Hey, lovely people. I’m sorry I left you waiting for so long with my blog post about Sri Lanka. It’s taken me some time because it turned out to be hard to do justice to this beautiful country and its lovely people by simple words. I hope you will feel my gratitude and love for Sri Lanka in the following lines though.
In short, Sri Lanka has been paradise on Earth! I’ve had the best of times from the very beginning. I started my Sri Lanka trip in Colombo where I flew into from Trivandrum. I was so lucky with my accommodation in Colombo, the Bunkyard Hostels. It’s honestly the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at: The staff is super friendly and helpful, the rooms are spacious, neat and clean, and the breakfast is so yummy! I ran into so many lovely people at the Bunkyard Hostels, which only made my stay better! Wenyu (Chinese-American), James (English) and I connected immediately and pretty much spent our time in Colombo together, which was a lot of fun! We were a great trio!
The most impressive sights in Colombo were the Seema Malaka Temple and the more famous Gangaramaya Temple. After four weeks in India that were mostly dedicated to Hinduism, it was now all about Buddhism.
I was supposed to stay in Colombo for only one night. However, since I didn’t get a train ticket to Kandy for the next day, I was forced to extend my stay for another day. People in Sri Lanka had a long weekend due to Labour Day and, apparently, everyone wanted to leave the city. It was a shame because I had already booked my hotel in Kandy and Delhouse, which I knew I wouldn’t be able to make. Later, I found out that I still could have taken the train because only 20% of the tickets are sold in advance. The rest of the tickets are sold on the day of traveling. So if I would have gone to the train station early in the morning, I could still have gotten tickets. Nobody told me that at that time though. Never mind! In the end, I had a great time in Colombo and enjoyed the extra day to relax a bit and explore Colombo more thoroughly.
James and I took the same train to Kandy. The 3-hour train ride was very bumpy but picturesque. We booked reserved first class seats for 800 Rs, which is about 5€. It turned out to be a wise decision because the 2nd class was super crowded. James and I stayed at different guesthouses in Kandy, but we met each other again for dinner at a restaurant called Muslim Hotel, which serves traditional Sri Lankan food. Unfortunately, they’d run out of most of their dishes on the menu, so we ended up ordering fried rice. It was simple but okay.
The next day, I went straight to the train station to sort out my train to Hatton. I’d been advised to take the train as the buses were not running regularly due to Labour Day. Since my train already left at 11am and I’d been advised to be at the platform one hour prior to departure, I didn’t manage to visit the Temple of the Tooth and witness the ceremony at 9:30am. I made it to the lake and the fence of the temple to get a glimpse though. Later, I heard that I didn’t miss much, which made me feel a little bit better.
The train ride to Hatton was absolutely packed and chaotic. The train was coming from Colombo and was therefore already full. I was sitting on the floor the entire time. It felt like quite the adventure, an authentic Sri Lankan train experience! When I arrived in Hatton, I was looking for a bus to Delhouse without success. Nobody could tell me if and when the next bus was leaving for Delhouse and the tuktuk drivers tried their best to convince me that there were no buses leaving due to Labour Day. I didn’t know if I should believe them because it was very likely that they used the situation to make more money. Another solo female traveler from Malaysia found herself in the same situation and after some thinking, we agreed to share a tuktuk. Later, we saw quite a few buses on our way to Delhouse, but anyways.. At least, our tuktuk driver stopped at some sights and let us take pictures.
Shortly after we arrived in Delhouse, it started raining, which cooled down the air nicely. I decided to sit on the balcony and observe and listen to the rain. It was magical!
At dinner I met two Dutch women and immediately connected with them. They also just arrived and wanted to go up to Adam’s Peak at 2am. Adam’s Peak is a pilgrimage site on 2’243m. It is regarded as a holy site by Buddhists, Hinduists, Muslims and Christians and very popular with tourists who start their ascent in the middle of the night to see the sun rise over Sri Lanka.
My alarm was set for 1:45am in order to meet, Lina, the Malaysian girl at 2am. Since she didn’t show up in time, the Dutch women asked me to join them. I accepted gratefully as these adventures are always nice to share with someone. 5’200 steps awaited us and we were super excited to climb them! After about 30min, our group of three split up as Josien and I were much faster than Gwen. She asked us to go our own pace as she felt bad to slow us down. On the one hand, we felt bad leaving her behind, but on the other hand, we also knew that the stop and go wasn’t good for us. After leaving Gwen, we continued our ascent and made it to the top in less than two hours. There were people of all nationalities, shapes and ages going up and it was great to experience that all of them had the same goal! In retrospect, we should have started a bit later as we had to wait for quite a bit on the top until the sun finally rose. I underestimated the cold temperatures on the top and quickly realised that I didn’t bring enough layers. Fortunately, Gwen met Roman, a German guy, on her way up and when they joined us on the top, he gave me one of his jackets that he didn’t need. Together with Gwen and Roman, Josien and I waited for about another hour until the sun finally rose. When the sun finally rose, it was simply breathtaking! The interplay of colours and light was magical!
Observing how the surrounding mountains slowly gained shape in the sunlight was totally priceless! Later on my trip I met some people who said that Adam’s Peak was too strenuous for them. Yes, it is quite a hike, but it is so worth it! I mean I love hiking, so for me it really was the best!
The four of us took our time to go down again and stopped for milk tea on the way. That was honestly the best tea I’ve ever had! I think it had also something to do with the fact that I was hypothermic and needed something hot to warm up.
Since we both had only a small window between coming back from the hike, taking a shower, having breakfast and taking our trains, Lina and I had already asked the tuktuk driver the day before if he could pick us up and drive us back to Hatton. So when I met Lina for the tuktuk ride to Hatton, I told her that I’d waited for her at 2am. In retrospect, I didn’t mind her being late though as she told me that it took her 3.5 hours to get up to Adam’s Peak.
When we arrived in Hatton, we bought the tickets for the train and were lucky enough to get seats! Lina joined me for an hour in the train and then disembarked in Nuwara Eliya. I was bound for Ella where I aimed to do Little Adam’s Peak on the following day.
The train ride from Hatton to Ella was my absolute favourite! The scenery was absolutely breathtaking! All the travel guides say that the part from Haputale to Ella is the most picturesque, but I disagree. In my view, the journey from Hatton to Haputale was the most beautiful part of the train ride. Anyways, it was absolutely amazing! There are countless tea plantations and waterfalls on the way – simply stunning! Travelling by train is not the fastest but most definitely the most authentic way to travel in Sri Lanka.
When I arrived in Ella, it was raining really hard. I wanted to take a tuktuk as the ecolodge that I was staying at wasn’t close to the station, but the tuktuk drivers wanted a ridiculous amount of money for the ride so I prepared myself for a walk in the rain. Soon after, I was soaking wet, but hey, it was part of the adventure! What I didn’t know was that I had to walk up quite a steep hill to get to my accommodation, the Ella Ecolodge. When I was almost at the top of the hill, a motorbike stopped next to me and the driver asked me where I was heading to. After I told him my destination, he pointed towards his back seat and I jumped on without hesitation. My little backpack in the front and my big backpack on my back, I tried to hold on to him in the steepest part of the hill. It was still raining like crazy and the street was slippery, but we made it to the ecolodge! It was definitely the most adventurous motorbike ride I’ve ever had! It turned out that the motorbike rider aka my saviour was the owner of the homestay next to the ecolodge and I was very thankful for his help!
The rest of my stay in Ella was great and sunny! After a super delicious breakfast on my balcony the next morning, I went up to Little Adam’s Peak, which is by far less strenuous than Adam’s Peak but the view is breathtaking too! I had the whole peak for myself and it was epic! My heart was full!
Shortly before noon, I took a bus to Udawalawa where I would go on a safari early the next morning! It was my first bus ride in Sri Lanka and it was quite an adventure! In Switzerland, buses like the ones in Sri Lanka would probably be regarded as party buses. There is loud music, there are chains of lights and lots of other decorative stuff. Very colourful! In general, Sri Lankan bus drivers are not going as fast as the ones in India, but from a Swiss point of view, they are still driving very risky. Anyways, I got to Udawalawa safely and was excited for a night at the Athgira River Camping. I made it just in time before a heavy rain shower. The tents were right next to the river and fortunately more like bungalows, so that the rain didn’t bother me at all. It was actually very calming to sit on the porch, and listen to and look at the rain falling and covering everything in mud.
We headed off to the Udawalawa National Park at 6am the next morning and I couldn’t be more excited! I thought that I would share a jeep with the other guests from the camping but each family/couple had their own jeep so I ended up having a jeep and a driver for myself. Lucky me!
The safari was absolutely amazing! I was freaking out (in a good way) when we came around a bush and spotted the first elephant herd. Elephants are my favourite animal and seeing them in wildlife was amazing! It was absolutely priceless and emotional. This trip has already brought me so much joy and seeing elephants in wildlife was just the cherry on top of the cake, really!
We kept running into different herds throughout the safari and the guide said that I was super lucky to see so many of them. We even saw baby elephants! Of course I enjoyed spotting the other wild animals too (crocodiles, water buffalos, peacocks, etc.), but the elephants were my absolute highlight! I felt pure happiness!
After all these days filled with a lot of early starts and exciting activities, I was ready for some quiet time at the beach. So after the safari and breakfast, I packed my backpack again and jumped on a bus to Tangalle where I would spend the next two days. I stayed at a lovely guesthouse called Hideaway Lodge. It doesn’t have a direct beach access, but it’s only a 5-minute walk away from the beach. What I didn’t know at that point was that it was really dangerous to swim in the ocean at this part of the beach where I stayed at because the waves were too powerful and there were rocks in the water. Anyways, it was breathtaking and I enjoyed every bit of listening to the sound of the ocean and walking along the beach.
On my first day, I went to a beach cafe called Cinnabar that I passed on my beach walk. I’d just ordered a vanilla milk shake (yummy!) when a woman in her 40-ies approached me and asked if she can join me. I didn’t mind at all and we started talking. Her name was Michaela and it turned out that she was from Germany. It was already Michaela’s second time in Tangalle. She asked me to stay over for dinner and drinks and so I stayed until late even though I was exhausted. We were joined by her local friends, who were all owners of different hotels or guesthouses. They told me about a party in Mirissa the next day and asked me to join them. I really wanted to see the turtles though so I told them that I would stay in Tangalle. However, I knew that they wouldn’t let go and I was right. So when I went back to the Cinnabar the next day, Michaela was sitting with an Austrian/German couple who she had talked into joining the party and so it was only a matter of a few words until I gave in and agreed to join them as well. In retrospect, I should have stayed in Tangalle to see the turtles as the party was definitely not a winner and definitely not worth the 1.5-hour drive to Mirissa. Oh well, I’ve learnt my lesson!
After I’ve got a good amount of sleep, I took an early bus to Galle the next day. Galle was my last stop before heading back to Colombo. Galle Fort is relatively small but nice. I liked the Colonial style, which reminded me a lot of the streets of New Orleans.
In the hostel, I met a German girl who was also travelling on her own. We started talking and she asked if I want to join her and a girl from New Zealand, who she met on the train, for dinner. As a solo traveler, I do appreciate dinners or lunches with other travellers to exchange our experiences, talk about our lives at home and our lives on the road. So I accepted the invite and we spent a really nice evening together. Good food and good company!
After a really yummy breakfast with the German girl the next morning, I took the express bus back to Colombo where I stayed one more night before flying to China. I went back to the Bunkyard Hostels as I really enjoyed my first stay there. The manager was super happy to see me and welcomed me with a hug. For dinner, I joined a few girls who went to the close-by Raheema Hotel that I wanted to try anyways. The food was so delicious and incredibly cheap. We were the only non-locals and the experience was as authentic as it can get. It was definitely the best food that I had in Sri Lanka!
The food in Sri Lanka was in general amazing! My favourite was definitely the food at the Raheema Hotel, followed by the food at Cinnabar (Tangalle) and Upali (Colombo). The worst food experience was in the Bavarian restaurant in Colombo. The day I arrived in Sri Lanka I told Wenyu and James that I generally never go to European/Western restaurants because why would you while you could have amazing local food at the same time?! Well, the next day a group of eight people from the hostel, including the hostel manager, decided to go to a Bavarian restaurant and asked me to join. I didn’t want to be rude and thus made an exception and went with them. It was a very nice and funny evening, but the food was definitely overpriced and half of the menu wasn’t even Bavarian. Well, another lesson learnt!
If you’re in Sri Lanka, don’t forget to have some Maracuja juice – it is the best juice I’ve ever had! If you like milk shakes, try the ones at Cafe on the 5th in Colombo. They are the best! They also have very delicious (and spicy) vegetable roties! So yummy!
In general, I was very positively surprised about Sri Lanka. Some of their systems might be a bit outdated (e.g. train system), but this definitely makes the experience of traveling more authentic! At the same time, they are also advanced in some terms though. So, for instance, they have uber and pick me, which is basically uber for tuktuk. Great invention!
It’s really hard to imagine that the 30-year civil war only ended 8 years ago. I didn’t feel any repercussions, but then I was only there for ten days and I didn’t cover all regions of this beautiful island. It would definitely be interesting to travel the North where one of the hotpots of the civil war was.
After all, Sri Lanka has been magical, not only because of the sceneries, the hikes and the safari but also because of the people and their openness. It is definitely a place I could imagine going back to!
Accommodation: Bunkyard Hostels
Restaurants: The Dutch Burgher, Upali, Cafe on the 5th, Raheema Hotel
Sights: Seema Malaka Temple, Gangaramaya Temple, Dutch quarter, Beira Lake
Accommodation: Sevana City Hotel
Restaurant: The Muslim Hotel
Activity: Hike up to Adam’s Peak
Accommodation: Ella Ecolodge
Activity: Hike to Little Adam’s Peak
Accommodation: Athgira River Camping
Activity: Wildlife safari in the Udawalawa National Park
Accommodation: Hideaway Lodge
Activity: Turtle watching
Accommodation: Pedlar’s Inn Hostel
Restaurant: Mama’s Galle Fort Roof Cafe
Sights: Galle Fort