The beat part of Sri Lanka is its’ natural beauty, which is why we chose to spend our Christmas break there. While Qatar is improving in its’ outward appearance, most of it is man-made and the rest is just flat and beige. We were literally starved for some palm trees on the beach, green country side and mountains and Sri Lanka delivered. I didn’t know if I’d ever return because it was never high on my ‘to visit list’ so I wanted to see as much of it as possible in 9 days.
We hired a driver, (click here for the contact information of our driver), whom met us at the airport in Colombo and drove us to Negombo, where we stayed at a Homestay for the first night. Gangarama temple was the first temple of many that we visited. It was actually a museum filled with buddhist statues and cultural items.
Then we drove through the craziness of Second Cross street to get a good picture of the Peppermint Mosque or Jami Ul-AlFar (the proper name).
We tried out some Sri Lankan dishes at Tusker Restaurant: Prawn Curry, Dahl, Snake Gourd and purchased some Arrac for our room. Arrac is a distilled alcoholic drink made from coconut flowers. It’s strong and tasty mixed in a cocktail.
We had some street food on our way to Sigiriya for breakfast, stuffed aloo paratha. It was spicy and the best street food we had the entire time in Sri Lanka. Our driver also got us hooked on small, red, peel bananas and king coconut. We had a King Coconut almost every day.
We stopped by the Golden Temple of Dambulla- a UNESCO World Heritage Site and climbed the stairs. We regretted not having enough rupees to enter the caves but we enjoyed the view, the crazy monkeys and more street food.
We stayed at Hotel Sigiriya and admired the view of Sinhagiri also known as Sigiriya rock also known as Lion Rock. The hotel is nice, nothing glamorous but one of the nicer hotels we stayed on a budget. The breakfast buffet is delicious and had many authentic Sri Lankan dishes that were vegan approved. I was able to try sour sap fruit which I later realized was the same as the custard apple that I tried in Peru (click here to read about my adventures in Peru). I enjoyed some green gram (which I just found out is mung bean), milk rice (coconut milk that is), string hoppers, samaposha, dhal curry, and had my fill of passion fruit. Here is also where I fell in love with coconut sambal, a must try in Sri Lanka. We liked Sigiriya as you get to see animals just roaming around and it’s just so beautiful and green. We even had a close encounter with an elephant, who obviously didn’t take kindly to having her picture taken. She let out a loud noise and ran towards our car. We got out of there pretty fast, hence the blurred picture below.
In the wee hours of the morning, 4:30 a.m to be exact, we climbed Piturangala Rock to watch the sunrise. Many people climb Lion’s rock but we opted for the road less traveled instead. We made it to the top in time, but sadly the overcast was too heavy to see the sunrise. It was quite a climb and we had a wonderful view of Lion Rock. We almost missed the Piturangala Vihara on the way up because it was so dark but we made sure we stopped by on our way back down.
While in Sigiriya we visited a gem store, where we learned Blue Sapphire is only mined in a few places in the world, Sri Lankan being one of these famous regions. Sri Lanka also produces a lot of silk so it was only right to visit a silk store as well. At the silk store, the workers dressed Darryl and I up in traditional attire and took our picture. They even put a red dot on my forehead between my eyes; this means I’m married.
Kandy was next on our list. It was lovely and we wished we had scheduled more than 1 day there. We visited a spice garden and Temple of the Tooth. I wasn’t impressed by either place honestly. The spice garden was over priced and a tourist trap, as we were able to purchase the same items at a local market for less than half the price they were charging and the Temple of the Tooth was boring. I also got tired of being stared at, at the Temple. Perhaps it was my bald head, since you can’t cover your head at the Temples.
The Bohiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue is pretty and sits atop a hill. We didn’t go inside, but the view of the city from the top of the hill is great.
The highlight of Kandy was with friends. Our driver invited us to his home to meet his family and have dinner that he and his family cooked for us. He sent a tuk tuk driver to fetch us from our hotel, The Sky Pavillion, to bring us to his house. His family was lovely and dinner was terrific, by far the best meal we had in Sri Lanka. His sister even drew a beautiful henna tattoo on my hand for me. We went back to our hotel feeling full and beyond blessed.
The next day we went to visit another friend, Nazma, my henna partner from Qatar. She is from Sri Lanka and coincidentally was there on holiday like me. She invited us to her home to meet her family. In true Sri Lankan hospitality style, which I came to appreciate, they prepared food for us.
This food came in handy on our train ride to Ella. More on that in a minute. Once we left Kandy, we drove toward Nuwara Eliya, admiring the vast tea plantations, monkeys on the road and Talawakalle waterfalls. We even stopped at a tea factory to see how tea is produced in the oldest tea factories in Sri Lanka.
A train ride to Ella is everything you’ve heard about and is a must do in Sri Lanka. The route is very scenic and beautiful. (Read about where to sit and how to score tickets for this train ride in Part 2) It began raining halfway through our train ride so I missed the sunset.
Our first night in Ella was not good. It was pouring rain and there were mudslides all around. We didn’t stay at our original booked hotel because something was wrong with the room and they tried to have us stay in another room but all I saw was spiders and dust. Most of Ella was all sold out so hotel rooms were in short supply and we wound up staying in this shitty room that I almost had an asthma attack in due to the mold. But after the storm comes the sun and our driver was able to find us another suitable hotel, Yoho Nilara Resort, for day 2. No visit to Ella is complete without a visit to the 9 Arches bridge, where we were able to take some cool pictures. This place was crawling with tourist which means it’s a happening place that many want to see. Our driver planned it perfectly because not long after we made the climb down to the bridge, a train passed.
We also climbed Mini Adams Peak to catch the sunset. The sunset was not to be had as we got caught in the rain. I was beginning to think that I would never catch a sunrise or sunset in Sri Lanka. Good thing I like the rain and rain usually keeps the crowds away. Less people make for better pictures of the wonderful scenery.
Afterwards, Darryl and I threw on some nice digs and enjoyed dinner at Ceylon Tea Factory in Ella. We even got to to enjoy some drinks at this popular place called Chill (definitely the party spot in Ella) before heading to Mirissa.
We stayed at Imagine Villa Hotel in Kamburugamuwa, right outside of Mirissa. This was the best hotel we stayed in Sri Lanka. It was right on the beach and was a beautiful resort. Outside of Whale watching, we spent our two days in Mirissa at the resort relaxing and socializing. I even found a little vegan gem of a restaurant (Ahimsa) to enjoy Christmas dinner.
Galle was our last city to visit. On the way, we made a few stops: a boat ride to visit Cinnamon island and to see wildlife, and a turtle hatchery.
Of course we had to see the infamous Galle fort and I’m so happy to say that on this final night, the sun was nice to me and showed me it’s setting. And you know what, it was worth the wait!
On the drive back to Colombo airport, we stopped at Bentota beach to grab some food and I felt sad because Bentota beach was beautiful and we didn’t spend any time there. Does this warrant a second trip to Sri Lanka? Maybe…
*Be sure to read, ‘9 days in Sri Lanka- Part 2 ‘ for suggestions and tips for planning a trip to Sri Lanka