Iain & Helen

England, November/December 2016

What did you like most about Sri Lanka?

The people, the scenery and the avifauna.

What did you like least about Sri Lanka?

We didn't dislike anything.

What is your opinion of your accommodation in Sri Lanka?

First rate - it met our requirements and desires pretty much 100%.

Mango House [Galle] - excellent welcoming hotel - we had a courtyard room which was clean and comfortable.  No dinner but there was a take-away service from the local creperie which was great the first night when we were too tired to go out. The entrance to the hotel - coming on from a side street was amazing, a haven opening up.  Service was excellent - we ended up with a game of seeing whether we could get to reception before the manager shot out of some hidden place to be there before us.  Childish maybe but serves to show the attention guests were given.  Great place within the fort area to stay, would stay there again.

We must add that our boat trip with Dilshan (we think that's correct) was spot-on his birding knowledge and spotting ability made the trip first class.  We would unhesitatingly want to do this again and with him.

Sinharaja Rest [Sinharaja].  We had the peaceful cabin away from everyone up on the hill overlooking the rainforest valley.  Idyllic and quirky with its waterfall for a shower.  This cabin was superb no question.  The whole environment with the dining area and look- out post was amazing.  Food was variable, all very pleasant breakfasts and snack lunch (cheese and tomato toasties) were great.  Evening meals were fine but unvaried with chicken curry three nights running.  Helen had more of a problem because of her not being able to eat rice but they coped reasonably well.

Our excursion into the rainforest was disappointing brought about by neither us nor the guide understanding the other.  We walked for a long period along roads to get to the rain forest entrance which tired us a fair bit and added nothing.  When we got in to the rainforest we were perhaps unlucky that there were few animals, reptiles and birds (not totally unexpected we had been in a Borneo rainforest).  The track was a bit of an endurance as we don't have the capacity we had at fifty.  We made it to the centre and on the walk back had Tuk-tuk's arranged to pick us up at the earliest point.  Kapila picked up our problem and sorted this well.  It was unfortunate - had we known what the itinerary was we would have said drive to the entrance and start from there - that would have worked much better.  Their thinking was there were birds to be see on the way - OK can understand that but we wanted the special rainforest birds (we saw none..).  Not a big problem we enjoyed it but it could have been so much better.  Had Kapila been with us from the start (it was his first day with us) I think he would have changed the day to meet our expectations.   BUT we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and would visit again.

Kalu's Hideaway [Uda Walawe].  A great place let down by the food.  The staff were all extremely friendly and helpful, the room and grounds were very good and it made an excellent starting point to see the Elephant Orphanage and go on the safaris.

We both had stomach problems from the food at Kalu's Hideaway - before and after we had no problems at all.  Our suspicion is that due to the low numbers, some of the food - fish and chicken that were not eaten at one meal were reheated for the next meal.  We went on to a la carte  for the third evening where Iain had prawns - a mistake he then had the same problems Helen had had earlier.  There was a general feeling we had that there were problems in the kitchen - either reheated food or cleanliness.  The waiting staff were superb no fault with them at all.  The hotel were quick to give us a fruit basket and then free wine to make up - maybe because of Kapila's intervention - don't know.  A real shame as it took the edge off our stay.  Also sad was that the first night and morning we had buffet style eating so we could tailor our meal to our desires.  That worked well.  The next two nights and mornings it was a B&B menu to pick from with more limited choices .  Ho hum - we'd love to stay there again but would want to know the kitchen had been sorted.  We think Kapila had similar problems.

Kulu Safaris [Yala].  First class in every way, the staff were brilliant and knowledgeable, everything was done to ensure you had an exceptional stay.  At times the attention could almost become over attentive but forgivable because of them wanting the absolute best for you.  The food was excellent and varied with Helen's needs in particular attended to perfectly.  Our safari trips with Errol were first class in extremely comfortable vehicles (and we've been in a few..).  His knowledge together with Kapila's meant we saw everything possible without it being a tick-hunting exercise.

It is difficult to say more, everything was perfect and we would want to go there again. 

Palm Paradise Cabanas [Tangalle].  Yet again we had the best cabin - the Honeymoon cabin as they call it - up high with a great view over the beach and sea.  Again the restaurant food was excellent and they were only too happy to vary anything to make our meal enjoyable.  The staff were extremely helpful and friendly and all in all it was a great stay.  We had felt before the trip that this hotel might be the weak link- wrong it stood up with the others equally.

Boat trip to see the whales worked well in spite of wet weather and getting soaked from water over the bows, so what - what gets wet dries out.  We saw a blue whale so mission accomplished.  The fried egg sandwich that Helen had on the boat she swears was the best she has had in years.  A bit of a trek - leaving at 5.15 am and returning at 14.30 but worth it.  Satheesh was very good and ensured we had king coconut drinks ahead of everyone else and got good seats on the boat.

Next night we went to see the turtles and against all odds we saw a female going back into the sea having laid her eggs.   Another tick.  The sand is very soft so we had a real problem getting to see the turtle but we don't give up and saw it.  Satheesh again ensured we were at the front of the queue and had everything organised perfectly.  Satheesh was very good at this on all occasions having a very high service ethic.

Casa Heliconia [Airport].  What is to say - perfection with fine dining.  We were absolutely right to stay here two nights.  The day just lazing and swimming in their pool set us up beautifully for the return flight.  Had we stayed one night as originally planned we would have been really frustrated at not being able to make the most of the hotel.  We will stay here on every trip to Sri Lanka either at the beginning or end or both.  Our room, the better one was amazing and our showering facility of a missionary boiling pot with hot and cold waterfalls and a wooden jug to pour the hot water over oneself was unbelievable - it worked beautifully and was great fun.

What is your opinion of your chauffeur guide in Sri Lanka?

We had three guides due to a couple of circumstances. Unfortunate but no real problem.

1. Nihal - stood in for Kapila at the start as the latter was seeing his daughter at a school show.  We had absolutely no problem with this and in fact supported his decision.  Nihal was excellent - good company, very knowledgeable across a range of subjects and was a very good birder, we would have been happy with him throughout.

2. Kapila - We bonded with Kapila almost immediately and the whole time we were with him we had laughter and great sightseeing, animal and birding experiences.  Kapila was able to anticipate our desires/needs unerringly and was always making sure that any small problem was addressed immediately (see Kalu's Hideaway).  Kapila's birding was excellent and ensured we got the most from the trip without resorting to twitching.  He is first rate and we will want to go with him again given the rapport we established.

3. Satheesh - took over from Kapila when Kapila had to go to hospital with a re-occurrence of his Dengue Fever.   This handover was not particularly well managed although everything worked out OK.  We were told by Kapila to expect Satheesh around 6 pm or maybe a bit later and that he would meet us in the restaurant of the Palm Paradise Cabanas.  We hung around until 9 pm or so with no sight or contact from Satheesh.  I then phoned the central office and was told he was on his way, would arrive shortly and not to worry.  We were due out the next morning on an early trip so were very concerned as to whether this would happen.  We arrived at reception at 5am for the whale trip and no Satheesh, a bit of help from PPC staff and we found him and were off with no further trouble.  We were not kept informed properly about Satheesh's late arrival - he arrived after midnight having had a pretty tortuous journey by several buses.  When we did speak to the central office we weren't told the truth about what was happening or when he would turn up even though this must have been absolutely obvious by then.  We were given bland don't worry and it will be alright statements which did nothing for us except increase our concern.  We know Sri Lankans don't like to give unwelcome news but if we had been told the truth immediately we could have enjoyed our evening and not worried.  We weren't given Satheesh's mobile number so we had no way of contacting him.

We've spent too long on this as it ended up a minor matter but could have been avoided by truthful information up front and Satheesh's number (we didn't ask for it but it should have been offered).

Satheesh did try his best in difficult circumstances and has a high customer ethic.  As we had finished our safari section and were on the south coast Satheesh's lack of birding experience didn't hurt.  It was also unfortunate that with my hearing loss and Satheesh's command of English and "accent" we spent a lot of time repetitively trying to understand one another.  Not too much of a problem.  Fairly or not we never had the confidence in Satheesh turning up when he should, he was never very late but usually a few minutes late.  On one occasion I had to phone him to find out where he was - he turned up a few minutes later.  Overall Satheesh was a good guide and our comments shouldn't damn him.  He was put in a difficult situation and got through it very well.  We wouldn't have wanted him as our guide for a full holiday though, it would have thoroughly spoilt our holiday - as an emergency take-over he did well.

What is your opinion of your flights to and from Sri Lanka?

Absolutely excellent - SriLankan Business class with the lay flat beds was exactly what we needed to arrive relaxed and not stressed out.  Expensive of course but for a 11 hour plus flight something we would do again.  Food was excellent as was the attitude of all the cabin staff.  Avoiding Emirates with the stop at Dubai was wonderful - done that and it is a pain - awful enormous airport.

Any other comments?

This was undoubtedly if not the best, one of the top two or three holidays we have ever had. Given we have been to some exotic places and done some hard yards says how good it was. Every detail of the holiday was pretty much perfect and we would do it again with only minor changes. We always had the best rooms in hotels and had excellent safaris with extremely knowledgeable guides. Planning by Tikalanka in the UK and especially I think in Sri Lanka for the detail was unsurpassable.

Kapila was outstanding - it was a great shame we didn't have him for the whole trip but circumstances dictated otherwise.  He was attentive, amusing and with great knowledge.  Any future trips would have to have Kapila dialled in as guide.

Tikalanka's choice of hotels and activities was nigh on perfect with first class service everywhere.

Oh and we saw 9 leopards…

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