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In Search Of Buddha’s Tooth – Kandy

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During our travels in Sri Lanka, we had heard so much about Kandy; everybody said we HAD to go to the beautiful old king city, Kandy. So we eventually decided to check out this famous city on our way from Ella. To get there we took the most beautiful train ride from Ella to Kandy, a highlight of our Sri Lankan trip.

Kandy is the next biggest city in Sri Lanka, after the capital Colombo. I must admit we were a little bit disappointed by Kandy. Everybody kept telling us (including the Lonely Planet book) that Kandy was sooooo beautiful and used terms as “Here`s a city that looks good even when it`s raining” (quote Lonely Planet). Well, some parts of the city were nice, but as a whole, it was a fairly typical busy, and noisy city.

It was also the only place in Sri Lanka where someone tried to scam us! The tuk-tuk drivers were also a bit more aggressive than elsewhere in Sri Lanka, some going as far as following us around when we were walking.

At the train station, when arriving in Kandy from Ella, we took a tuk-tuk with a young driver. He drove us from the train station to our guesthouse Sharon Inn and seemed like an OK driver, so we arranged for him to drive us around the next day.

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Me in front of our lovely green tuk-tuk. It was however only beautiful on the outside, as it broke down on our way back to Kandy from the Elephant Orphanage!
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Driving through Kandy city in the tuk-tuk.
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On our way from the Elephant Orphanage, we stopped for coconut. Yummy! Sadly our tuk-tuk also broke down on our way back, and our driver had to stop and fix it.

 

Here are our top 5 things to do in Kandy:

1. Kandy Lake

Kandy Lake is a dominating part of Kandy city, and you can`t miss it! The lake is charming and peaceful and is our absolute favorite part of Kandy.

The lake was created in 1807 by the last ruler of the kingdom of Kandy. The people initially objected to laboring on the lake project, but those who objected were ruthlessly put to death on stakes in the lake bed. So the lake has a bloody history.

In the middle of the lake is a small island used by the emperor`s personal harem. Later the British used it to store ammunition, and they were the ones who built the fortress style parapet around the area.

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The beautiful and peaceful Kandy Lake with the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Our favorite part of Kandy!

We had a pleasant stroll around the lake, although a busy road runs very close to the lake on its southern edge, which ruins the idyll somewhat. The nicest area is the part around the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

It was by Kandy Lake that a man approached us and claimed to be a teacher at a nearby school. He said that we were incredibly lucky to be in Kandy on this particular day because the president of Sri Lanka was coming to Kandy to participate in a very rare showing of the tooth relic at the Temple.

This was a special occasion, not open for everybody, but he could sell us special tickets to attend the event. We also had to hurry to buy the tickets, because they closed the ticket booth at 5 p.m.

We have met our fair share of “school teachers” before, both in Thailand and Vietnam, so we knew the drill and said politely “No thank you!”. We later checked with the owners of the guesthouse we stayed at, and of course, the president was not coming to Kandy, and the tooth relic was not going to be displayed. Hehe, so yep, so much for that scam! 🙂

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Swans at the Kandy Lake.
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We even met a large pelican by the Kandy Lake.

2. Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

North of the Kandy Lake is the famous temple that houses Sri Lanka`s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha himself! The legend says that the sacred tooth of the Buddha was snatched from the Buddha`s funeral pyre in India in 483 BC. In the 4th century AD, it was hidden in the hair of a princess and smuggled into Sri Lanka.

The tooth has over the years been moved around Sri Lanka and was returned to India in 1283 by an invading army. It was then retrieved by the king of Sri Lanka and brought back to the country. It was believed that whoever had the custody of the tooth, had the right to rule the country.

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic was built by the Kandyan kings between 1687-1707 and 1747-1782 and was part of the royal palace.

At the north side of the temple, only accessible via the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is the Audience Hall. This is from the 19th century and is a beautiful open-air pavilion with stone columns, Buddhas, and ivory.

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The Audience Hall. A lot of people visit the Tooth Temple every day, both Sri Lankan and tourists.
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Gold Buddha and ivory in the Audience Hall.

You don`t, however, get to see the real tooth in the temple, as it is hidden in a golden casket shaped like a dagoba. We saw the dagoba casket from the doorway, which is 3 m from the actual altar. We moved around the room in a queue, and guards made sure that no-one gets more than 15 seconds inside the shrine room.

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The locals lit lights outside the Temple of the Sacred Tooth.

We visited the temple in the evening, and it was a nice and a bit mysterious atmosphere in and around the temple.

The shrine receives many worshipers and tourists. Sri Lankan Buddhists believe they must complete at least one pilgrimage to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in their lifetime. To worship here improves one`s karmic lot immeasurably.

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Burning incense outside the Temple.

The security at the entrance to the temple is high because a bomb detonated near the main entrance in 1998.

Tip: Wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to enter the temple. We met many tourists that did not know this and had to go into one of the markets in Kandy to buy sarongs.

3. Peradeniya Botanic Garden

Just outside of Kandy is the lovely Peradeniya Botanic Garden, who once were reserved exclusively for Kandyan royalty. Today is it open to the public, making it the largest botanic garden in Sri Lanka, covering 60 hectares.

Here you will find a beautiful collection of orchids, cannonball trees, coconut palm trees, a spice garden, giant bamboo, rubber trees, as well as a stately avenue of royal palms that were planted in 1950:

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After walking around the gardens for three hours, we took a little nap on one of the lawns, in the shadow of the huge trees:

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Taking a nap under the trees at the Botanic Gardens.
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Enormous and beautiful shaped trees in the Botanic Gardens.

While the gardens are lovely, our guide, on dropping us off, had insisted we needed four hours inside the botanical garden. We finally agreed on three, and even that turned out to be more than enough.

4. Kandyan dance and drum show

After the trip to the Botanical Gardens, we decided to get some culture and went to one of the many dancing and drum shows in Kandy.

This is apparently a must-do-experience in Kandy. It was an intense, spectacular and energetic show, with both male and female dancers and drummers. They were all wearing colorful costumes and did ten different dances, including the famous “Devil” dances of the west coast.

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Drummers at the dance show.
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Men were jumping and rotating high up in the air! Impressive!
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Colorful female dancers were performing the Peacock Dance. This is a traditional Kandyan dance where they depict the movements of the peacock bird.
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The Raban Dance, dancing and balancing some flat drums (Raban) on sticks. This is a traditional dance of the Sabaragamuwa province.
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At the end of the show, the whole crew danced and drummed together in a big group dance.

After the dance and drum show, we all went outside where some of the dancers did firewalking!

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Firewalking!

There are three venues for dance/drum shows in Kandy, all located around Kandy lake, each cost around 500 Rs = 3-4 us$ per person and last one hour:

  • Kandyan Art Association & Cultural Centre (the show starts 17:00)
    On the northern side of the lake. This is the busiest venue with lots of tourist buses. Arrive early as it can be full. This show is very touristy and everything is a bit overpriced in my opinion.
  • Kandy Lake Club (the show starts 17:00)
    Located 300 m up Sanghamitta Mawatha. There is a cool fire show outside in the back after the inside dance show (at least when we saw it). We liked this show the best! It has the best costumes and a more acrobatic and energy filled show. You get a leaflet explaining each dance and performance.
  • Mahanuwara YMBA (the show starts 17:30)
    Located southwest of the lake. This is a low-key dance show, at the YMBA guesthouse, but the show is just as good and the proceeds go to the Red Cross. We also liked this show.

5. Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage

We started our sightseeing day in Kandy with a visit to the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage outside of Kandy. You can read, see pictures and video from that trip here.

We did not particularly like Kandy that much. It may be because we traveled in the opposite direction through Sri Lanka than most people, who usually come straight from Colombo. Having been to so many beautiful, peaceful places, and having such high expectations from the guide books, it was a bit of a letdown.

If you have plenty of time, then it is worth visiting mainly for the temple, but unless you REALLY want to see it, I recommend that you skip this city altogether. There are so many much nicer places to see in Sri Lanka


Where To Stay In Kandy

Kandy offers a wide selection of accommodation for all budgets, and here you will have plenty of choices when it comes to finding the right place to stay. Kandy is a big city and the competition seems to be tough so you can find some excellent deals here.

Below are some of the best accommodation options in Kandy, including the address and price.

We stayed at Sharon Inn
Sharon Inn is located up on the hillside above the Kandy Lake. The road up to the hotel is a bit steep but we walked to Kandy Lake several times. Owned and run by a family where the wife is German. It is a decent hotel, and we were happy with the accommodation and the service, although it is a bit run down. It is recommended in the Lonely Planet.

Our favorite part of our stay here was the dinner buffet in the garden. Each evening they serve traditional Sri Lankan rice and curry with lots of different dishes, for only 7 us$. A very good value. The food was excellent, among the best we had in Sri Lanka.

We had one of the top floor rooms and had spectacular views from our balcony. The rooms are however quite basic, albeit with private bathrooms. It is a bit over-priced for this kind of room standard, but the location is great.
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Viyana Boutique Hotel
This new boutique hotel is located within easy walking distance to the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The rooms are large and modern with comfortable beds and free WiFi. The staff is enthusiastic and helpful. Some of the rooms have views overlooking the lake.
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Staying Outside the City Center

Kandy can be a busy and noisy city so it is worth considering staying a little outside the city center. Especially with transportation being so cheap and readily available.

Elephant Stables
Elephant Stables is a beautiful little hotel in a colonial style bungalow about 10 minutes drive away from Kandy center. There is a lovely pool and a nice view overlooking the green valley. It's a small intimate hotel where every guest is taken care of and made to feel exceptionally welcome. It is somewhat expensive but if it's within your budget then this comes highly recommended.
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Elegant Hotel
If you want to get away from busy downtown Kandy then this small hotel is a great option! Located about 20 minutes drive from Kandy center it overlooks the valley and offers spectacular views of the area. It has a huge swimming pool and the friendly staff makes you feel right at home. If we ever visit Kandy again, we will for sure have a look at this! 🙂
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Sky Pavilion
Wow, what a lovely hotel with spectacular views! Would definitely not mind staying here!
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Kandyan Crown Hotel
This budget hotel offers good value for money and is beautifully located up on the hillside outside of Kandy!
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Can you picture yourself visiting Kandy? Please share your thoughts in the comment area below. If you enjoyed this blog post or found it useful, please share and like on social media! Thank you! 🙂

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Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

16 Comments

  1. I am a small time travel blogger myself and came to your website from the Divi blog. I must say I a floored by what you have done with Divi. It is mighty amazing ! I was in Kany in early 2012 and it was a nostalgic experience going through this post. In fact, was able to recognize some of the dancers. Keep up the good work ! 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you Puru! So happy you like our website! 🙂

      Great to hear from a fellow travel blogger. Hehe, yeah some of those dancers looked like they may have been dancing for a while 🙂 Kandy was a cool experience, although not our favourite part of Sri Lanka.

      Reply
  2. Hi Maria,

    I am traveling to Kandy next December with my girlfriend and another couple. We’ve been in Luang Prabang together last year and Chiang Mai the year before and I am desperately seeking for the Sri Lankan equivalent, hoping it will be Kandy.

    Can you tell me if Kandy compares with LP and CM? How long would you recommend to stay there? I hoping to drop the bags for 3-4 days at least.

    Thanks
    Mathieu

    Reply
    • Hi Mathieu,

      So cool that you are going to Sri Lanka! Hmm, we did unfortunately not like Kandy that much. We have been there twice, last time this February. But the Tooth Temple is nice after dark, and we enjoyed the Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar in the evening.

      It`s been a long time since we visited Chiang Mai, so I can`t really compare it with Kandy. In my opinion the best of Kandy can be seen in a day or two.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

      -Maria-

      Reply
      • dear maria,

        i read your article and in the last you have written that – There are so many much nicer places to see in Sri Lanka.

        now i am planning colombo, galle, betota and tangalle.. my travel agent is advising to do Kandy and skip tangalle because bentota and tangelle are both peachy places but as you have mentioned and so i have heard from a lot of people that Kandy is not worth it, can be skipped..

        so do you think we should do tangelle and skip candy? also, please advise whether there’s any other place in sri lanka which we should cover , apart of the locations i have mentioned.

        Reply
        • Dear Sharad,

          We did not like Kandy that much, although it is a very popular place to visit for tourists.

          Here are our recommended places to visit in Sri Lanka: https://nerdnomads.com/sri-lanka-itinerary

          You don`t write how many days you will be in Sri Lanka, but if you have the time you should visit one of the national parks (like Yala or Udawalawe) and do a safari trip. Galle (the old Portuguese city) is also very nice, and our favorite beaches are Bentota and Tangalle. So it really depends if you want beach time or experience the cultural and historical part of Sri Lanka.

          If you have the time, you should head inland to the mountain area of Sri Lanka and see the old British tea plantations, like the town Nuwara Eliya or Ella. If you want to see ancient ruins and temples and learn more about Sri Lanka’s old history, Polonnaruwa is great and we really liked Sigiriya (walk up Lion Rock).

          Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

          -Maria-

          Reply
  3. I’d love to know more about the Dance and Drum show you visited. How did you go about finding and booking one? How much should I expect to pay?
    Thanks!!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Bek,

      There are three venues for dance/drum shows in Kandy, all located around Kandy lake, each cost around 500 Rs = 3-4 us$ per person and last one hour:

      – Kandyan Art Association & Cultural Centre (the show starts 17:00) – On the northern side of the lake. This is the busiest venue with lots of tourists buses. Arrive early as it can be full. This how is very touristy and everything is a bit overpriced in my opinion.

      – Kandy Lake Club (the show starts 17:00) – Located 300 m up Sanghamitta Mawatha. There is a cool fire show outside in the back after the inside dance show (at least when we saw it). We liked this show the best! It has the best costumes and a more acrobatic and energy filled show. You get a leaflet explaining each dance and performance.

      – Mahanuwara YMBA (the show starts 17:30) – Located at the southwest of the lake. This is a low-key dance show, at the YMBA guesthouse, but the show is just as good and the proceeds go to the Red Cross. We also liked this show.

      Just ask the taxi/ tuk-tuk driver to take you to one of these shows, every driver knows about these shows as they are super popular among tourists. Some of the hotels in Kandy also have smaller dance shows.

      Enjoy the Kandyan dance shows!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  4. Hi Maria,
    Good to read your blog on travel destination and definitely it eill be help full to ppl like me. I am planning to go to Sri lanka for 6 days which include Kandy, Bentota and Colombo. Can you please suggest 2 days is enough in each city ? Do we need to add anything more in Sri Lanka? Which are good hotels in Kandy , Bentota and Colombo? Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Avinash,

      Thank you so much!

      Yes, I would say that two days in each of the places Kandy, Bentota, and Colombo is enough.

      As for hotels, I recommend these:
      – Kandy: Viyana Boutique Hotel
      – Bentota: Paradise Road The Villa
      – Colombo: Fairway Colombo

      Here are our travel guides to what to do in each of the cities:
      Kandy
      Bentota
      Colombo.

      You can find our recommended Sri Lanka Itinerary here (but it is for 14 days).

      If I were you, I would skip Colombo City, and instead do:

      Day 1: Drive from Colombo International Airport to Kandy (a 3-4-hours drive). 3 nights in Kandy
      Day 2: Kandy (visit the Tooth Temple, see a traditional dance performance at the temple, visit Kandy Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya)
      Day 3: Day trip to Sigiriya, climb Sigiriya Rock. Back to Kandy in the evening.
      Day 4: Train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. 1 night in Nuwara Eliya. See the tea plantations and Nuwara Eliya town.
      Day 5: Drive from Nuwara Eliya to Negombo Beach (4-5 hours), or Bentota (5-6 hours). 1 night in Negombo or Bentota.
      Day 6: Drive from Negombo or Bentota to Colombo International Airport (only a 15 min drive from Negombo)

      With only six days in Sri Lanka, you will only have the time see a small part of the country.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  5. I plan to go to Srilanka on May
    Your article really helpful and the design is very very cool and easy to understand I really like it ! But I have a question where is the fisherman with these stick on the sea

    Reply
    • Hi Saharat,

      Thank you so much! The fishermen that fish from sticks out in the sea are in Mirissa on the south-west coast of Sri Lanka, south of Colombo.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka in May!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  6. Hi,
    I loved reading your blog.
    Me and my friend are travelling to Sri Lanka next March before travelling for 9 months starting with India.
    How long would you recommend staying in Sri Lanka for?
    Also what travel guide would you recommend, I know that you have mentioned 3 on here, but which one would be best?

    Thanks

    Angie

    Reply
    • Hi Angie,

      Thank you so much! Wow, so cool that you are traveling for nine months and that you have chosen our favorite country Sri Lanka to be your first stop. Yay! Excellent choice! 🙂

      I would say that two weeks is a minimum if you want to see the highlights of Sri Lanka. You can find our recommended two-weeks Sri Lanka itinerary HERE. This includes the highlights of Sri Lanka and is an excellent itinerary for first-timers. You can, of course, do this itinerary the other way around and save the beach time till the end if you want.

      But if you want a more relaxing journey through Sri Lanka, more time at each place, and more beach-time, you should spend three weeks in Sri Lanka. The country has so much to offer so you will have plenty to do and see. You will love this stunning country!

      My favorite travel guide is the Lonely Planet Sri Lanka guide. You can buy it for Kindle/ e-book so that you don´t have to carry a lot of travel guides with you when traveling for nine months. All the travel guides will pile up in your backpack if you buy paper ones. 🙂

      Have a fantastic time in Sri Lanka and a great 9-months journey around the world!

      -Maria-

      Reply
  7. Hi Maria I am from Galle, Sri Lanka. I have visited Galle Fort many times. It is amazing. I think you must have seen the beauty of it too. The horizon looks beautiful as you look out over the Galle Fort at sunset. So I invite you to come here again to see the hidden beauty in here. Thank you sooo much Maria…(And I’m 13 years old)😂😂 I think I’ve to call you like Aunty Maria😋❤️❤️❤️Baiiii Aunty Maria,See ya later

    Reply
    • Hi Lisandi,

      Thank you so much for commenting! Lucky you who live in Galle. I love Sri Lanka, and especially Galle with its lovely old town, Galle Fort. Yes, please do call med Aunty Maria! 🥰 Sri Lanka is next up on your travel list once we can travel again after this pandemic. Can’t wait to be back in fantastic Sri Lanka! Maybe I’ll see you around in Galle?
      Take care, and all the best to you and your family! Your English is very good too!
      -Maria- ❤️

      Reply

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