Sri Lanka is (quite literally) a breath of fresh air after India. Aside from its much appreciated cleanliness, the food is awesome, the people are super nice, and from the beach to the mountains, the views are pretty unbelievable. For my first week and a half (ish) in Sri Lanka, my route was: Colombo, Kandy, Matale (and Dambulla), back to Colombo, Kandy, and finally Ella (actually in the Uva province, right next to central). My route was definitely a little wonky, but the country is small, and the trains are (mostly) pretty fun! And definitely worth getting to spend the extra time with my friend Omar who flew in from Dubai to meet me 🙂
The central region of Sri Lanka was one of the greenest places I’ve ever been. It rained almost every day at least some, and I didn’t even mind because it felt even more rainforest/jungly. Another thing I noticed and loved was the diversity of religion. While the country is predominantly Buddhist, there are Hindu temples scattered (and often inside Buddhist temples), as well as Christian crosses, and prayers being sung out loudly from Muslim mosques.
Here are some highlights …
Colombo – Colombo gets a bad rap. Most people just say skip it, and a couple days was plenty for me. The main part of the city is extremely modern (the most “western” feeling place I’ve been in Asia so far). I took a short train ride down to Mount Lavinia (actually I took an express train way past Mount Lavinia on accident and had to backtrack), which seems to be what most people recommend, and stayed near the beach. There are a ton of cute (but expensive) restaurants along the water, and it’s actually pretty nice!
Kandy – Loved it so much, I did it twice! (Kidding, sort of). Sri Lanka’s second biggest city, it is far less western and built up. It’s a cute little town, really green and hilly, with a big white Buddha overlooking the town and its lake. It’s home to a temple holding a tooth relic of the Buddha. We went during one of the daily ceremonies, and it was packed with an odd mixture of devout Buddhists making offerings and receiving blessings, and tourists elbowing each other for the best photo angle. My first visit we stayed a couple kilometers from the city center. In exchange for the cost of a tuk tuk into town every day, we had amazing views, a pool, and peace and quiet. My second time around I stayed right in the city in a tiny hostel. Both were good, very different experiences. Other highlights include a walk through Udawatta Kele Sanctuary with an awesome view of the city from high up on a hill, and the mango juice at the Kandyan Muslim Hotel.
Matale – The train ride from Kandy to Matale was a highlight. We took a local commuter train, and it was slow enough for us to (semi-)safely ride hanging out of the carriage doors. It was so fun, and so green. On a day trip, we went north to Dambulla to visit the giant Golden Buddha temple and cave temples. In the midst of hundreds of Buddhas, there was also one Hindu cave. And so many adorable, alien-esque baby monkeys. After visiting the Hindu Sri Muthumariamman Kovil temple back in Matale, we wandered into a hole in the wall restaurant for dinner and tried Kotthu for the first time. It’s basically rotti (flat round bread), chopped up and mixed with a bunch of veggies and spices. It’s amazing, and I ate it every day for quite a while after that.
The train from Kandy to Ella was a destination in itself. It’s famous for being beautiful, and it did not disappoint.
Ella – Ella is an adorable, very small town surrounded by tea covered hills. There are two main hikes you can do – Ella Rock and Little Adam’s Peak (it resembles the shape of the much larger and more famous Adam’s Peak, also in the central province). I went for the much easier Little Adam’s Peak (because my knees haven’t quite recovered from Everest yet), and walked for maybe 3 hours total through tea plantations with amazing views of Ella Rock. After my hike, I toured a green tea factory and learned about how the tea is made and the difference between the higher and lower quality varieties. That afternoon I took a short bus ride to the beautiful, but incredibly crowded Rawana Falls. I did all of my Ella “sights” in one day, but stayed for about 3 because it’s just a nice place.
Kotthu – a carb-lovers dream/my new favorite food…
More to come on the rest of my Sri Lanka journey 🙂