Trincomalee in the off season - what to do
A taste of NorthEastern Sri lanka : a journey to Trincomalee in the off season.
Trincomalee was an untouched part of the country for us and we decided to take a roadtrip there to see the spectacular beaches it was famous for.
But since we traveled in the off season or low season (typically spanning from September to February) we decided to visit some lesser known places - as well as the usual points of interest, so we could see and experience something more than the average traveler.
We ditched the car and traveled using public transport, something we wanted to try out here in home soil, after our Indian travel episode. Although it came with a curtain restrictions we were pleasantly glad of the freedom it offered.
There are primarily two modes of public transport you could take to trinco. Either train or bus. The train takes some fair bit of time to get there, and booking train tickets was a bit too complicated so we opted to use the bus. There are long distance sleeper buses that operate from Colombo to trainco every night. To reserve a seat we used busseat.lk : it was reliable and quite straight forward. The tickets cost 1200 lkr per person.
Departing Colombo around 11pm the bus arrived in trainco at about 4 am, in the early hours of the morning. Make sure you inform your respective hotel of your early arrival - they usually make an allowance for pretty early arrival but it's better to make sure.
Also the sleeper buses don't stop at usual bus terminals upon reaching your destination (trincomalee) so make sure you know where you need get down. There are tuk tuks there even in the early morning hours so no need to worry.
Choosing your stay.
You should base your choice of hotel based on what you plan to do while at trinco.
An overpriced hotel is not the best of choices if you plan to be exploring most of the day.
We planned to be out most of the day so we booked a hotel that was practically on the uppuveli beach, it had all the amenities and the host were super welcoming. The French Garden regish Hotel was the best of everything : comfy beds and only a few steps to take a dip in the sea. A good deal if you ask me! Especially if you are a backpacker.
Also it's a good idea to hire out a scooter. We arranged one from our hotel for 1300 per day with unlimited miles. This provides you the best way to travel : be on the lookout for lumbering cattle though. As one navy soldier told us amusingly “the bike has got brakes, cows don't”. so be mindful when scooting around especially at night - the cows tend to lie right next to the streets and I nearly did a cartwheel when I almost collided with a dark tan colored cow .
Riding while checking for restaurants at night, With cows chilling by the roads can be a handful so be extra careful.
Places to visit.
There are many places to see while in trinco,and the low season makes it almost deserted, save for the local crowd that make their way there.
The primary concern if you are winging it while in trinco is the weather. It can pour down heavily so better chose a relatively rain free day to go there - we were not that lucky. We got rained in a few days while there. Conclusion :Mother nature can be unpredictable. Also because of strong seas diving will not be generally done and places such as pigeon Island national park will be closed.
This stunning kovil is located above a massive cliff face overlooking the Indian ocean and is dedicated to Lord shiva. One of the most holy places in sri lanka for Hindus and everyone alike, this temple has a long and cherished history.
Situated close to the trinco town itself the temple is freely accessible. The only tickets they issue are for spring your shoes, but this is only 20 rupees per person.
The main attractions of the temple are the ravana cut, the reverse lingam, the gopuram of the temple itself, the ravana cleft that is literally overhanging along the swami rock, and the unearthed Lord vishnu and laxmi statues. The massive statue of Lord siva was being renovated while we were there, but it adds an aura of majesty to this magical place.
And koneswaram also has intricate ties with Sir Arthur C. Clarke and sri lanka's first color movie- ran muthu doova.
It is when filming this movie that the aiyar of the kovil had asked the intrepid friends of Mr. Clarke (Rodney jonklaas and Mike Wilson - anyone familiar with Arthur C Clarke's literature will surely know these epic people) to keep an eye out for the lingam that was supposedly thrown into the sea many hundreds of years ago by invaders. Mike Wilson recovered this lingam and it is said to be one of the original swayambhunath (self manifested) lingam - rare and out of the original 69, one of the few that exist in the Indian subcontinent.
While on the way to and from the temple don't miss out to take a look and hopefully pat a spotted deer that roam freely. Also take a moment to savour the view of the trincomalee harbour while sipping on a fresh fruit smoothie that can be obtained from one of the shops on the route to the temple.
Ganapathi cool spot is highly recommended, the host serves some of the best drinks, is super helpful and the prices are very reasonable plus you get a stunning view of the bay.
This is just on the way to koneswaram temple. You can park your bike at the entrance of the kovil and walk back here to see the historic buildings. It's an army camp by the way so that's probably why you won't be able to park your vehicle along the way through the fort And also because the road is narrow and may cause a traffic jam. We didn't spend much time here though as it was overcast and hurried off to marble beach.
Marble beach is located in the southern end of the bay of koddayar, and and is overlooked by a few islands which also make it one of the entry points in to the bay.
It's pretty easy to reach and shows clearly on Google maps. You need to turn left just before heading over the kinniya bridge.
Maintained by the srilanka airforce this beach has two distinct sections. One is the public beach and the other is the resort hotel of the air-force. Locals flock to the public beach so it can be pretty crowded.
The best way is to have lunch at the restaurant and while that is being made ready, taking a dip in the sea.
The restaurant is excellent and serves a healthy portion of food so most dishes can feed two people. Definitely worth the price.
Our recommendations - the seafood chowder is definitely worth ordering.
You can organize a snorkeling or a hike to the overlooking cliffs, knows as diamond Hill point through the front reception. The cost for the hike was 600 lkr per person but it's done early morning (almost at 6am) so as you would enjoy the sunrise from there. Unfortunately we never got a chance to experience it as the following morning (we were up from 4.30 am) rain was coming down in sheets, forcing us to abandon our marble beach quest.
The white beaches of Sampur and the lighthouse at foul point.
The pièce de resistance of our journey to the east should be the visit to Sampur. To reach here you need to take the trincomalee batticaloa highway down southward along the coastline. The lighthouse is about 40 kms away from trincomalee so it's best to use a personal vehicle or as in our case - our rented scooter.
Scooting around was truly fabulous, but we got rained in a few times, not too badly.
You need to remind yourself that the low season is in the wetter months for the Eastern parts of Srilanka and showers are common.
Most likely the rain will be not that hard but it's best to check the weather before you go. (we didn't - ooops)
You get to pass over a few bridges and also across the points where the Mahaweli river, sri Lanka's longest, flows into the ocean making an end to its epic journey.
Once you arrive at mutur you need to continue on the old batticaloa road towards mutur Town. And upon reaching the first roundabout you encounter along that way take the second exit to your right, heading past the bicycle repair shop and skirting past the small waterway that is lined up with sandbags.
It's always a good idea to stop and ask for directions as sometimes google maps can give you non viable routes that you cannot in any way travel.
Head on this road until you encounter a great big banyan tree and hang a right. From there move until you find a kovil (was under construction when we were visiting) and take a RIGHT. the road going past the kovil will take you up to the airforce camp. We did this mistake but the soldier on guard duty told us we took the wrong turn with a wry smile. Seems like he sees a lot of wrong turn endups like us, and often.
You will pass a villu or wetland just as you take a right after the junction. There were a myriad of birds here, from coots to whistling ducks to a few species of cranes. Blanketed over with white flowers blooming out of the aquatic kekatiya plants ( Wavy-edged Aponogeton) this was sight to behold.
From there it's a straight shot to the light house.
Ask the locals for the way of you are not sure. The road leading up there was dusty and not paved, so be extra careful if you travel on two wheels.
And while passing be mindful of buffaloes and cattle that also share the road, and who cross the road in a lazy long long single filed manner. Take heed of “the vehicle has got brakes, cows have none” law.
The lighthouse is at the outermost tip of the koddayar bay and was in the process of being refurbished after suffering almost a three decades of neglect.
Sampur was a focal point in the anti terrorist eelam 6 war and the lighthouse still bears those marks. But with the onset of peace, those scars, like the bullet holes in the lighthouse are being patched and healed.
The beauty of the beach is simply stunning.
The ocean is a turquoise and teal shade with the overhead light. The sea shore is littered with dead coral and shells, that tumble up and down each time the waves lap the beach. And each time it gives off a tantalising sound, like a hundred windchimes rattling mixed in with sounds of the ocean waves.
You can walk along the edges of the shore away from the lighthouse and explore the hidden beach that is not seen from the lighthouse are itself. Here the beach is mostly heaps and heaps of dead coral, and shallows that make for a dramatic location. It's the perfect getaway from the humdrum of humanity and it almost makes you feel you are on a deserted island.
Make sure you either follow the shallows or have some sort of footwear while exploring this stretch of beach. The hard coral washed up can be painful to walk on barefoot and can get you feet all battered and chafed. The shallows are devoid of urchins so you can trod there in relative safety. But always be mindful on where you step.
So that's it for our long weekend spent exploring the North Eastern coast of srilanka. It was indeed an wonderful experience where we met some great people and embraced the culture and heritage firsthand.
So before rounding up here's a sum up of what you need to expect if you go in the low season.
The sea can be rough. And the water murky. Check weather before you go. The best place for snorkeling around Trincomalee is by far marble beach. Pigeon Island is closed at that time period and the boats and snorkeling around Nilaveli is practically not done. Check before you go.
The winds and currents from the east push lots of flotsam and rubble into the beach. Not necessarily from sri lanka, but from other countries as well, that make landfall after drifting along currents. So the beaches may have lots of plastic on them. Sadly we saw this all over. Take an active effort against pollution and make sure you don't add to the litter .
Be mindful of cows. Especially while driving at night Make sure you are prepared for wet weather.
A raincoat and umbrella should be in your kit
Restaurants along the sea shore may not offer the best food. Check reviews before walking in. We had a bad experience at Fernando's (trincomalee) where the ambiance and location were superb but the food was downright bad.
Speaking of food - if you want some great local food try out the kingfisher seafood restaurant, jut next to the cod Bay harbour along the trincomalee highway. And also the air force run marble beach restaurant is perhaps one of the best places to grab a meal.
And as always, never leave anything behind except footsteps. Hope this was helpful and until our next blog post, keep moving forward!!