Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s largest cities, sitting among the hills and mountains that surround it. It’s a fairly religious city, home to one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in the world. You can pack all of Kandy’s main attractions into one day of sightseeing.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and the Royal Palace
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is located in the Royal Palace complex, which is massive and houses not only the temple, but several buildings where the former rulers of the Kingdom of Kandy resided. Some of the buildings are not accessible to the public and those that are have been turned into museum spaces.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic houses, you guessed it, a sacred tooth of the Buddha. The tooth itself isn’t visible. It’s kept in a golden mini stupa, and for the majority of the day, this is hidden behind a door which is only opened three times a day for devout invitees to visit and pray. During this time, there is a short ceremony that includes traditional drumming, and visitors can go upstairs to see the tooth. As a tourist, you can only see it from far away.
The temple has a few surrounding halls and structures where you can learn about how the tooth came to be held here, and see artifacts and exhibits.
Visiting the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Since this is an extremely sacred place for the Buddhist religion, there is a very strict dress code. Pants or skirts must be below the knee and you will be checked closely to ensure there are no rips in your jeans. Even non-ripped jeans that had become too worn around the knee area got me banned from entering, even though no skin showed through the fabric. I had to buy a pair of ridiculous elephant pants from some guy outside to cover up. You will also need cash to buy the ticket.
Perhaps the worst thing about visiting the temple is that you have to deposit your shoes outside before entering the complex. This is fairly standard practice for any temple, with the exception that usually you can’t wear shoes inside the main shrine. At the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic you can’t wear shoes to visit any part of the complex. So when you walk from building to building, you have to walk barefoot on asphalt and stone that’s been under the sun all day. The floor is fucking lava all day long at this temple. I have to say, blistering burns on the soles of your feet makes it hard to enjoy anything you’re seeing.
Some of it is beautiful, but the visit is outrageously painful. Since I’m not Buddhist and the importance of the tooth is lost on me, I didn’t think the temple was all that impressive. Nonetheless, it’s one of the main reasons to stop in Kandy.
The Royal Botanic Gardens
One of the nicer things to do in Kandy, especially if you want to escape the loud and bustling streets of the city, is to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens. This huge garden is over 140 acres in size, so you should plan to spend at least two hours there. Most tuk tuk drivers will agree to wait outside for you for a fixed rate.
The gardens include a huge collection of trees and flowers, including rose gardens, an orchid house, several rows of palm trees, medicinal plants, water plants that thrive on a small lake, and different kinds of bamboo. A lot of people visiting get a refreshing drink or ice cream from one of the shops and just enjoy the peace and quiet under shady trees. One of the entrances to the Royal Botanic Gardens also features a suspension bridge that takes you over the Mahaweli River that curves around the grounds of the gardens.
Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue
This hilltop temple is visible from most parts of the city, because of the giant white Buddha statue that overlooks Kandy. It even lights up at night. It’s possible to climb on foot to the statue, but a tuk tuk can also get the job done and save you the trouble and the time if you’re seeing all of Kandy in one day. From the statue, you can get a clear view of Kandy Lake beneath you. Like the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, you have to remove your shoes before you climb up the stairway to the top, so be fast on your feet.
Kandy Viewpoint/Arthur’s Seat
For a nice view of the city that doesn’t require you to get third degree burns on your feet, you can hike or tuk tuk up to Kandy Viewpoint, also known as Arthur’s Seat. It’s a very small platform where you can see the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic on Kandy Lake as well as the surrounding hills. There are some vendors here who take advantage of the spot’s popularity, so you can buy crafts or souvenirs.
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