Jaspreet Narang discovers the perfect getaway for all holiday seekers.
Lonely Planet’s headline for Sri Lanka reads, “Endless beaches, timeless ruins, welcoming people, oodles of elephants, cheap prices, flavourful food….”, and all I wondered was whether they were confusing it with Thailand.
Sri Lanka is the hidden gem that was Thailand a few decades ago. What was once an undiscovered country is now on everyone’s radar. And why not? Almost 10 years after their civil war, Sri Lanka took the number one spot in Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel: 2019.” Already notable to intrepid tourists for their mix of religions and cultures, timeless temples, rich wildlife, and their growing surfing, kiteboarding and yoga scene, Sri Lanka is a country revived. So whether you seek a romantic getaway, a wellness retreat, a family vacation, some adrenaline and adventure, or an eco-friendly holiday, Sri Lanka will deliver for all budgets.
While in Sri Lanka, you must visit:
• Beaches: With 1,340km of tropical coastline, Sri Lanka is certainly not short on beautiful beaches. The most popular developed beach towns include Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa, perfect for holidaymakers seeking nice restaurants, beach bars and cafes. For a more laidback vibe with some untouched nature, head to Mirissa, Tangalla, or Rekawa beaches. You are likely to spot sea turtles nesting on Rekawa.
• Jungles: The many miles of coastline include a jungle-clad inland, home to rich biodiversity. For a quick peek into the variety of plants and animals, take a jungle safari tour at Yala National Park or Udawalawe National Park. You are very likely to spot elephants in herds, and if you are lucky enough, some Ceylon leopards too!
• Colonial Towns: Having been colonised by the British, Portuguese and Dutch, a whimsical cultural footprint has been left behind in Sri Lanka. Galle was my favourite town filled with charming cobblestone streets, tea houses, forts and churches. Within the small peninsula were also alleyways littered with cafés, restaurants and boutiques, making it easy to pass the day by wandering through this quaint town. A few other captivating colonial cities include Jaffna, Negombo, and Nuwara Eliya.
• Mountains: Tea, tea and more tea! A trip to Sri Lanka is incomplete without visiting some tea plantations. The majority of this country’s tea is between the Kandy to Ella Railway Route, making the train journey one of the most beautiful and scenic in the world. I highly recommend spending a few nights in Ella to partake in some hiking adventures on Little Adam’s Peak, Ella Rock and Lipton’s Seat, which is also a one-hour tuk tuk ride from the starting point of the trek. Additionally, you may consider a stopover at Nuwara Eliya for the infamous World’s End Trail in Horton Plains National Park. However, more culturally inclined travellers should take the train to Hattan and make their way to Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain. You may also spend some time in Kandy, the country’s cultural melting pot, and home to the majestic Temple of the Tooth Relic. Needless to say, the options are endless.
• Sports and Wellness Camps: Sri Lanka is an affordable place for one to enjoy a wellness getaway or even learn a new sport. During my time there, I spent fi ve nights at a yoga and kiteboarding retreat up north of Kalpitiya. It was truly one of the most incredibly fulfilling experiences I’ve had, and as a bonus, I got to visit a part of the country that is completely off the beaten track.
A Taste of Sri Lanka
Although the food is similar to Indian flavours, their local dishes are clearly distinctive. While there, you must try:
• Hoppers: Also known as appam, hoppers is a typical breakfast meal of fermented batter usually made from rice flour and coconut milk with spice and different types of filling. My favourite were egg hoppers.
• Coconut or pol sambol: In a country where coconut reigns supreme, pol sambol is a popular side dish that pays a fitting tribute. It is a simple blend of finely grated coconut, red onions, chilli powder, lime juice and salt.
• Kottu roti: This is Sri Lanka’s hamburger and everybody’s favourite go-to fast food. It resembles fried rice, except it is made with a type of roti.
• Lamprais: This finger-licking dish is a combination of meat, rice, and a variety of sambols and curries, wrapped into a banana leaf packet and then steamed. Yummy!
• Roughly 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population is Buddhist.
• Pearl of the Indian Ocean is a nickname given to this small island nation due to its incredible natural beauty and extraordinary biodiversity.
• Tea is a big business, with 5 percent of the population working in this industry.
• Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to welcome a female Prime Minister!
• Sri Lanka means serendipity or happy accident, which came from Serendib, an old name for Sri Lanka.
What do you need to know before you go?
• Thai nationals need to apply for an online visa. The process is simple and can easily be done 48 hours before departure. It will set you back only US$32 for a 30-day visa.
• For the popular Kandy to Ella Railway Route, I highly recommend reserving your train tickets at least a couple of weeks in advance. There are no online reservation systems for the Sri Lankan rails, but you can contact local agencies to organise this for you.
• Aside from the scenic train routes, the best mode of travel is by car. Hiring a car with a driver throughout your stay is very affordable. Please don’t attempt to drive yourself, unless you have a death wish.
• The recommended months for travel are between December and March.
Travel to the Pearl of the Indian Ocean and relish its simplicity before it is too late. I can assure you that this country is about to go through a rapid metamorphosis, and we are standing at the cusp of its tipping point.