Cost and Other Useful Information – Maldives

Think the Maldives is all 5 star resorts, water bungalows and butlers on demand, think again. Real people live here too, the Maldives has an estimated population of 300,00 and is made up of 1,196 tiny islands.

Until 2010 it was illegal for foreign tourists to visit locally owned islands which is why, when we think of the Maldives we think of the privately owned fancy resorts in glossy magazines. These only actually make up for around 100 of the islands.

I was completely unaware that the Maldives could actually be a perfect location for budget travel until I read an article on Pinterest. Since the law changed in 2010, more and more BnB’s have been opening on the local islands, making the Maldives a perfect place to budget travellers and backpackers.

We stayed in on 3 islands, each one completely different to the last.

Dress Code: When visiting a local island it is illegal for women to sunbathe in a bikini in the Maldives unless you are on a designated ‘bikini beach’.

Getting Around: travel by boat is an absolute must if your in the Maldives, local boats work in the same way as busses, with timetables and reticular stops, they are also really cheap.

Accommodation: We were in the Maldives for 10 nights and spent an average of £37.20/night staying in basic B&B’s. I booked everything on AirBnB.com.

Visa: UK Passport holders do not currently need a visa to enter the Maldives.

Vaccinations: At the time of writing (Sept 2017) there are no vaccinations required.

Money: The currency in the Maldives is the Maldivian rufiyaa. Exchange rates in July 2017 below:

£1 (GBP) = Rf19.85 (MVR)

$1 (USD) = Rf15.45 (MVR)

€1 (EUR) = Rf17.30 (MVR)

Most islands only have 1 ATM, but they are so small that your never more than a 10 minute walk away. If your staying on an island that’s very far from the beaten path then it’s best to check they have an ATM with your guest house before you arrive. ATM’s were really easy to find on the bigger islands of Male and Hulmale.

Tissamaharama (Tissa) and Yala National Park – Sri Lanka

Tissamaharama (Tissa)

Most people who visit Sri Lanka will visit Yala National Park, but not many will spend time in the nearby town of Tissamaharama (or Tissa for short), which is a shame because it's a really nice place to spend a night or two. So rather than rushing through and only seeing the bus station, why don't you spend a night or two to take in the sights and recover from that 4:30am Safari trip. 

The town itself is small, there aren't many places for dinner so we ate at the hotel, more on that below. There are however plenty of small bakery's along the Main Street, our favourite was Hambantota, we stocked up on Gull buns for our safari trip and then the 3 hour bus to Ella the next day. 

Tissa has its fair share of Buddhist temples just like any other town in Sri Lanka, the best one is Yatala Wehera, if you keep walking a few minutes along Tissamaharama road you will come to Galkanumandiya, I don't really know how to describe this place other than "ruins", it's absolutely incredible and kind of similar to Stonehenge in the UK. 

The countryside surrounding Tissa is mostly rice farms and wilderness. We were woken up on our second morning by approximately 30 monkeys crossing over our hotel roof, it was such good fun, the best type of wake up alarm ever. 

Yala National Park

Tissa is the perfect base for anybody visiting the Yala National Park, it's only a 30 minute drive (the closest town to Yala) and there are dozens of different tour companies based in Tissa. Your hotel will help you arrange your tour, we paid $44/pp for a 5 hour private tour, there is also the option to share your vehicle with another couple and the price drops to $31/pp. 

We were lucky enough to see a small family of elephants in the park, as well as lots and lots of other creatures, including crocodiles, wild pigs, buffalo etc. 

Where To Stay:

The Nature Resort was absolutely perfect, the rooms were clean and the hotel manager was very helpful. The food was fantastic but the restaurant is very small so you will need to place your order at least a few hours in advance to give the chef time to go and buy all the ingredients etc. The traditional Sri Lankan dinner was beautiful (and cheap). 

Getting There:

It's really easy to get there from  Matara by bus, there are frequent direct buses every day. If you have a driver, ask them to stop at the blow hole at Tangalle, it costs Rs250/pp to enter, and it's. it in a very nice area so a passing visit is more than enough.


Mirissa/Weligama – Sri Lanka 

I'm including Mirissa and Weligama in one post because they are within walking distance to one another. We stayed in the middle and spent 2 days in each town. 

Mirissa:

The beach here is a small crescent that is absolutely picture perfect, there's a small island on one end that you can walk to (you will get wet) which has a seat on the top, a perfect place to watch the sunset, and the other end of the beach is capped with a green cliff face which would look great on any post card. 

There are a few cafes built right onto the sand (like Unawatuna but not as overly developed), and the whole place has a laid back vibe. 

The harbour in Mirissa is colourful and busy, certainly worth a quick detour. 

Mirissa is famous for its whale watching tours, but we visited during low season and were told that there would be no tours during July and August because the sea was too rough. 

Weligama:

A surfers paradise, the beach here goes on forever. We walked about 25 minutes before seeing another human being, there was nothing on the beach other than the odd fishing boat and a few surfboard rental huts. 

Once you leave the Beach and cross the road, Weligama is a bit more developed that Mrissa, with more selection of restaurants and a supermarket. 

There is a small but impressive statue in Weligama, it's alleged to be over 1,500 years old. It's called the Kushtarajagala statue and is just after the railways tracks on Matara road. 

Overall Weligama was our favourite out of the two, the beach was less crowded and we had our best curry in Sri Lanka at Akila Kitchen, it's number 1 position on TripAdvisor is truly deserved. 

Where To Stay: 

We stayed at the Latheena Resort, Weligama was about a 20 minute walk west and Mirissa was about 30 minutes east. The hotel backed onto the beach. 

Breakfast was good and was included in the price. The family who ran the hotel were great and their kids were adorable. We got laundry done for Rs50/item, smaller items were free. 

I would certainly stay here again. 

How To Get There: 

If coming from Galle or Unawatuna, take any bus headed for Matara, and if coming from Matara, take the bus to Galle. A tuk-tuk will cost around Rs1,200. The train services are infrequent. 

Unawatuna – Sri Lanka

Located on the south west coast of Sri Lanka, close to Galle, Unawatuna was once voted the best beach in the world. Naturally we had to go and see what all the fuss is about.

It's quite a built up area and very "touristy", though still beautiful.

Things to do in Unawatuna:

The Beaches:

The main beach in Unawatuna is a crescent of golden sand, with cafes and bars built right onto the sand. Most rent sun beds for free as long as you buy something. We went during low season and it was peaceful with just a few other tourists, but it gets really busy during high season.

To escape the masses for a while, take a short hike (about 45 minutes) to the hidden jungle beach, also named the secret beach although not much of a secret anymore. If you don't fancy the walk then you can take a tuk-tuk the majority of the way there. Even though you can no longer guarantee the beach to yourself, it's still incredibly peaceful and the sea is a lot calmer.

Dalawella beach has the Instagram famous rope swing, and not much else, it's about 20 minutes walk from Unawatuna and another perfect getaway from the crowd. If your lucky you might even see a few of Sri Lanka's famous stilt fishermen. Sadly the sea was to rough for them on the day that we visited.

Buddhist Temples:

The Japanese peace pagoda is the perfect detour on the jungle beach walk, they do ask that you have shoulders and knees covered at this one, and like all the others, you will need to remove shoes. It's free to visit but there are donation boxes scattered around.

The Unawatuna Devol Devalaya is right at the tip of Unawatuna beach. You don't need to be too covered up but swimming costumes are a no no. You will likely be shown around by a local who is happy to take photos for you and will expect a small tip for his time.

Visit Galle:

Less than a 20 minute drive away, Galle is the perfect day trip, either take a tuk-tuk or one of the many busses heading that way from the main road. See my post on Galle by clicking here.

Night Life and Dining:

Being a more developed tourist destination means more choices when eating out, our favourites were:

Bedspace Kitchen, number 1 on TripAdvisor for good reason!

Coconut Style, for traditional rice and curry at really low prices.

Marcos, hidden down a narrow side street and authentic Italian food (the owner is from Italy)

There is also quite a good nightlife (more so in high season) in the many bars along the beachfront. Alcohol is quite expensive in Sri Lanka, about the same as you would pay in the UK.

Look After Yourself:

The gym was only Rs300/day, and we both got massages from the many different spas on the main street, we also spent a lot of our time on the balcony with a book.

Yoga was advised in a few different places every morning from 7am, but I never got out of bed on time 🙂

Where To Stay:

Sadly for the second time in Sri Lanka (and luckily the last) the hotel was not worth recommending.

How To Get There:

Unawatuna has its own train station but service isn't very regular, you may need to go to Galle first then take a bus (headed toward Matara) or tuk-tuk to Unawatuna. From Galle is less than 20 minutes.

Galle Fort – Sri Lanka

Galle is located on the south coast of Sri Lanka and is about 2 hours from Colombo (see 'Getting There'). Perfectly located for trade routes to Europe, Galle was previously occupied by the Portuguese before the Dutch and the English had a go, the old town is built within European style walls complete with a lighthouse and only one gate in and out. The new town has since expanded outside the walls but most people come to visit the old town and the walls themselves. 

Inside the walls the streets are incredibly clean and cater fully to tourists, there are plenty if boutique hotels, quirky cafes and handmade gift shops.

About a 30 minute walk from the fort is the Sea Turtle Hatchery, it costs Rs500/pp and you only need about 30 minutes there. As well as hatching babies they also take in injured turtles and the staff do a really good job explaining all the different species etc.

There are other hatcheries in Sri Lanka who let tourists release babies into these a but you can't do that here. A baby released during the day on its own has an almost 100% death rate, it's an unethical practice and the staff in Galle Hatchery really seem to care about the welfare of the animals. 

We chose to stay overnight but if you're short on time, Galle can certainly be done as a day trip from Unawatuna. There were lots of direct busses from the Main Street in Unawatuna, travel time is approx 30 minutes. 

Where to Say: 

The hotels inside the fort were quite expensive, we stayed about 25 minutes walk away at the hotel Hasara. It was a great budget option, basic but had A/C and a free breakfast. Worth noting that it was up a very dark path with no street lights, either take a torch with you (we just used my phone) or take a tuk-tuk for Rs200. 

Getting There:

From Colombo there are a few trains per day, we visited the tourist information stall in Colombo the day before who told us that we couldn't pre-book tickets for this train and that tickets were Rs80/pp and the journey was about 2.5 hours. When you get to Galle station you can take a tuk-tuk for around Rs100. 

We had abit of a disaster in Colombo and Sean got serious food poisoning, we didn't know what the bathroom situation would be onboard and it didn't seem fair to have him sitting vomiting into a bag the whole trip. We asked the receptionist to book us a private driver which cost Rs9,000, which is completely over the average, but we were desperate and in no position to negotiate. The drive took 2 hours.  

One Day in Colombo – Sri Lanka

Most people visiting Sri Lanka will arrive at Bandaranaike Airport and jump on the first bus to Kandy, without even seeing what the capital is all about. But Colombo is certainly worth a day of your itinerary (and 1 day really is enough).

It's hot, it's busy and it's loud, and if it's your first time here, it's a massive culture shock. But underneath all its faults, Colombo certainly has its own charm. 

Pettah market is directly opposite the Colombo Fort Railway Station and caters to tourists as well as locals, from there (keep heading away from the train station) you can get to the Red Masjid. The most interesting building in Colombo. Photo below, need I say more.


Head towards Galle Face for your first glimpse of the Indian Ocean. It's a really nice place to take a break from the hustle and bustle, and escape the city centre heat and is a great place for a spot of people watching too. There were lots of stalls along the sea front selling ice cream, snacks etc., and there were lots of families. 


The Seema Malaka temple is beautiful, located on its own island in the middle of a lake, we only got to see the outside because I was wearing shorts, but I really wish we could have seen the inside too. 

At the time of writing, Colombo was one massive building site, there is so much development work happening, especially along the sea front, most of which will be fancy hotels. I would love to come back in 5 years and see the difference. 

I'm sure there is already much more than this to see in Colombo, but we were majorly jet lagged and just wandered the streets most of the day and had a really early night. 

Where To Eat:

Lunch – the Old Dutch Hospital has been converted into some modern restaurants which have good lunchtime deals, or if you fancy a walk, the Barefoot Cafe is really popular with tourists, but it's only open till 7pm. 

Dinner – you will probably need to take a tuk-tuk depending where you are staying, but the all you can eat buffet at Raja Bojun is amazing. Its traditional Sri Lankan food and perfect if you want to try a little bit of everything. Couldn't recommend this place enough. 

Where To Stay: 

Our hotel was pretty grim, so won't be recommending a hotel in Colombo :) 

Getting there:

Getting there from the Airport is so easy. Come out of the main building and cross over the zebra crossing. The No. 187 bus will be waiting for you. There's almost always one there and it tends to wait until the next one arrives before it leaves. 

It costs Rs125/pp and you may need to buy a seat for your bag depending on its size. (Although we never had too.) Get straight on the bus and take a seat. The conductor will come around collecting money once the bus has left. Get off at the last stop which is Colombo main bus station. The conductor will tell you when. Also, the bus has A/C unlike most Sri Lankan buses. 

There will be plenty of tuk-tuk drivers waiting to take you from the bus station to your hotel. Knowing roughly where it is and how far from the station it is will let you negotiate a fair price. See my "how to haggle" post for more tips. 

Any questions about the bus let me know.

xx

How to Haggle

Haggling or bargaining is expected in most countries, I’ve got abit of a head start being a professional buyer means that I’ve had my fair share of practice but it can be daunting if you’re not used to it. I’ve listed a few tips below that will help you along the way if you’re completely new to haggling. 

  1. It will be expected that you will try to haggle the price, because of this, the first price offered is almost always inflated. Never accept the first price. 
  2. A little bit of local knowledge goes a long way. Knowing what something should cost, gives you a good starting point. A quick google search can give you an estimate of taxi prices per KM etc. You can save a fortune by just spending 10 minutes online before your fly.
  3. If you are taking a taxi, always agree the price before you get in, it’s to late too try and haggle after the event. 
  4. Don’t be afraid to walk away, if the vendor is being uncooperative then the chances are you will find another one who is willing just around the corner. Never feel pressured into paying to much.
  5. Most importantly, remember to be realistic and ethical, sure you can buy this £2 sunglasses for £1 if you try hard enough, but is it really worth it? Remember that the vendors all have families to feed and bills to pay. There’s nothing wrong with expecting to pay a fair price, but make sure it’s fair for both sides.

Some people will argue that if you can afford to travel to a foreign country then you are instantly richer than the majority of its population and therefore should be willing to pay over the odds to help the local economy. However by paying to much you can have a negative effect by inflating prices for the local people and pricing them out of the market.

Let me know if you found this useful.

Ashleigh xxx

Modern Day Berlin 

Berlin is remembered for its dark history during Hitler’s dictatorship and then during the cold war, but Berlin is now a vibrant city, full of life and welcoming to all walks of life. I still recommend visiting the historical sites, but once you have ticked them off your list, head over to the modern side of the city and experience the culture and atmosphere like no other.

Berlin Fernsehturm (TV tower), located right next to Alexanderplatz station symbolising the modern Berlin. Its €13 to ride the elevator to the top for views over the whole city.

 

There is a free walking tour that meets outside the Starbucks under the TV tower called the ‘Alternative Berlin’ tour. It departs every day at 11am and we booked on http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com the night before, but I think you could just show up and ask to join.

A quick note on the free tours, every tour is different and the tour guides don’t get paid so they rely heavily on tips, please be generous.

Street art is all over Berlin, you either love it or hate it, I absolutely loved it. There will be a lot of stops on your walking tour to point out the work of various famous street artists.

.

During the 90’s East Berlin was mostly empty buildings, because when the wall came down everybody moved to the ‘nicer’ West Berlin. The empty buildings attracted artists, musicians, writers etc. who lived in the buildings without paying any rent, (illegally squatting). There are still a handful of buildings where the artists still live rent free, usually by agreement of the local government. One example is Haus Schwarzenberg, visitors are allowed into the courtyard and there is a small museum that you can enter free of charge. There is also Kunstraum Kreuzberg where there is a section open to visitors.

.

The colourful east side gallery is the longest stretch of the wall still standing (just under a mile), the government have commissioned street artists to decorate the wall in cheerful colours, it’s really busy all year round but its free and one of the ‘must see’ attractions in Berlin. 

 

 
There’s a Treehouse just behind Baumhaus an der Mauer, where an old Turkish man lives. (I think he’s 96 at the time of writing). The man built his tree house himself with scraps of wood he found on the street, it’s on a tiny patch of land that once backed right onto the wall. When the wall came down, the local government wanted to knock it down to build a road from East Berlin to West Berlin, but the community came together and managed to save the man’s home. he still sits out on the porch waving to people passing by. A symbol of how strong the community in modern day Berlin can be.

Berlin has a buzzing night life and has something for everyone, from bouncing night clubs to high end restaurants to laid back beach bars.  

.
I’m much more into the relaxed scene and stay away from clubs as much as possible, but everyone I’ve spoken to says that Berlin has some of the best clubs in the world. 

.
We stayed in Friedrichshain which was perfect for a laid back cocktail. It didn’t seem like much was happening until you wander down the little side streets where some of the best places were hidden. If your in the area you must try the Thai restaurant Sala Thai, best red curry I’ve ever tasted. Also, Keyif cocktail bar was superb. 


______________
Click HERE to read our Essential Information post about Berlin.
 
______________
Click HERE to read our Historical Berlin post.

Cost and Useful Info – Berlin

Getting There: The flight from Newcastle (UK) is around 1 hour and 35 minutes, EasyJet fly regularly from loads of different cities in the UK. Our flights only cost £55/pp.

.


Where To Stay: Arcadia Hotel Berlin, (only £40/night) right next to the Berlin Frankfurter Allee train station where you can take the S9 direct to the airport and opposite the underground, where the U5 is a short 7 minute journey to Alexanderplatz station in the city centre. The Arcadia is located in the Friedrichshain area which is quite and safe with a few nice restaurants and bars close by.

Getting Around: The main airport is SFX, about a 30-45 minute train ride from the city centre depending where you’re staying. A single ticket costs €3.40 or a day ticket which includes all the trams, busses and underground is €7.70. A single ticket for the underground is €2.80 and lasts 90 minutes, you can go as far as you want and change train as many times as you need to, all on the same ticket. They run regularly, cover the whole city and most lines are 24 hours.

Tours etc.: There are lots of ‘Free’ tours in Berlin, a quick google search will bring up a few different companies. I used http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com to book the classic Berlin tour and the alternative Berlin tour. The tours are free but the guides rely on tips to make a living, so be generous. See our ‘Berlin 3 day Itinerary’ for more details on the tours. Click HERE to read.

The river Spree is lined with dozens of boats trying to sell you a 1 hour tip, we chose the one which departed every 30 minutes from Moltkebrucke for €13/pp, but I got the impression that they were all similar prices and all follow the exact same route.

Food & Drink: The first thing I noticed is that water is expensive here, ranging from €1.80 to €3.00 for a normal size bottle. Food on the other hand is quite reasonable, for breakfast there were hundreds of bakeries selling croissants for less than €2.00. For lunch, there is a currywurst stall spread all over the city and you can buy one for less than €5. For dinner, a 2 course Italian meal for 2 people with wine cost us €40.



Visa: UK Passport holders do not currently need a visa to enter Germany.

Vaccinations: At the time of writing (June 2017) there are no vaccinations required.

Currency: The currency in Germany is Euro. It was really easy to find a cashpoint (ATM) and MasterCard is accepted in most places, even at underground (subway) stations.

£1 (GBP) = €1.14 (EUR)

£1 (USD) = €0.93 (EUR)

If you still have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below:
Thanks for reading

Ashleigh xx