Sri Lanka, known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean,” is a country of palm-studded beaches, magnificent tea plantations, well-conserved animal habitats and rich culture. My one-week stay there exposed me to a completely opposite way of life and made me realize how much there is to see in this world.
I would fail miserably if I had to describe everything I experienced in the last 10 days, but I tried my best in this post. Here’s a (not so short) summary of my 7-day crash tour of Sri Lanka:
Day 1: Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (which apparently is very famous among both locals and tourists) was a pit-stop on our way to our resort in Habarana. The orphanage housed elephants of all ages and offered rides for 3,000 Rupees ($20) per person. I was one of the very few people who took up the challenge and the only one who said yes to being splashed on with poo water (I like to think I’m more adventurous than a normal human being). Whether you like animals or not, Sri Lanka = elephants. So if you want to really feel like you have been to Sri Lanka, then DO NOT skip this.
The orphanage also had an open area where we could take fancy photos while the elephants chilled under the sun. This is where you really see elephants in all their glory – eating, bathing, playing like the magnificent creatures that they are. Never really appreciated nature until I saw how elephants live.
Day 2: Sigiriya Rock Climb + Kaudulla National Park
Second most overwhelming day of the trip (first has to be Day 5). The Sigiriya Rock is a world heritage site and one of the most famous destinations of Sri Lanka. In addition to having a long, fascinating history behind its existence, the Sigiriya Rock is also an adventurous climb of 1,202 steps. People with a fear of height will probably dislike the climb (the steps are not straight, even, or stable), but the view from the top of the rock is to die for. All you see from there is miles and miles of greenery and gigantic statues of Buddha rising above that greenery. I would go back to Sri Lanka only for this view. Anyway, after a 45 minutes climb up and a 30 minutes climb down, we thought the day was over…
But then we drove to Kaudulla National Park. For a safari I didn’t know was on the plan…
Expecting an Africa-like safari with cheetahs and giraffes, I happily put myself into a roofless Jeep that took us some 20 kilometers into the jungle… to a wild elephants natural habitat (more elephants…).
But elephants are fun to watch so I wasn’t disappointed – cute, innocent, friendly creatures minding their own business, unless provoked (obviously). We were given clear instructions to talk softly because they don’t like too much noise. But there is always one jerk who thinks breaking rules is cool. Some people from our group in a different Jeep got bored of elephants standing peacefully so they turned on really loud music and started singing along with it. The elephants panicked, got into groups with their babies in between them, and started trumpeting loudly. Made me really sad seeing how humans use their power over animals for entertainment like that.
Day 3: Kandy City Tour + Kandy Temple + Cultural Dance Show
One of the slower, but mentally stimulating days (at least for me). On the third day, we covered tons of history of Buddha and the British era as well Sri Lankan culture (demon dances, fire-walking, fire-eating whatnot). We started off with Kandy Lake, which is one of the very few man-made lakes in the middle of a bustling city in Asia. It is the perfect place to take a jog/walk around and to sit and contemplate life. Tourists with poor photography skills (almost all of us), can also effortlessly take Google-like photos of Kandy Lake because of how nicely placed it is (check center picture – I took that).
Right next to the lake is the Golden Tooth Temple, which according to Buddhist history houses a tooth relic of Buddha himself. Despite being so crowded, not only was the temple so calm and peaceful, the devotion of the people was quite fascinating. Of all the stories our guide told us, my favorite one was that every time the tooth of the Buddha is moved around, it rains in Kandy. I would have liked to see that but oh well…
Day 4: Royal Botanical Garden + Tea Plantation + Nuwara Eliya City Tour
Another slow-ish day that started off with TMI at the Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya. I mean I’m a fan of stories and everything, but that early in the morning I was zoning out a bit too much. So I don’t remember much about the significance of the plants or the place except that the garden houses a bunch of the world’s rarest trees and flowers just thriving in the weather without much attention. There was also this heart-shaped fruit tree that I forgot to ask my guide about – if anyone knows what it is, please do tell me.
(Thankfully) we finished the botanical garden to begin the world’s longest drive to Nuwara Eliya (literally means city of lights). This is a must-visit stop in Sri Lanka for the following reasons:
- It produces the best quality tea because of its high altitude location – we bought the best quality cardamom tea, gold tea, green tea among the 50 other types.
- It has the coolest climate in all of Sri Lanka so I had an opportunity to wear some winter-y clothes that I packed for no reason
- There is a glorious lake at 1,800 meters up the mountain called Gregory lake (bottom center photo) that reminded me of Interlaken in Switzerland – only they commercialized it with boat riding, horse-riding and jet-skiing.
- There is a restaurant called Indian Summer just by the lake that sells the best butter chicken and butter naans (in all of the countries I’ve had Indian food in) as well as shisha with that glorious view of the lake. The only other branch they have is in Colombo.
Day 5: Bentota + Kitulgala White Water Rafting
The most overwhelming day of the vacation and probably of my life! Kitulgala absolutely MUST be on your list when you visit Sri Lanka. It is one of the most (rightly) popular places for white water rafting and other unconventional water sports like waterfall abseiling, flat water rafting, waterfall trekking, rainforest trekking etc. We only had time for one activity and our package already included class 2 and 3 white water rafting so that is all we did.
I cannot describe that experience in words but it was absolutely the BEST adventure I have ever done (and I’ve done stuff like skydiving). We rowed for I don’t know how long and then reached a rough area where we’d go into the “relax position” (that was kind of scary) and enjoy the ride, while our boat danced through the wildest waves and rocks. We rowed for about six waves – some easy some casually deadly – until we were PUSHED into the river by our guide…this is probably where my trip got eternally memorable. I swam in the middle of a freshwater river with thick forests on both sides and tall, green mountains in the background (rightmost picture). The sun was hot as hell and the water as cold as ice. However my body was reacting to this new environment, I know one thing for sure – I have never felt more alive in my life!
Day 6: Boat Ride + Turtle Farm
Day as slow as a turtle (pun intended). We started off with the Bentota turtle hatchery, which I wasn’t that excited about, but I enjoyed anyway. We saw turtles as young as 3 days old and as old as 101 years old. They also housed one of the rarest water turtles in the world – the albino turtles (one of 10-15 million water turtles). Poor little creatures – I wish the world was safe enough for them to breed freely. If you ever go to a turtle farm in Sri Lanka, make sure you donate something for them (they all have donation boxes). Also note the thug life shades this turtle on the side is wearing…
Next up that day was Madu River boat ride, which also makes it to the top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka (still wondering why). But before that, we “spontaneously” stopped at a water sports center for a mini-adventure with the tube ride – that was a quick 3 minutes of fun that I will remember only because of how cheap it was ($7 per person). Anyway, the Madu River runs around a lagoon that is made up of 64 little islets including the famous Cinnamon Island. The boat ride was below expectations because we were promised a ride through mangroves, which we didn’t get. But we did stop at Cinnamon Island to taste their cinnamon tea and buy fresh cinnamon for mom and co.
Day 7: Colombo + Airport
A traditional metropolitan, Colombo took my heart away the moment we entered the city. There was a sweet harmony between modern skyscrapers and traditional coconut stalls, the expensive Audis and the special tuk-tuks and the corporate working class walking side by side Buddhist monks. It was crowded and chaotic but there was a system in that chaos – a city I felt like I could adjust in for some reason. We spent only a couple of hours in Colombo, for shopping and lunch, before heading to the airport. Spent majority of the time at Odel – an integral part of Colombo’s shopping scene and a one-stop shop for souvenirs and local Sri Lankan goodies (tea, herbs, beauty products). You will obviously find the same things for much cheaper at the smaller stores but Odel is just a lot more convenient.
From here we went to airport, got onto the plane and came back to real life…
I have lots of stuff to tell my unbelievable trip to Sri Lanka so I tried to summarize it all in this post for my friends who keep asking me for “stories.”
Later, I’ll probably talk a little more in detail about my firsts on this trip, useful information for people who want to visit Sri Lanka and reviews of the places I stayed at (there are some interesting stories of my hotel stays).
For now, I’m recovering from post-vacation depression.