Colombo with its extension visa at Sri Lanka
Istanbul with the military coup at Turkey
July 15 was our big day to travel to Sri Lanka via the Istanbul Atatürk airport. We arrived on time at Turkey. Our flight to Colombo at Sri Lanka was within 6 hours, we thought that we would get bored but something unexpected happened during this night making it more exciting than expected, a military coup by the opposition group.
No security, only 1% of shop employees and 100% of passengers were in the airport. Some military from the opposition entered in the airport shooting in the air, some demonstration people came inside screaming, fighter aircrafts fighting and some bombing near to the
airport made this crazy night very stressful. When there were some shooting, we were running like all others looking for a place to hide, when there were bombing, people were hiding below tables.
To resume, we were at our own connecting to internet to get some news, to contact family giving update, us to them and them to us and in the morning of the July 16, since the conflict was not finished and still no security and none employees, we started to serve food ourselves at 7am as all the other passengers.
Around 9am, we started to see some employees and a little later, some security guys. Although the political situation was not totally stable, the life in the airport was 90% normal and a lot of persons including us making queue to the Turkish Airlines desk in order to get a flight. At the end, there were so many people and the situation was quite chaotic until that the airline company put more employees to attend all of us, we were able to get a regular seat around 18h for the next flight at 2ham. We were lucky because some people got a sby (standby) ticket meaning that they could flight if there were free seats so my recommendation is that if you will live this situation (I really hope not) or if your flight will be cancelled, make sure to get a regular ticket with a seat number for the next flight.
Colombo with its extension visa at Sri Lanka
At the end, we landed at the Bandaranaike airport at 16h30pm on July 17. Now, we had to fill an immigration form, once done, we got an official Sri Lanka's stamp in our passport (we didn't need to show the visa confirmation received by email).
Before to leave the airport, we went to the tourism office asking advices and map. Also we took money from ATM and we bought a local sim card to make local calls if need be for 1300 rupees (8 euros) with an internet access.
From the airport to Colombo, we took the local blue bus with air conditioning for 110 rupees each (0,70 euros - we paid the ticket guy once at the highway). To take it, exit the airport then go left and you will spot easily the bus. Since there was no traffic jam, it took 45 minutes to arrive at the central bus station. We were the only foreigners, I thought that we would be more !!!
Once there, a lot of tuk-tuks welcomed us but our Colombo City Hotel (33, canal row - 75 euros per night) is close by according to the map so we walked but before we asked a station employee in which direction. Since our hotel is just at few meters from the Hilton Hotel, at the exit of the bus station, we went right. From here, we could spot a hotel with a blue sign (it is a little far away to read Hilton) and just in front of it, a high building (it is the World Trade Center located at the echelon square).
So we walked directly toward them, once there, the Colombo City Hotel is just in front of the World Trade Center. It took us about 10 minutes walking.
Trapped at the Istanbul airport during 48h because of the military coup, it felt good to take a very good shower. Just very nearby, there is a square called Dutch Hospital Shopping with restaurants including the famous Ministry of Crab. For our first night, we ate at Semondo, very good food and the price is quite correct, expensive for local but cheaper for us (a Mexican style chicken burger for 850 rupees - 5,30 euros, fees not included).
Our next day, we visited the Pettah area, a market streets near by the central bus station, in which for each street, it corresponds to a kind of product. For instance, then we walked on the jewel street, there are only jewelry shops, so if we wanted to look for clothes, we had to head to the cloth street or the electronic street for cell phones. For lunch, we just picked something in a snack bar.
If you are not going to buy something, it is not really worth to go. Most of the streets are narrow with a lot of people, cars and tuk-tuks honking. There are some temples and the Dutch museum but still not worth to walk around.
After that, we went to the Galle Face Beach to see the sunset at 18h30. In some way, we took advantage to do a break too. A lot of people but not crowded, families enjoying playing with the waves, teachers bringing children to end the school day, workers enjoying a walk after work, tourists like us just enjoying the cool breeze of the sea after a hot humidity day. I have to say that, in spite that the day was sunny, it was not very hot but the high humidity made the day hot.
To dinner, we went to the T-Lounge by Dilmah (62/2, block B, chatham street). As the name may suggest, the specialty of the place is tea, the Ceylon Tea. They make also food, particularly crepes and waffles (savoury and sweet, a spicy chicken waffle for 590 rupees - 3,70 euros). A very nice place and a simple but good food with very good tea, if you like tea, at least, you have to go even if it is only for a drink.
July 19, something that we didn't think about it because our plan was to stay only 2 days in Colombo so leaving it on Monday if we arrived at scheduled on Saturday but because of the military coup, we arrived on Sunday night. We wanted to go to the visa office to extend our visa for 4 days more but Tuesday is the July's full moon and what happens when it is the full moon ??? It is a bank holiday in Sri Lanka so most of places are closed.
OK you may think, why not just forget the extension visa for only 4 days. We took a look on internet and we found the same thing like you. Some people said that nothing happened, others said they paid a fine, others a fine plus the extension visa, others just got a stamp to not come back, others to pay the fine when they will be back, others just gave the money to the guy to forget about it... In fact, depending on who you will have to deal with when you will leave the country, it is like a kind of lottery, in our case, we decided to make the thing correctly after thinking about all those things.
Since we only booked 2 nights and we have to stay 1 night more, we decided to try another hotel called Steuart (45, hospital lane, off chatham street - 72 euros per night), just at 1 minute walking from our current hotel.
The hotel is better and the room too. We got a room without window but we didn't care since it was just for 1 night. Our plan was to visit the area of the Cinnamon Gardens by taking the train from the Fort Colombo station to the Bambalapitiya station but before we went to lunch at the Heladiv Tea Club (8, old dutch hospital) ordering a very good spicy chicken mango wrap for 600 rupees (3,70 euros).
The train ticket costs only 10 rupees (0,07 euros) but we took the wrong train. The ticket guy told us to go to the dock number 5 and to wait for the train. The point is that the train was an express one going directly to the Kalutara station (1 hour travel). We should have asked to someone in the train, but anyway, we enjoyed the round trip going all along the South sea coast. Of course, the ticket to go back is more expensive (80 rupees - 0,50 euros).
To extend the visa, there is 2 ways:
- Using a company, in this case you will pay more, the closest one near our hotel is the Immigration Services Center (330, galle road - hour: 8am to 16h30). Also, they will not be able to do it at the same day so you will have to wait at least 2 days. Advantages: no queue, no long waiting time and no bureaucratic administration processes.
- Or going directly to the Department of immigration & Emigration of the Government (41, ananda rajakaruna mawatha - hour: 8h30am to 14h00). In this case, your extension visa will be given to you the same day. Once we arrived, we went directly to the 3rd floor, to the visit visa department. Here, if you don't fill up the extension visa form previously, go ask it to the counter guy just left to the entrance. Once done, we went to the counter guy and he gave us a number telling us to make queue at the number 3 or 4. When it was our turn, we gave to the employee our forms and passports and she told us to wait for our number to appear on the screen at the number 5.
From now, if making queue was long (depending on the hour you will come), waiting for the number was longer. Yes at the end our number but not the end yet, they gave us back everything telling us to pay the visa fee (Spain 40$ and France 26$) at the number 7. They took back everything and in exchange, they gave us a receipt telling us to wait for our number to display again at number 5 (the waiting was longest) and that's it after 6h10 from 10h30 until 16h40. It was unusual that it was so long according to employees due to a lot of people because of the yesterday bank holiday.
My recommendation, go early to avoid a lot of people, bring water/snack and why not a fan because the air conditioning is not working properly so you will wait with the heat of the crowd.
The area around both hotels is quite nice, the beach is not far away, just at 5 minutes walking to the Galle Face Beach, at few meters to a supermarket Cargills Food City on the york street, if you don't like Sri Lanka food, a Burger King just behind the Dutch Hospital Shopping (a very very small shopping center), a KFC next to the supermarket, a Pizza Hut just at 2 minutes from Burger King. And at about 10 minutes walking to the central bus station (from/to the airport by the local bus) and the Fort Railway train station.
Now, it was time to go our next adventure, the city of Kandy with its Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.