Our first destination on our holiday to Sri Lanka was the southwestern city of Galle. The old part of town, Galle Fort, is a world heritage site. We chose to start our Sri Lankan adventure here not only to explore this historic site, but also as it seemed like a quiet, clean and organised town. Though, first we had to get there from Malaysia.
After our stopover day in Kuala Lumpur, we had another early morning wake up for the next step on our journey to Sri Lanka. We opted for the KLIA Xpress train as it seemed like a relaxing way to get to the airport, and it was the quickest, taking only half an hour compared up to an hour driving, taking us from KL Sentral station which was a short walk from our hotel. We were also able to eat our breakfast, which we had bought the night before, along the way.
We arrived at KLIA2, Kuala Lumpur’s budget airport which appeared to be basically only servicing AirAsia flights, which did not make it easy for us to locate the check-in counter we needed. We had arrived in plenty of time, but the numerous security checks slowed us down, and we were further slowed having to frantically backtrack to get Clare’s handbag (containing our passports) she had left behind at one of the security scanners. We had brief thoughts of missing our flight as we scrambled around looking for it. Then Clare insisted on an airport coffee to avoid the pre-mixed powder your they serve on the plane (which Rob surprisingly doesn’t mind).
It was only a short flight to Sri Lanka. At Colombo airport, the driver sent by the hotel was waiting for us. We may have been able to get a taxi at the airport for cheaper using the prepaid system, but we decided to go with the trouble-free option of booking a lift through our hotel, as it is always more pleasant to arrive in a new country to a man waiting with a sign with your name on it. Our excitement was somewhat dampened when the driver did not even know which hotel we were staying in, not even the city, and it was not even his car. We started the journey not even sure he had picked up the right people. Mr Robert seemed to fit our description, but there could have been more than one Robert on our flight.
We got all cashed up at the airport as is our usual practice (even after losing all our cash to pickpockets in Greece), the wad of big notes was only a problem when we stopped at a small local shop on our way out to buy some water. If they want our money they can usually find some change eventually.
It was 2-hour drive south to Galle, bypassing the large metropolis of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, which had no appeal to us. An hour into the journey our driver pulled into a large restaurant complex which we feared was a tourist trap, expecting rubbish food and service at exhorbitant prices. We were only being cynical and cautious as you need to be on the first day in a new country. It was not such a bad place, probably just what we needed, with a good selection of food stalls to give us our first taste of the local cuisine.
We arrived to a friendly greeting at the Dream Villa hotel in Galle, located within the historic fort walls. The room was fancy, especially by our usual standards, particularly the large bathroom. There were only a couple of rooms in the hotel so it felt like a place just for us. We dropped our bags and headed out, as we were eager to explore the surrounding streets.
The old buildings of the fort have been well looked after, many have been converted to upmarket hotels, shops and restaurants. The actual fort walls were just a short walk away. We walked along the top of the wall, joining the locals and tourists doing the same. It was a great meeting place at sunset time.
We checked out the flag rock bastion and then the lighthouse. Further along the wall we came to the old hospital building that is now filled with trendy shops, bars and cafes. We looked to have a beer at one of the bars, but surprisingly discovered that most places don’t offer alcohol, or at least not this weekend which is the Sinhalese New Year holiday.
Further along our exploration, we came across a large swinging tree which the kids could not resist climbing and a cricket game in the nearby town square. We were tempted to ask to join in the game, but it looked a bit too serious for us.
Back at the hotel, we discovered right next door was one of the highly rated restaurants which we had earmarked to visit, Coconut Sambol, perfect! It was a tiny place, so we were glad it was not too popular. We sat along the wall of this narrow space, with pots of a range of home-cooked curries bubbling away. The kids all had a try of some curry, which were tasty but not too spicy for them.
The next morning the hotel owners cooked us up a fresh breakfast, preparing us for our planned walking tour of the fort area, following a map we had copied from Lonely Planet. We tried detouring out of the fort area to a marketplace, but found it was closed (as was many other places), due to the new year celebrations.
We negotiated a tuk-tuk ride back to the fort, and Casper was invited by the friendly driver to take over the controls and do some steering. It is an experience a 7-year-old would never get back home.
At the old the clock tower there was a great view over the Galle cricket ground, probably a popular viewing spot when the English team come later this year for a Test match.
We continued following the wall around, knowing that we would eventually arrive back where we started. While we stopped for a rest, a large lizard ambled up to us, just another day on this tropical island.
We had some great meals while in Galle. During the walk around town we detoured for lunch and a cold beer at the casual and friendly Pilgrims Backpackers. In the evening, dinner was at the The Blockhouse for hoppers and kottu, two of our new favourite Sri Lankan dishes. On our final morning at the hotel, we asked for a Sri Lankan breakfast, which we knew they supplied to those who asked. It was a great feast and a fitting end to our stay in Galle.
After the confusion about the taxi driver the hotel had arranged from the airport, we lacked the confidence that the hotel could arrange someone to take us to the next town. We arranged for a taxi ourselves to take us along the coast to the beachside village of Mirissa. This backfired as he arrived with just a small car with barely enough room for us and our luggage. Fortunately, our hotel owner was there to arrange another driver with a better vehicle, and we paid off the first driver for the inconvenience, and happily went on our way to the next destination in Sri Lanka.
We highly recommend Galle as a gradual introduction to Sri Lanka. It might be a little more expensive than elsewhere, but the place is safe, the sights are located close and within walking distance, and you can get a taste of the wide range of Sri Lankan food from quality restaurants.
Where We Stayed
- Dream Villa. No.66 Church St, Galle 80000, Sri Lanka
Places to Eat
Here are the restaurant options that we researched before we arrived. We did not eat at all of these places. The ratings are from TripAdvisor. This was in 2018, so check the details as they may have changed since then.
- Hoppa Galle Fort #1 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $. 20 Pedlar Street20
- Coconut Sambol #2 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $. 68 Church Street, very close to where we are staying, buffet meal for 1000LKR
- Imal’s restaurant #20 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $. Lighthouse street. Great Kottu to try here, family run husband-wife team. Fabulous reviews.
- Indian Hut #34 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $. Indian food, Rampart st on the seafront, near the lighthouse, great views, some not so good reviews.
- The Blockhouse #5 of 125 Restaurants in Galle. $ 78A Church Street.