Readers, I’m really excited to post the following itinerary from a trip that my friends recently took to Sri Lanka. I seriously want to pack my bags and leave stat. Their itinerary highlights the local people, culture and most importantly the food! Coming soon…I’ll be blogging about my trip to Paris and Burgundy, from a vegetarian’s point of view:)
Sri Lanka (July, 2010)
Sri Lanka was a place for all of our senses – it is the most untouched country we have visited – not yet hit by tourism and all of the changes that come from being fully globalized, but yet devastated from the 2005 Tsunami and parts of the country only recently being opened up after the civil war involving Tamil rebel groups. As a result, there were a lack of tourist resources (cars, hotels, buses, trains, etc) that made our trip really special, but a little more expensive than anticipated.
In checking around for ticket prices, it ended up being cheaper for us to fly into India first and then nest in a trip to Sri Lanka (although we did get held up with some additional paperwork at Indian immigration on the return because of the new law which bars tourist re-entry within two months). We landed in Colombo and began our search for where we were headed, how we would get there, and where we would stay. The most common method of travel for tourists who want to see the whole country, and not waste a lot of time, is by private car (other methods of transport are infrequent and/or non-existent), which we negotiated at the airport – but this comes with a heavy price. We spent half of our entire trip budget on a car, but in the end it was worth it because we were able to see parts of the country very seldom traveled.
Our first stop was the famous beach town, Hikkaduwa, along the southwest coast of the country – the area is known for incredible scuba diving and a really great beaches. Unfortunately, however, we came during the wrong season for scuba diving – during this time of year, the coast experiences the most incredible, awesome, angry sounding 10-foot waves. We picked a random (keyword: Available) spot right over the water, kept our windows open, and slept with the breeze and thes sound of the waves surrounding us. Our first meal was at a no-name spot right across the popular Moon Beam hotel/restaurant. Sri Lanka is known for their rice and curry, and this meal was the most fantastic, tasty dish we could have imagined having. I seriously stuffed myself beyond belief and only regret not eating more. After a few days, we headed north to the beautiful and massive tea/hill station, Nuwara Eliya, stopping along the road in Kalutara to pick up and devour my favorite fruit – mangosteen. The beautiful rolling hills of tea leaves that stretch for miles are a must see – I have never seen a green quite like this. We also stayed at the first available spot we could find – fortunately it was on top of the hills and we had an incredible view of our surroundings (The Rising Lion). Our only memorable meal (although not quite as good as the rice and curry our first night) was fresh idli and string hoppers at the “Vegetarian Restaurant” adjacent to the De Silva Food Centre.
Next stop was Sigiriya, to climb the humongous rock/castle. We stayed at the only available spot we could find, The Grand Tourist Holiday Resort, which turned out to be a great deal – it felt like we had been transported to the middle of a campsite and awoke to find all kinds of furry critters amongst us. Only complaint was that you’re so far away from any restaurants or shopping that your meals are at the restaurant – it was nothing to write home about. The climb up Sigirya rock was the most memorable – I’m not sure if it was the structure of the rock, the time of day, or the month of year – but we experienced the most powerful wind that cooled us on the climb up and were so strong that you just had to stand and enjoy it blowing around you.
We quickly moved on to Trincomalee, in the northeast region of the country, and an area that was only recently opened up for visitors. There were small military bases every 100 feet or so – we didn’t get stopped but we also made it a point to drive only when it was light out. We spent the next few days on the untouched beaches just north of Trincomalee, Uppuveli and Niraveli, scuba diving, snorkeling, walking along the coast, and reading. Absolute bliss. Scuba diving is far less expensive in Sri Lanka than other countries we have traveled – although there is not a lot of technical diving in this part of the country, we did see some incredible marine life (reef shark, humongous turtle, lion fish) and soaked up the heat of the Sri Lankan sun. Hotels were hard to come by and very expensive due to the lack of resources – our food options were limited to what the hotels served, which was a big disappointment, because most hotels prefer to serve a tourist version of Sri Lankan food rather which is tasteless and uninspiring.
It was hard to move away from Trincomalee, but we made our last stop at Anuradhapura to get a glimpse of the country’s rich history. The only saving grace was that we stayed at the Boa Vista guest house, and met Shani (firstname.lastname@example.org), a really cool Sri Lankan woman who runs the guest house and was kind enough to entertain our insistence on having a real Sri Lankan dinner, even though we arrived at the guest house after the kitchen was basically closed. Well, the wait was so worth it – we had an incredible feast of 5 different vegetables, dhal, rice, curry and were finally sated. It was also a perfect ending to our trip because Shani represented all that we had experienced from Sri Lankans during our trip – they were the most gentle and humble people and made our trip (the food helped, too).