Sri Lanka, it was never in my motoring bucket list of places to ride in. But that didn’t stop me from saying yes to an assignment from Keshy even as it came with a vague description. “Go there and ride around for about a week or so,” he said.
So under the generosity of Sri Lankan Tourism department, off I went on a three hour flight to the island country near the southern tip of India. A quick Google search revealed that the civil war is over for a few years now and the main religion is Buddhism. The country is rich with history, dotted with Unesco protected sites and is roughly about 1/5 in size to Malaysia in comparison.
I landed in the capital, the seaside city of Colombo. It looked as busy as I had expected but also more modern then I had thought. As much as I wanted to absorb the city scenery, I was more focused on the traffic as that is what I was going to have to deal with while riding.
It looked a bit more chaotic than what we are used to here but I was sure there was a trick to circumvent all this chaos as though there were a lot of close calls with vehicles criss crossing each other, no one was hit.
Also i didn’t spot any bikes above 150cc along the one hour drive from the Airport to the hotel, which later I found out was because up to 2014, the maximum capacity for bikes there is 350cc. The restriction on capacity was raised only last year but up to 1001cc.
I was briefed what the whole ride was about as soon as I reached the Hotel Galadari at around lunch time. The ride was a brainchild of two Malaysians who has Sri Lankan ancestry, Leslie Tilak Jayawardena and S Maithripala which forms the event company, Buzzword.
Along with me there were 15 other bikers, 11 from Malaysia, two from Singapore and another two from Indonesia. With the help of Buzzword and several Sri Lankan government departments, they managed to get a special clearance to bring in their own bikes.
Most were on Harleys with two riders on BMW GS and one biker on an Aprilia Tuono. As I had missed the opportunity to ship my own bike there, I had to settle for a rental. But as mentioned a capacity restriction was only increased late last year, it was impossible to find anything above 250cc in the rental market.
I ended up with a nicely abused and used Yamaha Raid TTR 250, a proper adventure machine complete with a leaky engine and dodgy fuelling from the carb. Well at least I know that beast could take on any fuel as Ron95 is only available in big cities, the rest have to settle for Ron92.
And fuel is on the expensive side there, its 117.00 Sri Lankan Rupees or RM3.19 per litre of the Ron92 so the 250 strikes as a nice balance between economy and power.
Before the journey started, the riders took some time to ride from the Hotel Gladari to see the Malaysian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Azmi Zainudeen for some tea and “kueh”. After the visit we went back to the hotel for an official dinner hosted by the Sri Lankan Tourism board.
As mentioned, only recently big bikes were allowed in that country and understandably the row of Harleys parked at the main entrance of the hotel had constant “visitors” that stopped to view and take photos.
Taking the opportunity to chat with a local biker, he explained to me that it all works by sight, like if a driver is coming out of a junction, he will look at the driver coming towards him on the main road.
The moment the other driver looks at the taxi driver, that means the oncoming driver sees acknowledges whats happening and so the taxi driver will pull out on of the junction no matter how close the oncoming driver is.
And this applies to most driving conditions, in town or out in the countryside. Ad then he added that bikers don’t really get respected by larger vehicles in Sri Lanka and they should be really really careful.
Being careful is second nature to most bikers but as much as the traffic was chaotic, we later found out its the animals we have to be on the lookout for.
From dogs to cows (especially cows) and other farm animals, they seem to panic as we pass them by. The theory is that the animals have never heard of the “Rolling Thunder” as 11 Harley And Davidsons ride through the countryside.
The official ride day arrived on the next day, we rode from Colombo, northwards to Anuradapura where we would spend a night there. The weather for the day was hot most of the days we were riding there, the roads were mostly straight without much elevation changes nor turns.
Anuradapura feels a little bit out of nowhere but it was there where we visited one of the oldest temple in the region, built by the King Davanmpiyatisa in the third century BC.
This was also the place where the group stumbled upon wild elephants as we were travelling from the temple we visited to the hotel we were staying that night. It was barely around seven pm but the place gets dark as soon as six pm.
The next day saw us leaving the hotel early towards Habarana, admittedly I was very excited to get to that destination which is where the rock fortress Sigiriya is located.
Behind its engineering marvel is a story of betrayal between two brothers and their father, it was an honour to be able to climb up the huge rock, 1000 plus stairs to the top where we enjoyed a 360 degree view of the surrounding land and enjoyed the sunset of the day.
On the third day of the ride we went across the northern top of the island and go straight for the sea on the east side. We reached the small beach town of Passikudah slightly after lunch and spent the next two nights there for some rest from the ride we’ve been doing for the last three days.
After the good rest, day five saw the group heading for some interesting roads as Kandy is situated high in the mountainside in the heart of Sri Lanka. For the last five nights we have been staying in “newly” built grand hotels but in Kandy we stayed in the historical Queens hotel which is about 160-years-old.
On the six day of the ride we went slightly southward to Ella, here we passed what is our equivalent of Cameron Highlands with huge tea plantations and the most beautiful and scenic mountainside roads.
Little traffic and sweeping corners one after another, if you plan to ride in Sri Lanka, this area is a must ride.
Having said that, it took the group the whole day to get to Ella, which was under heavy roadworks. The last six kilometers of the ride was done not only in pitch dark but also on dirt roads as the local government was in the process of rebuilding the roads there.
From Ella we rode south till we reach the sea and then turned west riding along the coastal roads till we reached Hikkaduwa, its famous for its beaches and a favourite holiday spot for people of Colombo as it is just slightly over 100km south of the capitol city.
Just like the last beach location we hit on the third day of the ride, we spent two nights there in Hikkaduwa before making the last push to Colombo.
Some of us took the opportunity to explore the Galle Dutch Fort, built in 1588 by the Portuguese and later on taken over and expended by the Dutch in 1649.
Upon reaching Colombo, the bikers rode straight to the port and prepared their bikes for shipping. All in all, we completed about 1500km of riding, sounds short but consider that Sri Lanka does not have highways like ours and all roads are like our two lane B roads.
That being said, excluding the road works on Ella and a few spots, we only counted five potholes in that 1500 plus kilometers travelled.
All in all Sri Lanka is definitely worth the visit, weather you are riding or not.
The trip was supported by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau and the Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry. The Sri Lanka High Commission in Malaysia coordinated the tour with Buzzword.
Buzzword is planning for the next ride there or you can just fly in and rent a bike just like I did and explore the country. For those interested to join the ride you can call Leslie at +60122120154 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The people are friendly, the food is very familiar to us and things are fairly affordable. Its a must for history buffs.