Happy New Year from 30,000 feet. At the turning of the year I find myself reflecting on the previous New Years Eve. When 2015 became 2016 I was half way from London to Colombo for a 10 day jaunt around Sri Lanka. This was the first time I’d been to the Indian subcontinent and I had romantic images of elephants and temples dancing before my tired eyes as I tried to get some kip on my midnight flight.
Our itinerary was simple. First we would take in the sites of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle (the center of the island) and then we would head to the west coast from some beach related R&R before flying back to London. Not a bad start to the year.
Our adventure was to begin at the train station in Colombo where we would embark on the 3 hour train journey through the rain forest to Kandy. The ride is replete with stunning cliff side vistas and frequent monkey sightings.
Top Tip: Don’t worry about getting Sri Lankan rupees before you arrive there are numerous banks in Colombo airport that will do it for you.
Our first stop was Kandy, where we took in the Temple of the Tooth and made a visit to the elephant orphanage. Elephants were my number one dream of Sri Lanka. Having only ever seen them in captivity I was skipping at the thought of seeing such majestic creatures up close.
We had read mixed reviews of the orphanage at Pinnewala before going, but decided it was worth a visit in case we didn’t have time to fit in a safari (which in the end we didn’t). This being said I would advice against it. It was stunning to see the beautiful creatures up close and they certainly don’t seem to be mistreated, however the orphanage seems to operate a bit like a petting zoo for westerners. While standing watching the little gatherings of elephants going about their business, you will be constantly harassed by the employees to touch the elephants. If you accept they will encourage the animals to walk up to you, when you can (for a price), have the luxury of stroking their trunk. Personally I was happy to simply observe the creatures from a distance, and I found the constant pestering both annoying and distressing. If I had the choice again I would have opted for a safari rather than the orphanage for my elephant experience.
A few days later we spotted an elephant by the side of the road, having a bit of a bathe in a stream, which was an infinitely more rewarding and exciting experience.
We spent 3 nights in Kandy. Taking in the sites and recovering from the 11 hour flight. The Temple of the Tooth is a must and a visit to one of the many spice gardens around Kandy is also worth a peak. If outdoor activities are your thing then there are numerous trekks, both overnight and day trips that are easily arranged. Or, if you’re a little ‘off your rocker’ like us you could play tennis in the 35˚ heat of the day on the public courts next to the lake. The people who run the courts told us we were the first tourists to use them in a year, so lets get those numbers up people!
Moving on we took the journey to Dambulla by way of a few more temples and a stop at a Batik factory, where you can learn the intricate hand dyeing methods used to make Sri Lankan Batiks.
Top Tip: The Batik factories are an excellent souvenir stop for a meaningful reminder of your trip. They don’t come cheap, as indeed they shouldn’t when you see the incredible craftsmanship involved.
In Dambulla the Budddah cave temples awaited. The walk up the mountain is something out of Indian Jones, have fun dodging the hoards of monkeys on your way up. The temples themselves are mystic and eerie. The great Buddahs sit and recline in all the available space the caves provide.Truly beautiful and unmissable.
During the time we spent near Dambulla we stayed at a resort called Amaya Lake which is easily situated between Dambulla town and the Sigiriya rock fortress, which was our next destination.
Sigiriya is an impressive ancient fortress situated atop a 200m rock formation. The walk to the top is not for the fainthearted. While for me there was no particular physical challenge in climbing the 60 or so stories, the precarious and in places rickety stairway bolted into the cliff gave me a fit of nerves. But the sense of accomplishment and the view for the top are worth the physical or mental exertion. As a UNESCO world heritage site, Sigiriya also offers a comprehensive museum documenting it’s history and conservation; food for the unrepentantly nerdy (like myself).
After our stay in Dambulla we headed back to the coast to the Kalpitya peninsula for a few days of beach retreat before heading home. This was probably the first thing we planned about our trip when we read a review of Dolphin Beach hotel in The Telegraph’s travel section we thought it would be fun to stay there. This tiny beach resort consists of a collection of luxurious tents (yes it’s glamping). Ditch your shoes at the door, because you won’t be wearing them during your stay, the whole complex is built on sand.
The small size of Dolphin Beach means that it has a supremely homey feel. We selected a sun bed and lounged indulgently for 3 days.
Top Tip: Dolphin Beach served us the BEST Sri Lankan food we had for the entire trip!
There was a final balm to soothe the wound of heading home from our holiday. After our retreat to Dolphin Beach the last night was spent back in Colombo in anticipation of our flight the next day. Little did I know when I booked it online that The Galle Face hotel would be so memorable, or indeed so luxurious. Nothing on trip advisor prepared us for the grandeur of the colonial architecture, the champagne flute of fresh juice delivered to you on arrival or the croquet lawn on the veranda. What a way to say goodbye to a beautiful 10 days in a vibrant and enticing country.
Thanks Sri Lanka
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