Sri Lanka – My Exotic Getawayby: Plamena Valyanova
Why Sri Lanka?
It was a spontaneous call, really. I was feeling adventurous and my boyfriend had given me a carte blanche to select the destination for our first trip together. I wanted it to be some place exotic, preferably close to nature and wildlife. And then, among the offers that came from the travel agency, there was Sri Lanka. Apart from the delightful Ceylon tea, I knew next to nothing about it which, in my daredevil eyes, made it quite a lucrative choice. As it turned out, we were heading to a land of boundless delight where we were about to have a blast. We booked a flight and a one-week stay at a hotel in Bentota, and decided we’d take it from there. A month later, in the beginning of April 2012, we were flying to the Emirates and across the Indian Ocean. We were thrilled that our holiday had begun.
When we landed in Colombo, the shock from our first encounter with the local lifestyle was immense. The capital of Sri Lanka is a jumble of people and all sorts of vehicles. The traffic was a complete reign of chaos. So I would recommend that you arrange your airport transfer prior to your arrival, preferably with your hotel or agency. If you don’t insist on sightseeing in Colombo there are plenty of fabulous, peaceful island spots to explore, such as Dambulla, Kandy, Yala National Park, Galle, the Cultural triangle, and Ella. If you still decide to stay for the better part of the day or overnight in the capital, make sure to spend the rush hours off the road.
Where in Sri Lanka?
Our choice of resort had fallen on Bentota Beach Hotel – one of the many fabulous accommodation alternatives in Bentota. The hotel was located right on the beach but was an exclusive retreat of its own, which gave us the chance to both enjoy the seclusion of the private garden and pool, and mingle with the rest of the tourists and the natives. Our balcony overlooked an oasis of palms and flowers but the greatest room entertainment came from a bunch of curious squirrels, looking for crackers, crisps, or whatever else we had the courtesy to leave for them. Mind you, though, if you order a dish anywhere in the open space, you’d better guard it carefully, or else it just might disappear while you are looking away.
Bentota Beach Hotel
After we had rested well and had enjoyed ourselves for a couple of days, we decided to explore some island history and culture. We settled on an unconventional approach towards our island tour and, instead of using the services of the travel agency which brought us there, we hired a local guide, which turned out to be not only a more exciting but also a more cost-efficient idea. For starters, our guide took us to the Kande Vihare Buddhist Temple (located in the Matugama area right off the Colombo-Galle main road) – a monument of colossal proportions, the highest Buddhist Temple in Ceylon, where we were introduced to the history of the region and, of course, many Buddhist customs and beliefs.
We visited Galle – a 16th century Portuguese port which later moved to the hands of the Dutch, presently keeping the spirit and tradition of both cultures alive. A cruise along the Bentota River – a fascinating experience – brought us to an organic herb garden where there seemed to be a natural cure for every ache or physical disposal, and many authentic souvenir shops. We not only found ourselves amidst a mangrove paradise, but also spotted gigantic reptiles and held a baby crocodile.
At the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Hatchery we entered the world of sea turtles where miniscule babies and granny turtles aged more than a hundred years told the story of their fight for survival. Our animal experience was mightily intensified by our encounter with an elephant on the hotel premises. It was unfortunate that we didn’t have time to visit Kandy, which we had heard so much about, but we’ll make sure to do so in our next trip to Sri Lanka.
Baby Turtles at the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Hatchery
If you are a jewellery fan, don’t miss out on the chance to see with your very own eyes how precious stones are being extracted in any of the local gemstone mines. Although the assortment of stones is impressive, there is nothing like the sensational Ceylon sapphire whose deep blue colour is beyond compare. Needless to say, I was walking on air when I left with a sapphire ring on my finger. Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to buy gems at a fair cost but, whatever price you are announced initially, always put your bargaining skills to work in order to get a better deal.
Moonstone Mine Gem Processing
Lastly, I cannot fail to mention the absolutely wonderful service and the graciousness of our local hosts. A little kindness goes a long way in Sri Lanka and you can be sure that your friendly attitude will grant you service you will miss long after you’ve left. Decent tips will be greatly appreciated and will make your stay even more enjoyable.
When it was time for our romantic getaway in Colombo to come to an end, going home was the last thing we wanted to do. But the dry December-March period, most favourable for a holiday on the island, was over, and April was already marked by short daily showers. The monsoon season was approaching, so we had to say our goodbyes. And now, each time the rain starts pouring on my windowsill, I can see the palm leaves giving in to the rainfall only to stand tall and fresh once again, and the impish squirrels taking shelter next to me on the comfy balcony bench.