Michael & Dena-Kay

England, February/March 2014

What did you like most about Sri Lanka?

The beauty and variety of the landscape; the wildlife; and the people.

What did you like least about Sri Lanka?

Didn't really dislike anything. It was a pity that many of the hotels were such isolated tourist bubbles, set apart from the surrounding country; but perhaps that's inevitable.

Any other comments?

The first thing to say is that all your arrangements worked perfectly, from the car taking us to the airport to the car meeting and returning us to our flat [SriLankan Airlines Business Class]. There wasn't a single logistical hitch. That was terrific. Thank you very much.

In general we had a very good time. Much of our pleasure was thanks to our driver/guide, Kapila. He simply couldn't have been better. He was a good and patient driver, an informative and well-organised guide to the various sites and a superb spotter and identifier of wildlife, especially birds. He was also friendly and helpful and tried hard and sensitively to discover the sort of things which interested us and to make recommendations accordingly - all of which were excellent - on things to see and do. Nothing was too much trouble. At times when he might have been expected to have a well-deserved rest he would get up early to take us on a bird-watching walk or to go on an expedition to a lagoon or garden. We were very lucky to have him.

We thought that you'd planned the trip well to respond to the interests we'd expressed and within our rather tight time constraints. With hindsight, our only significant criticism of the itinerary was that we thought that the time spent at Buckingham Place [Tangalle] was rather wasted. Indeed we couldn't really see the point of Buckingham Place. We had, of course, asked for a day or so at a beach, but not a beach where you weren't allowed to swim in the sea (although we did, after quite a hike, swim in the small shallow rock pool). The staff at BP were perfectly nice, the room good and the food OK (though not wonderful and over-priced); but there was little to do there but lie on the grass by a small swimming pool - not our scene. We would have much preferred to be at a real beach, where also we could have tried some local restaurants rather than being condemned to hotel food. Alternatively we would have preferred to drop BP and spend an extra day or two in Kandy. (Thanks to Kapila we did, while we were there, go on a good bird walk and have a lovely boat safari at Kalametiya [Sanctuary, Tangalle]. We also watched a turtle lay eggs.)

The only other hotel that we disliked was the Kalundewa Retreat [Dambulla]. Unlike BP, this was not an itinerary/location problem. It was an excellent idea to be based in Dambulla for the cultural triangle trips. But the Kalundewa Retreat was bizarre and depressing. The setting is attractive and the accommodation pretty good, although the design of the chalets is decidedly odd: ours had two double rooms (each fine) and a huge amount of wasted common space including a dining table for 8! But it's one of the worst managed places in which we've ever stayed. There were two managers (a manager and a "consultant") and many staff, none of whom seemed to know what they were doing. When we arrived the manager didn't know what the dinner arrangements were and the buggy that was supposed to take our luggage to our chalet expired after 5 yards. The food was poor (two of our three dinners consisted of dull barbeques) and there was no liquor licence. If ever there was a place where we needed a drink, that was it - but we couldn't have one! On our first night there was one other couple in the hotel; on the other two nights we were the only people there. The place was so chaotic and gloomy that I'm not surprised that nobody goes there. I really think that you should drop it from your list. To describe it, as your itinerary does, as "an exquisite lakeside luxury retreat" is a bit fanciful.

Sorry to have gone on about that. Those are our only criticisms. The other hotels were all fine. We particularly liked The Elephant Stables at Kandy. It was in an excellent position overlooking the town; our room was extremely well-appointed and comfortable; the staff were welcoming, efficient and friendly; and we had the best dinner that we had in any hotel - Sri Lankan food, too. We would have loved another day or two there to explore Kandy more. We also very much liked Castlereagh Bungalow [Adam's Peak], which was exactly as described and beautifully run and organised. Cinnamon Wild [Yala] was also very well run and did an excellent job with large numbers and a high turnover. (On Kapila's advice we had an all-day safari rather than two half days. Thanks to that, we saw two leopards as well as numerous elephants and deer-like things.) And finally, 41 Lighthouse Street at Galle was fine. We had the place to ourselves and it was like hiring a private house (plus welcome swimming pool) in the centre of town. The 3 staff were excellent - attentive without being fussy - and it was a good way to end the trip. (From there Kapila took us to Bevis Bawa's Brief [Garden] rather than Lunuganga [in Bentota]. We're glad that he did: we liked it a lot.)

That's about it, I think. We're grateful to you for an excellent trip. Kapila was a star. The organisation was faultless. Most hotels were good. But we don't think you should send people to Buckingham Place who say they want some time at the beach. And we don't think you should send anyone to the Kalundewa Retreat.

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