Kandy might be Sri Lanka’s most interesting city. Located around a lake in the center of the country it is one of the most sacred places in the Buddhist world. Great food, comfortable climate and fun activities make it a must on every Sri Lanka trip.
You should stay at least 2 full days in the city to get the most out of your visit. With day trips to Sigiriya for example make it 3. The best way to get around the city is by tuk-tuk. A ride is usually around 200-300 Rupees, 400 is you are going a bit further and for 1500 Rupees the driver will chauffeur you around all day and wait at the places for you. But sometimes many one way streets and lots of traffic make it faster to simply walk.
The first night we stayed in the ‘MLSC City View Hostel’ right in the center. The hostel was almost completely empty and so we had the 12-bed room all for ourselves. It is unfortunately quite loud right in the center so we moved to the ‘Lodge in 611’ Hotel. It sits on the other side of the lake and comes with nice rooms and peaceful nights.
So now here it comes. The Top 10 of Kandy’s highlights
1. Walk around the lake
The lake in Kandy is the center of the whole city. Walking around it will give you a great feel for the different vibes there are. Starting in downtown with all its business you can walk past the Temple of the Tooth and enjoy the view. Watch the water, too, as there are many fish, ducks, big iguanas and even turtles swimming around. From the temple side looking you will see big white Buddha on the other side’s mountain range. Make a whole circle around the lake to end up in the busy area again.
2. Temple of the Tooth and the World Buddhist Museum
This is the place to be. Thousands of tourists and even more pilgrims from around the world come for simply this. Legend has it that inside a golden box inside the temple behind many doors lies the left tooth of Siddhartha Gautama, who later became Buddha. All the money the visitors brought paid for a absolutely beautiful temple. In fact, the whole ground is worth some hours of wandering around and relaxing. From the main gate walk towards the big buildings and make sure the knees are covered. Smart vendors sell Sarongs for 4$ at the entrance gates so don’t worry if you wear shorts. The entrance fee is 1500 Rupees, but it also gives you access to the museum. Some guards will also let you use the ticket the next day, if you missed the museum the day before like us.
The highlight is however the daily ceremony at 6pm where the doors the Golden Box are open and visitors can get close to it while bringing some kind of donation. Most people bring flowers and the whole floors is covered in all kinds of colorful petals. Drummers and a flute man are playing before and during the crowds are allowed in. The whole atmosphere was really captivating, especially the gardens outside where the music is only a gentle background to the sunset over a brilliant architecture.
3. The Big Buddha – Bahiravokanda Vihara
Around 300 Rupees away by tuk-tuk this massive Buddha sits on the highest peak Kandy has to offer. The views over the city are pretty stunning and even when we went during the rain it was worth the long trip up. There is also a small monastery up there with some monks. We found them all quite friendly and as usual in Sri Lanka it is very easy to strike up a conversation. If you’re feeling active, you can also walk up from Kandy and then roll back down with burning legs. The hike should take you an hour.
4. The Amazing Food
Just like people travel to Japan for the amazing food, Sri Lanka has really surprised me. In all my travels I have seen just a handful of places that offer such a delicious variety in what gets put on the table. Kandy is no exception so here is the number one restaurant in the city,
Balaji Deosai! Don’t try anything else, they have different meals for many days and it was the only place we went to. There is Thali, a dish with rice, some bread and 5 different curry dishes to dip it all in. Then the Poori adds potatoes to the curry including more oven warm cardamon bread. And what this place is famous for are the Dosas. Huge portions for not more than 2$ make this the perfect place to eat at, just 2 minutes walking distance from the temple.
Then there is this funky little hot dog place next to our first hostel. You’ll get freshly made smoothies and they grill the chicken for the best sandwich called Teriyaki Chicken Kandy Burger right in front of your eyes. Go up the stairs for a cozy lounge area.
5. The Market
The big market in the city offers all from fish to T-shirts, from fresh fruits to Computers. Lots of cheap gems can be found here and it will definitely give you the feeling of being where the locals are. Very close to downtown the walk there is an easy one and will bring you also past the ancient clock tower. All along the way there are various bakeries and the pastries were not bad. And a bit further behind the market you’ll find the train station where you can book your next scenic ride across the country.
6. The Royal Botanical Garden
We came here in during a heavy rain but somehow that just made it a whole lot better. All the plants and trees looked so fresh and the the feeling was very tropical. They even have small jungle and I just love jungles. The garden is not exactly in Kandy but almost 7 km away in nearby Peradeniya.
But I highly recommend the visit as they have it all. Cannonball trees planted by long dead British monarchs, a suspension bridge, a Giant Java Fig trees and just all the tropical plants you can think of. Again, the entrance fee is 1500 Rupees and dinner for 1$ sounds like a good plan.
7. Udawattakele Forest Reserve
Fully surrounded by Kandy and its suburbs, there is pretty complete jungle right behind the Temple of the Tooth. Foreigners pay 600 Rupees to enter and then there a many hike trails to explore. Cobras, Flying Foxes, Monkeys and many night active mammals live in the forest and make this a welcome break from the cities loud activities. In fact I found Kandy to be not a very peaceful city so the Botanical Garden and this jungle were one of my personal highlights.
8. Meditation in the Thapowana Ramaya Temple
A few minutes walk into the Udawattakele Forest past groups of macaques and you’ll see this hidden temple in the jungle. Walk up the few steps and remove your shoes before entering the neatly cleaned temple area, that is outside and inside. On our visit various monks were working in the garden and also some civilians. We met Somaji , a 90 year old monk who had a very pleasant talk with us about the temple and meditation. Apparently it is possible to come to the temple at 6 am in the morning and watch, or even participate if you like, the monks meditating. We had unfortunately no time to try this out but if this interests you, go and find a friendly monk and ask if you could come the next day to join. I’d love to hear if it actually works so let me know.
9. Day Trip to Sigiriya
One of the most photographed places in all of Sri Lanka is surely Sigiriya. Not in Kandy but 3 hours away by bus it is a huge rock sitting in the middle of plain jungle fields. The cheapest way is to take a bus to Dambulla for 2$ and then a tuk-tuk to the rock. By taxi the ride will only be 2 hours but cost you there and back roughly 40$.
On top of the rock and after you managed a not too tough hike up among hundreds of others you will the ruins of a king’s castle. There used be a monastery but the king had asked the monks to swap places and offered to built them a new temple on the nearby Pidurangala rock. Lotus lakes and a great views await the visitors who are willing to pay the 35$ for Sigiriya. Pidurangala is the cheaper option as the fee is only 3$ and you’ll have the best view of the ancient rock.
10. Ceylon Tea Museum
Among the many museums in Kandy and second only after the World Buddhist Museum, the Ceylon Tea Museum stands out. Be it you are still going to Ella or have already come back from all those hikes through tea plantations, it’s now time to learn some more about all that stuff. Only 3 km out of Kandy, a tuk-tuk will bring you there for 200 Rupees from the center. It really is worth visiting this place, especially for tea lovers. The whole process of tea preparation from tea plantation to a cup of excellent tea is nicely demonstrated here
Even though Kandy didn’t offer the peace and relaxed attitude we enjoyed so much in the south of Sri Lanka, you do feel like you are in the heart of the country. And a heart has to beat, so get ready for some rumble and immerse yourself in Sinhalese culture.
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