I’m not an artist, but let me paint a quick picture for you.
Rolling hills, lush green gardens, grand king coconut palm trees, honking tuk-tuks, flourishing tea plantations, refreshing lagoons, monkeys running on the streets, Indian Ocean breezes, Buddhist prayer songs, elephants feeding in the wild.
Got your visual?
Sri Lanka makes your five senses go absolutely mental.
You blink and you feel like you’ve missed something.
My tastebuds have never been so challenged by the foods I am trying. My ears are buzzing when I go to sleep from the sounds of the busy cities. I look down at my arms and re-trace the beautiful henna tattoo a nice Muslim lady intricately drew on me. I can still smell the 3 different types of tea that are harvested in that Nuwara Eliya tea factory.
Holy shit. We are only 1 week in to our 3 week Sri Lankan trip. What more is there possibly to discover about this gem of a country?
Yet, when I am walking around these towns or staring out the car window trying not to miss a thing, there is a major common theme I keep noticing here:
These people do not have a lot of possessions and they are happier than ever. They grow most things they eat. They open their homes to strangers. They are so proud to be Sri Lankan.
But most importantly, they are SO happy. So happy to be alive.
Case in point: Meet Bakir, our guide. The jolliest man you ever will meet. I mean, he greeted us with flowered necklaces, took photos of us in the airport with our luggage at 1AM, smiling and giggling even after he had waited in the airport 3 hours more than he had to because of a delay. What a saint.
He is always asking “you are fine?” and teaching us words like “Bohoma Hondai” (meaning: very good) and my personal favorite, blasting the music in the car at 9AM to a fantastic mix of songs that sound like: Feliz Navidad meets Bollywood hits meets Bob Marley. We wave our hands in the air for him and he gets a kick out of it, EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING.
Who needs a Starbucks drive thru when Bakir creates one for you? He will be speeding on the road and see a king coconut stand, slam on his breaks, honk his horn and negotiate how many rupees we will pay. The man or woman will break the coconut open with a massive knife and hand it to us through our window with a cute pink straw. No long lines, no annoying speakers or rude service people. Our own personal Sri Lankan drive thru. We’ve tried, corn right off the husk, fresh curd (yogurt), lollys, jackfruit, strawberries, you name it.
I’d argue that everyone coming to Sri Lanka needs a Bakir in their life. He takes us to places that other guides don’t tell you about (we know this because we’ve done the research). He always makes you feel comfortable and safe. And he teaches you about the Sri Lankan culture and history.
One thing Bakir has taught us that has stuck with me since the very beginning is that Sri Lanka is the emblem of HARMONY. There are 4 major religions on the island. Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim & Christian. They all live in the same neighborhoods, mixed, happy and cohesive.
Sri Lankans pride themselves on this harmonious lifestyle. It is so damn inspiring.
One of the days, we went to the top of Gampola, a place called Ambuluwawa Tower which is a complex sitting at over 3,500 feet with 360 degree views of Kandy and neighboring towns. The best part about this majestic fortress is there is a gated area where all 4 religious centers are next to one another. You open the gate and there sits a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple, a mosque and a church.
Wazir, Bakir’s friend, took us to the Ambuluwawa and was SO excited to show us this part of the grounds. He says that his friends come here to pray and everyone can be in one area together.
Lately I’ve been asked “how exactly did you plan this 3 week trip around Sri Lanka.
Truth be told, the first time I pulled up a map and started to research the best towns to go to and how to get to each one, I was extremely overwhelmed. This island looks small on a map but there are so many places to see that I didn’t want to miss anything. I decided to research and find a travel agent to help me.
Susan, you are a God send.
Susan planned this 22 night/23 day expedition for us and it has been awesome. The best way to see all of Sri Lanka, in my opinion, is to hire a driver because the roads are not the best. There are no major highways and you need to have someone who knows what they are doing (Bakir, you are a WILD driver but hot damn you put those Mumbai bus driving skills to WORK!).
We are taking a train tomorrow to Ella which is dubbed the most scenic train ride in the world. So train is another mode of transportation, cheap & reliable, just a little bit more time consuming. We have first class seats. I am not bragging – they were $10.
“What about recommendations?” you ask.
I’ve compiled my TOP 8 MUST SEES of Sri Lanka so far so if you ever find yourself in this part of the world you know where to go. I will update this on a future post after we finish our trip here!
1) Stay in Habarana: do a village tour, try coconut sambal, do a Jeep Safari to Minneriya National Park to see elephants in their natural habitat.
2) Take in Sigiriya Rock: Take photos of Sigiriya (rock fortress) from afar because it really is breathtaking. But IF you are into the SUPER touristy thing and enjoy waiting in lines to climb, get hit in the head with selfie sticks, then walk up to the top. If this sounds like your nightmare then you’ll enjoy hiking up to Pidurangala Rock instead – OUR FAVORITE (FYI: pretty off-the-road type of hike, make sure to wear sneakers. You have to scale a few rocks to get up to this viewpoint so be careful, I slipped and skidded down one, yeah-ouch). But this view of Sigiriya is UNREAL.
3) See The World’s End: Take a hike to The World’s End in Horton’s Plains for breathtaking views outside of Nuwara Eliya.
4) Eat like a local: I’d be lying to you if I said I haven’t been having dreams about penne a la vodka from Cafe Buon Gusto or a bagel from Essa Bagel but try really hard to eat the Sri Lankan food, it is yummy.
5) Climb Ambuluwawa Tower: This tower lies just outside of Kandy. Take the tiny staircase all the way to the top and say hi to the Monk waiting up there for you – then just enjoy the views.
6) The Hills of Kandy: Stay in the lush hills of Kandy, which provide a serene escape from the hectic city below.
7) Get a massage: We opted for one at Athreya Hotel & Spa in Habarana (they start with you sitting directly across from your partner, if you opt for a couples massage, and crack oil over your head with their palms and start deeply massaging your scalp, FYI to the ladies, when you flip on your back they massage your boobies, I was a little surprised so thought I’d share the secret with you)
8) Meet the locals: Go to a local’s house to get a true feel for the Sri Lanka lifestyle. If you hire a good guide they will know where to take you.
Sri Lanka has been nothing short of extraordinary. Referring back to #7 (when I was getting my massage) and they were massaging my ear lobes it hit me like a ton of bricks: this is my life. We are doing this.
We are traveling with no obligations other than to see what the world has to offer. And for that, I am so grateful.
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