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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.