I must start this with an honest statement – Sri Lanka wasn’t high on my list of places to visit. But, my gorgeous friend, Piyankarie, was finally getting married to her long time love and I didn’t want to miss that! She had also sent us all several itinerary ideas to help us out. So, let the whirlwind 9 day holiday begin!
First stop on the agenda was the popular tourist destination of Dambulla. The place I chose to stay was super cheap and simple, and I loved it! It was just a bed, a mozzie net, and a cold water shower, and it was perfect. In the mornings, monkeys surrounded us whilst we ate breakfast on our porch, everyone walking down the secluded lane would smile and wave – the kids were really good at saying “bye”, but didn’t seem to know hello which was very cute.
In Dambulla we headed out to Sigiriya, the Lion Rock, the site of a palace and monasteries before being abandoned in the 14th century. The climb up was impressive and a little scary – beautiful gardens and moats lead up to the climb, and metal stair cases lead you up where the rock ones are not being used. At the top you get a fantastic view of the surrounding country side and can walk amongst the ruins, where the king would sit and watch people dance whilst offerings were brought to him. It was incredible and getting to the windy side gave much relief to the sweltering climb. Once back down, we went on a village tour, riding in a bullock cart into the jungle, then onto a kayak to cross the lake before arriving at a little hut with a beautiful woman, her mum and her little baby boy slung in a hammock in the kitchen. The views along the way were incredible and the food they made for us delicious! Curries made from pumpkin, ash banana (similar to bananas but a bit denser), jak fruit (which had a weird meat texture), mango and finally some fried fish. My gosh it was delicious! After lunch, learning how to cut and grate a coconut and keep an eye out for elephants, we walked around a lake, being joined by some other tourists riding an elephant, and then headed on the most amazing park tour I’ve done. Not just because we got to see elephants close up, but because of our incredible guide, he was deaf. This meant that throughout the tour he was very animated and engaging, allowing us to feel like we learnt so much more from the effort required to communicate, the effort he put into us. To get the driver to stop the jeep he would tap the metal with a metal ring, point to whatever it was we should see, pass us his binoculars to see the birds and show us in his book which one it was. We got up close to several elephants, they were everywhere, and even saw a beautiful little 2 week old. They are such majestic creatures and surprisingly a bit smaller than I had realised.
I got sunburnt! Here I am talking about the importance of sun safety and I get burnt. Thankfully it was a small burn on one shoulder and I reapplied my sunscreen, but I put it down to a singlet, very sweaty mountain climbing and the rubbing of my backpack wiping off the sunscreen. Regardless, a good reminder of being sun smart.
Travelling on to Kandy, a city nestled in the middle of the mountain range, and the views seemed only to get better and better. We toured a spice garden, a batik factory, the botanical gardens, many many waterfalls, and more amazing food. The hotel this night had a very friendly cat that I just couldn’t help but pat. We boarded a train from Kandy to Ella in third class after the others had all sold out. If you read online, everyone goes on about how you have to book first class or the observation deck, that otherwise it’s not going to be a comfortable ride. We went with third, and honestly it was perfectly fine! There was no air conditioning, but there were fans and the windows opened. In fact, it was quite cool up in the mountains that many times we closed to windows because it was too cold. We met a couple of Australians, sitting across from us, that made the journey even more fun, and the gorgeous Sri Lankan man sitting near us who laughed at all the things we did that must have seemed odd, and told us when the best views were coming up. Everyone says not to eat street food, but to be honest, I think if you avoid meat products and be a bit sensible you should be pretty good. So, when the trained pulled up, people lined the sides of the carriages with fresh fruit and some hot delights, which we had to sample.
The mountains were quite cool in the mornings, but they heated up. We drove out of Ella back to Colombo and seeing the farming on the sides of these steep mountains made me giddy. You truly can’t be afraid of heights to work there! Back in Colombo the hotel was a great choice, definitely needed the comforts of air con, mostly because it helped get rid of that feeling of city smog suffocating you! I felt like we got into a routine in the city – early in the mornings we went out running with a lot of locals along the ocean front, back for a shower, then relaxed checking out the town and places to eat before and after the beautiful wedding!
The wedding, what a gorgeous wedding! Piyankarie and Mithun looked amazing, both had moments of tears in their eyes during the traditional ceremony (all in Sinhalese so had no idea what we being said, couldn’t help smile at the obvious jokes though!), and then we all stuffed ourselves with the incredible food before dancing the afternoon away! After covering Piyankarie and Mithun in confetti as they left, we had the best tuk tuk driver experience of the trip! This guy was crazy, telling us that the scars he showed us on his arms were from being shot by the Tamil Tigers during the war, then telling us they went to Australia as refugees, and whilst taking us through random back streets that wasn’t the way we had gone to the wedding, then asked us several times “no chance you are government police?”! Turning the wrong way down one way streets he would just say “naughty tuk tuks” and laugh! He was a hoot! That afternoon we went to a resort with a pool to relax as the sun set on our second last day. The next morning, a last minute run around, touring more of the city and finding a delicious place to eat lunch, then watching the final sunset and squashing coins on the train line before we headed to the airport for a 1am flight. It was sad to leave and not at the same time.
There were some things about Sri Lanka I didn’t like. I don’t want to paint an incorrect picture of perfection – the pollution in the major cities was pretty bad, especially in Kandy where I think the mountains held it in. The rubbish surprised me, so much litter everywhere you went. There was a bit of begging and harassment, but thankfully not to much and some I was willing to donate to. The worst was at a waterfall where a guy would not leave us alone. He tried to get me to take a rock as a “present”, when I wouldn’t, he put it on top of my phone and I didn’t want to drop it on the ground and let it smash. I probably should have, he then followed us everywhere saying that his daughter was collecting coins for school and we should give her something. We heard later that this was used by others elsewhere. I really hated that. I don’t buy souvenirs no matter where I go, so regardless, I did not want a rock. But, people were friendly, so many smiles, a bit of ripping off but the exchange rate means that it wasn’t something to worry about really.
In the end, there are pros and cons to every place you visit and you take the good with the bad. Sri Lanka was an amazing place. I want to return some day, but there are many places I want to also experience before I head back. I am so grateful that my gorgeous friend Piyankarie got married there, otherwise I don’t believe I would have ever ventured to that tiny island, the size of Tasmania with the population of Australia. It was a life changing experience, I mean that, and hopefully I will be a better person for the things I have learnt.