Sri Lanka’s second biggest city Kandy was home to the last Sinhalese kingdom until it fell to the British in 1815. Today it remains one of the country’s most important cultural and religious centres. It’s a picturesque spot that, while catering for tourists, hasn’t been taken over by tourism. I’ll cover the best things to see and do in central Kandy in this post and those on Kandy’s outskirts in the next post.
We left cool, calm Nanuoya on the 9.30am train and arrived four hours later into hot, bustling Kandy. Kandy was a hive of activity during our stay possibly because we visited in the week before the Sinhalese and Tamil new year holidays. Many stores were holding sales and firecrackers were sold from stands on almost every street.
Taking a tuk tuk anywhere involved plenty of weaving in and out of traffic and sitting in queues.
In contrast to the roads, central Kandy is an easy city to walk around and is full of interesting things to see.
The twenty minute walk from our hotel into central Kandy had us strolling alongside Kandy Lake at least twice a day. This quickly became a nature walk that we looked forward to even though a busy road also runs beside the lake. We watched birds, fish and terrapins in the lake but it was a massive monitor lizard that really stopped us in our tracks.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Foreigner entrance fee 1500Rs ($US8.50)
A word of warning, this is a very busy temple. Considered the most important religious site in Sri Lanka, the temple attracts both worshippers and tourists. Because of the crowds I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Ensure your legs and shoulders are covered or you’ll be refused entry – this is strictly enforced.
While the complex is large, it’s the beautiful two storey temple surrounded by a moat that is the main attraction. In the centre of the temple is a tooth said to have belonged to Buddha himself. The tooth sits in a casket within several other caskets, like Russian nesting dolls, so visitors don’t actually see the tooth. We didn’t join the long line of people waiting to get close to the tooth. Instead we went back downstairs to where ceremonial drummers performed outside the ornate central building.
The temple complex also houses several museums and monuments, an enormous stuffed tusker elephant called Rajah and an open air audience hall with intricately carved woodwork.
Entrance fee 650Rs ($US3.70)
This forest park is located on the hill behind the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Several walking tracks wind their way around the park beneath towering hardwood trees draped by twisting vines. The park is home to lots of monkeys and I also spotted a skittish deer between the trees. We took the path towards the caves, which turned out to be a little creepy. Outside the caves were clay legs, feet and a torso! We didn’t stay for long.
Another track led us uphill where we hoped to find a view-point. We didn’t, instead we found leaches. It was my first ever encounter with leaches and it’s fair to say I leapt around and squealed when I realised what they were. I hadn’t given any thought before then to my exposed feet. I was wearing sandals because we’d tried to go to the temple but couldn’t get in because Mike’s shorts were too short. After I’d managed to flick the leaches off my feet and we walked further uphill, we sadly had to turn around as the track became a dead-end. Of course more leaches latched onto me on the way back to the main track. Ugh! Eventually we found a lookout point with views of Kandy.
Eat Good Food
Owing to Kandy’s size, there are numerous options for meals. We found cafes serving smashed avocado and vibrant smoothies and a modern mall with a food court selling a variety of international dishes. One evening we stopped in at the old Royal Bar and Hotel for cocktails overlooking the street.
The meal I enjoyed the most however was the cheapest we had in all of Sri Lanka. Between the two of us we shared a feast of vadai, dosai, puri and the accompanying curries. We left feeling very full!
Best Bits: The botanical gardens and Lankatilaka Temple