Sri Lanka touring notes
I just returned from a 16 day bike trip to Sri Lanka. I posted a few early comments during my trip in a previous thread, but thought Iíd give more details now that my trip has concluded. I endured some awful roads at the beginning of my trip when I posted something on the other thread, but the roads improved considerably after that point.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country, with friendly, good-natured people who often speak some English, diverse scenery, many interesting cultural or natural sights to visit, great food, and cheap prices. Decent accommodations and good food & drink are easy to find.
There remain several ancient trains operating in the country. These trains are wonderful relics. They move slowly, but their routes often have gorgeous scenery, tickets are absurdly cheap, and bikes are readily accepted.
I was riding a Bike Friday New World Tourist, a folding bike. A mountain bike with suspension might be somewhat better for SL, but my bike worked out fine. I used fairly wide tires, a good choice, I thought. I had no flats or mechanical problems. For cycling, however, there are two serious issues to contend with:
1) Some roads are in abysmal condition. They appear to have been repeatedly patched, so are extremely rough and bumpy. A fair number of roads, however, are quite good. I found that generally, the roads in the hill country, especially near Kandy and south, were often the worst roads. The roads along the south coast were mostly OK, and roads in the ďCultural TriangleĒ area north of Kandy were often quite good. There were exceptions to these patterns in each region, however.
2) Many bus drivers there drive like homicidal maniacs. While drivers going in my direction respected cyclists when passing, buses coming in the other direction would routinely pull out into my lane to pass other vehicles and thereby force me and other cyclists (there are many local cyclists in SL) off the pavement. There is usually no paved shoulder. This was routine bus driver behavior. Local cyclists seemed to simply accept it as a fact of life. I suppose that those who donít accept it are dead already. I was forced off the road at least a dozen times, always by bus drivers.
I biked from near the airport on the west coast eastward toward Kandy in the northern part of the hill country. From there I elected to take a train up toward Nuwara Eliya in the mountains. (3 cyclists I met who biked up to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy said the road was simply awful; very steep and in terrible condition) I met a German cyclist in Nuwara Eliya and we biked together through Ella Gap, then down to the south coast, then along the south coast westward to Galle. The scenery during the descent from Ella was magnificent. There was also wonderful tea plantation scenery in the mountains, and beautiful beaches on the coast. From the walled town of Galle I took a train all the way north to Anuradnapura in the northern part of SL, then biked back through the Cultural Triangle region in central SL to the Colombo area.
I found the Rough Guide map (1:500,000), which is printed on plastic, to be a decent one to use for the country.
The south and southwest coastal area still have a fair amount of destruction visible from the tsunami. (there was also much destruction on the east coast, but I didn't visit that area) I also saw much evidence of a considerable amount of reconstruction which has already taken place. People are anxious for tourists to return in greater numbers.
The variety of sights to see is amazing for a relatively small country. There are remains of ancient cities and Buddhist sites like Anuradnapura. Astonishing Buddhist cave paintings in Dambulla. The giant rock fortress of Sigiriya is incredible, one of the most memorable places Iíve been to anywhere. There were a couple of superb botanic gardens, an interesting elephant orphanage, wild monkeys and more rarely, wild elephants. Vast tea plantations and tea factories. Idyllic beaches.
Overall, while cycling in Sri Lanka isnít perfect, I found the country to be a wonderful and very rewarding place to visit.