The bus station of Ampara is located in the town center It is a very hectic place, as are the majority of the country s´ stations, but it is easy to find. When you take a bus, generally they give you a ticket you have to keep when you get off, and sometimes there is a control point, since the buses are public, to ensure the ticket has been used. It was the first time we were checked. The good thing is that there are buses in Ampara are heated, they are called Intercity Bus, and there is one for Kandy and one for Colombo. They leave approximately every hour, and they stop unless they are large buses. They are small, comfortable and there are not usually people standing in the hallway. It took five hours to go to Kandy and we stopped to eat, and we took the Rs 350 if I remember correctly. Then there are buses to Pottuvil and other coastal towns. Some go to Matara and Wellawaya on the south coast.
Arugam Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka. When we went in August it was high season, mainly for surfing which is the major attraction of the city. Surfers come here for two or three months, usually between April and September. The accommodation is very cheap, just 5 euros a night for a log cabin right on the beach but if you stay a few weeks the price is even cheaper. The only problem is getting there. You have to go through Pottuvil, Ampara or Wellawaya which takes ages. The distances are short but the roads are terrible. Once you arrive, you forget everything and just relax by the incredibly blue sea and sandy beach. Paradise. For those ve do not surf you can sail, dive, or just swim in the sea. The area was severely affected by the Tsunami and many hotels and buildings were destroyed, the remains of which you can still see.
Thirukkovil is a Tamil people of the east coast of Sri Lanka. They were harshly affected by the 2004 tsunami, and most of the city was destroyed. The water came up to 400 meters of land, and today you can see damaged houses, and palm trees that won´t grow back. Thirukkovil is north of Pottuvil, up the road that leads to Ampara. It is a calm fishing village with a nice beach and less crowded than Arugam Bay. It's a bit hard to access but worth it. The foreigners and expatriates that you see see are mostly volunteers. Thirukkovil has a majority Muslim population, named the Moors of Sri Lanka.
The northern coast of Pottuvil is less populated than the south coast. You see almost no-one throughout the two hour drive to Ampara. But what you do notice is the destruction that was caused by the Tsunami. In many places, near the beach, you can see the ruined houses, and next to a new house there is a flag put up by international NGOs, Japanese or Canadian. You can also see newly built towns, constructed about 5 kilometers away from the sea. These villages are very controversial because people are fishermen, they have no cars, and yes, it had to be a little further from the sea for safety reasons, but now it's too far to go fishing! Some say that the aid was not particularly efficient in this respect. This area has a strong Muslim influence, you will see a population called the Moors of Sri Lanka, and they look different from the people that you see on the south coast.
Ampara is an important city on the east coast of Sri Lanka. It is a region that was heavily damaged by the tsunami, and although Ampara is inland and was notd much damage, it has a lot of NGOs that help coastal towns from Batticoala to Panama. If they prefer to live in Ampara, is because the coast has a large Muslim population, and it is difficult for Europeans to live in the small villages, so, Ampara offers a slightly more relaxed environment. There are various businesses and a small central market, and is a very cheap place where you can stay for less than €5 per night for a decent place. Ampara is on a major crossroads on the Siyambulan to Wellawaya to Pottuvil along the coast, and by exprress bus to Kandy, which takes five hours. Most of the population is Sinhalese but yoy can also hear Tamil spoken in the streets.
Padiyatalawa is a town which is situated on the crossroads between Ampara and Kandy. The heated bus services that go the back and forth between the two cities pass by this town. It is a busy city, with shops arranged on either side of the main street, and there are also some restaurants. You can stay in this city because it is convenient for the two natural parks and Maduru Gal Oya Oya. In Gal Oya you can see the elephants, and there is also amazing wildlife to be seen in Maduru Oya. The village itself is not of particular interest. Although there are some temples, overall it is a fairly modern town, without much history. However, taking into account the poor quality of the transport in Sri Lanka, it is a practical place to stay if you want to visit these parks. There is less tourism here and the people are more relaxed, it is a place to discover the real Sri Lanka.
Fishermen in Arugam Bay get up early at 2 in the morning or so, to have 4 or 5 hours of fishing at sea. They bring back locusts, sometimes sharks and other exotic fish that hotels buy for guests. There are not many restaurants that do this type of thing. You can even ask the people where you are staying what you want for the next day and they will bring you that fish. They return at 10am. Sometimes they go back in the afternoon. We were invited to go with them, but we didn´t have the time. The boats are new, because the old ones were lost in the tsunami in 2004. These are donations from international organizations. They say they are not as good as the traditional wooden boats ....
The quiet place of Arugam Bay is at the end of the beach. The lagoon is formed at low tide and leave a few fish captive. People strip steaks, but standing water fish makes it so some never leave and are not as good as those caught in the ocean. Also I wouldn´t recommend to go swimming for the same reasons. The ocean is better, though it s a more hectic. Some boats offer to take you from one side to another of the lagoon, or you can walk, maybe 20 minutes.
The Ecotour office is situated in the grounds of the Hotel Hillton, on the main street of Arugam Bay. They organize boat trips, departing in the morning, where you can admire the birds and wildlife of the mangroves around Arugam Bay. Then you might also go to see some crocodiles, or do an elephant safari. You can go alone or form a group of up to three people, as you go on a tuk tuk it is not possible to go with more people. Overall the price is the same for up to three people. I paid 5 euros to go to see the elephants at the end of the day, and it was very nice, but the "guide" who is really just a tuktuk driver, did not speak English as well. But we had a great time and returned in the evening, happy to have seen several elephants. The Ecotour says that part of the cost is used to promote development projects for the area.
Leaving Pottuvil if you take the road south to get to Arugam bay, surfers beach, you will go by a big lake which is the delta of Lake Karanda Oya. It forms a lake before dropping into the ocean. It is a good place to go to the early hours of the morning to see the birds. Also at night, if you're lucky, there are elephants. There are a couple of parks nearby, and sometimes the elephants go to them. We walk, not very comfortable because there is no well-laid paths and sometimes you find your feet in the mud. We followed in the footsteps of what I guess were cows or buffaloes, since they are heavier than us, so you do not sink. It's a nice place, you can rent a boat with a guide, too.
This nameless bar is in front of the best surf spot in Arugam Bay. You have the bay itself, and at the end, on the left, the area where most surfers practice. Because they spend all day in the water, the bar is next door and provides lunch and refreshments from time to time. It has cheap prices, because they don't have to rent the premises. They have straw roofs and wooden benches. There is a good atmosphere, and the amazing thing is to be able to ask for coconut juice, see the guy climb the palm tree, throw down a couple of coconuts and come back down to open it. The place closes just after sunset, around 6pm.
We hired a tuk tuk to go on the A4 road, towards Monaragala, near Yala National Park. It's where you can see, if you're lucky, some elephants. It was an amazing experience, because we not only saw a few, but one approached us often! The tuk tuk guy was hiding in his vehicle, and thankfully there was a national park warden who shot in the air and scared the elephant. But along this road you can often see elephants crossing. People respect them properly. They come to drink water in the lakes at km 306 of the highway. They are usually not aggressive, but a dog had angered an elephant that stormed out. The tuk tuk took us to see a few animals but as it is a protected nature reserve, you can only walk on the road, you can not go trekking or bring a vehicle into the park. He charged us 5 euros I think for two hours and two people