Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Why Sri Lanka Stole My Heart and The 5 Things You Must Do There.

The first thought that crossed my mind as I adjusted my weary, desert washed eyes to the lush, bottle green, rain soaked mountains surrounding Colombo was that I needed to come back here. One visit will not be enough.

We have a habit of taking things close to us for granted and travel is no exception. Cities and countries close to where we live are always on the “I can go anytime” list. With so many lovely places to visit, we never end up going to ones that are a short plane right away.

Sri Lanka has been on my ‘someday’ list but with its proximity to India and Dubai, I have always chosen a more exotic destination to visit.

So when my friends Nick and Alex decided to tie the knot in Sri Lanka, I found no excuse to put it at the back burner. I bought a dress to wear to the wedding, booked a flight and waited anxiously to put an out of office and disappear for five days.

Usually before every trip, I spend hours researching the city and making plans (that I never follow) but this time, with Ramadan just getting over and campaigns going live, I figured I will just wing it.
The beauty of traveling is actually in winging it. What you end up remembering are the places you find by chance. Like an old bookstore tucked away in some corner or a cute roadside café.

Sri Lanka did something like that.
It could have been the deafening sound of the ocean, the melting butter type sunsets, the delectable fresh seafood or the people that stole my heart.

The Beach Life :)

Bentota Beach

We spent five days on the West Coast – two in Bentota, one in Galle and two in Unawatuna. Here are my top five things to do in the area

Watch the sunset whilst sipping a cocktail at the Avani loft bar

We stayed at the Avani Bentota Resort and Spa that has a great beach, two pools, an amazing spa, rooms facing the ocean, great food and exceptional staff. The highlight of our stay was however sipping cocktails at the loft bar and listening to the waves make havoc on the beach.
If you are someone like me who is a sucker for sunsets, lazy jazz sort of tunes, passion fruit mojitos and free canapés (the staff kept bringing us free food!) – this place is for you.

(Avani Bentona Resort and Spa - room rates starting from AED 470 for a standard room. Massages start from 250 AED for 80 minutes)

My Lovely Room at Avani Bentota Resort and Spa 

The View From My Room

Visit a turtle hatchery

The west coast of Sri Lanka is home to beautiful sea turtles. There are hatcheries all along the coast and they do some amazing work with the sea turtles and in the general cleanliness of the beach. If you are lucky, you could release baby turtles into the ocean with a silent prayer that your baby survives and then after a trip around the globe comes back years later exactly where you left it to lay its eggs.
The hatchery guide will take you around and show you turtles that are waiting to be released, turtles that have been found after accidents in the ocean, turtles for research and give you a brief background on the efforts these families put into the upkeep of the hatchery.
The entry is a donation at most hatcheries that goes into purchasing food for the turtles as well as eggs from black marketers.

Cute (not so) Little Turtle  

Take a cruise along Madu River

In just 5000 Sri Lankan Rupees, you can hire a boat for yourself and cruise along the sixty-four islands and large mangroves of the Madu River, just a half an hour drive from Bentota. 
The river is calm and the guide will happily do an island hop if you want. We went to four different islands. We saw locals grow cinnamon, got our feet chewed by humongous fish (at a rate of 1.5$ it has to be the cheapest pedicure I have ever got), saw how prawn farming is done and visited an island with a small Buddhist temple where a monk blessed us for good health.
On our way back, our guide encouraged us to ride the motorboat and I finally discovered what my horrible sense of left and right direction is good for. Seriously considering investing in a boat now!

(Captains Boat House - Two hour boat ride for 2 people on a private boat AED 150 (Excluding tips) Donation at the Buddhist temple AED 30, Fish Pedicure  AED 6)
Cruising Among Mangroves 
Cheapest Pedicure Ever 
The Buddhist Temple Island  

Climb up Galle Fort and watch the world go by

Formerly a Dutch colony, Galle is a sleepy little town that seems to have never fully woken up from its colonial inhabitation. Cobbled streets, shuttered windows, cafes in verandahs, art galleries and old churches create a charming atmosphere.
Walk up the Galle fort, a UNESCO world heritage site not only for the stunning views of the Indian Ocean and its history but to watch a match without a ticket at the cricket stadium below (The cricket crazy Indian in me could not stop the excitement of watching the on-going India-Sri Lanka test series)
For souvenirs and quirky stuff check out the gallery called ‘Stick No Bills’ I went a little crazy here and picked up tons of post cards that I plan to frame soon.

(Galle fort -– Entrance is free, Stick no bills -

Views From Galle Fort 
An Old Church In Galle

Take a time out and watch a jaw-dropping sunset

There are a few things in life that compare to sinking your feet into soft, powder like sand and watch the sky change myriad colours for that half an hour before the sun melts into the ocean for the day and if you are lucky like I was, you will also get to witness a beautiful bride take her first steps into a new life with this magical backdrop. (And shed a few happy tears!)

(As all the beautiful things in life, this is free)

I loved Sri Lanka for these experiences and so much more - The really nice local beer, seafood, clean roads and pristine beaches but most importantly it was the attitude, generosity and honestly of the local people that truly touched my heart.

A piece of paradise awaits just a four-hour plane ride away. I can’t wait to go back. What are you waiting for?

(Emirates and Sri Lankan fly direct to Colombo everyday of the week from Dubai. For a cheaper option – Book on Fly Dubai)


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