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In September, I went to the other side of the Indian Ocean to visit beautiful Sri Lanka. I explored the southern coast and found a piece of paradise, before making my way up to the capital Colombo again. Then I crossed the interior of the country to the east coast so I could compare beaches using a mixture of trains, buses and colourful tuk-tuks.

 

A tuktuk streaking down a road in Colombo, close to the gorgeous Galle Face Green.

A tuk-tuk streaking down a road in Colombo, close to the gorgeous Galle Face Green and the iconic Galle Face Hotel.

When I first arrived in Colombo, it reminded me of the terrifying single-lane driving in Mozambique – buses come tearing up the wrong side of the road (they drive on the left like we do in South Africa) and tuk-tuks toot their way between the big machines with enchanting bravado. There are also lorries, dogs and bicycles that fearlessly enter the fray, also uttering hoots as they go. It’s both terrifying and intoxicating.

 

Locals chill and fly kits here on the Galle Face Green in Colombo. It's one of the best spots to come for an authentic meal from the vendors.

Locals chill and fly kites here on the Galle Face Green on the coast in Colombo. It’s one of the best spots to come for an authentic meal from the vendors. The building on the left is the Galle Face Hotel.

On arrival, I decided to spoil myself with a stay at the Galle Face Hotel because of its prime location in the capital. I could stroll around the Galle Face Green like a local and simultaneously experience the rich colonial history of Ceylon. It’s right on the beautiful ocean promenade and the golden sunset view was just gorgeous. The hotel prides itself on telling the story of Sri Lanka and was built in 1864. It’s been graced by plenty of stars and has a whole room of memorabilia, which you can see on their guided history tours.

 

Classic colonial-style interiors at the plush Galle Face Hotel.

The classic colonial-style interiors at the plush Galle Face Hotel.

 

The view of the beach from the Galle Face Hotel at sunset.

The view of the beach from the Galle Face Hotel at sunset.

From Colombo I then took a train up to Kandy – one of the most beautiful trips I have ever done, but that’s a story for another issue. Kandy is a very pretty town, but quite busy. I only spent one evening here as a stopover from Colombo in order to head further north to Sigiriya, but I had the morning to explore some markets and get a small feel for the place before carrying on my journey. I stayed in Hanthana House for the evening, which was a super reasonable guesthouse where they served a home-made curry for dinner of the tastiest marinated brinjal and beautifully soft potatoes with coconut.

 

A view of a temple in Kandy, which is the start of the hill country, where tea is grown. I only spent one evening here as a stopover from Colombo in order to head further north to Sigiriya.

A view of a temple in Kandy, which is the start of the hill country, where tea is grown.

 

Delectable mangosteen hanging in the market. I tried a few new fruits on my trip to Sri Lanka, but this flashy sweet fruit was my favourite - like a mix of banana, litchi and watemelon.

Delectable mangosteen hanging in the market. I tried a few new fruits on my trip to Sri Lanka, but this flashy sweet fruit was my favourite – like a mix of banana, litchi and watermelon. Just looking at this picture makes me salivate.

From Kandy, I had to head across the interior of Sri Lanka to Sigiriya Rock and then head towards the East Coast. For this stretch I opted for a private taxi instead of a bus or train because it seemed to be the quickest way. I passed lots of smaller towns and some pretty arid regions before veering off the tarred road into farmland, where home for the next two days was a very special treehouse called Back of Beyond Dehigaha Ela, which is also home to its very own natural fish spa in a gurgling river. I had come to the area though, to see Sigiriya Rock, which is kind of like our Mapungubwe and is where an ancient kingdom used to live high up on a hill.

 

On the left is the beautiful Back of Beyond treehouse, which is close to the Sigiriya Rock.

On the left is the beautiful Back of Beyond treehouse, which is close to the Sigiriya Rock. On the right is the main staircase that leads to the settlement on top of the enormous rock, protected by a big pair of lion paws.

 

Chic outdoor showers at the treehouse, which is set in a jungle-like environment.

Chic outdoor showers at the treehouse, which is set in a jungle-like environment.

 

Climbing the stairs up Sigiriya Rock. Much of the ancient facade has crumbled away, including the stairs that would have led up the top.

Climbing the stairs up Sigiriya Rock. Much of the ancient facade has crumbled away, including the stairs that would have led up the top. Many other tourists were out in the sunshine to explore it too.

 

The view out from the staircases across the surrounding countryside - simply gorgeous!

The view out from the staircases across the surrounding countryside – simply gorgeous! My favourite part of the visit to Sigiriya Rock was the old frescoes so beautifully painted and protected by an overhanging rock. No one is allowed to take pictures of it though.

 

My first look at Asian elephants at Mineriya National Park. It was pretty crowded though with lots of Jeeps also doing some sightseeing. We're really blessed with out wildlife opportunities here in Southern Africa.

Close to Sigiriya there is a national park called Minneriya which brings hundreds of elephants in the dry season thanks to a big dam. This was my first look at Asian elephants. It was pretty crowded though, with lots of Jeeps also doing some sightseeing. We’re really blessed with our wildlife opportunities here in Southern Africa.

From Sigiriya, I plucked up the courage to catch the bus east to a beach town called Trincomalee – the 100km journey cost me just R30, but hell we were squashed onto the bus closer than the teeth on a zipper. Just when I thought not one more person could squeeze in, the bus conductor who hung from the door frame would admit another passenger. It was quite an experience!

In Trincomalee, or Trinco as locals call it, stayed in more conventional lodging at the Anantamaa Hotel. The rooms are simple and basic, but you can’t beat the location being right on the beach and close to some great seafood restaurants. The sea was smoother to me in the east, but this is heavily dependent on the season as monsoons drastically affect the coastal conditions. I made time to try diving here at the a protected marine reserve called Pigeon Island just off the coast, which offered some beautiful exotic fish and coral sightings. The visibility wasn’t great, but it was pretty special.

 

The beautiful beach right next to the hotel in Trincomalee

The beautiful beach right next to the hotel in Trincomalee.

 

A dive boats heads out on calm waters at sunrise in Trincomalee.

A dive boats heads out on calm waters at sunrise.

 

Dinner on the beach at Trincomalee. I was spoilt for choose and there was wide range of restaurants with tables and loungers on the beach.

Dinner on the beach at Trincomalee. I was spoilt for choose and there was wide range of restaurants with tables and loungers on the beach.

I loved exploring this crazy country and am so glad I saw these special places in Sri Lanka, however if I ever go back I’d explore more of the south coast, where my trip began.

 

The south coast is incredibly rewarding to travel and represents the island in a nutshell with a host of incredible beaches, cultural sites like golden temples and also wildlife. Read about exactly where to go in the January issue.

 

Read more from this story in the January 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

Our January issue features a bucket list of 45 experiences to have at least once in South Africa, a new way to experience the Wild Coast, and a beautiful beach holiday in Sri Lanka.

 



4 Responses to “Sussing out Sri Lanka: exploring the other side of the Indian Ocean”

  1. Shona van Tonder

    We have just spent Christmas and New Year in Sri Lanka! What a fantastic time. Also went inland to Kandy and Sigirya as well as Dambulla. We went to Unawatuna Beach, opposite to Trinco. The beaches are beautiful. We want to to return and visit Trinco. Amazing country, fabulous people. Good times!

    Reply
  2. Keith Gales

    Loved the article about Sri Lanka, I was actually born in Trinco in the Royal Naval Hospital and in the early 1950’s we came to live in South Africa. It is on my bucket list to make a pilgrimage back there sometime soon

    Reply
  3. Natasha Penning

    I am one of the very few Sri Lankan’s who is married to a South African. We often think that all the richness of South Africa is combined in to the little beautiful island, Sri Lanka. From beautiful beaches, Mountains, tropical weather to Wild life & delicious food.The endless Summer Suns & hidden Gems. It’s truly worth visiting this beautiful Island.

    Reply

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