Polonnaruwa’s Ancient Ruins by Bicycle

Polonnaruwa is one of the must-visit sites in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle.

Steeped in history and legend, the vast well-kept ruins of Polonnaruwa are incredible to explore on a day out that takes you back through centuries gone by.

If you’ve read my Sri Lanka itinerary (planned here and actual here) you will know that I was quite enthusiastic about visiting Sri Lanka’s ancient cities even during the planning stages of the trip, before we arrived in the country.

I had read many blogs and articles about visiting the ruins of Polonnaruwa and it seemed that the way to do it was by bike. Yikes! I can’t say I was especially thrilled by the idea of biking around on some rickety contraption in Sri Lanka’s heat, but I figured it would be fun and would be something a bit different, as the last time I had cycled around ancient ruins had been back in 2009 in Ayutthaya, Thailand. Being so long ago, that’s one of the many trips that I have not shared on here. I’ll tell you about that day in Ayutthaya next time…

polonnaruwa

Getting to Polonnaruwa from Habarana

We got up early once again and set off walking to Habarana town centre where we needed to exchange some money and catch the bus. Naturally we bumped into our driver Indika, who asked us where we were going and tried to get us to hire him for the day as usual.

But we were firm: today would be the first time we would take the public bus in Sri Lanka. We had to wait a good ten minutes for the bus – a long wait in Sri Lanka and in fact the longest wait we would ever have for a bus in Sri Lanka.

The bus ride, which took about an hour, was relatively pleasant and not at all as scary as I’d been led to believe bus rides in Sri Lanka would be (throwing us into a false sense of security, as we would soon find out…).

Renting bikes in Polonnaruwa

I had read that on arrival in Polonnaruwa, the best (though not the cheapest) place to rent bicycles was right by the bus stop. I figured that when we got off the bus we’d try to find it. Actually, it found us, as is more often the case in Sri Lanka. No sooner had we stepped off the bus than we had offers of tuk tuks, bikes and guides.

We went for a look at the bikes and they looked in good condition with a lock and with more or less good brakes. We tried to barter as 400rs each seemed a bit steep, but the guy wasn’t budging. I had read some real horror stories about the state of the bicycles people had rented in Polonnaruwa so we decided to take this offer.

The guy was really friendly and showed us where we would get the bus from when we’d finished and told us not to worry about getting back and to take our time. He said that if he wasn’t there and the shop was closed to just leave the bikes outside!

And off we wobbled.

We went to the archaeological museum first, which was just across the road and far enough for me to peddle as a start. That’s where we had to get the tickets from anyway for the entrance into the ruins.

Polonnaruwa Archaeological Museum

We decided to visit the archaeological museum first as we were there anyway and we figured we’d get a bit of background about the place we would spend the rest of the day.

This turned out to be a very good choice as the museum was interesting and thorough. Each room was dedicated to a certain part of the archaeological site we were about to visit and this gave us a better understanding of what to look for at each place and about the best way to go around the vast site.

Note: We did get a really good map of the site when we bought our tickets for Polonnaruwa but grudgingly and only because we asked for it. They were kept under the desk, out of sight.

Our visit to the Polonnaruwa ruins

After enjoying the archaeological museum, the air conditioning and the use of the toilet, it was time for the death-ride from the museum, up the road, to the entrance of the site.

We went down to the main road and peddled up the hill like the clappers while tooting tuk tuks, buses and trucks roared past us. Further up we had to get across to the other side of the road and then we were in. That was a scary 3 minutes!

Once beyond the gates we only had to worry about other clueless cyclists, pedestrians and tuk tuks on the roads and the ride became much more enjoyable as we went from monument to monument, hopping off our bikes, dodging the souvenir sellers and exploring.

We did have in mind to go first to the furthest groups of ruins and working our way back to the entrance as is the recommended way to do it but we got a bit disorientated at the beginning and then got caught up in the excitement of pointing and looking and let’s-go-check-this-out and what’s-that? and how-cool.

But we soon got back on track again and headed far away down to the Gal Vihara, the farthest group of Buddhist statues and one of the serious highlights of Polonnaruwa…

This is the first part of a two-part post about Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka.

Next time I’ll be sharing with you my photos from this day out at Polonnaruwa and some tips for visitors.

Filed Under: asiafeaturedSri LankaSri Lanka Cultural Triangle

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About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....

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  1. Samantha says:

    I am soooo glad that I found your blog! It is the most informative thing I’ve found on Sri Lanka travel so far. We are planning a trip there in July and this has been incredibly helpful – specifically your detailed itinerary. I look forward to reading about other places you’ve been when we plan our next trip! =)

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks so much Samantha, I’m so glad you are enjoying my blog. I also found it hard to find concise info about Sri Lanka when I was planning our trip and this is part of the reason for writing some of the posts I’ve written about Sri Lanka.
      There’s plenty more still to be posted so I hope you’ll be sticking around to find out what happens next…
      I bet you’re really excited for your trip. You’ll have a brilliant time.
      Lisa x

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