For no apparent reason, some places don’t attract, don’t stimulate, drain our energy… yet nothing rationally seems negative there. Kandy is one of those places that has everything to be enjoyable: a central lake, densely vegetated slopes, a lively city center in terms of commerce, authentic local life, many historical sites, heritage… but still the stay in Kandy left a set of negative sensations.
From this negative image saved up the lake that provides more or less pleasant walks, if you are able to ignore the noise of the traffic and the continuously beeping that comes from the road that surrounds the lake, and the colors that dye the landscape after sunset.
Kandy is reputed to be the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, but a visit a few days revealed no significant cultural events despite being evident the presence of British colonialism in public buildings and houses converted into sophisticated hotels and shopping areas. However Kandy keeps its importance on the national scene for being the capital of one of the greatest kingdoms that ruled Sri Lanka, having resisted for a long time the attacks of the invaders: first the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch and culminating with the British who only left the territory in 1948.
But what stands out in Kandy is the religion, as this is considered one of the sacred places of Sri Lanka for the Buddhist religion, as it is here that is kept the famous relic of Buddha, a tooth saved in the cremation process and that through many ventures were brought to the island and stored in so-called Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, in the heart of the city near the Kandy Lake.
Despite the proximity to neighboring India, the dominant religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism followed by 70% of the population; seconded by Hinduism with 8%, Muslim with 7%, and the remainder population divided by the various currents of Christianity left by the Portuguese, Dutch and British presence.
Kandy with its location in the middle of the hill where the low altitude provides a mild climate that contrasts with the constant high temperatures of the capital, Colombo, situated only 115 kilometers away. Even the winters are not too cold compared to other parts of the “Hill Country”, a name given to the mountain area that occupies the center of the island.
Since the city’s main attraction is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, whose entry for foreigners cost 1500 LKR ($ 10) that makes it out the itinerary “backpacker”, remaining the walks through city streets, watching the trading goods bustle, visit the fresh food market, the observation of the local way of life.
Time for tasting delicious Sri Lanka snacks, the rotis, samosas, vadai, parippuvada, etc… most of them deep fry stuff, that are eaten at breakfast, between meals or even as a meal itself. A cheap and very popular food that is easily found everywhere, both as street vendors, in restaurants or cafes… and Kandy proved to have the best quality and supply.
Where to stay in Kandy:
Kandy has many options in terms of accommodation. In the center of the city within 2 kilometers radius from the Clock Tower Bus Terminal, there are few hostels with dorms, starting from 900 LKR. Moreover, in the center, the other accommodations are top range hotels and boutique hotel with the exception of Olde Empire, which charges too much for the conditions offered.
The best option is the homestays with most of them located on the south side of the lake, along the Saranankara Road, with prices vary greatly according to the rooms and the fact of whether or not a view of the lake, but where can be found a double room for 1000 LKR. They have the disadvantage of being a bit away from the center of Kandy, around 10 minutes walk, or more if situated on the top of the hill. To stay in a homestay, it is appropriate to make a reservation during peak season, as these places usually don’t have more than three or four rooms.
Pink House (homestay)
Address: 15 Saranankara Road, South Lake Kandy, 20000 Kandy
Phone: +94 77 961 8552
Good location at the beginning of the hill from the south side of the lake, not far from the road but far enough to save you from traffic and horns noise. From the bus terminal (Goods Shed Bus Terminal) as from the Train Station is a walking distance, but buses run on the main road and the ticket costs 8 LKR. To get to the town center, the nearest place with restaurants, ATMs and shops do not take more than 10 minutes on foot, a journey made along the lake.
The atmosphere is familiar in a relax and friendly atmosphere, ideal for those who like to participate in everyday family and learn more about the local way of life.
The rooms vary in size and comfort, but they are all with shared bathroom. The rooms at the entrance of the house are the nicest, whereas those located on the back of the house, after the courtyard, are small and uncomfortable. Meals can be provided if ordered in advance to the owner.
Double room: 1200 LKR
Shared toilet; hot water shower.
wi-fi available but extremely slow.
Olde Empire Hotel
Address: 21 Temple St, 20000 Kandy
Phone: +94 77 632 1867
Great location in the city center, opposite the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. However quite noisy due to proximity to one of the main avenues of the city.
The best rooms are located on the top floor, some overlooking the entrance to the temple, keeping the old colonial style given by the heavy furniture and the wooden floors where stands the smell of wax. The room located on the ground floor have no windows, but some holes on the wall near the ceiling, eliminating any chance of privacy between rooms as well as allow the mosquito entry, the cold of the nights (in December and January the nights are still chill in Kandy) and street noise, voices, engines, tuk-tuks, beeps…
The staff is not friendly at all and far from be useful in terms of information.
Double Room (upstairs): 3000 (attached toilet)
Double room (upstairs): 1800 (shared toilet)
Double room (ground floor): 2000 (attached toilet)
No hot shower, in any room or shared bathroom.
Please note: some rooms have bed-bugs, but during the stay (January 2016) a big cleaning with replacement mattresses was taking place.
Where to eat in Kandy
Also, in terms of restaurants Kandy offers many options, from fine dining, international chains of fast food, indian food as also of local restaurants with a menu to suit all budgets. Given the influence of Buddhism as well as Hinduism is very easy to find vegetarian food.
By the newness and the atmosphere the highlight goes to Kandy Muslim Hotel (in Sri Lanka as well as in South India the word “hotel” refers to simple, unpretentious and cheap restaurants), where you can find throughout the day the popular roti in their many variants with different shapes and fillings and the not less popular kottu, whose preparation is always shrouded in a lot of noise with the cook offering a small show.
As the name indicates the place is run by Muslims with a long beard and joyful attitude, which together with the patina and restaurant decor create a good atmosphere, accompanying appetizing dishes, which are not recommended to one sensitive to spicy or not comfortable with “oily” food!
Kandy Muslim Hotel
Address: Dalada Vidiya (in central Kandy within walking distance of Clock Tower)
Great for rotis and kottus, but where you can also find other meals such as fried rice, curries, lentils, vegetables… and meat or this were not a Muslim restaurant!
Popular between locals, informal, cheap but noisy.
Devon Restaurant & Bakery
Address: 11, Dalada Vidiya (in central Kandy within walking distance of Clock Tower and opposite the Muslim Hotel)
The restaurant is on the first floor, but the best is located at street level where is a cafe selling delicious snacks (vegetarian, with meat or fish). In the morning, people line up for take-away. As it open at 6 a.m. is a good option to supply food for those long bus or train journeys that are part of the Sri Lanka traveling experience.
The stay in Kandy also provided time to savor several variations of the popular rice and curry, which can be considered the national dish of Sri Lanka, and is served in all restaurants, whatever the category.
As the name implies this is rice accompanied by one, two or more varieties of curry, pol sambol in (a spicy flavor based on coconut oil) or gotukola sambol (one crude mixture of a green leaf vegetable with coconut and chili).
Served in the morning as breakfast, the rice and curry is more popular as lunch, but rarely find at dinner time in the restaurants.
Transportation in Kandy:
Kandy is served by rail, a direct connection with Columbo and halfway to the call Hill Country. Despite the short distance from the capital to Kandy, the train journey takes over 4 hours. The alternative is the “normal” buses, that depending on traffic may even take even longer. From Columbo-Fort departing bus with a/c that makes fewer stops along the way and takes between 3.5 to 4 hours.
There are 3 bus terminals in Kandy, all located in the city center and near the train station. The “Goods Shed Bus Terminal” and the terminal of private buses (Private Bus Terminal) work for long-distance services. The bus station 500 meters further north, near the Clock Tower – Clock Tower Bus Stop – is intended for urban service.
From both bus terminals as from the railway station is relatively easy to reach the city center on foot. As you reach the lakeside, you’ll have on your left the busiest area of Kandy, or you can walk to the right side to access the hill where are located most of the homestays and guest houses.
Altitude: 500 m