Sigiriya By Scooter

Our exciting adventure did not slow down after our first two days in Sri Lanka. During our time in Sigiriya, we rented a scooter to explore the area and took a day trip to Polonnaruwa. We watched the sunset from an amazing viewpoint and met who is probably the sweetest woman in Sri Lanka.

This post may be a LONG one but we wanted to share everything with you!

Table of Contents


    Sigiriya (pronounced See-GRR-Ree-Yuh) was our first official destination in Sri Lanka. This small town is home to an ancient rock fortress that is a must-see site when visiting the country. It is also very close to the larger city of Dambulla and two national parks that are home to elephants, peacocks, and other animals (which is where we did the safari tour in our last post).

    Our First Day in Sigiriya

    For breakfast, we tried hoppers for the first time, pictured right, (a popular Sri Lankan dish, bowl-shaped rice/coconut flour crepes), fresh fruit (papaya, pineapple, and bananas), and sweet pancake rolls we had tried before. 

    Our hosts suggested we rent a scooter to explore some of the areas around Sigiriya. Although this was not our original plan, it was such a wonderful surprise. Our homestay called a tuk-tuk to pick us up and our driver, Dominda, arrived in an American-themed tuk-tuk. Very odd.

    What’s a Tuk-tuk? A 3-wheeled vehicle, covered with no doors and small like a motorbike. These are used like taxis in Sri Lanka and other Asian countries.

    The scooter we rented was less than $10 for the entire day. We had to get gas though and couldn’t find the gas station. We drove up and down the street a few times, but apparently, it wasn’t a station we were looking for.

    Ty asked someone on the side of the road and we were directed to a little shop. A man came out with two water bottles full of gasoline and they used a funnel to fill the scooter… Then, we were off. 

    Kaludiya Pokuna

    Our first destination was an archeological site called Kaludiya Pokuna. On the way there, we took some backroads along bright green rice paddies and lots of jungle. Sadly, no elephants today but lots of stray dogs and cows. We ended up on a dirt road, which wasn’t the best because of the rain from the morning. We weren’t sure the scooter would make it through the mud, but thankfully Ty is confident in his “off-roading abilities” and we got through it.

    As we drove up to the site, two men greeted us. One of them asked if we wanted a guide but we said no because we thought it was just the stupa we had read about online.

    However, when we got to the stupa, he came out anyway and we were grateful for this because there was SO much more.

    Climbing through the jungle

    We followed him down a path through the jungle, crossing some streams, and climbing some rocks (we were not prepared for this hike) and we ended up at an ancient cave home of Buddhist monks, dating back to around 100 BCE. We saw how they carved into the rock to support their sanctuaries, known as “viharas”. He told us that there are 48 in total up the mountain, but we only visited 3.

    Our guide also pointed out and told us about the ruins of the council chambers, monk hospital, and some really interesting trees. We never thought we’d be following this man into the jungle but were so happy we did! (Don’t worry family, he works for the archeological department, or so he said).

    Lost for lunch

    After this, we were really in need of food. We had read to look for places with people inside to ensure the food is okay so we did just that and arrived at Kaushalya Hotel and Bakery.

    When we got to the counter, the lady asked what we wanted. There was no menu so Sam just said “uhh vegetarian?” and she said “you want rice?” and we said “that sounds great”… We sat down and waited for whatever was coming.

    We were served a plate of rice with 5 different toppings/curries on the side. In Sri Lanka many people eat meals with their hands so we joined them and dug in.

    P.S. It is hard to eat rice and curry with your hands…hopefully, we get better at it soon.

    Sunset Views of Sigiriya Rock

    After returning the scooter, we headed to Pidurangala Rock. Pidurangala Rock is larger than Sigiriya Rock (also known as Lion Rock) but was not used as a fortress hundreds of years ago, so it is less famous.

    However, this hike is incredibly cheaper ($2.50 instead of $30) and gives you an amazing view of Sigiriya Rock and the surrounding area.

    At the beginning of the trail, you have to walk through Buddhist temple grounds. This means that women must cover their shoulders and knees, and everyone must remove their shoes.

    After you get through the temple grounds, you can put your shoes back on and take off any extra layers you might have put on.

    Race to the top

    Sam was a bit anxious that we would miss the sunset and was making us run up the steep steps. It was a “little” rough and we were SWEATING by the end.

    After the stairs, we had to climb up some boulders, and then we were on top of the world. 

    When we first got up to the top, the sky was pretty cloudy and we didn’t think we’d be able to see the sunset.

    However, when the sun started to set the colors came through the clouds and we sat down to watch (and dry some of our sweat from the quick hike up). The view cleared up any anxieties we had been feeling and we were just in awe looking out over the jungle landscape. 

    Sunset onPidurangala Rock

    Day Trip to Polonnaruwa

    The next morning, we got up, ate a delicious breakfast, and had Dominda pick us up to take us to the scooters again. We headed to Polonnaruwa which was about a 50-minute drive.

    Polonnaruwa is an ancient city built around the 12th century, starting under King Maha Parakramabahu’s rule. There are a few iconic Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, and structures used for daily living like the market stands and monk hospital.

    Chaotic arrival

    Everything was going pretty smooth up until our arrival… We weren’t sure where to go and ended up passing the main entrance twice. As we pulled over to turn around on the side of the road, there was a bit of a lip that the bike did not want to go over. We may have completely tumbled to the ground, Ty onto his leg, and Sam onto her behind. Don’t worry though, we were okay (just a couple of bruises), and luckily we fell in the opposite direction of the road.

    This had us a bit frazzled and when we got to the main entrance we found out we had to buy tickets somewhere else. When we finally got to the museum to buy tickets we were “greeted” by people trying to sell us elephant carvings and Buddha statues or trying to be our guide for the day. We got inside to buy our tickets and it happened all over again when we came out. This was overwhelming and after the fall and getting lost, we were both a little on edge. 

    Reality of Travel

    As you have just read, not everything is always sunshine and rainbows, although that is often the parts we share. We’ve been working on being more mindful and taking a moment to pause and assess our emotions when it gets to be a lot. Things can get overwhelming as we travel to new places with so much that is new or unknown. Mindfulness has been a great practice for both of us!

    Ancient Ruins in the Jungle

    We made it back to the main entrance, showed our tickets, and headed to the first site. We walked around the ancient ruins of the Royal Palace, watched monkeys jump from tree to tree, and calmed down a bit from the chaos of the last hour.

    Royal Palace

    Ancient City of Pollonaruwa

    After the Royal Palace, we visited many other sites including the Vatadage (a structure holding an important relic), the Gal Viharaya (a rock temple with 4 large Buddhas carved into the rock), and the Lotus Pond. In the places that are sacred to Buddhists, we had to remove our shoes to walk around. The Buddha statues were impressive and we wondered what life looked like when people lived in these ancient ruins.

    Lunch with a view

    After visiting the majority of the sites, we went to grab some lunch. Ty had found a place online nearby AND the man who owns it was at the Ancient City handing out cards. We told him we had already planned to go to his restaurant and he was very excited to hear that.

    Gami Gedara is a buffet-style restaurant in a thatched-roof hut next to a rice paddy field behind a family’s home. When we arrived we were given a plate with a lily pad to put our food onto.

    The lady who cooked everything explained what each dish was and we loaded our lilypads with rice and curries that included jackfruit, eggplant, pumpkin, and more. The view while we ate was beautiful too. 

    With full and happy bellies we headed back to the Sigiriya. We stopped at a lake with views of Pidurangala Rock and Sigiriya Rock. This perspective of the rocks makes it seem pretty crazy that we climbed the one on the left the day before. 

    Pidurangala Rock (left) and Sigiriya Rock (right)

    Building Connections

    When we returned our scooter and were waiting for our tuk-tuk, we sat down and talked with Rasika, the woman that runs the rental.She showed us a guestbook she had from different visitors to her restaurant, proud of all the pages filled with sweet notes and drawings from tourists that had come before. 

    She asked about our filtering water bottles and said how she wished she could get some in Sri Lanka since the water is not too good. We wished so much that we had an extra or had a way to get her one.

    Stopping to Reflect

    Although we are here enjoying every minute of our trip, we can easily escape the inconveniences Sri Lanka has. She is here raising her kids without good drinking water (besides buying water bottles). We told her that if we ever make it back, we will make sure to bring her some and her eyes lit up.

    So if you know anyone headed to Sri Lanka, let us know so we can send a filtering water bottle her way!

    Our tuk-tuk driver arrived and we headed back to our guesthouse. On the way, he shared with us about his family and even stopped to get his kids some candy from the store. He bought us some too, how sweet!

    Sweetest Person in Sri Lanka

    When we got back to our guesthouse, the lady taking care of us, Wasanthi, made us a delicious dinner. Dahl and mixed curry with a ton of white rice. She came out a few times while we ate to chat with us and it was nice to talk with her.

    Ty had a stuffy nose so she asked if she could make him some Ayurvedic tea that may help. After the tea, she also boiled some water to have him steam his face to help his stuffy nose too.

    These may sound like the smallest things they meant so much to us. She was so kind and went out of her way to take such good care of us. We said before that Sri Lankan people are the friendliest ever and we really mean it. 

    Our Departure

    In the morning, we tried vadai for the first time and LOVED it. Vadai are small, savory, dough balls that are fried and filled with onions and some spices. When we told Wasanthi, she brought out the batter and told us how to make it. She said if ever we make it we have to reach out to tell her how it went!

    Honestly, we were sad to leave Sigiriya but were excited for what was coming next. We were off to our next destination: Kandy.

    Let’s just say this next destination, didn’t exactly live up to Sigiriya, but more on that next time.

    Until then,

    Sam and Ty