Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Lankan diaries: Beware of con drivers targeting travelers in Sri Lanka

To celebrate our son’s third birthday, we planned a long trip of 16 nights and 17 days to Sri Lanka. After scanning through several quotes and places from different travel agencies, we finalized the one given by Miraculous Holidays (Pvt) Ltd. The agency had booked us rooms in some nice hotels and the itinerary mentioned that we would be given A/C van along with the English speaking driver guide. We were more than happy thinking the driver would not only take us to places, but also throw some light on the places we were visiting. What more, we were more than eager to visit the beautiful island country. Little did we realize that our plan would never go according to the itinerary!

But before going to the miraculous island of Sri Lanka please take time and do a good research, not just about the places, but also about the drivers, the prices of food, cost of entrance fee (different for locals, different for SAARC countries, entirely different for other nationalities!), etc. If you read our bad experience surrounding the driver we were provided in Sri Lanka, it might help you to be more cautious and keep you from repeating our mistakes.

The travel agency sent Mr Alex as our English speaking driver guide. But "English speaking driver guide" Alex was unable to understand English throughout and there were so many confusions and miscommunication in the entire trip. He was supposed to drive us around places mentioned in the travel itinerary on a pre-defined route and stay with us. I’m sure his accommodation and food were also included in the price we paid to the company.

Day 1: We reached Colombo airport at 9 am and around 10 am we proceeded towards Negambo town. Driver Alex told us that the airport is 25 km away from Negambo town and so did the itinerary. Within 10-15 minutes we were in Negambo, and the actual distance from the airport to Negambo is only 7 km!

He showed us a fish market and took us directly to the hotel. When we asked if there's any place to see around, Alex told us that there's nothing much to see. By this time we realized that Alex was unable to understand English, let alone speak decent English! 

Negambo fish market
We reached the hotel around 11.45 am. Alex talked with the hotel staff and said he requested them to allow us to check-in. He told us that the actual check-in timing at the hotels in Sri Lanka is 2 pm! We should have got a RED alert by this, but we didn’t and trusted him blindly. After dropping us in the hotel, he just disappeared. Since Alex had not stopped at any places to take pictures, we hired a tuk tuk for Rs 500 to go around the town in the evening.

The first whole day was wasted in Negambo!

Read Lankan diaries: Negambo -  Little Rome

Day 2: The second day, Alex was supposed to take us to Pinnawala elephant orphanage, Sigiriya Rock Fortress and for Habarana elephant back ride. He came to pick us at 9 am and we proceeded towards Pinnawala.

After travelling about 25 km, we realized that our shoulder bag with passports and money had been left behind at the hotel reception. Alex called the hotel and confirmed that the bag was found and the staff had kept it with them. When we asked if someone could get the bag to our next stop, i.e., Pinnawala, Alex said nobody would do that. When we said we can pay the guy to bring the bag to us, he himself readily agreed to go back to the hotel to fetch the bag.

After getting the bag, Alex said he has wasted 25 km and cannot take us to Pinnawala or to Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Instead he took us to do elephant back ride at Habarana. Whereas Pinnawala is only 73 km from Negambo, he drove us to Habarana in a different route. When we asked about the distance between Negambo and Habarana, he said 190 km, and so did the itinerary, while the actual distance is only 149 km!

On the way, he stopped the van to have lunch. There were no stops to take the pictures, lest we would be late! He took a long route of 190 km to Habarana, you see…

Elephant ride in Habarana
Alex took us to a private farm in Habarana where the guy asked us to pay Rs 3,500 for each person. When we told Alex that the price is little too much, he insisted that’s the cheapest fare and they charge even more for Westerners! After a few minutes of negotiation, the guy agreed for Rs 2,600 for each person for 30 minutes ride on the elephant. Alex looked happy that we went on elephant ride. Little did we realize that he was pocketing commission from that person there!

Read Lankan diaries: Habarana elephant back ride

Around 4 pm, he dropped us at the hotel in Sigiriya.

Day 3: Around 9 am he took us to Sigiriya Rock Fortress. We paid full amount Rs 2,350 (SAARC nation fee) for each person. After a week we came to know that Alex was supposed to get us 30% discount at Sigiriya as mentioned in the itinerary! Time and again, Alex said that we will not be able to climb the fortress and should come back if we feel tired. We nodded and just went ahead. Alex was surprised that we, with the little one in our hands, made it up to the fortress!

On top of the Sigiriya rock fortress
Read Lankan diaries: Sigiriya Rock Fortress - the Eighth Wonder of the World

On the way, he insisted that we go on a bullock cart safari to a village and have lunch in the village. He said we could see Polonnaruwa the next day, but we didn’t budge.

After lunch he took us to Polonnaruwa. There again we paid full amount of Rs 1,925 (SAARC nation fee) for each person. Even then, Alex didn’t come forward to get us 30% discount mentioned in the itinerary! He stopped a guide who was on his way home and asked us to hire him to show around the ruins. We hired that local guide for Rs 1,500 and the poor chap took us around in our van to show most of the important places. His English was pretty good, and we enjoyed digging into the history of Polonnaruwa.

The ruins of Polonnaruwa
The guide realized that Alex was unable to communicate with us in decent English and told that it’s unfortunate that such a driver had accompanied good travelers like us… He informed us in a hushed voice that normally drivers take a commission from the guides. We told him not to pay a single penny to Alex, and the guide gave a dry helpless smile. Later we saw Alex taking the guide's phone number and address before leaving the place.

Read Lankan diaries: Polonnaruwa - the royal ancient city
  
After Polonnaruwa, Alex said he would check with his friends about Minneriya jeep safari and would take there the next day. He insisted we do a body massage at his friend’s place and took us there, but we refused his offer. He dropped us back to the hotel in Sigiriya around 4 pm and left the place.

Day 4: After breakfast, Alex took us around 9 am to a place nearby to the hotel to go on a jeep safari to Minneriya. He spoke to the guy in Sinhalese and fixed the price at Rs 17,000 including the entrance fee to the national park. We negotiated and the price was fixed at Rs 15,200 including the entrance fee.

After 30-minute drive, the jeep reached the Minneriya National Park and the jeep driver took the tickets for us. When we checked at the ticket counter, we realized that the entrance fee was Rs 3,500 per person. The jeeps at the entrance of the National park charged only Rs 2,000 per jeep.

 Minneriya national Park
If Alex had directly taken us to the National Park, it would have been only Rs 7,000 (entrance fee for two adults) + Rs 2,000 (for the jeep) = Rs 9,000 in total. We would have saved Rs 6,000! But no. Here, Alex not only saved himself from driving 30 minutes (about 10-12 km), but also made us pay extra amount, which he got back from the jeep guy in the form of commission!

When we told Alex that we could have saved Rs 6,000 if he had directly took us to the park entrance, he got irritated. He argued with us saying Westerners pay much more than that and never complain about spending…

Then, he took us to some restaurant on the way to have lunch. What we noticed throughout our trip was he took us to expensive restaurants to eat and never himself paid a single penny on his food.
After lunch, he drove us to Trincomalee. The actual distance from Habarana to Trincomalee is 84 km, and Alex told us it's 115 km, and so did the itinerary!

Koneswaram temple
Funnily, he didn’t know the route to Koneswaram temple in Trincomalee and checked with 3-4 people before actually reaching there.

Around 5 pm, he dropped us to the hotel in Trincomalee.

Day 5: After breakfast, around 9.30 am he took us to Kanniya or Hot Water Wells and later to Nilaveli beach. It was very crowded and we didn't even go out in the beach. Alex told us that we can visit Pigeon Island the next day. So, around 12 noon, he dropped us back to the hotel.

Hot water wells
When we insisted that we wanted to see Marble beach, reluctantly he agreed. Around 4 pm, he took us there. On the way, we wanted him to stop the van to take pictures of the fishermen near harbor, for which he said we can do it while coming back, but he never stopped on his way back, because we had an argument over the parking fee at Marble beach.

Marble beach
After reaching the place we came to know that it was guarded by Lankan Navy and had an entrance fee of Rs 20 per person apart from a parking fee of Rs 50 for cars/vans. Alex asked us to pay the parking fee, as if we took him to a place which was not in the itinerary. We didn’t want to argue and waste time with him, as other tourist vehicles were queueing up behind us.

After an hour, he dropped us back to the hotel in Trincomalee.

Day 6: After breakfast we checked out from the hotel at 8.30 am, because we didn’t want to miss out Pigeon Island.

Alex insisted that we take a boat from the hotel and do a round trip to the Pigeon Island which would cost Rs 15,000, including the entrance fee, for two adults. We argued with him to take us directly to Nilaveli beach so that we would take the tickets on our own. We remembered how we were cheated by him and his friends at Minneriya jeep safari. He reluctantly took us after stopping the vehicle at three different spots at Nilaveli beach, saying he doesn’t know the exact place where they issued the tickets for Pigeon Island.

Nilaveli beach
Finally, we reached the spot where they issued tickets to the Pigeon Island and paid Rs 2,510 per person (SAARC nation fee) and Rs 2,000 per boat.  In total, we paid only Rs 7,020 and saved Rs 7,980!

 Pigeon Island National Park
Later, we proceeded to Kandy. En route, Alex wanted us to have lunch first, but we insisted that we would climb the Dambulla Rock Cave temple first and eat later. He looked rather unhappy.

Dambulla Rock Cave temple
After that, he took us to some expensive restaurant and then to a spice garden, even though we were not interested in visiting the garden. We wanted to visit Matale Alu Vihare temple on that day itself as the itinerary mentioned.

In the display shop of a spice garden
He insisted that we visit their shop if not their garden. Reluctantly we went to their shop and came back within 10 minutes. Alex looked very distressed and was said something in Sinhalese with the guys of spice garden showing hands at us and nodding his head. We thought he is upset because we didn’t buy anything there and maybe they didn’t give him any commission.

We asked him to hurry as we wanted to visit Alu Vihare temple for which he said there’s nothing much to see there and all the cave temples are similar to Dambulla cave temple! We were rather shocked by his statement and insisted that we visit the place, no matter how it is. He drove us so reluctantly that for a moment we felt that it would be closed by the time we reach there. We reached the place just 15 minutes before it closed and had a quick visit.

After a quick drive, around 6.30 pm he dropped us to the hotel in Kandy.

Day 7: After breakfast, around 8.30 am Alex took us to Tooth Relic temple. Before dropping us he said we should quickly come back as there were many places to cover on that day. Yes, he told us that he would take us to Pinnawala elephant orphanage on that day!

Peradeniya Botanical Garden
Within an hour we came out of the temple and headed towards Peradeniya Botanical Garden. He said we can do a quick tour and come back in 30 minutes as it was a long journey to Pinnawala. We came back in an hour and then he took us to Pinnawala elephant orphanage.

Pinnawala elephant orphanage
After feeding the baby elephants in Pinnawala, en route Alex took us to a restaurant for lunch. As usual, he went first and talked to them in Sinhalese and told us that Lankan buffet costs Rs 1,550 per person. I’m mentioning this price because, later we discovered that the lunch we had in that restaurant costs only Rs 500!

On the way, Alex took us to a leather shop and we liked a leather laptop bag. The shopkeeper said the price was Rs 15,000. Alex insisted us to buy it saying nowhere in Lanka we would get such a nice bag for such a cheap price. After some negotiation the shopkeeper agreed to accept Rs 12,500.  Alex kept praising how the bag was very good and how he helped to bargain it. When we reached Bentota, we realised that we were again cheated in that shop with the full support of Alex. The very same laptop bag in Bentota was only Rs 5,500! 

Leather goods shop
After visiting Pinnawala, Alex said he would drop us back to the hotel as the temples were very far from Kandy, and told us it’s around 45 km and would take more than one hour journey. But after we purchased the bag, he was so happy that he decided to take us to one of the three temples mentioned in the itinerary. He took us to Gadaladeniya temple first. In fact, it was just 12 km away from Kandy and we reached in less than 10 minutes. After that he wanted to return to the hotel, but we insisted that he takes us to the other two temples as well. So with half-heartedly, he took us to Lankathilaka and Embakke Dewalaya, which were also closeby and within a short distance of 2-3 km!
Embakke Dewalaya 

Gadaladeniya temple
Lankathilaka temple

Around 6 pm he dropped us back to the hotel in Kandy.

Day 8: After breakfast around 9 am, we checked out of the hotel. When we asked if he would show us Kandy city before leaving, he said there's nothing much to see. We asked him to stop near Kandy lake to take some pics and he refused by saying parking problem. So we left the city without any sightseeing or shopping!
Gems museum aka retail shop
On the way to Nuwara Eliya Alex took us to an expensive souvenir shop and insisted we buy something from there. He said the company has given him a letter and he needs seal and signature from that shop. Later, on the way, he took us to a Gem museum, which was actually a retail jewellery shop and said he needs sign and seal from that shop also. Then, he took us to some other retail shop which was just opposite to that jewellery shop and insisted we buy something from there. We budged to his pressure and purchased some clothes for our baby.

Alex looked very happy after we purchased in that shop. He said he has also bought a skirt and a blouse for his wife. Maybe it was a form of commission for him since we purchased in that shop. To our shock, later we discovered that we had paid two times more than the actual price for the clothes in that shop! We bought two shirts for my baby paying Rs 2,000. The very same shirts at the Colombo Airport were available for only Rs 440 and Rs 500 :(

When we asked if he’s taking us to Batik factory, he changed the topic and said they are in different places and it’s a very long journey to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy. We kept quiet.

He insisted that we eat our lunch at the same place below that retail shop and imagine, it was only 12 noon. We refused and told him will eat lunch on the way. To our surprise, he stopped for lunch at the place which was the branch of the same restaurant below that expensive retail shop in Kandy!
Tea factory

From the restaurant, we had a view of Ramboda Falls and later he took us to a Tea Factory. The drive was so beautiful and there we saw people stopping at several points to take pictures, but Alex was not ready to stop the van! Around 5 pm, he dropped us to the hotel in Nuwara Eliya.

Day 9: After breakfast he took us to Sita Amman Kovil around 9.30 am, and then to Ambewela farm.

Sita Amman kovil
I must share another interesting thing here. On the way back, Alex stopped at a spot where a woman was selling strawberries. When we asked how much they cost, Alex said Rs 250. He added, they were poor people and if we buy from them, it would help them to have one time food for that day. We agreed. The woman gave two boxes of strawberries to Alex. He took Rs 250 from us and gave back one strawberry packet to her. In the evening, we went out for shopping in the city and discovered that not one but two packs of strawberries were sold for Rs 250 in the market!

Ambewela farm
In the afternoon, he took us to an expensive Indian restaurant for lunch and the food was so terrible that it was not at all worth of what we paid. But he Alex was happy, because he had got his free food there.

After lunch, he took us to Gregory lake and said we should come back within 30 minutes else he had to pay the parking fee there.

Gregory lake
When our baby wanted to do a horse ride, Alex spoke with a guy in Sinhalese and said it costs Rs 1,500 for a round. We refused to go the horse ride and asked him to drop us near the Nuwara Eliya post office for one hour to do shopping. He agreed. We went out for sightseeing and shopping and even for a horse ride which cost us only Rs 300 for a round!

Horse ride in Nuwara Eliya
Alex had called us 3-4 times before we finished our shopping. Then he dropped us back to the hotel in Nuwara Eliya around 5.30 pm!

Day 10: After breakfast, we checked out from the hotel around 9.30 am. We were supposed to visit Devon's and St Clair’s waterfalls, according to the itinerary, but Alex said they were very far and can't visit them. When we argued why the itinerary mentioned them if they were far, he said the guy who prepared the itinerary must be crazy! We didn’t continue the argument, as we had realized there’s no point in discussing anything with this man.

From the hotel, he directly took us to show Grand Hotel. He said all travelers visit the place and our kid can play in the park outside the hotel. We realized that he didn’t want to take us to the waterfalls, which was 27 km from Nuwara Eliya.

Nanu Oya railway station
He told us that the Nanu Oya railway station is 35-40 kms from Nuwara Eliya and would take 35-40 minutes to reach. The train was at 12.45 pm, Alex dropped us at the railway station at 11 am. It took less than 10 minutes from Grand Hotel to reach the railway station. In fact, the railway station is just 7 km from the hotel.

The train tickets were till Badulla, but he asked us to get down in Ella. Important point here is we can see the famous Demodara Nine Arches Bridge connecting the two mountains only after Ella and not before it. Maybe we could have gone till Badulla to see that iconic Nine Arches bridge. It's only 21 kms from Ella and would have taken another 40 minutes to reach Badulla from Ella. So, we missed it, thanks to Alex!

Ravana Ella falls
Alex stopped the vehicle at Ravana Ella waterfalls and then directly took us to Udawalawa. He didn't show us Buduruwagala temple, citing it was very far! We passed through Wellawaya and the temple is actually only 5 km from Wellawaya!

He dropped us to the hotel in Udawalawa around 6.30 pm!

Day 11: After breakfast around 9 am Alex came to pick us from the hotel to go to Galle. He wanted to take us directly to Galle and said all the temples are the same and there was no need to visit Mulgirigala temple. After we insisted he drove us towards the temple in a reluctant mood. 

En route he showed us Stilt fishermen and took us to Galle fort. He stopped at the light house in the fort and asked us to walk towards another point, which we did in 30 minutes. We spent only 30 minutes in Galle and he just drove us out of the city! No stops for taking any pictures…

Galle Fort
Later, we had lunch on the way and around 3.30 pm he dropped us to the hotel in Bentota.

Day 12: After breakfast he took us to show the turtle hatchery around 9 am. Instead of taking us to Kosgoda, as mentioned in the itinerary, he stopped the van at the first hatchery found on the road, which had a board “Bentota South turtle hatchery”. When we checked the person issuing tickets if it was Kosgoda turtle hatchery, he said it was not. Then we asked Alex to take us to that place and he refused, saying all the hatcheries are the same.

A turtle hatchery in Bentota
When we insisted we wanted to see the hatchery in Kosgoda, Alex said it is the Kosgoda hatchery. Later, he brought another bus driver and spoke something in Sinhalese with him, and that driver started arguing with us saying it was Kosgoda and we should always check with a trusting person like Alex and not believe others!

We kept quiet and Alex said the entrance ticket was Rs 1,000 per person. The tickets mentioned only the amount. It neither had bill number nor the name and address of the hatchery!

We quickly saw the hatchery and then cross-checked with a tuk tuk driver about the Kosgoda turtle hatchery. The tuk tuk driver told us that it was less than 5-minute drive from that spot. Alex was annoyed that we cross checked with the tuk tuk driver.

When we asked Alex to stop the van at Kosgoda hatchery, he stopped reluctantly. The hatchery had a big board, and said it was run by a non-profit organization and was opened in 1988. We checked the ticket price and it was only Rs 500 per person! Alex was not at all happy that we came to know about his scamming.

Madu Ganga boat ride
Then he took us to Madu Ganga boat ride. The boat person said it's Rs 7,500 per boat and after negotiation he agreed for Rs 7,000. We were taken only to Cinnamon Island and on the way it started to rain. Alex asked the driver to return and so we did!

Then Alex took us back to the hotel in Bentota around 12 noon.

When we checked if he's not taking us to Ambalangoda, he told it's very far. The actual distance from Bentota to Ambalangoda is just 24 kms, while the itinerary said it's 60 kms and takes 1-2 hours journey!  Since Alex refused to take us out, we hired a tuk tuk for Rs 600 to go out for shopping in Bentota. There we discovered that the laptop bag which we bought in the shop Alex showed in Kandy was only Rs 5,500 :( 

Day 13: After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel around 9 am and proceeded to Colombo.
In Colombo, Alex stopped the vehicle at Independence Square and Colombo Museum. When we asked him we want to see Premadasa International Cricket Ground, he showed us the lights from a distance and said it's the cricket ground. As a cricket player, my husband wanted to visit that cricket ground, but Alex was not ready to take us there.

Independence Square in Colombo
Later, when we forced him to show us the temples, he took us to Gangaramaya temple.

He didn't even take us to Colombo Zoo and Anjaneyar temple, even though they were in the itinerary.

Gangaramaya temple
There was no city tour or stops for shopping. He directly took us to the hotel in Colombo around 2 pm and disappeared for the day as expected! In the evening, we hired a tuk tuk for Rs 400 to go to town!

Day 14: After breakfast we checked out from the hotel around 9 am. When we left the Colombo and reached the highway, it was 10 am.

We were supposed to reach Maradankadawalawa near Anuradhapura within 2.30 pm. My husband had a doctor’s appointment at 2.30 pm and the tour executive from the Miraculous Holidays waited for us at the doctor’s place.

Alex took us from Colombo to Habarana via Kurunegala (182 kms) and from there to Maradankadawalawa (27 kms) = 209 kms. We reached the village at 3 pm and we missed the appointment. He took 5 hours to reach the place and the doctor had already left the place.

Then, Alex took us to the hotel in Anuradhapura around 4 pm!   

The actual distance from Colombo to Anuradhapura is 175 kms (via Kurunegala), and will be 180 kms via Puttalam. I'm mentioning this in particular because it took only 3 hours while coming back from Anuradhapura to Colombo!
     
Day 15: After breakfast around 9.30 am, we proceeded to Maradankadawalawa for treatment again. We reached the doctor's place at 10.20 am. Alex started his game again. He created misunderstandings without understanding what we were saying. The actual price they said and the money he took from us differed a lot. Since it was for medicine we didn't bother.

Patients waiting for the doctor at Maradankadawalawa

What was more hurtful was Alex called the travel agency to inform that we were not paying money for the medicines. In the beginning, Alex told me that I had to pay Rs 530, but later said I had to pay them Rs 630 for medicines, Rs 1,500 for grinding the herbs. This was apart from the medicines which cost Rs 1,300, Rs 1,000 for the doctor fee, Rs 1,000 for the doctor’s assistants! When we asked how the price differed, he immediately called the travel agency and said that we were not paying money!

We didn’t want to argue more with him or the villagers there and silently paid whatever money they asked and left the place at 4 pm. Alex dropped us back to the hotel in Anuradhapura around 5 pm!

From day one, Alex kept on saying that after treatment my husband would not be able to go around the town and should take rest in the hotel. He didn’t want to show Anuradhapura to us. But before he left, we informed him that we would go to see the sacred town the next morning. He was surprised that we didn’t budge to his pressure.

Day 16: After breakfast, Alex took us for Anuradhapura Sacred town at 10 am. My husband and child remained in the van, while I went to see the sacred monuments. He took us to three places and skipped many important places in the sacred town. 

Isurumuniya temple in Anuradhapura
En route, he took us to a resort for lunch and dropped us back to the hotel around 1.30 pm and disappeared for the day. In the evening, we hired a tuk tuk for Rs 600 to go out for shopping.

Day 17: After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel around 9.45 am and proceeded to Colombo. We informed Alex that our flight was at 9 pm. Realizing that we would reach pretty in advance, he drove via Puttalam at a speed of 35-40 km/hour. In Chilaw, he took us to Munneshwaram temple. When we asked to take us to Manavari temple, he said he doesn't know where that temple is!

Munneshwaram temple
He took us to Murugan temple, which was under renovation and closed for visitors, in Chilaw and stopped for lunch in a restaurant just opposite to the temple. I'm mentioning this particular incident to show how easily Alex cheats tourists. Alex first went inside the restaurant and came back and told us there was Lankan buffet of rice and curry. The board in front of the buffet said “Lunch Rs 200”.

Murugan temple, under renovation, in Chilaw
When we went to wash our hands, the hotel staff removed the board. We had food and when the bill came, it said Rs 450 per lunch. When we showed and asked about the board which said Rs 200, the hotel staff said it was for “Set Thali”. Even though we understood Alex was behind this scam, we paid Rs 980 (Rs 900 for food + Rs 80 for water) and left the place.

On the way, we asked Alex about the board that said Rs 200 for lunch and told him that they charged Rs 450. He said Rs 200 was for set thali and buffet was always expensive. He went on to argue that Rs 450 was cheaper, because everywhere we had paid Rs 1,500-1,800 for lunch per person!

We felt terrible seeing how this man has been cheating us from day one. We didn't continue our argument, as by this time we had realized that there was no point in it. Moreover, he had decided in his mind that he would not spare us even on the last day of our trip, he wanted to make the most of the available opportunity.

Then, he stopped at Negambo market and took us to buy small chillies. He talked in Sinhalese and told us that 100 gm of green chillies costs Rs 100. We bought 200 gm of small green chillies by paying Rs 200, since we don't get such small green chillies in Qatar. After that, we kept checking other vegetable vendors. Meanwhile, Alex went back to the same vegetable vendor who sold us green chillies and came back after a few minutes. We got suspicious about his behaviour.

Later, we went to buy some bandages in the nearby medical shop and enquired how much would small green chillies cost in Negambo. The female owner in the medical shop told us that not more than Rs 50-60 for 250 gm! We were utterly shocked by this. We were looted royally by Alex and we had paid Rs 200 for 200 grams of chillies. Then we realized that Alex went back to the vegetable vendor to pocket the extra money we had given!

He dropped us at the airport at 4.10 pm, even though our flight was at 9 pm. He told us that in Sri Lanka one has to be at the airport four hours before the journey. We laughed and kept quiet. Before bidding him adieu, we paid him some tips. He counted it before putting it in the pocket and said we had paid him very less. He started arguing that he had lost around 50 km because he had to go back to the hotel to pick our passport bag!

Then we told him, we have missed so many places mentioned in the itinerary. He argued saying to see all the places mentioned in the itinerary one should go in a plane and not in a van, and it's not possible to see all the places in just 17 days!

Before bidding adieu, Alex arguing with my hubby that the tips we paid him was very less...
We waited outside the airport for 2 hours before going inside. Yes, we did talk to the travel agency before leaving the country and they were sad about our experience with the driver.

After reaching Qatar, the first thing we did was calling most of the hotels to check the real prices of the lunch we had in Lanka. Three of them said Rs 200, Rs 250 Rs 300 and Rs 1,000, whereas we had paid Rs 450, Rs 500, Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,550 respectively, all thanks to the tricks of Alex!

Then we realized how Alex had royally looted us everywhere. When we were worried about shortage of money, he was happily looking for banks to deposit money. In Almost every place we stayed, he had gone in search of Bank of Ceylon to deposit money. I’m sure he had received a handsome money as commission at every place he took us!

We have traveled to eight countries so far and never ever had such a bad experience.

After spending 17 days with Alex, we realized that he was not only a lazy person, but also a very cunning man.

He tricked us by saying places are very far away and was not ready to show more than two places per day. He kept on postponing the places to the next day, so that we forgot or missed them completely.

He didn’t want to stop anywhere to take pictures, lest it would be late to reach the hotel to take rest. He didn’t want to spend a single penny on his food.

He wanted us to buy things in the shops he took us. He wanted us to spend like Westerners. He felt Rs 5,000 or Rs 10,000 was like peanuts for travelers!

He opened the window glass not to get fresh air, but to save fuel. He behaved as if he did some favour by switching on the A/C, while we had paid the amount for an A/C vehicle.

It might be a small amount when we think in USD or any other strong currency against Sri Lankan Rupees, but one should not forget that it's our hard earned money and we work throughout the year to save some money to travel at the end of the year. So every single penny is accountable and is precious for travelers like us...

The places we missed, or rather say, Alex didn't show us, in the itinerary:
1. Batik Factory
2. Masks museum and workshop at Ambalangoda
3. Kosgoda turtle hatchery
4. Devons and Clears Waterfalls
5. Budurwagala temple
6. Galle Dutch Museum,
7. Galle Dutch Reformed Church
8. Colombo zoo
9. Anjaneyar kovil in Colombo
10. Colombo Fort and Pettah areas
11. BMICH
12. Ceramic corporation showrooms
13. ODEL boutique
14. Manavari temple
15. So many sacred monuments in Anuradhapura

The hotels booked were excellent, except three. One hotel had a public beach and to access internet, we had to sit in the reception. The railway track was so close to the hotel that we couldn't sleep properly, as almost every 30 minutes trains passed through.

In another hotel the room was very small. After keeping our two suitcases, it was so difficult to move around the room. The bed was very small for us, as we had a baby to sleep with us!

The wash basin another hotel was clogged, towels and bed sheets were very old. Bed sheets had mosquito blood stains.

Sri Lanka is indeed a miraculous place and there are so many incredible places to visit. If a good driver/guide and hotel is provided nothing can stop you from making some amazing memories. So, just be cautious about fraudsters like Alex and save yourselves from being royally cheated.

ps: The MD of Miraculous Holidays promptly replied to my feeback mail and has promised me to look into the matter. 

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