Sri Lanka! 16 June to the 2nd July 2017. Becoming increasingly popular amongst Western tourists, and rightly so. It is a beautiful country, with much history, beauty and variety of scenery. Centuries old palatial cities, supreme coast to surf, bright colours and perfect pictures abundant.
I have to admit, it has never been on my “to-do” list. We literally chose it for the fact it’s a 10-11 hour flight from London, and Ruben was away at the time. I really wanted to go to Bali, we both did, but it wasn’t going to work out logistically. In retrospect and when looking at the photos, I realise how truly awesome it was. The positives for me in a nutshell were the beautiful scenery and the gorgeous accommodation we stayed in, and how cheap everything was to travel. The negatives: the type and quality of food on offer (apart from one or 2 places which were amazing!!), but more than anything for us both was the little peace we got from anyone and their pet hamster trying to sell us or hustle us into an abundance of things. We were mis-sold, duped and further duped in almost every interaction with a local which really unfortunately soured the experience. You can fully appreciate why of course, it just made us feel that the holiday was not particularly relaxing. You had to have your wits about you all the time. However, I have to also add we have friends who have also been over the last couple of years who did not have this experience in any way.
Further, and to make things more tricky for us backpacking about, I developed vomiting and diarrhoea that lasted almost my entire trip, and managing to eat bland rice, banana, crackers and maintain 4 hours bus journeys whilst thinking about deep breathing and not throwing up was quite a feat! Our trip went as follows: Colombo to Ella via the hillpass train (oh dear lord- breath taking! One of the best things we did and right before I got sick, so extra happy memories of this day!!), in Ella we enjoyed the gorgeous tea plantations and mountain regions. From here (we spent 5 days here due to my being sick- not the original plan!) we moved to Arumgum Bay! It sounds overhyped and touristy- it’s very popular with surfers, but we found a lovely stretch of the beach and really enjoyed it. Its quite romantic! From Arumgum Bay to Batticaloa (see below- my fave!) And from here, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya (also very special- climbing the rock and being on the top of it and all that history- just wow), Ana and back to Colombo. Epic!
My favourite place: hands down Batticola, known as “Batti” to the locals will always stay in my mind as somewhere particularly special, for both Ruben and I. Funny enough, we chose it on a whim and changed our plans the day before we were due to move, simply because we knew I wouldn’t make the bus journey from Arugum Bay to Trimcomalee on the East coast (buses are no more than a 50p-£1.00 for even 3-4 hour journeys!). We stayed at Naval Beach Villa and as soon as our little taxi (tuk tuk style) road along a coastal path I knew we had hit a winner. At Naval Beach we had a gorgeous cottage style double room and paid extra for air conditioning. The grounds were immaculately kept by a little old gentleman who also manned the gates, and the hostel was run by a genuinely lovely husband and wife team (who always insisted on calling me ma’am, bless her) for the extortionate cost of £10.66 per night (plus extra for the a/c- not much! You can get even cheaper if you book in dorm rooms) All our bookings completed easy.peasy on Booking.com. Around the corner from our little peace of paradise- 5 minutes walk to a beach that looked like the set from Castaway- was the soulfied “Soul Connection Café”, run by the wonderful Manoj. Manoj has this super outdoor café, set in sand, and lit with fairy lights. It has the best compact menu, but he is also happy to deviate off of that and cook for you whatever you desire. I still felt rough, so Manoj carefully steamed veggies for me and grilled the most tender chicken. It was honestly PARADISE and if I could say to go anywhere in Sri Lanka, do go here! Batticola was badly hit by the tsunami in 2004, and there are still many empty homes and buidings. It’s not especially built up or touristy. It will be somewhere I always remember. We loved it!!
Would I go back to Sri Lanka? Yes I would, probably directly to the particular places we loved (although realistically won’t as there are always new places to enjoy!) As I say, I do feel that in this region you have to be prepared to be hustled, and therefore that sometimes things aren’t as relaxing as they could be. This may depend on the time of year you go, how you travel and where you go, but also to say again that of course our situation and experience is not representative of everybody’s, quite clearly. Sri Lanka is beautiful and like being in the Jungle Book at times! And cheap enough to visit, especially if backpacking, using public transport and eating in the local places.
Below is us at the Sigiriya Amenity Homestay. It’s somewhere we really wanted to stay longer; it was gorgeous, with a lovely view of the Sigiriya Rock from this breakfast table 🙂