I’m just going to come out and say it – “I didn’t like my time in Sri Lanka that much.”
I know this sentence will induce rage with some. Many had told me that this would be the best country on my trip and that Sri Lanka has everything a backpacker is looking for; beaches, mountains, history, culture, great food and welcoming people. And I cannot disagree with any of that but I just didn’t quite connect so I’m going to go with the ultimate cop-out line of “it’s not you, Sri Lanka, it’s me”.
I think a few events conspired to bring about this feeling. Firstly I had some terrible weather when I tried to hit the stunning beaches, I got sick and tied down to a hostel in Colombo for a week (I doubt many would claim Colombo to be a great city for tourists) and I just felt a bit tired of travel throughout. Undoubtedly all first world problems but it made me feel a bit sluggish and I probably didn’t give it 100%. I was missing home too and actually cut my time in Sri Lanka by a week to get an earlier flight to have a bit more time with loved ones before heading to mainland Europe.
Having said all of that I did some have some brilliant days and experiences in Sri Lanka. The country really is beautiful, I loved the train journeys that I took and everyone I met was welcoming and kind. Check out my highlights reel below and read on for my favourite places.
After a couple of days getting my bearings in Colombo I hit the train to head down to Galle, home of one of the largest colonial forts in Asia and some beautiful beaches. The train ride was an experience in itself, everyone crammed on with me trying to figure out the etiquette. Luckily two guys took me under their wing and we spent the time enthusiastically talking cricket (KP was a particular favourite), football, Simon Cowell and Jack Sparrow. With blue skies outside and the train trundling along the coast it was a special moment, one that only comes with travel and being in the slightly vulnerable position of not quite knowing what’s going on but the kindness of strangers shining through.
Unfortunately I used up all of my nice weather during the the journey and any time I tried to hit the beach all I would get was monsoon style rains and, to be fair, some fairly outstanding displays of thunder and lightning. Despite this the beach bars were fun with locals and travellers enjoying music, beers and food. Just not an opportunity to work on my tan.
Galle Fort and it’s surroundings were special though and I had a few dry hours to properly explore the area. Highlights included the light house, the sea walls, Catholic church, the mosque and the world famous cricket ground. I asked the groundsman if I could pop in and take a few photos and he was more than happy to oblige. The only thing better would be to see England play there.
After spending about five days fighting off some sort of bug in a Colombo hostel, I braved the train and headed to Kandy. It’s a perfectly pleasant place and I spent the days eating, walking and wildlife spotting (cute monkeys and intimidating Monitor Lizards). On a walk exploring the city centre lake an elderly lady was clearly worried I might get to close to one of these six foot lizards and kept warning me where the next one was. Perhaps she had seen other tourists lose a toe or two to one of these scaly monsters. Fortunately I managed to heed her advice throughout my stay and I didn’t end up as breakfast for Sri Lanka’s version of Godzilla.
My favourite time in the city was heading up to the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue, a huge white Buddha that sits up in the hills looking down on Kandy’s residents. After a fairly stiff walk you’re rewarded with some fantastic sunset views and chance to explore the attached temple. Coming in at a close second in my favourite moments was the ice cream sundae to end all ice cream sundaes. I thought I’d ordered a small milkshake but the monster, pictured below, turned up. The positive news was that I felt chilled for the rest of the day.
Home of Sri Lanka’s huge tea industry and also known as “Little England”. It’s fairly clear to see why with the architecture appearing to having been plucked from 1930’s suburbia, a race track and, during my time there, cold and wet weather. This colonial hangover isn’t somewhere I’d recommend spending much time, unless you REALLY love tea, and I quickly moved on.
The train to Ella
This is one of those occasions where it’s clear how the beauty in travel is the journey as much as the destination. This trip is often cited as the “most beautiful train ride in the world” and I’d struggle to disagree. The rolling valleys, stunning vistas and the chance to hang out of the carriages to take photos really makes it an unforgettable experience. It’s an absolute must if you visit Sri Lanka.
Without doubt my favourite place in Sri Lanka and somewhere I could have stayed for a lot longer. Ella is a mountain retreat with beautiful hikes, sights and delicious food. As it was the last place I was staying on my Asian travels I splashed out on the Ella Alpine Resort and it was well worth it. Perched on the hillside the view out of my bedroom looked down across the valley and it was the perfect place to start and end the day. Additionally I had my own ‘guard dog’ that slept outside my room.
My time in Ella consisted of a slow breakfast (stupid not to take your time with that view, right?), a hike, watching cricket with a beer in the evening and choosing from of the multiple eateries to have dinner. It was dreamy. I visited the famous Nine Arch Bridge (instagramers dream), Little Adam’s Peak (not that little in my opinion) and just explored the valley to see the stunning views from different vantage points. It really was the perfect end to Sri Lanka before I boarded a flight a couple of days later back to London. Next stop, Europe!
I know I would have missed places in Sri Lanka, where would you recommend if I made a return visit?