A Trip to Sri Lanka

I am sat on a plane between a gorgeous trip to Sri Lanka with Will and a Recce in Bali to finalise all the details for my next retreat (2-9th February 2019, 1 room left). While I was away, I tried to be off my phone as much as possible, posting less on social media, reading fewer emails and just enjoying having the time with Will to spend enjoying somewhere new. We realised it is the first trip we have taken together where we both set our Out of Office’s and genuinely switched off from work. With the exception of a handful of emails, we really did feel like we were on holiday and it did brilliant things for us both, individually and together! Now that I am back online, I’ve noticed LOTS of you asked for an itinerary or blog post from the trip so I have shared some of what we got up to, my thoughts and recommendations. One thing I would mention... Recommendations are amazing for helping to plan something largely unknown but sometimes they can detract from the magic of discovery that travel brings. There were so many places that we wanted to go, we could have spent a week visiting gorgeous surf cafes for smoothie bowls, or staying in all the guest houses that people so kindly orientated us towards. But if we had done that, we would never have found the wonderful local food that we loved or whiled away hours wandering in the sunshine. The word ‘wanderlust’ means a strong desire to travel. But for me the beauty is in the curiosity and exploration and I highly recommend wandering without agenda wherever you are in the world as much as you can. THAT is my greatest recommendation!

We arrived at Colombo international airport late afternoon. Having originally planned to stay overnight and get an early train to Ella the following day, we changed our plans and drove 2 1/2 hours to Kandy. This meant a later arrival, but a later start in the morning and a shorter train ride (7hours in stead of 9+).

CATCH THE TRAIN FROM KANDY TO ELLA

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The train from Kandy to Ella is listed in many travel journals as one of the most beautiful in the world. And it did not disappoint. The 7 hour journey passed in what felt like 3 or 4, and the hours ticked by as we lost ourselves in wonderful scenery.

We had booked our tickets in advance from Visit SrI Lanka Tours, a website that, based on availability, lets you buy reserved seats on specific routes and sends them to you at home before you leave. We had read that booking first class was highly recommended but we were too late booking to secure those tickets. We opted for Second Class reserved and were more than comfortable. If you are travelling and have more time, you can buy tickets at the station a day or two before your journey. I think the cost of doing so is about £2! We of course paid a premium but we didn’t have the spare days to book ahead once we arrived so we were happy to do so. It was very easy to navigate and although 7 hours on a train might not sound like much fun, it really was a brilliant experience. Oh, and bring snacks! Vendor’s will come on to the train to sell you fruit or various local snacks but on our first day we were happy with some home comforts that had lasted from our flight from the UK.

WATCH THE SUNRISE FROM LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK

 

There are lots of things to do in Ella, and while the town itself wasn’t really our thing, we enjoyed climbing Ella Rock, even though we couldn’t see anything at the top thanks to the mist! We learned our lesson that mornings were best for any kind of activity, as the afternoons when we were there were misty and more tempremental on the weather front. So we made plans to do more in the mornings and relax and read in the afternoons. The following day, we went to watch the sunrise at Little Adam’s Peak.

It was easy to wake up early, with the sounds of the jungle providing an early alarm most mornings, so it seemed like a no brainer to wake up early. Depending on where you are staying, you can walk from Ella City, mainly along roads, with a small climb at the end. Its more of a walk than a ‘hike’, especially compared to Ella Rock, which we had climbed the previous day. We actually got a tuk tuk almost all of the way, not because we were feeling lazy, but because our guest house had told us to leave later than we should have, so walking would have slowed us down and we wanted to make it to the top before the sun came up, which we just about managed. Of course there were other tourists, but it didn’t seem to detract from the beauty. There’s a second peak that we hesitated about ‘climbing’ as it looked a little steep. Once the sun was up, we decided we would be silly not to go. In hindsight, it was fine and I’m pretty sure the sunrise would have been even more spectacular on that side had we been brave enough from the get go. Leave a little extra time so that you’re not racing the rising sun, and maybe even take a flask of tea to sit and enjoy before wandering back down.


LEARN TO COOK SRI LANKAN FOOD AT MATEY HUT

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Being very much into our food, we LOVED every opportunity to explore the local cuisine. Over the course of our trip we had some brilliant experiences and developed a real taste for all that the local menus had to offer. We did find that in some places, the menus were targetted towards western tourists, with menus of pizza or chips dominating some spots, which is exactly what we wanted to avoid. In Ella, we found a tiny local restaurant, well known for its fantastic food and identified by the queue that formed very quickly at dinner time! Matey Hutt is set just on the outskirts of Ella City (the city being one ‘high street’) and was responsible for some of the best food we had all trip. We had bumped into two friends that morning, who had just finished a cooking class there, raving about it and telling us we had to do a class there before leaving (not the first recommendation we had been given for the same thing). Sadly, the classes which run twice daily were fully booked until we left, and we didn’t have the flexibility in our trip to stay an extra half day for the next available class. If there is one thing we could have done that we didn’t manage, it would be that class! Or another one elsewhere, but based on the food we ate there, I’d have loved to learn from the Matey Hut chef!

Go early to avoid the queue (we ate at around 6pm, the queue formed shortly after we arrived) but don’t be put off if there’s a wait. They take orders in the queue to speed things up, and its DEFINITELY worth the wait!

VISIT A NATIONAL PARK

The wildlife and vegetation in this country is breathtaking. The wealth of the land in terms of produce is pretty exceptional and the greenery is mesmerising. We decided to follow the tourist trail and head from Ella to Udawalawe, a national park boasting over 600 elephants, as well as many other birds and animals. Yala is actually a larger and more popular national park, with leopards as well as elephants bringing double the appeal for tourists and wildlife lovers. However, we had been warned that the popularity of Yala did interfere with the experience, so we opted for Udawalwe in stead. The weather was a potential threat to our animal spotting - the afternoons tended to bring heavy rain and most of the animals would subsequently hide - but despite the warnings, we opted for an afternoon safari as it fit better with our other plans. We couldn’t believe our luck as we drove into the park under blue skies and within minutes were a few metres away from an enormous male elephant, and no other jeeps in sight. We carried on, spotting water buffalo bathing, lots of peacocks, birds, a crocodile or two and more elephants. The weather turned pretty suddenly and we had to put the rain covers on the side of the jeep, making it much harder to see anything. The water came down so quickly that the roads actually began to flood a bit, causing our safari to come to an end around 40 minutes earlier than planned. It didn’t seen to cloud the experience though, and we got to see a small group of elephants play in the mud on the way out. I would say take the advice of the experts and go in the morning if you can, but to be honest I wont be forgetting our experience in a hurry so really, just go when you can!

We booked out jeep through a guest house, even though we weren’t staying there. You then pick up a guide inside the park and pay an entrance fee there. Some hotels or tour operators will do it all in a package but at a premium.

HEAD SOUTH AND CHILL AT THE KIP

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This gorgeous guest house with just 3 rooms boasts minimalist design and western comfort without the fancy frills. Run by the wonderful Phoebe and Seddy, this spot was one of our favourites. From the coffee table reads, to the backgammon and the gorgeous shop, you can see the thought and creativity in every corner of this place. 

Although we LOVED eating local food three times a day, the western style breakfast with a ‘pick and tick’ menu was worth sacrificing a morning Dahl for. With both vegan and veggie options to choose from (try the herby bread with the cashew cheese...), the tapas breakfast boards were a brilliant start to the day. As a guest of the house, your breakfast is included, but if you’re staying elsewhere, you can now experience the menu with the launch of their new cafe on site. Good coffee, colourful tapas style sweet and savoury breakfast/brunch and a chill away from any hustle and bustle. This place really is special and I couldn’t recommend it more.

TAKE A SURF LESSON

Weligama Bay is renowned for its beginner-friendly surf, and having dreamt of becoming a surfer for years, it seemed silly to miss the opportunity to learn in warm water, on easy waves. Will and I walked along the beach and within minutes had been approached by several different schools selling lessons. We booked a surf lesson for 7.30am the next day. We had been promised two teachers, despite asking to share one, but had been convinced that in order to learn from scratch, a 1-2-1 would be much more helpful. So we took their advice and booked a teacher each, agreeing to pay the premium for doing so and imaging our new lives as pro surfers awaiting us. Our instructor arrived at 8, having overslept from a party the night following a party the night before but his honest charm and our holiday clocks made it easy to let slide. Instructor, singular, who apparently was so good we didn’t need another, but that the premium still applied. Will got the hang of things very quickly. Having never been on a board before, after may failed attempts, I managed to get the hang of it towards the end of the class and even ‘surfed’ my final wave back to the beach. He praised my balance and technique (thanks yoga practice) and made me feel like a few more lessons could have made a big difference but we didn’t manage to squeeze any more in thanks to poor planning around big meals etc...oops. We could have bargained more on the price, particularly once only one teacher turned up but we were surfers now and carried the chilled vibe from the board to the beach and wandered home, lighter in pocket but richer in life goals accomplished.

REST AND RELAX AT TRI

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I had come across Tri a few years ago and dreamt of staying there ever since. So we booked in for our last two nights. Set back from the coastline, this little haven has just 11 rooms and suites all looking out on to Koggala Lake. There is a simplicity and elegance to the whole place, and while lots of activities and experiences are available if you want to do more, there’s a real sense of rest and relaxation as a priority. The wife of the hotel owner found Quantam Yoga. While Lara herself wasn’t there to teach us, one of her students, Ben, lead us through a class. The principals of this practice are based on the integration of Ayurveda into the yoga practice and so the class was themed accordingly to boost our Pitta energy in the morning. Group classes run 3 times a week for a small fee, or private classes can be arranged. They take place in the beautiful studio above the library with the sounds and views of the jungle providing a pretty special scene. We also took the boat across the lake to Cinnamon island, where one of the residents and cinnamon farmers showed us how cinnamon was grown and prepared for consumption in powder and oil, as well as giving us a tour of the wealth of produce and spices growing on the land. It was a little bit of a tourist show (although we were the only people there) but it was still cool to see! The food was nice, somewhere between authentic Sri Lankan cuisine and a lighter detox feel. We had gotten used to eating slightly differently so some of it wasn’t quite as exciting, but the whole stay was worth it just for the cashew butter served at breakfast and dinner!

EXPERIENCE PASSION AND FLAVOUR AT CAPE WELIGAMA

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One of the best experiences of our whole trip were the meals we had at Cape Weligama. We we’re lucky enough to spend two nights at this beautiful Respondant Ceylon hotel and got a taste of true luxury. It’s certainly not for every budget, but if you are looking for somewhere special, this place really does not disappoint. The beautiful restaurant on the ocean front provides a pictrqesque setting for meal times, and while other spots are available for dining, we couldn’t imagine sitting anywhere else than looking out onto the view. The sous-chef an host made every meal an experience, showing us how to eat the food like a local and sharing so much passion for the colours , flavours and experience of sharing food. Of course, when we weren’t eating, we had plenty of time to make use of the pool, an moon-shaped infinity pool blending in seamlessly to the ocean behind it. We watched sunsets with cocktails from the look out points, took baths and just enjoyed every moment to appreciate the opportunity to embrace all of the luxury. Honeymooners looking for something special, this one is for you!

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WHAT WE ATE

Hoppers - with or without egg. A rice pancake, shaped like a bowl. Perfectt for piling in Dahl or veg curry, rolling and eating taco style.

Milk Rice - in our experience this was vegan, made with coconut rice

Rotti - a wholewheat flour pancake, served with curry, chutneys etc

Dahl - a delicious curried lentil dish.

Kottu - (or kottu rotti). Kottu meaning ‘shredded’, this dish is essentially a rotti with veg (or whatever else you choose) chopped up and fried. Like a stir fry, but with delicious doughy pancakey bread in it.

It was very easy to find veggie food throughout our stay, and i most cases veggie food is actually vegan. We expected there to be lots of ghee or milk in some of the dishes, but much of the ‘ghee’ used is vegetable or coconut oil so we never had to get fussy on the menu.

Wow I feel so rich in experience, time and gratitude after this amazing trip. We barely scratched the surface in terms of ‘seeing it all’ but we found a balance between doing and being and found a way to experience both at once. A trip I wont forget, but one that has got be itching to go back, especially before more big hotels pop up on the coastlines.

Annie ClarkeComment