Turning 30 had always been a big deal to me. I’m one of those people who loves birthday; the being spoilt rotten by family and friends, the cake, the celebrating ‘me’, the works. Safe to say, a lot of people (including myself!) were surprised by the fact that I wanted to be away and alone on my birthday.
With very high expectations of what I would experience on this trip, I thought to myself that there’d only be two outcomes. 1. I’d freak out and feel so lonely I’ll book the next flight back, or 2. I’d embrace all that this trip threw my way and become a completely changed woman. Safe to say I felt both things, but let me share with you the journey on this post before I dive into those detail in my next blog post.
Welcome onboard Sri Lanka through my eyes;
Day 1. Airport to Sigiriya.
I got a tour guide/driver for a few days in Sri Lanka. It was an expensive option but the most practical and logical thing to do, because I wanted to see and experience as much as I could take in. The 5 hours drive was a scenic one & I loved how it felt like something right out of the movies.
The people were generally really friendly and I was a bit of a novelty to them because I looked like one of them but spoke like ‘a white girl’. At almost every stop, I was asked if I’m Sri Lankan.
My first stop was the Minneriya National Park in Sigiriya and I have zero regrets of picking that instead of the Pinnawale elephant sanctuary.
It was so much magic! There’s something about elephants that I absolutely love and to be able to watch them in their natural surroundings was pretty fantastic. For those who’ve asked me, no, you can’t touch the elephants because these are wild elephants and not trained to be human friendly, which is another reason why I opted to go in this safari.
There were also some exotic birds and a very nice view of nature but my focus was on the elephants, especially the little week old baby one (shows in the bottom picture).
Called it a day after the safari & headed back to my AirBnB. I had booked this place solely for the lake view & I have no regrets. The room itself was standard and clean. It’s right next to a big hotel that shares the same lake view. Totally winning on getting the view without the hefty price tag!
The Lake House – Water Lily Room (on AirBnb).
Day 2: Sigiriya to Dambulla to Kandy.
Started the day early to hike up Sigiriya Rock, an ancient rock fortress that used to be a palace and later converted into a Buddhist monastery. There’s a long historical story behind it which you can pay a guide to tell you as you hike. As for me, the intention was to do two things I was terrified of together; be completely alone in a new place & to face my fear of heights.
It was all sorts of overwhelming but I made it to the top, and made a bunch of friends along the way;
Let me just say I’m the least athletic person I know and exercise for me is walking from my room to the fridge so when I managed to accomplish this two hour hike, my legs were jelly and my heart was full of pride.
Once I was done, Nalaka drove towards Dambulla to the Golden Temple which was about 20 minutes away to see the gorgeous huge Buddha statue;
The black blobs you see on Buddha’s chin is actually bees nests. It was insane how massive it was. I also learnt that you shouldn’t have your back turned towards the statue as it’s a sign of disrespect.
We then drove to the Golden Cave Temple. It was also a bit of a hike up, so with my jelly legs at this point, I took my time climbing up and taking in the gorgeous surroundings before I reached the temple;
Five separate caves contain about 150 absolutely stunning Buddha statues and paintings, some of Sri Lanka’s most important and evocative religious art. Buddha images were first created here over 2000 years ago, and over the centuries subsequent kings added to and embellished the cave art.
I asked a vendor which way to take to go back down fastest as there was the way I came from, and another path that a lot of tourists were taking & was told to follow the tourists. Big mistake – I had walked back to the Golden Temple (with the big Buddha statue) that I had originally drove from.
Safe to say my legs were no longer functional and I had to get to Kandy which was 2 and a half hours away, so we left. I then went to the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple. The golden-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha;
My advice is, always get a guide for historical sites because the amount of information, stories and insights they can provide truly makes the entire experience.
The next place I stayed at was a little out of the town area but so incredibly worth it;
By far my most favourite place to stay on this entire trip. Riverview-Kandy on AirBnB.
I had a gorgeous room; big and clean and most importantly with the view of the Mahaweli river right outside my door – the longest river in Sri Lanka. The hosts Irean & Chris were absolutely lovely and made me feel right at home.
She cooked up an absolute storm for breakfast. Hands down best meal I had in Sri Lanka.
Day 3: Nuwara Eliya – Ella.
After breakfast, we were off to Nuwara Eliya, which is a 3 hour drive. Its a mountain area so the drive was very scenic – with lush plants and waterfalls;
Stopped at the Shri Bhakta Hanuman Temple. It was a quite simple temple, with a huge black Hanuman statue (unlike anything I’ve ever seen before). It is said that this is the place where Hanuman landed looking for Sita over 7000 years ago.
I finally got to use some of my Tamil skills while talking to the guy selling the archanai, & he told me this story (in Tamil) which I found online to also share because I thought it was so interesting;
“One day Sita mata was wearing a red powder in the parting of her hair. Curiously Hanuman asked mata, what was the red powder that she was wearing. Sita mata replied “Hanuman! This is sindoor. Sindoor makes Lord Rama happy and would bless him with a long and prosperous life.” Listening to this Hanuman disappeared from the place. Hanuman came back with his body fully covered with red sindoor. He covered his entire body, even his clothes and hair with sindoor. Lord Rama saw Hanuman covered with sindoor and asked the reason. Hanuman replied “Sita mata told me that by applying just a small pinch of sindoor on her head every day it will make you have a long and happy life. I thought if just a pinch will do so much, what will happen if I cover my entire body with sindoor.” Thus, Lord Ram gave a boon to all his devotees that those who apply sindoor to Hanuman and observe hanuman puja with sindoor would be blessed with a long, happy life and have their wishes fulfilled. For this reason sindoor is mixed in til (sesame) oil and applied to the entire body of Lord Hanuman. People take back a little sindoor from Lord Hanuman as prasada and wear it on their foreheads.”
After the temple (& making friends with more doggos along the way), we drove to the centre of Nuwara Eliya which was ridiculously cold. Maybe I’m exaggerating because I’m not a fan of cold weather, but do have a jacket to keep you warn. I ended up having to buy one.
The place reminded me a little bit of Cameron Highlands with all the tea plantations, misty air and pretty plants. In all honesty, the tea plantations were beautiful but didn’t top my list of things to see. Plus, I had a train ride to catch to Ella.
Almost everyone I spoke to about Sri Lanka has raved about the train ride. I didn’t manage to get 1st Class tickets (which is what most tourists take) but took 2nd class instead. It was cramped and no seats, I couldn’t appreciate the scenic views because there wasn’t enough space, groups of boys were walking up and down then standing by the door which makes it less safe for any female solo traveling to do the same (saw them harass a local girl) and they also serenaded the passengers while drumming against the train and singing Tamil songs.
In all honesty, that was the experience and I’m not complaining. I stood for 2 hours of the 2 and a half hour ride & when I finally sat down made friends with a group of Indian aunties who were so amused by me.
They were so cute and took care of, even shared their food with me (bless them!) and gave me hugs and wished me luck and told me to find a Sri Lankan husband 🙂
From the Ella station, it’s a 45 minutes walk to the 9 Arch Bridge. The walk itself was stunning and I enjoyed making friends along the way. I even made them help me take Insta worthy pictures.
If possible do visit when a train is scheduled to pass on the bridge to get the full view of the blue train going across the bridge. Either way, it was really beautiful.
As it was the eve of my birthday, I decided to head to my hotel early to get sufficient rest before heading out again.
Ella Flower Garden Resort on AirBnB.
The room itself wasn’t impressive nor the cleanest, but the view of the mountain was really pretty. I personally wouldn’t recommend staying there but instead maybe go over for a drink or two.
Took a took took down to a rest-bar called Chill, which I highly recommend and made friends with a bunch of people who celebrated me turning 30.
Day 4: Ella to Colombo.
Headed to Colombo because I wanted to spend my birthday in the city and meet up with a family friend, Avi who was living there. I then realised I’m legit one of those people who aren’t impressed by city structures and that lifestyle especially during travel.
The drive down to Colombo was 5 hours & you’re probably tired of me saying this by now but the scenery was fantastic;
My favourite part of the whole trip? Stopping at a gemstone mine in Pelmadulla. Sri Lanka is known for its gemstones worldwide and it was such an amazing experience getting down to the actual mine itself.
Thanks to my driver, who went and spoke to the men working at the mine, they gave me a brief tour and tried to explain how the process works.
Its so amazing that they go down 8 to 10 meters and then proceed to go through the tunnel to get the gemstone soil before going through the whole process of cleaning and looking for stones. They actually send down a lit lantern down to see if the oxygen levels are okay for them to proceed to work.
If you’re ever at the mines and they offer you food, please say yes. Do it for yourself, and do it for me. I had a miscommunication with my driver because when I was offered, I had asked if there’d be enough food for everyone (because I didn’t want to take anyones food) and he said we’ll eat somewhere else.
Later I found out he assumed I didn’t want to eat in a hut because it was unclean. My life will never be the same again. The food smelt amazing.
Extra tip: Check if they have gemstones for sale. You can get it at such a steal!
Colombo, had it’s own city charms. I generally don’t quite understand the hype as much but thats also because I like more nature and historical places when it comes to travel. The sea-city divide however is pretty cool.
Spent most of the day just walking around and resting it up before heading out for the night. The nightlife is fairly decent and I enjoyed the bars I visited.
Day 5: Colombo.
Went around Colombo doing touristy things;
Seema Malaka Temple; The temple is mainly used for meditation and rest, rather than for worship.
Gangaramaya Temple; The temple’s architecture demonstrates an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture.
We then took a tuk tuk to Pettah (which reminds me of Masjid India) to see the Red Mosque.
Day 6: Galle.
Galle is a place I absolutely wanted to go to to check out the beaches. However, I did get ample warning from some locals that it may not be the safest to travel there alone because I might get harassed. Just like magic, this beautiful human being named Divya reached out to me via Instagram welcoming me to Sri Lanka and letting me know she was in Colombo.
I shamelessly invited her to travel Galle with me and to my delight, she said yes. That was the start of a beautiful friendship right there.
Galle Fort; Must visit for the history and view, as well as the quaint yet hipster-like shops around the area. Absolutely loved the vibe, did a little bit of shopping (because beach clothes win!) and had some gelato.
Unawatuna Beach; it’s probably the most famous beach on the stretch and has the most tourists but I loved it the most as well. The vibe was great – the sand, super soft, the water was swimming-friendly & the waves weren’t too intense. To top it off, friendly beach dogs who wanted belly rubs!
Day 7: Galle to Colombo
It was a great idea to get a driver for the trip because it made it easier to stop & explore other beaches along the way. But our first stop was my favourite;
There’s tons of sea turtle sanctuaries but this one in particular came recommended so we decided to check it out. Absolutely no regrets! The guys taking care of the place were passionate about the turtles and the work they do.
To top it off, they rescue the turtles that can’t survive in the wild and take care of them. For the love of the ocean you guys, please don’t throw rubbish on the beach. Especially plastic bags because turtles mistaken them for jellyfish and eat them 😦
Balapitiya Beach; As much as I liked this secluded beach & the really cool tire swing that I attempted to swing from several times, it might just be a bit too secluded for two girls to be at with a bunch of beach men standing around and watching. Though there was a hotel situated there, after awhile it got uncomfortable, so we just left. I would recommend it for a group of people though (safety reasons and all).
Kosgoda Beach; this beach was a secluded one too, and I loved the rocky area where the waves were crashing, it looked like something right out of a Tamil movie music video with A.R.Rahman music in the background. Also there was absolutely no one there except for a family that runs a turtle sanctuary nearby.
The weather was crazy hot (which I will take over cloudy any day at the beach) and the beach wasn’t swimming friendly (though I did jump in for a bit, because necessary).
Drove back to Colombo after beach-hunting and ended up visiting this gorgeous Lord Shiva temple & Ganesha temple next to it;
Day 9: Colombo & back to Malaysia.
The last day in Colombo was just filled with some last minute souvenir shopping. I fell in love with a few things/places that I’d definitely recommend;
– Barefoot; which is basically a store that sells hand woven and designed fabric that has been turned into stuff like bed linen, table decor, toys and as well as books from local Sri Lankan authors.. There’s also an exclusive range of sarees and clothes that were gorgeous and totally not within my budget.
– Munchee Milk Short Cake Biscuits; Thanks to Divya, I absolutely fell in love with these and ended up buying 15 packets back. Absolutely delicious on its own and with tea. You can get them in almost all the small stores. I also carried a pack of them in my bag to feed the stray dogs I made friends with.
Also these Sri Lankan food you have to try;
For those of you planning to travel to Sri Lanka and book AirBnBs, if your a first time user you can get RM120 in travel credit when you sign up using my code; HERE!
Also, if you need a tour guide/driver I’d definitely recommend this guy; Nalaka +94 (77) 031 0737
This pretty much wraps up all the amazing things I saw and experienced in Sri Lanka throughout my 9 days there, & even with me cutting it down is a lot to take in. I’ll do another post on turning 30 in Sri Lanka, the full experience and what it taught me soonest.
Now excuse me while I indulge in the rest of my cookies and tea from Sri Lanka as you read this post 🙂