Single Worst Devaluation: Australia – Sri Lanka……& What You Can Do About It

One thing that seems to have escaped most other travel/miles/points bloggers regarding the American Airlines devaluation is that Sri Lanka has shifted to the Middle East/Subcontinent category as of 22 March 2016.  Although redemptions from the USA to this region and the Asia 2 region are now equal in cost, there is a HUGE difference for Australians!

Sri Lanka miles1Previously it had been in the Asia 2 category which made the beautiful eco-tourism destination of Sri Lanka a much cheaper award with AA miles – 25k in economy and 35k in business increasing a mere 5k to 30k economy and 40k business.  Look at it now – a whopping 42.5k in economy and 80k in business class!  It’s more than doubled in cost!

Sri Lanka miles2Sri Lanka has some of the best birding in the world, see my reports on Kithulgala and Sinharaja.  So what can we do to get there at a more reasonable rate?

United Airlines is now a better option than American.  Most Aussies will fly via BKK on Thai as Singapore rarely releases J seats for partner awards.  However most Australians can’t get United miles unless they buy them during a “buy miles promo”.

Sri Lanka miles360k miles would cost me $1050 USD, that’s $1488 AUD at today’s rate!  Ouch!

Sri Lanka miles7So what about Singapore Airlines?  Most Aussies can earn them easily enough from credit cards.  It’s still going to cost over 60k miles & fuel surcharge of $472 AUD in business class.  Better than both options so far!

Sri Lanka miles6But can we do better and still get to Sri Lanka in a lie flat bed?  Enter Air Asia.  Better known as a low cost carrier, they still provide pretty good service.  We flew them in Y last year from Surat Thani to Kuala Lumpur.  Check out the prices from the Gold Coast (nearest airport to Brisbane they serve) to Sri Lanka.  Economy is dirt cheap and premium flatbed is still excellent value!

Sri Lanka miles4You don’t have to spend miles and you are only paying $371 AUD more to travel in a lie flat bed.  So it all comes down to whether you would rather save 61,000 SQ miles (or use your credit card points elsewhere that doesn’t have fuel surcharges) or would you rather spend an extra $371 AUD for this?

Sri Lanka miles5BOTTOM LINE

If you want to go to Sri Lanka on American Airlines miles, book it before 22 March 2016!!  Otherwise, I think it’s time to get better acquainted with Air Asia!

SriLankan Airlines Joins Oneworld

It’s official, Sri Lankan Airlines is the latest member of OneWorld, hot on the heels of US Airways and TAM!  Depending on the routing rules of your OneWorld airline’s frequent flyer program, this can open up some great opportunities for mini-eco-tourism stops when flying between Europe & Asia.  Have a look at the route map.  I highlighted the destinations Sri Lankan serves with their own metal as code-shares usually can’t be booked as awards.

SriLankan RoutesSPENDING A DAY LAYOVER IN COLOMBO, SRI LANKA

Most nationalities can transit Sri Lanka without a visa.  This makes it very easy to do a day trip to Kithulgala for some amazing birding!

Transit visa

Transit visa up to 48 hours currently issued free of charge only at www.eta.gov.lk (travelers must have ETA reference number)

If there is any inquiry regarding ETA pleases contact:

Hotline: 0094 71 9967888
fax: 0094 11 2674631
email: eta@immigration.gov.lk

Now in actual practice, you will only get less than 24 hours if you are using a transit through Colombo as part of an award.  This is still time to make a day trip to Kithulgala.  I’ve blogged about my stay there last year.  Even though we stayed the night, it’s close enough to the airport that you could hire a taxi for the day in the arrival hall to go there.

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A Rocky Road To Colombo (CMB) That Ends With A Shopping Spree & Lounge

Sadly our last day in Sri Lanka had arrived and it was time to start heading home.  After a lazy morning of last chance birding from our balcony, we paid the bill and went down the road a few metres to wait for the bus to Kalawana.  Since it was a Sunday, there were fewer buses and we waited almost an hour but a bus finally did show up.  The trip to Kalawana was around an hour with stops and we easily found a bus for the next leg of the journey to Matugama.  The road was in terrible condition with apparent rock slides and bulldozers everywhere so this relatively short leg (40km) actually took over an hour.

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I love how this bin kind of looks like a bird!

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In Matugama we had an easier task because there were a lot more choices to Colombo.  I was actually more interested in a non-stop trip than the AC so we chose this bus hoping for a better experience.

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It was pretty good and the man behind us spoke English so we chatted a while but he got out before we did.  We took the road along the seaside to Colombo.

IMG_3792 IMG_3793 IMG_3794 IMG_3795 IMG_3797 IMG_3798 IMG_3800I wasn’t sure where to jump off the bus and no one else spoke English so we stayed on to the end.  It was around 3pm and we hadn’t had lunch so were pretty hungry.  I remembered the name of a shopping centre – the Dutch Hospital so we grabbed a rickshaw and asked to be dropped there.  He actually dropped us in front of the adjacent TGI Fridays and we were both in need of a clean toilet so we went in and ended up having a late lunch there.

IMG_3809 IMG_3801After stuffing ourselves, we walked next door to the Dutch Hospital (it used to be a hospital but was now a trendy shopping centre) to have a look around.  There were several boutiques and a snall branch of Odel, a local department store.  I ended up buying a green kaftan top.

IMG_3804 IMG_3805 IMG_3806 IMG_3807 IMG_3808There were some newlyweds taking photos outside.  It’s interesting to see the different styles of wedding clothes!

IMG_3802 IMG_3803I wanted to buy some Sri Lankan art, preferably with birds  so I asked some locals and was directed to Laksala, a huge craft shop a few blocks away.

IMG_3810 IMG_3814 IMG_3811 IMG_3812 IMG_3813I bought a few batiks since they were easily packed in our carry-ons, then we went out and got a rickshaw to the airport bus stand.  It was still a bit early but we didn’t have anything else to do, at least not anything we could do while shlepping all our stuff around!  You get a choice of AC or regular bus and we had plenty of rupees left over so went AC as it was still pretty hot and humid.

IMG_3815It took well over an hour to get to the airport………….and this was a Sunday evening!  When we arrived, we discovered that we would have to wait about 3 hours until the Singapore Airlines staff arrived for check in.  Ina sat with the bags while I scouted the shops for something worth blowing our last few rupees on.  It was nice to see all the Christmas decorations!

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Sand paintings were tempting but I was afraid they wouldn’t allow them in Australia.

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T-shirts were too small.

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Ah yes!  Here we go, bird batiks!  I snapped up a couple and liked them so much I not only finished my rupees, I had to top it off with Visa.

IMG_3819The waiting area was poorly placed where you couldn’t see the board where flights open for check in were displayed.  The seats were really uncomfortable and I was desperate to get past the formalities and go to the business class lounge since we had J tickets on SQ.

IMG_3825 IMG_3826 IMG_3827 IMG_3828Not the best lounge in the world but they did have food, drinks and internet!  I was pretty sad to leave Sri Lanka as we had had a great time and seen some amazing birds but with so many options especially with One World, I am sure we will be back some day!

Alexandrine Parakeet (Psittacula eupatria)

The Alexandrine Parakeet or Alexandrian Parrot (Psittacula eupatria) is a member of the psittaciformes order and of the Psittaculidae family. The species is named after Alexander the Great, who is credited (blamed) with the exporting of numerous specimens of this bird from Punjab into various European and Mediterranean countries and regions, where they were considered prized possessions for the nobles and royalty.

IMG_3712a IMG_3650a IMG_3645a IMG_3628a IMG_3626a IMG_3609aThe Alexandrine Parakeet is the largest species of all Parakeet (small Parrot with long tail) species, thus often being the largest Parrot in their native range. This species measures 58 cm (23 in) in total length with a wing length averaging 18.9–21.5 cm (7.5–8.5 in) and a tail length of 21.5–35.5 cm (8.5–14.0 in).

The following sub-species, many of them allopatric are recognised based on geographical distribution:

  • Psittacula eupatria eupatria, Nominate Alexandrine Parakeet – East India to Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh in the South, Sri Lanka.
  • Psittacula eupatria avensis, Indo-Burmese Alexandrine Parakeet – Northeast India to Amherst in Myanmar
  • Psittacula eupatria magnirostris, Andaman Islands’ Alexandrine Parakeet – Andaman Islands
  • Psittacula eupatria nipalensis, Nepalese Alexandrine Parakeet – Eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan, North and central India, Nepal, Bhutan to Assam in Northeast India.
  • Psittacula eupatria siamensis, Laos’ or Siamese Alexandrine Parakeet – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, north and east Thailand

Of these, I have seen the nominate and the Nepalese subspecies.

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Because they have such a large range, you can plan birding trips to Central and South-east Asia and have a good chance to spot them.  I have seen them in Chitwan National Park, Nepal & Kithulgala & Sinharaja in Sri Lanka.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS PARROT

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

VIDEO

It’s surprisingly hard to find videos of these parrots on Youtube as they are so popular as pets.  At least I found one from Sri Lanka!

Lazy Birding From Rock View Motel Balcony, Sinharaja

After a hard day’s work walking uphill to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, what could be better than a lazy afternoon kicking back with a cold drink and watching Alexandrine Parakeets and other birds fly past?  And when bird activity dies down, there were still farmers at work and beautiful green fields.  For some reason, it was very hazy.  This will be a lazy pictorial post of my lazy afternoon and the following morning trying to get the best photos I could.

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Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka

Located in south-west Sri Lanka, Sinharaja is the country’s last viable area of primary tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare. There is much endemic wildlife, especially birds, but the reserve is also home to over 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies, as well as many kinds of insects, reptiles and rare amphibians.  You know when it’s been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO it has to be something special……………….and it is!

GETTING THERE

Use your miles for a Central Asia award ticket to Colombo.  From there, you can get a taxi to your accommodation near Kudawa or take a bus to Matugama, then change to a Kalawana bus and get a taxi/rickshaw from there to your accommodation.  Obviously there is a trade-off between comfort & convenience and cost.

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WHERE TO STAY

Forget about points and try to get into the closest eco-lodge to the park you can get, it will save you the trouble of hiring rickshaws every time you want to go into the park.  Don’t expect the Marriott, these are simple lodges that cater to birders and serve their purpose well.

Martin’s Lodge – Yes it really is simple but Martin, the owner is a lovely guy and teh views are amazing!  They don’t have a website but more information is here and Trip Advisor reviews here.  Do not trust local travel agents who tell you it is full and try to steer you to someplace more expensive.  You need to call Martin to get an accurate answer if he can book you in or not.  045 568 1864  He doesn’t have email.

Blue Magpie Lodge – The second closest lodge to the park.  I didn’t get a look at it but I met a lady who was staying there and she said it was great!  Trip Advisor reviews.

Rock View Motel – About 20 minutes away by auto-rickshaw but add a whole different habitat to your birding with the amazing views over the valley!  Trip Advisor reviews

Rainforest Edge – Looks stunning but was way out of our budget.  This is the poshest lodge in the area.  Trip Advisor reviews.

IMG_3443 IMG_3445 IMG_3444 IMG_3446 IMG_3447HOW TO VISIT THE RESERVE

You can walk from Martin’s or Blue Magpie, otherwise you will need an auto rickshaw to drop you and arrange to pick you up.  Once you arrive, you need to buy your ticket and pay for a mandatory guide.  The guides are very good and know the local birds and animals well.  You can’t request a guide, they are assigned by rota.  If you don’t have leech socks, you can buy some here, they also sell snacks, cold drinks, postcards & books.  This is our guide, his name is Raushan (probably spelled it wrong) and he was very good with bird identification.

IMG_3587Once you have your ticket, your guide will walk with you up the hill pointing out whatever birds and animals he sees along the way.  When you reach the top, another official will check your ticket and you can enter the main trail of the reserve.

IMG_3536 IMG_3537 IMG_3558THE BIRDS

Sinharaja boasts an amazing bird list including many endemics.  We saw quite a few in our one day visit:  Sri Lanka Junglefowl,  Green Imperial Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Emerald Dove, Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon,  Layard’s Parakeet,  Red-faced Malkoha,  Malabar Trogon,  Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Lesser Yellownape,  Orange Minivet,  Sri Lanka Drongo, White-bellied Drongo,  Sri Lanka Blue Magpie,  Black-capped Bulbul, Red-vented Bulbul, Orange-billed Babbler, Yellow-billed Babbler, Oriental White-eye, Sri Lanka Hill Myna, Lesser Hill Myna,  Spot-winged Thrush, Legge’s Flowerpecker, Purple-rumped Sunbird

I couldn’t get a good shot of the Blue Magpie as he stayed well within the dense foliage and the Layard’s Parakeet was just a fleeting glimpse of one darting overhead.  Here’s a few of my better shots (LOL).

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Malabar Trogon was the best bird I got a photo of.

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We did our best to lure the Blue Magpie out but he just wasn’t having it!

IMG_3585 IMG_3586 IMG_3589OTHER ANIMALS

I forget what lizards these are.

IMG_3492 IMG_3494 IMG_3495Giant Squirrel

IMG_3498 IMG_3500 IMG_3501 IMG_3506 IMG_3507Purple-faced Langur

IMG_3522 IMG_3525 IMG_3527 IMG_3530Pitcher Plants

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Sri Lanka Blue Magpie (Urocissa ornata)

The Sri Lanka Blue Magpie or Ceylon Magpie (Urocissa ornata) is a member of the crow family living in the hill forests of Sri Lanka, where it is endemic.  In Sri Lanka, this bird is known as Kehibella (කැහිබෙල්ලා) in Sinhala Language.

My attempt to photograph this stunning bird resulted in a lot of leaves so we will have to use this Wikipedia shot.