It took me almost three weeks to fully see the magnificent beauty of Sri Lanka. Why? I don’t know exactly. Maybe because Colombo is not the best city in the world to start your first solo trip. Maybe because Thailand was the only Asian country I have been before and I had trouble letting go of comparing it all the time. Or just because it had nothing to do with Sri Lanka, but with me wrapping my mind around the fact that my whole life would be different from now on. This was the start of a journey that I felt would be a life changing experience.
So there I was. Sitting on my bed of a hostel in the middle of busy Colombo. And there they were, the four big men I shared the room with. It looked liked they lived there. They made little houses of there beds and there towels functioned like curtains to shield them from other people bothering them. And I never felt more alone. I decided to walk a bit around the neighborhood to explore. This adventure ended in a little circle around the hostel. I felt somehow unsafe to be honest. On every street corner there where men in small groups staring like I was something exotic. Luckily I brought my scarf I could wrap around my head and bare shoulders. I found a supermarket, bought some snacks and water and returned to my hostel as quickly as I could. Is this Sri Lanka?
I was sitting on my bed again, thinking about why the hell I booked two nights here and that I had to because I wanted to extend my visa the next day and that would take hours I have read, when a girl walked in. Happy not to be the only women I was also happy to find out that she was Dutch like me and apparently arrived with the same plane. She just decided not to take the taxi the hostel provided for €25 but instead take a uber from the airport which was much cheaper (your first tip ;)). V and I hit it off right away and decided to grab a bite to eat together that night. We went for dumplings at Momo’s by Ruvi. And that little hole in the wall of a restaurant was the only little light I found in Colombo. The dumplings where amazing. You can mix and match as much as you like. I advise the shrimp and veggie dumplings and a nice home brewed ice tea. I felt more at ease immediately.
V and I decided to go and travel a bit together so after hectic Colombo we went to, well…. also a bit hectic, the mountain city called Kandy. The train ride is amazing, slowly moving through little mountain villages and I felt I could breathe again. We stayed in Sleep Cheep Hostel in the middle of the mountains with an amazing view. It is definitely worth the ten minute walk down to the bus you take for 10 roepie to the city centre (which is a five minute drive). It is nice and quiet with still a supermarket close by. When you go to the city, eat an amazing lunch at Cafe Secret Alley which is actually in a secret little alley 🙂 The smoothie bowls are to die for. For dinner I would recommend just to go to a nice street window and take some take away hoppers (eggs) or Kottuh (chopped up roti with veggies, my favorite Sri Lanka comfort food). If you are feeling more like eating in a restaurant for a low budget, then check out Divine Street. For day trips in and around Kandy I would say that the botanical gardens are worth checking out. They have a nice selection of exotic flowers and trees. We took the bus, after a stroll through the gardens, to a tea plantation. The factory was small and hot so we did a quick walk through. We drank some amazing (free) black tea and as we walked outside we saw a path going up into the mountains. We didn’t saw anybody going that way but our couriositie won and we went for a walk. After the first turn we took we were in tea plantation paradise. Hills full with the little bushes and women walking between them plucking the fresh green leaves. You hear story’s about these women trying to get money from you when you take there picture. But the women we met were so kind, showing us the leaves, let us smell them and suggested we took a picture with them without the expectation getting money in return (which I gave anyway because they earn 600 roepie a day for very heavy labor). Kandy is a place you can go to but if you skip it, it’s also ok. You won’t miss out the best place on earth to be honest.
The same, in my humble opinion, counts for Nilaveli where we went to after Kandy. We stopped first in Dambulla but I will get back to that later. Nilaveli is a quiet little fisher village in the north east. It has a beautiful beach that has to be said and it’s a excellent point to go to Pigeon Island which I can highly recommend to go for snorkeling. It is a national park, Island really, so you can only come there by boat. The boatsman arranges a ticket for you and before you know it you are walking awkwardly backwards with your flippers on into the ocean 🙂 I had a amazing encounter with a reef shark there. He came swimming towards me, very curious. When I moved aside he did the same, looked at me for a bit and decided I was probably to big to eat anyway and went off. With your face sticking down (and your butt sticking up, so don’t forget to put sunscreen along side your bikini bottoms girls!), gazing in the water and looking to all this amazing creatures swimming by, you just can’t help but feel great respect for mother nature. The colors, the brightness, the millions tiny pink (not stinging) jellyfish surrounding you. It is magnificent. So definitely worth going to. Meet a nice guy there, go night swimming together like I did and your Nilaveli experience can become one to remember 😉 Looking for a night full of luxury? Then I recommend you check out Trinco Blu by Cinnamon in Trincomalee. For €40 per night you can stay there including breakfast and dinner. It’s a bit upper class, but the swimming pool is nice and cool and in the bar you can meet people from all over the world.
Arugambay was my next destination. Surfers hippie ville you can call it as well. And I absolutely loved it there. We booked a villa (V, the new lover and me) for €10 p.p.p.n. at Arnes Place. And that was definitely worth the money. You have your own little porch, beautiful sea view and the best breakfast you can get. Everyday was surfing and yoga day for me there. I followed yin classes at Bay Vista Hotel after a long day of surfing to stretch my sore muscles. They give yoga classes on the top floor which is nice but can be also a bit windy. Luckily the wind is always warm so don’t be afraid of getting cold. Surfing you do best at Elephant rock and Whisky point and after getting out of the ocean you get cocktails on the beach at Friend Indeed followed by rice and curry at The Green Room. And we eat jummy, well everything actually, at No Worries. Yes, Arugambay should definitely be in your traveling plans for a deferent kind of Sri Lanka experience.
So back to Dambulla like I promised. The first time I went there was cool because we went on a Elephant safari at Minneriya national park. We were very lucky because the moment we were there ‘the gathering’ took place. Which means that big herds of elephants come to the lake to drink and bate themselves. We saw four big herds, all with baby’s and they were so peace and graceful. And I have to say, we got lucky again because our driver made sure we weren’t driving behind all the other jeeps and he had great respect for the animals and kept his distance. We got him through our tuktuk driver. The other way you can do this is to just take a tuktuk to the park and negotiate with the drivers who are waiting there, eager to take people into the park. You can get a good price out of it. We paid €30 in total for the two of us. Worth every penny in my opinion. The place we stayed in is not really worth mentioning to be honest but later on in my journey I came as a yoga teacher to Jungle Vista Hostel and boy, you don’t wanna miss out on that place for sure! It is one of the best hostels in Sri Lanka close to Dambulla and Lion Rock with a lot of like minded people, vegetarian food, yoga, sleeping outdoors, volleyball and much much more. I stayed here teaching yoga for three weeks and absolutely loved it. They are always looking for motivated volunteers so don’t be shy and ask them about a working place if you like to save a little money on your travelings. Believe me if I say you won’t regret it. Visit Pindurangala rock, a.k.a. ‘cheap rock’ because it’s much more cheaper (500 roepie) then his very expensive brother Lion Rock ($30). Go at sunrise or sunset. It is one of the most magical sunrises I have ever experienced in my life.
So back to surfing, because I did that a fair bit in Sri Lanka and truth to be told, I loved the waves there. They are perfect for beginners and more professionals a like. It’s good fun for everyone. After Jungle Vista I went to Unawatuna to teach yoga at SannyPanny Hostel. And I have to say, SannyPanny is one of the friendliest hostels I have stayed in during my travelings. It is really a family feeling, so warm and loving that most people who book for one night stay for a whole week. Like we said to each other there, ‘watch out, it’s a trap! But of the sweetest kind’. The dorm room is hell cool with a little attic and three story high wooden bunk beds. If you like more privacy, they have private rooms as well. Go and see wild giant sea turtles at Wijaya beach and feed them with the sea grass you pluck of the rocks in the water. And after you eat the best and ridiculous cheap roti at Happy Spice but take your awesome dessert at Bedspace. A must is the creme de brulee. Sorry Paris but they win. But I am wondering off again in dreams about desserts so back to surfing because that was almost all I did when I stayed three weeks here. I went to Dewata beach and rented my surfboard for 300 roepie at Mahatun Surfschool. The waves are easy and fun there and it is a very safe place to start to learn how to surf. I had the best time there and can recommend it to very one.
Other places to surf are Weligama and Hiriketiya. Weligama has a big surfing reputation. Hands in all the people in the water from dusk till dawn. I have to say that when I was there the waves where pretty fun and I had some very good rides. But go very very early is all I’m saying if you don’t wanna run over a couple of surfers in every wave you get. Basecamp is a really cool place to stay for people with a little bigger budget than backpackers. The yoga is more then amazing there with a view to die for. Ali is the yoga teacher there and I adored her classes so much. They are warming, flowing jummy vinyasa sequences she teaches and I stole some great ideas of this wonderful lady. If you have a smaller budget I recommend to go to Mirissa, the small ocean village next door, and stay there. Personally I wasn’t a big fan of Hangtime Hostel because it is a little to big for my taste but a lot of people swear by it so maybe check out for yourself. I did whale watching here and absolutely loved it. Maybe also because I didn’t got seasick while two poor man on the boat did nothing but vomiting the whole time. I think that will make it a little bit less joyful even if you see this magnificent creatures coming to the surface. And one restaurant I just have to name here is Chef Akila Kitchen. I am not lying that this is in my opinion the best Sri Lanka food you can get. Please stop there to eat the Massaman Curry and the Garlic Prawns. Hiriketiya I just visited for one day to surf there. It is a amazing beautiful beach, maybe the best I have seen in Sri Lanka, but you have to be careful when surfing the reef break there. Sea urchin bites are a daily injury and unfortunately for me, I was one of the patients. And believe me when I say, you don’t wish you worst enemy this kind of pain. Wear surfing boots or stay in the middle is my advice.
Just a small but loving note for Polhena, a little fisher village with a lovely little hostel called Tropi Turtle. Sydney, the owner will do everything in his power to make you feel at home. You can go snorkeling here for turtles if the tides are right. I was there when they were way to strong and then it can be a bit dangerous if you are not a good swimmer so take care. Eat amazing roti at the roti shop just around the corner or if you want some more luxury, The Doctors House is the place to be for a cool beer and home made wood oven pizza.
And then last, but definitely not least, Ella and her magnificent Tomorrowland Hostel. Oh how I loved that little paradise on earth in the middle of the mountains. I think almost 20 procent of the pictures I took, I took here. Such a photogenetik place with stunning sunrises, thick mists and amazing views wherever you look. Tomorrowland is a place like no other. You will not experience this anywhere else I dare to say. When you finally reach the top of the mountain where the hostel is situated after what feels like a hundred steps. When you finally catch your breath again and wipe the sweat of you forehead. When you see the big doors in front of you like a portal to another world, and you look behind you and see the stunning view over the mountains, you know you are at a very special place on earth. In the inside it looks like a artist residents with art all over the walls and the big eye in the DJ boot that will follow you everywhere you go. And also here, a lot of people find it hard to go again, me included. There is so much to explore, the little town of Ella, Little Adams Peak, Ella Rock, the Nine Arch bridge, the secret waterfalls, it’s almost to much to sum up.
Go and explore, see for yourself. And that counts for all of Sri Lanka. Go, book that ticket, because it is a true paradise on earth. The people, food, places, views, it’s all beautiful, it’s all worth your while. It took me three weeks to realize, but this experience will stay in my memory for life.