Julie & John

England, February/March 2022

What did you like most about Sri Lanka?

Mixture of nature and culture and history. Outside of town traffic, main roads are pretty good.

What did you like least about Sri Lanka?

Julie felt that in some places women were treated secondarily to men.

What is your opinion of your accommodation in Sri Lanka?

[The] Palmyrah House [Mannar], Fox Jaffna [Jaffna], Wilpattu Tree House [Wilpattu Corridor, Wilpattu], [Taru Villas] Lake Lodge Colombo  – were as expected or better. Would stay there again.

Villa Hundira [Negombo] – was very disappointing and we said so when we departed.  Very poor attitude from staff – perhaps because Julie was female?  Will explain this separately.

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

Nihal was excellent. Very vigilant of our safety and our needs. Knowledgeable. Flexible to our requirements. Patient and calm at Mannar Army checkpoints. We noticed he was always courteous and positive with staff at the locations we visited.

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

Emirates is a good choice of airline. [London Heathrow – Economy Class]

Any other comments?

Firstly – thank you so much for putting a Mannar and Jaffna itinerary together. Absolutely brilliant. We are so pleased to have visited those locations. And Wilpattu. We omitted Anuradhapura because we didn't want to overdo it and preferred to get to Colombo sooner. We will do Anuradhapura another time.

Adam's Bridge at Mannar – Nihal organised for us to go out there. Spectacular sea scape. But so much rubbish. Not sure if wind-blown or sea swept or dumped.

In Jaffna we did the one-day tour and would recommend it. We got a good flavour of the peninsular.

Birds and wildlife – we are delighted. Mannar was exceptional because of unusual rains filling the road-side ponds and bringing spectacular aggregations of birds fishing, to say nothing of wild boar drinking.  All viewed at a distance of only a few yards with us parked in the vehicle. And flamingos.

[The] Palmyrah House was delightful. The main building is so elegant. Watching all sorts of birds whilst we ate our breakfast. I used their library to look up birds and things – what a lovely amenity. The concrete walkway out over their wetland was very "easy" and made a lovely stroll at any time of day.

Fox Jaffna was very good. The gardens yielded mongoose, serpent eagle drinking at the pool, Brahmini kites, black kites, black capped orioles and lots more. The staff were very professional and special mention to the restaurant where staff bothered to remember what you liked to eat, where you liked to sit and your room number. Many of their guests stay only one night, so I think they enjoyed a familiar face. As said before, I would recommend an upstairs room. Downstairs rooms have views of the pool and gardens but can have people walking right past in front of the window. Better views upstairs.

Wilpattu Tree House [Wilpattu Corridor] was as we expected. Very pleasant. Nihal structured our two days in the park. First day was aimed at birds and second day was aimed at larger animals. As much as you can "aim" for wildlife. So we saw two different areas of the park. Leopards on both days! Nihal organised lunch on both days and provided our favourite Sri Lankan dishes. We were asked what we would like as an evening meal at the lodge and they very kindly produced it, ie Sri Lankan dishes.

[Taru Villas] Lake Lodge continued the theme of architecture and we enjoyed our stay there. It is increasingly hemmed in by new building works. We were happy with it as a base for Colombo – but personally would have preferred one of the high-rise hotels to give a view of the city. Somehow that seems rather perverse given how carefully chosen the hotels were. This is definitely not a complaint.

We had a good meal at the Paradise Road Gallery Cafe (best) in Colombo, and also at Barefoot Gallery which has jazz on a Sunday afternoon.

Food must be quite a problem for all the hotels. We were amongst French, Swiss and German tours. And possibly Russian. Do the Sri Lankan hotels "dumb down" their curries or give up and do pizza and pasta? Overall I thought they coped well and the waiter at Fox Jaffna should be given a medal for coping with some [guests] who would not even look at the buffet (which included tuna pasta, and fish in tomato sauce topped with cheese) and insisted on cheese sandwiches. At moments like that I know I am temperamentally unsuited to the job of waiting on tables.  

Villa Hundira, Negombo is architecturally delightful but we would not stay there again. I was getting over a bad stomach from the Maldives. On arrival at Villa Hundira we were shown the evening meal menu before we went to our room. It was string hoppers or rotis with either chicken or fish. I asked politely if it were possible just to have a little rice and perhaps some vegetables. No, it was not on the menu. Absolutely No. Nihal asked if they could do a little egg rice. No, it was not on the menu. We were shown to our room but the air conditioner was not demonstrated, and we were not told about the water heater.  

We went to eat and it turned out the kind chef had done me some rice and veg (excellent dhal).

We were shown the breakfast menu. I noticed that on the back there was "Healthy Breakfast" which included muesli which would be John's choice and porridge which would be mine. No, they were not doing Healthy Breakfast and those items were not available. Not even a bowl of oatmeal porridge? No it was not part of the menu on offer. The following morning, after we finished breakfast, the waiter then said I could have had porridge – all a bit too late.  

Back in the room the air conditioner was roaring and too cold. The hand set did nothing. Not even off. So I spent most of the night awake, freezing cold and deafened. We also did not know what the arrangement was with the water heater. We eventually found the switch (which was off) but did not know if it was instantaneous or whether we had to wait for a tank to heat up. It was late, we were tired. We wanted a hot shower. When we did have a shower the fall on the shower floor was insufficient and the shower flooded onto the toilet floor. So bath towel had to be sacrificed to ensure we did not have to paddle or slip over on the way the loo during the night.

Ground floor room with no net curtains. So we spent our time – showering, getting ready for bed, getting up, etc with the curtains closed. So we could not enjoy the pond.

Just as we left, we discovered that the "plastic key in the slot" which many rooms have for turning the whole-room electric on and off, was in fact the switch for just the air-conditioning.  

On our departure we got the usual "We hope you enjoyed your stay" – and we said a resounding no. We were not welcomed, we were not assisted with our room.  It wasn't that late when we arrived, but clearly the evening staff wanted rid of us. Why could they not have done the usual introduction to the room routine? Also the strange back-door out of the room was not explained to us – still don't know where it went. And as for "It's not on the menu" – just a little bowl of rice???  

So Villa Hundira may look attractive, but their evening staff are not prepared to tolerate one-night travellers arriving at about 7.30 pm.

It is an excellent idea to get your guests out of Colombo and on their way north when they arrive. Negombo is well-located.

Finally Nihal arranged everything we asked. He carried all our luggage, drove very carefully and smoothly, made us smile and joined in our jokes, and if we asked something he did not know, he went and found out.

We are looking forward to visiting Sri Lanka again.

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