Culture in Kandy
We'd heard mixed reviews about Kandy from other travellers along the way in Sri Lanka, most people seemed to dislike it and cut their stay short. We were passing by on our way to the ruined city of Polonnaruwa so we decided to stay a few nights and make up our own minds.
I'll start with the positives about Kandy; the setting of the city is gorgeous, nestled between lush green mountains and showcasing a (man-made) lake at the centre, the city has a somewhat grand & aristocratic feel (from a distance). However, up close, Kandy is noisy and polluted, the roads are very congested and my anxiety levels shot sky-high walking around the city centre. We were also ripped off by a very pushy 'tour guide' when visiting the Temple of the Tooth, who forced us to have a tour and charged us a huge amount. We didn't even want a tour in the first place! We also found the food scene to be somewhat lacking in variation and some of the unhealthiest food we've found in Sri Lanka.
We probably made a mistake booking a four night stay.. although our guest house had wonderful views of the city, it lacked any kind of atmosphere. We were so Kandy-d out by day three that we chose to escape the city for our final night (which also happened to be our anniversary) and booked ourselves into a beautiful boutique hotel far away from the chaotic streets. What a little oasis The Elephant Stables turned out to be; we spent our time by the pool, reading books, sipping cocktails and indulging in very good food. Needless to say it was hard to drag ourselves back to our normal budget and traveller lifestyle after our time there.
If you have a night or two in Kandy, I'd suggest doing the following;
1) Do visit the Temple of the Tooth, it's an incredibly important shrine to many Sri Lankans & a lovely way to spend an hour or so. The temple houses one of Buddha's teeth (according to legend). You can also learn more about Buddhism around the world in the Buddhist museum, although I'm not sure how accurate some of the information is...
2) Wander around the Royal Botanical Gardens. These gardens are only a short drive by bus or tuk-tuk from Kandy and are a welcome break from the hectic streets.
4) Think about going to see a cultural dance show; there are 5 or 6 around the city and they're held every evening around 5pm. (We skipped this though so I'm not sure how good they are, they seemed too touristy for our liking.)
5) Watch the sunset over the lake with a beer or cocktail at the hilltop bar Slightly Chilled.
6) Book yourself into a hotel outside the city (preferably with a pool & good food) so you can spend your time relaxing far away from Kandy's busy streets.
We arrived in Kandy from Ella by train, a beautiful albeit very long journey that winds through the green highlands and tea plantations. From Kandy we made our way by bus to Sigiriya and Dambulla; the start of the cultural triangle and our exploration of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka.