few run down buildings as you drive by. However here we experienced real people.
As we waited for the train, an old man, from what I could see probably in his seventies came over to us. He spoke no English but his intention was clear. He held out his hand and spoke rapidly in Sinhala - he was after a donation! His clothes were dirty and he had few teeth. He seemed insistent but not threatening. We gave him a handful of coins and he left, seemingly happy.
The train pulled into the station and it was like travelling back in time. The carriage that we climbed into was like an old, rundown third class train. In the ceiling there were wires for a light but not fitting or bulb. We travelled along with a large number of Sri Lankans, many staring quite openly at us although none threatening in any way. We passed for the first time behind many of the buildings we'd seen from the front and witnessed the small, open buildings that passed for many as homes. Almost everything we saw was run down and it gave us a huge talking point with the children later that evening.
Arriving in Galle
Despite the state of the train, we arrived at Galle and were greeted on the platform by a friendly railway official. He seemed surprised to see us and quickly took us under his wing. He was at pains to remind us that we be careful. He told as that we'd be safe in Galle but that we should keep our possessions under close watch. He proceeded to tell us of another European family who had lost the camera, purses and all their valuables just the other week. He advised us to get a tuk tuk and be careful as we travelled.
We certainly appreciated the warning although we had already taken care to keep our valuables to a minimum. The official walked us through the barriers and over to a line of tuk tuks. Introduced us to a driver and explained how the charging system works.
The tuk tuk scam
Now I've never said that this website is a guide - its not - but if you've read guides they will warn you about a scam with tuk tuk drivers over charging once you arrive at your destination. I was all prepared for this but was then suddenly taken by surprise when our official explained the "new system".
Instead of agreeing a price, all tuk tuks from the station are fitted with a meter. The offical wrote down the reading on the meter and explained there was a fixed price per unit so that all we needed to do is to check the meter at the end and the price would be simply calculated. This caught me off guard - it sounded perfect. Sitting back and relaxing we asked the driver to take us to the dutch fort - this is where a different scam began but we didn't know it yet!
The driver smiled, very friendly and said the fort isn't open yet. But I can show you around first if you like? Sounds great - off we go. However he then proceeds to take us on a very long journey, passed the Muslim quarter, stopping off for coconuts, over an area of land than at night is filled with crocodiles and all the way to a Buddhist temple complex. We get out look around and eventually get back in the tuk tuk (all five of us are squashed in together as we didn't want to be separated). He then starts explaining all the other places he will now take us.
It has now dawned on me what the scam is - I hesitate to really call this a scam because the driver was very friendly and informative, quite a good guide infact. However it was now obvious that he was going to keep us in his tuk tuk as long as possible to drive up the number of units (I later found the Buddhist complex on the map and found that the driver had driven us almost back to our villa!). We changed tack and insisted (we had to do it several times!) that we go to the Lighthouse Hotel as it was getting passed time for lunch and the children were hungary. My advice for others - be really clear where you want to go!
The Lighthouse Hotel in Galle
If we hadn't found South Point Villa we would probably have stayed at the Lighthouse Hotel and so we were interested to see what it was like. Slightly out of town, the hotel is the height of luxury. The small line of boutiques outside the hotel was perfect for a little shopping and the openair restaurant looked our right out over the Indian Ocean. It couldn't compete with the small luxury of the villa but it was nevertheless a very nice hotel.
Our tuk tuk driver offered to stay and wait for us and we got a small revenge on his scam but taking our time over lunch. Eventually we woke him from his slumber and decided to call it a day. Rather than return to the train, we took the tuk tuk right back to the villa!