The guidebooks all agree that the best way to see the ancient ruins in Polonnaruwa is by bike. The site is roughly 12 km from north to south, with long stretches that are just low brick walls, interspersed with more impressive structures.
We typically refuse to accept that we have to travel differently now that we’ve got kids, so we set out to find bikes for a day in the ruins. We found a kid ( maybe 12 years old) who assured us that he had two bikes with child seats, one of which would be small enough for Vero. He quoted us a price and after a little bargaining we decided to take them. This was a kid in a bike store, not just some random kid in the street. Anyway, the kid assured us the bikes would be ready as early as 6 AM.
It takes us a while to get mobilized in the morning, so we arrived at his shop around 8 AM. Imagine our surprise when the kid wasn’t there, the shop was open, and there were no bikes with child seats!
The kid’s father was there, and he explained to us that the price was not right and that one of his bucket-bikes ( apparently what they call a bike with a child seat) had a puncture and so was un-useable. He finally figured out that he could borrow a bike from someone else and would honour the deal his son made.
By the time we got on the bikes, it was 9:30 AM. To get to the entrance of the ruins you have to ride up the main road about 300 m. This is a challenge at the best of times because the main road is the highway passing through town and carries all the trucks, busses, cars, scooters, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and bicycles, all honking and passing each other and slamming on the brakes. At the moment, the main road is under construction, so there’s no shoulder to ride on and Vero had never ridden with a child on the back of her bike, and she was riding a big steel mama-bike two sizes too big for her.
While we were walking our bikes up the road, Zoe wiped out and scraped her knee; at that point we were standing on the side of the highway in the blazing sun, unable to get off the road, with a crying bleeding five year-old. Good times.
The whole idea was to get to the ruins as early as possible to avoid the heat. Part of the problem with the 40+ temperature is that many parts of the ruins are sacred areas; in Buddhist sacred areas you are asked to remove your hat and shoes. The sand and stones get so hot you can feel the soles of your feet burning as you run between patches of shade. We did not manage to avoid the heat. Bring socks.