About a week ago, I came back from traveling in Sri Lanka with Layth. This was our second trip there – we went two years ago for a friend’s wedding – and I guess we liked it so much we decided to go back. We also just needed some beach time, tickets were reasonable, visas are easy, and it’s not that far from Jordan, compared to flying to Thailand or somewhere.
But – have you ever gone on vacation and gotten stressed because there’s nothing to do? I think we were both in that position – we were both anxiously thinking about upcoming job interviews, and I’d been working on a paper for school down to the wire (see below), needed to make revisions and just couldn’t work on it without a computer. So instead I spent a lot of time reading what turned out to be a very stressful Japanese novel, before I gave up on that.
Anyway – last time in Sri Lanka, we started with a few days in Colombo, took the train to Kandy, then went on to tea country in Nuwara Eliya, then had some harrowing bus rides down south to Matara and finished in Galle. This time, we opted to stay close to the southern beaches – from Colombo we immediately hopped on a bus to Galle, where we stayed the night in this super pretty art deco-themed hotel inside the old fort.
Galle fort is full of cute (touristy) boutiques, nice restaurants and historic buildings. You can walk end to end in about 15 minutes, but that doesn’t stop tuk tuk drivers from staking out every corner, hawking their services. This may partly be a result of traveling in low season, but the recent upswing in tourism to Sri Lanka means there are way too many guesthouses for the amount of tourists – and many of them seem to think that no matter how bare-bones the room or service is, they should charge $50/night minimum. I’ve also heard this is a result of tourists, used to staying in shabby but cheap accommodations in India, then coming to Sri Lanka and being willing to pay more for the same level. We only had one really bad experience, when we stayed in Galle on the way back – I booked a “villa” online because the rooms looked decent and the place had a pool, but when we arrived, not only was the pool nonexistent, but the rooms smelled of mold, there was no hot water, barely any electricity, and the staff went into our room to shut off the fan and AC while we were out (which we’d turned on to get the smell out). We left at about 10 pm and ended up staying at this place (below) which was simple, but decent and had a nice breakfast and views of the fort walls and sea.
Matara, Dickwella and Tangalle
From Galle, we hopped on a 2 hour train to Matara, going east along the southern coast.
I read somewhere that Sri Lanka is an island of villages, and that feels so true when you travel by train. There aren’t many big cities, but you’re never far from civilization either, and I love watching scenes like this from the window.
We first made our way to Talalla Bay Beach (30 mins east of Matara), where we’d stayed before, loving the nearly deserted, postcard-like stretch of beach. But this time, we just weren’t as keen on staying in the same basic guesthouses, and the new higher-end boutique hotels were all full, so we ended up heading east to Dickwella, where we stayed in a resort for two nights. It turned out to be well worth it, for the beach, the food, and the views.
Still heading east along the coast, we made it to Tangalle, where we spent a night in a guesthouse and then a night in a beach cabana. We found a beachside seafood restaurant and quickly became regulars, eating there 3 or 4 times.
We then made our way back to Galle for one more night, then decided to spend our last two nights in Colombo – this was the only part I sort of regretted, mostly because of the timing. Like our visit two years ago, we somehow managed to be in Colombo again during Sinhala/Tamil New Year, which means just about everything shuts down for 2-3 days. The city was deserted, and we spent a few hours searching in vain for a carpet shop we’d visited before, popping in to the couple of shopping centers that were open to rest in the AC before venturing out. The rain also forced us indoors for much of the time – but we did still enjoy our hotel’s rooftop pool, seeing a movie in the cinema, and a very good sushi dinner at a restaurant in the Movenpick.
This time around, we missed the stunning train rides into the highland tea country – we considered heading that direction to hike Adam’s Peak, but were warned about heavy rains and flooding that was happening, and remembered that there simply wasn’t much to do in those towns, which mostly attract a lot of backpackers. There was one great Indian restaurant we wanted to try again, but ultimately decided the trek wasn’t worth it just to eat at a restaurant. Last time I was also keen to visit temples, which we didn’t do at all this time around.
Sri Lanka is beautiful and well-worth the visit, but I think our speed for vacationing includes beach/pool time and big cities with lots of options for food, drinks, or just wandering (Penang in Malaysia comes to mind). Sri Lanka does have some shops for handmade goods and textiles, but it’s not a shopping destination or even a place to embrace bustling city life. Of course, there is also the whole north of the island that we haven’t seen (it is still recovering from the civil war), and there are national parks and wildlife preserves, too. If I went again, it might be for a yoga retreat or something – I did see some interesting, if pricey, options being offered at some hotels down south.
Still, it was a much-needed and welcome break from real life for us both. Do you have favorite places you travel to again and again?