My mother always told me to always wear a seat belt. So when the tuk-tuk driver named Yogi urged me to hold onto a metal bar and stick my head out the top of his glorified motorbike on three wheels, I was less than thrilled. But I had a cold Lion beer in hand, Backstreet Boys blaring on the primitive sound system and wind whipping through my hair on a balmy 90-degree day. Everything else was just about perfect, so why not throw a little caution to the wind?
This seems to be the mind-set many people have throughout Sri Lanka. Every face I met was smiling ear-to-ear, whether it was deep in the capital city of Colombo or high up in tea country. The chaos is embraced with vigor while maneuvering through packed streets via tuk-tuk or haggling for hopper pans at a busy market. It’s a different kind of bedlam, though, than some other Asian countries. It’s more approachable and manageable that puts you to ease with genuine kindness. Maybe it’s all the incredible wildlife running around, or the amazing food that fills you with flavor. Or just maybe it can’t be pinpointed and you have to experience it for yourself.
For years, I’ve been consumed with the idea of getting to see more of Asia. India is crazy high on my list, so when the opportunity to visit its somewhat sister country came along I couldn’t turn it down. I learned quickly though that these countries are apples and oranges. Or more so, Sri Lanka seems like a big old hot fudge sundae next to an apple.
The food alone in Sri Lanka easily stole my…stomach. They have deep yellow curries spilling over red hued rice. Sticky sweets on sticks and machete young coconuts to help hydrate. Cool lime juices and perfectly baked roti bread are stars of the show. I was deliciously satisfied eating mostly vegetarian while there, as they can curry anything to offer a wide range of choice, from beetroot and jackfruit to okra and lentil. Along the coast there’s plenty of fresh seafood options too. This is served by every side dish you could imagine, from crushed up coconut sambal to mallum made with kale and cabbage. For someone like me who’s a huge baby about spicy food, I found everything to be pretty manageable. Not to mention, I mastered (sort of) the art of eating with my fingers and dug into my banana leaves filled with curries like a local. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
So many first times
Most of the tropical places I’ve been to in the past are lacking wildlife. Sure there’s some pretty flowers and some big bugs like those described in this post about subterranean mud tubes, but that’s about it. As soon as we left the city and starting driving inland, I knew Sri Lanka would be a whole different story. I never really saw a wild monkey before, and I upped my count 1000% within just a week. They especially like to hang out near ancient ruins, Buddhist temples and sometimes parks where they can swipe food. They’re known to snag a smartphone or two also! The sheer number of wild buffalo, vivid peacocks, domestic cattle, and even countless dogs just floored me. Forget horrible zoos, daily life here is like living in the Jungle Book.
Only a few days in did I spot my first wild elephant, just hanging out on the side of the road on or way to the Dambulla Cave Temple. I squealed like the first time I petted a horse, the 10-year-old in me let loose and had to mentally restrain myself from running over and trying to be best friends.
We later visited the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home as well to find out about how Sri Lanka is working to rehabilitate and take care of baby elephants in a way so they can be integrated back into the wild. We watched the feedings from afar so now to disturb all the babies. But man, they make a noise like a dying monster truck. I can’t believe so much power comes from something so young!
Speaking of Udawalawe, I also knock something off my list there I never thought I would – surviving a monsoon. While outside. Most safaris through the Udawalawe National Park are wonderful, but on our particular day the heavens opened and it rained buckets for a few hours. While battling sideways gales coming through the side of the range rover, we snapped a few wet photos of buffalo, elephant and peacocks.
Towards the end of the trip I sit the ocean and was so, so excited to finally get my toes in the sand. We camped out at the super luxe Lantern hideaway in Mirissa, complete with private villas, infinity pools and a quick leap over the grass right to the beach. There I saw the prettiest sunset I think I ever have experienced first hand. But really, the next day was the one full of wild ocean creatures. That’s a story in itself though for another time.
The best thing I did in Sri Lanka that was a first, though, was a sunrise hot air balloon ride. It takes a lot for me to wake up in the single digits, let alone in complete darkness. But I did roll out of bed at 4AM, piled into the van and got to the launch site just as the first few rays were peek out over the horizon. I was handsomely rewarded with some otherworldly views of Sigiriya Rock and surrounding mountains. What was surprising was how quiet it is in a giant balloon, without a motor and far away from the buzzing life below.
So when do we leave?
Luckily, if you’re really keen on starting to plan a Sri Lankan adventure, Thompson Holidays is giving away a £500 voucher toward a journey to Sri Lanka from London. All you have to do is provide a few sentences on why you’d do anything to visit this gorgeous place.
But don’t worry my American comrades, I have a prize pack you can win too for a taste of Sri Lanka delivered right to your door. Although I tackled Sri Lanka with just a tiny suitcase, I was able to stow away a few fun souvenirs. Go take a peek at Crooked Flight AND Pure Wander on Facebook – liking the pages and sharing both giveaway posts will give you double entries. Score. Enter Below!
I was a guest of the Sri Lanka Tourism Board for my incredible trip to their country. All of these opinions about the trip are completely my own.