Around the Globe: Sri Lanka Top 10 Places to Visit
Posted on 18 October 2016
The famous Dalai Lama once said, "Once a year, travel somewhere you've never been before." Luckily being based in Hong Kong means we have the luxury of traveling to another country with a short flight and access to many public holidays. Say yesss to weekend trips!
In the Indian Ocean lies the island of Sri Lanka, the origin of Ceylon tea and native land of cinnamon. This beautiful country offers a diverse landscape of beaches with caramel colored sand, lush tea plantations, thick jungles and World UNESCO sites. Below is a list of our Top 10 picks for Sri Lanka.
1. Galle Face Hotel, Colombo
The Galle Face Hotel was opened in 1864, it is situated next to the popular beach in Colombo. The grandeur of the colonial architecture makes us especially appreciative when sipping a cuppa. Try the Traveller's Bar for a cocktail in the evening for a view of the Indian Ocean, it's a perfect way to let the holiday mood sink in!
Photo: Galle Face Hotel
2. Cafe Kumbuk, Colombo
With the abundance of temples and shrines found in Sri Lanka, it is only appropriate to find some time to focus on spirituality. Found in the district of Colombo 7 is the Prana Lounge. Prana Lounge is a yoga and mediation studio offering classes to find your inner Zen. We didn't have time to show off our inner Yogi, but there is always time for food! Inside Prana Lounge is Cafe Kumbuk, a great little cafe offering fuel after class. All items on the menu are created lovingly with local and organic ingredients. Our favorite is the Spiced Chai Milk and the Sea Bass!
Photo: @cafekumbuk3. Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy
A World Heritage Site, Temple of Tooth is a pilgrimage many Buddhists will make. The architecture and decorative interiors itself are worth a visit. Just make sure you are wearing the appropriate clothing. We suggest sandals so it is easy to slip off and put in your bag when entering the temple. There is also a counter to store your shoes just in case. Visitors and devoters can only view the Buddha's tooth from a distance, but most will also purchase a selection of flowers available outside the temple as an offering. The Magul Maduwa (an audience hall part of the historical Royal Palace) located in the same compound is also a great place to take time for some reflection.
4. Royal Botanical Garden, Peradeniya
We consider ourselves nature lovers, especially since we live in a concrete jungle, so we will take any chance we get to sit on a patch of grass! The park offers more than just a spot for a picnic; there are plenty of greenery and animals too. There's a lane for palm trees and bamboo forests as well as greenhouses of cacti and orchids. Although we didn't stumble across it, Queen Elizabeth II had planted a tree in the garden to mark her visit. Stop by for a pleasant stroll and a breath of fresh air!
Photo: Lanka Houses
5. Lion rock, Sirigaya
Sirigaya was an ancient city which holds a lot of history and archeological value. It is most well known for the UNESCO Site of Lion's rock which was once a palace and also used as a Buddhist monastery. The structures of the gardens and fresco paintings can still be seen on the site. This is a great place for some exercise, the hike up and down took us only 1 hour. A good spot to stop for pictures is half way up where lion claws mark the beginning of another gateway. Before entering Sirigaya make sure you load up on food to bring on the hike!
Photo: Ampers & Travel
6. Train ride from Kandy to Ella
There is something romantic about train travel, it often brings a contemplative mood. From the train stubs manually stamped with our destination to the old school schedule on the wall, this was our preferred mode of transport from town to town. If you're well organised, first or second tickets class can be reserved ahead of time online or at the station. First class has A/C, but if you're after taking some great pictures, second class allows you to crack open a window. Unreserved second class is also a great option too, but be prepared to stand the entire ride or shuffle around as people pass thru. The trip from Kandy and Ella passes thru beautiful scenery of valleys and fields of tea. Our pictures don't do it justice.
7. Heritance Tea Factory, Kandapola
As soon as we arrived at Heritance, we felt as if we were in a classic novel. The fields of green surrounding the old factory building and the little cottage that produces tea for the hotel, made us fall in love. During our stay, we gathered tea leaves and went on a nature walk to understand the surrounding ecosystem guided by the hotel's friendly staff. This experience convinced us that we could become a country mouse...someday. We can definitely spend more time sipping a cup of Orange Pekoe and gazing at the colorfully dressed workers picking tea buds under the cloudless blue sky. Did we mention that you can also book a private dinner on an old train car on the premises?
8. Bazaar and Manjari, Galle
In our opinion, the best souvenirs are ones which can be used or consumed. Sri Lanka is most famous for Ceylon tea and spices. Our tuktuk driver said the local market has the best quality tea, not the shops at tourist attractions. Often you will be paying a premium for packaging and tea dust normally used for fertiliser. Locals rarely (if ever) drink tea from teabags. At the local bazaar we managed to pick up some fish curry spices and a bundle of sweet cinnamon under US$5. Another place our driver brought us to was the Manjari store, great for saree and clothing shopping. Since the prices are already marked, we didn't have to worry about bargaining. For 3 sarees, our bill total came out to be under US$35! Shop til you drop.
9. Unawatuna beach, Unawatuna
Sri Lanka is a popular spot amongst the newlywed and couples most probably because of the beautiful landscape and beaches. Although there is an obvious artificiality from the hotels and local ladies trying to sell you elephant scarves, Unawatuna beach is still one of our favorite spots. The beach is kept clean. The fine sand and blue ocean completes a picturesque view. A full day can be spent there with good options for meals, priced slightly higher than the local joints but still considerably cheap. For a memorable view at sunset, you could also take a hike to the Peace Pagoda, a gift from the Japanese.
10. Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya, Unawatuna
We had no expectations when our tuktuk driver brought us to the Yatagala temple, but soon afterwards we realise why he had taken us off our beaten path. This temple is over 2000 years old and was built under a rock. The rock is structured as part of the temple's roof and ornate floral patterns are painted on top. This temple maybe modest, but it is definitely a gem. Don't forget to visit the mediation buddha outside!