Happy days in Sri Lanka: Highlights of a 3 1/2 week trip

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Cave temples of Dambulla

Mike and I returned home from Sri Lanka just a week before the heinous Easter Sunday terrorist attacks. I’m still shocked and sad, and have had trouble figuring out what to do with this post. While vacationing in Sri Lanka may not be at the top of your list at the moment, I want to share with you the country we experienced—its stunning beauty, rich culture, friendly people, abundant wildlife and delicious food. Tourism is so vital to the Sri Lankan economy and the livelihoods of many people. I hope for peace and stability so visitors will return to this gorgeous country. Over the next months I’ll be writing detailed reports about our trip; for now, here are the highlights of the happy days we spent in Sri Lanka.

People-watching at Galle Face Green, Colombo

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Galle Face Green, Colombo

I’m really glad we started with a few days in Colombo, and Galle Face Green was one of my Sri Lankan favourites. There’s nothing green about this sun-scorched place, but the oceanside promenade is incredibly vibrant in late afternoon when locals gather to socialize and cool their feet in the Indian Ocean. And that long, lower rise building you see in the photo—the Galle Face Hotel—is a marvellous place for a cocktail. Read more about Colombo.

Long beach walks at Tangalla

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Walking Tangalla’s endless stretch of sand

Which direction should we go today? Turn left from our beachside guesthouse, walk a few hundred meters where all footprints fade away and the wild, deserted beach stretches further than the eye can see. Turn right, walk a few hundred meters to a protected rock barrier, take a swim, stop for a refreshing king coconut before pushing on to colourful Tangalla harbour. Tough decision! Read more about Tangalla Beach.

Strolling along the fort walls, Galle

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Atop the Galle Fort walls

A sunset stroll on top of the Galle Fort walls is a magical experience. The 17th century Dutch-built fort provides sweeping views of the ocean and the old town’s exotic mix of mosques, temples and churches. I loved the eclectic assortment of amblers— uniform-clad school groups, women in burqas and bright sarees, local love birds, selfie stick-addicted young Asians and sweaty-faced Europeans. Read more about Galle Fort.

Hiking in Ella

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Hiking Little Adam’s Peak in Ella

While the town of Ella is a little scruffy, the surrounding countryside is green, gorgeous, and perfect for working-off our heaping platefuls of rice and curry. We conquered both Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock and are eternally grateful to the woman selling king coconuts at the top of the latter.

Walking the tea plantation paths in Haputale and Nuwara Eliya

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The Oliphant Tea Plantation near Nuwara Eliya

If forced to select a single favourite activity on our trip it would be wandering the tea plantation paths at Lipton’s Seat near Haputale, and at Oliphant Estate above Nuwara Eliya. There’s something incredibly soothing about the undulating hills carpeted with densely packed, vividly green tea bushes.

Admiring the pageantry at a Hindu wedding in Matale 

Enroute to Sigiriya, our taxi driver suggested we take a break and visit the Hindu temple in Matale. As luck would have it, there was a wedding about to take place. I’m a sucker for beautiful fabrics and couldn’t stop staring at the stunningly-clad guests. I got up the nerve to ask if I could take a photo and that turned into a fun photo and conversation session. They even invited us to the wedding!

Climbing the rocks in Sigiriya

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Sigiriya Rock as seen from Pidurangula Rock

Sigiriya is famous for its rock of the same name. It’s astonishing to think that the summit of this steep sided rock was the site of a royal palace dating back to the 5th century AD. Even with modern engineering, the route to the top is not for the faint of heart. We enjoyed our sunset on Sigiriya Rock but were even more impressed the next morning when we climbed neighbouring Pidurangula with its astonishing view of Sigiriya and snaking trail of visitors.

Exploring the cave temples of Dambulla

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Decorated feet of a reclining Buddha at Dambulla Cave Temples

Of all the fascinating sites in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, we were most impressed with Dambulla. Its series of five cave temples date back to the 1st century BC and house a beautiful collection of Buddhist statues and colourful murals. I was enamoured by the painted soles of a 15m-long reclining Buddha.

Seduced by the gray langurs at Polonnaruwa

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Mom and baby gray langur

Perhaps because I live in a country that doesn’t have monkeys, these creatures are endlessly fascinating to me. We saw them in several places but the best was at the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa where a group of moms were hanging out with their tiny babies. Don’t get me wrong, the ruins are interesting but the gray langurs captured my heart.

Experiencing puja at Jaffna’s Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil

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Nallur Kandaswamy Temple in Jaffna

Jaffna’s gold-hued Nallur Hindu temple is impressive from the outside but nothing quite prepared us for the puja (worship) inside. Amidst the thunderous sound of drums and bells, and air thick with incense, we followed the clockwise procession of worshippers as they stopped for blessing from the Hindu deities at shrines surrounding the inner sanctum. No photos or video allowed inside the temple, but the visceral feelings will live long in our memories.

Markets and eating!

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Pettah Market, Colombo

I love a bustling market and I love a good curry. Sri Lanka has both in abundance. One of our favourite markets was the massive Pettah Market in Colombo, overflowing with fruit and veggies, and everything else you can imagine. All this fresh produce is whipped up into delicious, healthy curries that we enjoyed throughout the country.

Sri Lanka’s friendly people

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Mike with Kumari and Yapa at Ella’s Emerald Mirror Guesthouse

No matter if it was in the north or south, tiny guesthouse or big hotel, city or village, we were overwhelmed by Sri Lanka’s friendly, warm and kind people. On our last day in Ella, I woke up to an over-the-top breakfast “party” with cake, balloons, festive treats and enough food to feed 20. Even though we had to catch a morning train, our hosts wanted to make sure we celebrated my birthday. It felt like being with family.

Meeting Peta and Ben

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Dinner out with Peta and Ben

I’ve saved the best for last: meeting Peta and Ben, fellow bloggers living in Sri Lanka whom I’ve been following for a few years. We had the most amazing couple of days with this gracious and interesting couple. It all still feels a bit surreal when I think about using their divine outdoor bathroom, eating Nilu’s scrumptious curry (best in all of Sri Lanka), down-dogging at Sri Yoga Shala and sharing conversation about travel, family and what the future may hold. We felt so fortunate to have the benefit of their insider knowledge and experiences. If you don’t know Peta and Ben, visit them at their wonderful blog: http://www.greenglobaltrek.com/.

Special thanks also to Maggie and Richard (https://monkeystale.ca/) for all the advice and recommendations about traveling in Sri Lanka. Go check out their awesome blog about two years of travel, trekking, sightseeing and eating through South East Asia.

The map shows the places we stayed while in Sri Lanka. Future posts will provide more detail about destinations and how we got there.

Read my post on Columbo.

Read my post on Tangalla Beach

Categories: Sri Lanka | Tags: , , , | 46 Comments

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46 thoughts on “Happy days in Sri Lanka: Highlights of a 3 1/2 week trip

  1. Pingback: Captivated by the ambiance of Galle Fort, Sri Lanka | Writes of Passage

  2. Absolutely love this post – you’ve captured some wonderful photographs and shared some interesting insights – I’m glad you got home before the awful Easter events 😊🌴

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your trip to Sri Lanka sounds amazing – loved reading about your perspectives and where you’ve visited. We didn’t make it to some of these places (I was too scared to walk on the Sirigiya rock!). We also loved visiting that tea plantation near Nuwara Eliya, that was also one of our two highlights (and walking on the beach near Tangalle).

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s always nice to hear from someone who has been to Sri Lanka. The tea plantations are amazing, aren’t they! Sigiriya Rock was interesting but there were lots of people, which took away from the experience a bit. I know others who didn’t want to take those crazy stairs and ledges to the top—certainly not an excursion for those afraid of heights. Thanks for your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I completely understand how Sri Lanka captured your heart. The true soul of the place emanates from your words and images and have inspired to return there. The act of terrorism that followed your visit was heinous indeed and is sadly becoming to reality throughout the world. This snippet from a travel advisory on http://www.gov.uk puts things in perspective

    “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the USA. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. You should monitor media reports and be vigilant at all times’.

    But back to happy. How serendipitous to happen upon that beautiful wedding party. And I am delighted that you found your way to Jaffna; off the beaten track but well worth it. We never made it to the Dambulla Caves or Sigiriya so I especially enjoyed my visit to them through your lens.

    The top highlight for my trip to Sri Lanka was a visit with Peta and Ben so I smiled widely to see you here in their company.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Acts of terror have become all too common and it seems that no place is immune. If we were to heed all the travel advisories, we’d stay locked up in our homes. The safety of Sri Lanka now as a travel destination is an especially tricky one because as I understand it, the Easter Sunday attacks have fuelled tensions that have been brewing since the civil war ended. Lets hope cooler, responsible heads prevail.
      Enough of this! Sri Lanka was such a delightful mix of experiences and as I look back over my post I’m still amazed at everything this country has to offer. Meeting Peta and Ben was an absolute highlight. It’s wonderful what can happen with these blogs!

      Liked by 1 person

      • While I do think that travel to riskier areas is critical to keeping minds and doors open, I have my limits. We have given Venezueala a wide-berth as we approached the Caribbean even though some other sailors continue to travel to Los Roques.

        It is interesting. I had heard that during the civil war, the Muslim community was seen as the friend to both the Tamils and Buddhists. Once the ‘peace’ was negotiated between those two groups, views towards the Muslims took a negative turn. With this crazed act by a few lunatics, the situation will only worsen.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, so much variety in those photos! I just read through your post on Colombo as well… can’t wait to learn more about Sri Lanka!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diana, the variety that Sri Lanka has to offer is something I still can’t get over. It’s really amazing what’s all packed into this one relatively small country.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Lovely photos and post of Sri Lanka, totally agree with your description. I was there that week of the bombings for a friends wedding, it was so sad. Country is so beautiful

    Liked by 1 person

    • How horrible for you and your poor friend getting married! Yes, such a sad time for this beautiful country. Thanks for reading and I’m glad you could relate to my post. Here’s hoping for peace!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Caroline, after all the negative news coverage about Sri Lanka, and the recent backlash against a Muslim community who had nothing to do with the bombings, your timely post is a real breath of fresh air. And I love your photos – it’s so hard to pick a favorite from the ones shown here.

    I’ve always wanted to go back to the island after experiencing some of its wonders and the incredible local hospitality back in 2015. Bama and I only had two weeks so we missed many of the places you visited – like Nuwara Eliya, Tangalla, and Ella – and we spent far too little time in Colombo. I too found Dambulla to be a real highlight, and thankfully there weren’t that many people tramping up the rickety stairs up to the top of Sigiriya at the time. The family who hosted us in Kandy recommended taking the train to Jaffna… so I’m really looking forward to your posts from there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your nice compliments James. I’m glad I was able to convey the good and positive about this beautiful country. Even with 3 1/2 weeks we still felt that we had so much more to see. We don’t like to rush from place to place so we had to make some tough decisions on what to eliminate from the itinerary. I’m really glad we got up to Jaffna. It is very different from other places we visited in Sri Lanka. We had an outstanding guide for a couple of days who not only took us to some fascinating places but also gave us insight into what it was like to live through the civil war in this region.
      I hope you guys will get back there sometime.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember reading an article in the early 2000s on a national newspaper in Indonesia about Sri Lanka’s potentials as a great travel destination. Unfortunately at that time the civil war was still raging, and I could only dream that one day I’d get the chance to visit this country. That chance came in 2012, only a few years after the end of the war, and I was really impressed by the heritage sites this island nation had to offer.

    But one week in Sri Lanka was far from enough, so I decided to go back in 2015 as a part of the six-month journey James and I took with the idea of retracing some of the old spice routes across the Indian Ocean. My second time in Sri Lanka, however, started a little bumpy, although as the days progressed more good things fortunately began coming our way.

    It was nice to revisit the same ancient sites that I’d gone to three years earlier, as well as exploring the country’s other cultural sights. The food was amazing (did you try curd with kithul palm syrup, and woodapple juice?), most of the people we met were very friendly and welcoming, and the weather was generally good.

    I really hope people will still come and visit this beautiful country, or at least consider a visit sometime in the near future not only to help its tourism industry recover faster, but also because based on my experience every trip to Sri Lanka will turn out very rewarding. Glad your wrote this post, Caroline, but I’m even happier to know that you and Mike got the chance to meet Peta and Ben!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bama, you are lucky that you’ve been to Sri Lanka twice, and so soon after the end of the civil war on your first trip. I’m sure you’d see big changes even since your 2015 trip. The new construction in Colombo is crazy…though probably slowed down in the last few months.
      I did indeed try the curd. Peta and Ben introduced us to it and then we were hooked for the remainder of the trip. And the kitul syrup…wow—it’s right up there with maple syrup for me (that’s high praise)! I also enjoyed egg hoppers for breakfast. The Cinnamon Red in Colombo has a killer breakfast buffet and they served particularly good hoppers.
      Spending time with Peta and Ben was just amazing. I hope you get the chance to meet them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • James and I have been thinking of going back to Sri Lanka sometime in the future because there were places that we had to skip four years ago because of our limited time in the country. I would love to meet Peta and Ben, and even by reading their posts I can imagine that we can talk about different things for hours.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, those tea plantations! Your photos are marvelous as always; I am looking forward to reading in more detail about your trip when you post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Meghan. The tea plantations were a real treat and Mike and I spent many happy hours aimlessly wandering the paths. Since the bushes are relatively short you get beautiful sweeping views (and it helps with navigation). I’ll definitely be devoting a post or two on our tea plantation walks.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. You have done such marvellous hikes in SL, Caroline. Did the humidity not bother you? I remember being in Calcutta at the time that you were travelling there. The heat was oppressive. Running at 5 in the morning sapped me of all energy. And there you were hiking in quarters hotter! The views though look absolutely worth it. Ella and Haputale and Nuwara Eliya… I have not been there. I remember finding Polonnaruwa disappointing. The rest were beautiful.

    The Easter Sunday attacks were heartbreaking to read about. I can only imagine how shocking it must have been for you, having just returned from SL. But then travellers are a hardy race, so let us hope their curious spirits endure. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, it was hot as hell! But you know us crazy Canadian…we’re out there hiking in the midday heat. I can still hear Mike cursing under his breath. We’re both glad now though that we did those hikes. Polannaruwa was probably the hottest place we visited and almost did me in. I’m glad we abandoned our plan to cycle through the ruins.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I love this brief summary of your trip, Caroline. Sri Lanka has been on my bucket list for quite a while, and I am very much looking forward to your coming posts. Some of my best travel memories are of two trips to Lamu island during travel bans. It saddened me to think how the locals were affected by the sudden lack of tourists on which their livelihoods depends.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Jolandi; I hope you get to visit Sri Lanka. Like your travel experience on Lamu Island during travel bans, I felt much the same travelling to Egypt in 2011 (as I mentioned in my comments to Peta below).

      Liked by 1 person

  12. P.S. thank you so much for the kind words…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Caroline it is such a treat to read your first post about Sri Lanka. And yes, it is important to write about your experiences, especially as they were such positive ones. The economy in Sri Lanka has of course been severely impacted by recent events and many that rely on tourism are being impacted. Thankfully some countries have already started to lift their travel advisory bans to Sri Lanka and hopefully people will slowly start to return as tourists.

    And most importantly we are hoping for peace. Hoping that the attacks against innocent Muslims will cease.

    It was such a pleasure to meet you both and have you join us for a couple of days in our humble abode. It was so much fun and am so glad to see that you got to so many of our personal favorites and recommendations. You guys certainly did and saw a lot of the island in a short amount of time.

    Looking forward to your other posts on Sri Lanka…

    Peta

    Liked by 2 people

    • Peta, I’ve been thinking about you guys a lot…remembering the great times we had with you in Sri Lanka and thinking about what you’ve been going through since the attacks. Yes, here’s hoping for peace! I was heartened to learn that one of my readers (The Cooking Spoon…comment below) is planning a visit. Everyone has different levels of risk aversion and needs to do what’s right for them, but travel to places that have suffered a recent tragedy can be very rewarding. We travelled to Egypt just a few months after the Spring 2011 Revolution and I will never forget the welcome and enthusiasm we received…people were overjoyed to see tourists.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my first post. We did see a ton, didn’t we!? I’m so happy you encouraged us to get to Jaffna. When I look at my photos now and think about all the posts I want to write, I’m amazed at how much diversity/variety there is in this relatively small country. Such a beautiful place!

      All the best to you and Ben!

      Like

  14. what a great post, especially since we are planning a trip to Sri Lanka. So wonderful to see al your beautiful pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so happy to hear that you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka Myra! You’re going to love it. If you’d like any recommendations or have specific questions don’t hesitate to contact me privately through my contact page.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. It is very difficult to blog about our trips when there are so many monumental world events happening. I went to the Philippines for 2 weeks last year before the mid-term elections but never wrote about it because I was so pre-occupied with world events and my experienced seemed so trivial that I didn’t care to share it.

    However, I am happy you wrote this post and I look forward to seeing more. We went to most of the same places you went, and Sri Lanka is a magical place. The actions of a few terrorists should not dissuade the world from visiting. Sri Lankan’s are some of the nicest people on Earth.

    Also, Galle Face Green was one of my favorite places as well, and I’m sad we didn’t get to meet up with Peta and Ben. Next time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You used the word “trivial” and that exactly describes how I’ve been feeling about writing about hiking, beaching etc. in Sri Lanka. But then another part of me feels even more strongly that sharing the good stuff about Sri Lanka is now more important than ever. I’m hoping that I can play a tiny role in reminding people that Sri Lanka is an awesome travel destination and should remain on their travel radars.

      It was really great meeting Peta and Ben. I regret that we didn’t get the chance to meet in Bangkok. I’m hoping that our travels will bring us back to SE Asia in the not too distant future.

      I remember your wonderful photos from Galle Face Green. While my photography skills have a long way to go, I so enjoyed capturing the people scenes at this vibrant place. My next post will probably be a Colombo one.

      Like

      • After the Puerto Rico hurrican, David Alan Harvey posted a lot of his joyous and vibrant pre-hurricane photos from Puerto Rico to remind people that the place was worth saving and restoring. I thought that was pretty cool idea.

        This isolated incident should not deter anyone from going to Sri Lanka! It is one of the safest places in the world to travel despite this one attack.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. I enjoyed reading! Thank you for sharing! The mom and baby langur are super cute!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Oh you make me want to go! It sounds so wonderful, and your photos bring each little snippet to life. Looking forward to more posts. I’m with you on the monkeys – always way more interesting that some old ruins 🙂
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Alison, it’s an awesome country to visit—so much variety packed into a relatively small space. It was soooo hot on the day we went to the Polonnaruwa ruins that it was difficult for me to fully appreciate them. Thank goodness for the monkeys under a shady tree. I could have stayed watching them for hours.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I was going to wax on and on about all the great walking, hiking, and rock climbing, but then I saw that you got to hang out with Peta and Ben! What a wonderful bonus to all the rich activities and experiences you had in Sri Lanka. I hope things settle down there in the near future so that tourism can return in good numbers, not just for me to go but because, as in so many places in that part of the world, it is a much-needed shot in the economy’s arm. Your trip continues to sound really amazing – and I’m so glad you finished before the horrendous events there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ya, meeting Peta and Ben was really cool. I highly recommend it and hope you get the chance to visit them in Sri Lanka. You are so right about tourism in that part of the world. The impact it has on the economy and lives of individuals engaged in the industry is enormous. I recently got a heartbreaking email from a guide we used in one of the parks who was lamenting the lack of customers and how difficult it is for his family. It truly is a wonderful country to visit and I hope it won’t be too long before people return.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Mike Hohmann

    A wonderful post, Caroline. Love the contrasting Hindu,Buddhist, Islamic and Christian cultural mix -including the architectural diversity. I’ve been attracted to Bhutan for decades -and, for many of the same reasons, with the later being much less populated.

    Colombo looked like a fantastic place to visit, and as always the people seem to define the place. Your photos are excellent, in both quality and content. And your luck to visit with fellow bloggers residing in-country, must have been a special treat.

    So glad your trip preceded the recent terrorist attack, which seems to afflict much of the sub-continent… and too many other areas as well. I look forward to future posts on various aspects of the trip. Thanks for the post and the effort involved!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for the compliments and all your great comments Mike! I think my next post will be about Colombo. It is an under-appreciated place that many dismiss as crowded, noisy, chaotic… It absolutely has these issues but it’s also fascinating. I really enjoyed Colombo for exactly the diversity of people/cultures/architecture you mention.

      I’ve been reading a lot about Bhutan lately and it attracts me too. You probably know that it also has wonderful hiking/trekking. Bama, another blogger I follow did a great series of posts on Bhutan that you might find interesting: https://harindabama.com/2018/10/21/bhutan-a-sunny-welcome/

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m glad you got to see a Hindu wedding, and a puja. They’re both so beautiful and so very different from our world in NA. And of course, the grey Langurs and such gentle and beautiful monkeys, they’re our favourites too! Thanks for mentioning Monkey’s Tale.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so grateful for all the info you provided and I’m happy to mention your blog because it’s fantastic. Agree, the Hindu weddings and puja really are unique experiences and ones that will stick with me. I took so many monkey photos and videos…you’ll be seeing more!

      Liked by 1 person

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