I arrived in Sri Lanka late at night and proceeded to get my visa on arrival and clear customs. The airport seemed to be similar to most other airports I had arrived in on my travels, apart from one difference that I did notice and I really did find it quite funny. What do you usually expect to see in the duty free section after you have cleared customs? For me I think alcohol, perfume, makeup, those sort of things. Not in Sri Lanka, the bulk of the duty free items were refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and microwaves… I don’t know about you but for me these are definitely not the type of items I’m looking to purchase immediately upon my return form an overseas trip. Anyway I just wanted to mention that little quirk because I thought it was funny and interesting, it just proves that you really do have no idea what you could find when you land in a new country.
I met my friend Jordy from home in Sri Lanka and we were very excited to explore this beautiful country. Jordy only had 8 days so we had to carefully plan our itinerary to fit in as much as possible! We’d been told that Negombo and Colomobo were like most big cities so we decided to skip spending time here and head straight down south to a beach called Unawatuna. We jumped on a local bus in Negombo to take us to Colombo where we would board the express train bound for Galle, from here it was a short tuk tuk ride to the accomodation we’d chosen in Unawatuna. The train ride was incredible, even though we did have to stand for most of it. It runs right along the coastline and the views are breathtaking!
We arrived in Unawatuna and were greeted with a crazy good sunset and some turtley friends surfing in the waves. The beach we were staying at has a lagoon like section that is very attractive to turtles for feeding so they surf in on the waves to reach the lagoon and if you’ve got a good eye you can see their heads popping out of the waves as they do so.
We spent a day exploring the nearby fort of Galle and thoroughly enjoyed our time relaxing beachside in Unawatuna.
Next stop on our whirlwind tour of Sri Lanka was Udawalawe National Park. We were torn between visiting Udawalawe of Yala national park and since we didn’t have time to visit both we had to make a decision. In the end we went with Udawalawe because we were told we’d pretty much have a 100% chance of seeing elephants. Pretty sure we made the right decision, we saw 30 wild elephants! And I got more and more excited every time we saw another one! From babies to gigantic males we were overwhelmed with these beautiful creatures! We also got to see some pretty incredible bird life up close, nothing seemed even remotely bothered by the presence of our safari jeep.
From Udawalawe we headed north into the Sri Lankan hill country to the quaint little town of Ella. On the way we passed a waterfall (yay waterfall) and hundreds of acres of tea plantations. Everything in this part of Sri Lanka is incredibly green and the best thing about this region? It’s actually relatively cool, even a little chilly at night which was exactly what I needed after way too much heat over the last few weeks! Since we found ourselves surrounded by tea plantations and the delicious scent of fresh tea leaves, the first thing on our agenda was to grab ourselves a pot of tea. We made our way to a cute place with an incredible view and enjoyed a cup of tea. We’d booked in for massages in the afternoon and since it had started to rain this seemed like the perfect way to pass the time. The massage was great but by the time we’d come out the rain had turned torrential and we had to walk at least a couple of hundred metres to the town. Neither of us had an umbrella or anything to protect us from the rain and as we were psyching ourselves up to make a run for it two of the lovely ladies from the massage place came out, umbrellas in hand and offered to escort us to the town. It’s people like this that are sweet, kind, and completely selfless that make travel so great!
With hill country come hills that you can climb and if you know me you know this is one of my favourite things to do! We decided to tackle little Adams Peak. Just outside the main town you start the ascent to the top. A few hundred stair later and you’re greeted with one hell of a view and lucky for us we had perfectly clear weather! We filled in the rest of our day with a visit to one of the local tea factories and then took refuge in a restaurant before the afternoon rains hit (this would happen everyday for the rest of my trip).
After a couple of days in Ella we were moving on to our next destination, the bustling city of Kandy and Jordy’s last stop with me in Sri Lanka (sad face). To get to Kandy we caught the train and this was definitely a highlight of my Sri Lankan trip. This journey is absolutely breathtaking, it definitely lives up to its reputations of being one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.
We arrived in Kandy at nightfall leaving us only half of the following day to do some exploring before Jordy left to head back to Negombo and then home to Australia. We visited the temple of the tooth, a religious sight believed to be home to one of Buddha’s teeth. Then we headed up to visit the big Buddha on the hill, our tuk tuk driver failed to mention he is shrouded in scaffolding so that was a bit disappointing. We made a quick stop at the markets to see what sort of Sri Lankan crafts were on offer and then it was back to the hotel where I had to say goodbye to another travel buddy (really big sad face!).
After Jordy left I moved into a hostel, much more affordable when you’re travelling on your own. I had a couple of days to kill in Kandy where I would be catching up with my parents briefly when they passed through on their tour. I wandered around the lake, caught a cultural dance show and took a day tour to visit Sigiriya an ancient fortress built upon a giant rock. This historical landmark very possibly has THE MOST expensive entry fee in all of Asia. Coming in at 3 times the price of the entry to the Taj Mahal, it’s not really within a backpackers budget. In the end I opted to climb it’s much cheaper neighbor Pindurangala rock, the view over looking Sigiriya was incredible, this is definitely a viable option if you don’t want to pay the exorbitant entry fee to Sigiriya itself. On the return from Sigiriya we stopped at Dumbulla cave temples and the stunning Sri Muthummariamman temple.
On my final night in Kandy, like I mentioned before I got to catch up with my parents, 2 months since I’d seen my Mum and a whopping 6 months since I’d seen my dad who had been working in China when I left. Safe to say I was pretty excited to get a big hug from them both! It was a quick little reunion over dinner and then we had to say our goodbyes, but this goodbye wasn’t as hard as some because I’d be catching up with them in a few weeks when we do a tour together in Myanmar.
My time in Sri Lanka was quickly coming to an end and my final challenge was to climb the 5400 stairs to the top of Adams Peak! Myself, Becky and Stephen, a couple of travellers I’d met in the hostel in Kandy set off for the town of Dalhousie, where hundreds of pilgrims and a few tourists gather to make the climb to the top of this holy site and watch the sunset. This was one of the things I was most excited about doing in Sri Lanka and unfortunately it rained the WHOLE time! And I don’t mean just a light sprinkle, this rain was heavy and consistent, there was also strong winds which meant to were saturated and freezing. My rain jacket had no hope of withstanding this sort of rain. Despite the weather we pushed on to the summit, we’d planned to get to the top with time to spare and then wait for the sun to rise…. Not a chance, if I’d waited up there I probably would have frozen to death! I was definitely disappointed but it will always be a memorable experience.
From Adams Peak, Becky and I returned back to Kandy and Stephen went on to Ella. I came back to Kandy because I’d been told there was a direct bus to the airport that I could catch from there. I could have probably gotten a taxi from Adams Peak but it would have been expensive and I thought hey if it drops me right at the airport I’ll be able to suffer through a local bus ride for 3 hours… 3 hours is the time my hostel told me it would take… it ended up taking 5 (lucky I’d left with plenty of time before my flight) AND the whole getting dropped outside the airport, also not true, I got dropped about a kilmoeter down the road from the airport and I was forced to walk the rest of the way with my my big back pack in complete darkness, the street lights are few and far between in Sri Lanka. To be fair this 5 hour bus ride did only cost me $ 1.40 Australian but my little hike through the darkness was kind of terrifying and I think I would have preferred to have paid for a taxi!
Following the Adams Peak and bus debacle I didn’t exactly depart Sri Lanka on the best of terms but in saying that I still absolutely adored my visit to this incredible place and I definitely plan on returning in the future. This torrential rain I was experiencing was only the beginning and since my departure the country has gone on to suffer severe flooding and landslides that have affected more than 500,000 people. My heart breaks at this news and my thoughts are with all the beautiful people of Sri Lanka who are suffering as a result.