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

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.

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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.

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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.  

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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. 

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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. 


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

My Top 5 Money Saving Tips

There are hundreds of blog posts out there explaining which airlines have the best rewards system etc., I won’t talk about that because most people will have read it a hundred times before. Below are a few little tips I have picked up on my travels and which have saved us A LOT of money. (Especially number 1.) Some of these you may have heard before, some you won’t.

1. Money

For those of you who haven’t heard of Martin Lewis, he is a UK based financial expert, he gives advice on regular TV appearances as well as his online blog. I’ve been following for years and one of the most interesting posts on his web page is about travel money, he spends €1,000 in 5 different ways then works out how much he has spent in GBP £. The best value for money as a specific oversees credit card which has no fees for spending foreign currency or withdrawing cash.

I applied for the card the same day I read this post and have never looked back. It’s really freeing to not have to worry about expensive back charges or carrying around a massive amount of cash.

Read the whole article here http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money 

2. Hotels

 I book almost everything on Hotels.com, you get a point for each night that you stay and once you get 10 points, you get a free night anywhere in the world. The amount your allowed to spend is an average of the 10 nights you have already paid for, but if you want to spend more you can just pay the difference. I’m keeping all my free nights for when we go somewhere expensive like Singapore, so that I don’t have to fork out quite as much for our hotel.

 

Traveling for a year, we would only need to pay for 10 ¾ month accommodation, the last 1 ¼ month would be completely free!

 3. Flights

If your flexible on dates, Skyskanner.com can show you the prices for a whole month and you can just pick the cheapest date, it’s a really good function that has saved us a fortune. Traveling on Saturdays or Sundays are usually the most expensive. 


If you’re really not fussy about where you go, they also have a function where you can search ‘everywhere’, it will list all the direct flights on that day and list them in price order, cheapest first. I’ve done this a few times when I just need a beach and don’t care where it is.

 

4. Shopping

If you’re traveling to Asia or Africa, make sure that you buy your sun screen before you go. It’s really expensive once you are away because its usually been imported. We saw a normal bottle of sunscreen in which was approx. £10 at home for £45 in Vietnam! 

5. Travel Insurance

Never ever buy travel insurance from your travel agent, I was once quoted £107/pp for insurance on a 5 day mini break to NYC, that just ridiculous. Use a comparison site like confused.com or comparethemarket.com to look up the best deals, in the end I got worldwide travel insurance for a full year for only £32 per couple. That’s a £182 saving.

So that’s our top 5 tips, short and sweet, if you have any other tips, please share them in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading,

Ashleigh and Sean