Sri Lanka – beach haven
Stayed: 21 days
When: 23 March – 14 April
We have never met anyone that has been to Sri Lanka or even talked to others keen to visit this country but to us it seemed like a perfect stepping stone from Thailand to India.
After arriving into Colombo, the capital, at 5.30 in the morning, we were driven along a new toll freeway in luxury, when compared to the terrible roads we had encountered in many parts of Asia. Our accommodation was two hours South of the capital past the city of Galle at a small but well established tourist town called Unawatuna. We stayed at the end of the kilometre long winding road that leads to the West end of the beach. The street is lined with guest houses, hotels, tourist shops, travel agents, corner stores, cooking classes, restaurants and bars. It has everything you need except for an ATM or a liqueur store.
The next three weeks were spent swimming at the beach, eating roti and a wickedly hot signature curry and getting to know the locals and vice versa. This was a welcome break from our previous few months of travel but the heat was unforgiving. We were told many times that ‘April is the hottest month in Sri Lanka’ and as March turned into April we all got sunburned at one point during our stay.
Long stay: 18 nights
Accommodation: two large double rooms in a homestay
Our homestay was more like a bed and breakfast than anything else. We had two large double rooms, one with air conditioning, on the second level of a 100 year old Dutch inspired homestead. The negative was the many mosquitoes but the positive made up for it; only 200 metres and we were standing on the Western end of the kilometre long beach.
The beach is lined with outdoor lounges, tables and chairs in front of the many restaurants and has two water sport businesses with jet skis for hire, one situated at each end of the beach.
- Jungle Beach – from the Western end of what can be described as the main beach, a well marked path can be taken over some rocky terrain to a tiny enclave where there is soft golden sand and much clearer water than that of the main beach. This beach sits below the large prominent Japanese Stupa built in memory of the Tsunami 10 years ago.
- Kataluwa Beach – This small area had men waiting to pose on the stand up fishing poles in the water. If you have a savvy tuk tuk driver he will negotiate a good price and you could even join one of them like our 13 year old did.
- Koggala Lake – we hopped on a boat to cruise around the lake and stopped on Cinnamon Island to see how this spice was harvested and prepared in its many forms. We also stopped at a small island with a Hindu temple and ended our trip with a visit to one of the many Herb Gardens.
- Turtle sanctuary – there are a number on the entire Island and the one we visited, in Koggala, had many large baths for injured and recovering older turtles, an egg incubation sand patch and pools for the hatchlings. Each day at 5pm, weather permitting, people can watch the staff release large groups of tiny turtles into the ocean.
- Old Galle Fort – a large fortress that hugs its way along the coast line on the Western headland facing Laccadive Sea. It can take from 45 minutes to one and a half hours to wander along the walkway to the lighthouse. Once there, keep heading North to the Old Dutch Hospital to sit in the courtyard and have a snack or beer.
- Marissa – a surfing beach 45 minutes East along the coast from Unawatuna. Along the way to this beach we saw surf schools set up revealing their Australian and Swedish partnerships. The level of accommodation drops to budget to cater for the backpacking surfer. We saw some great surfing and sat right at the waters edge for lunch. The only draw back is the restaurant prices are higher than those at Unawatuna.
In the final week we were treated to the best light and sound show as the monsoon weather started early. Fortunately, the rain eased the heat and the mosquitoes.
Short stay: 4 nights
Accommodation: triple room in a 2 star hotel on the beach
This city is about one hour North of Colombo. It is close to the airport and as a result draws many visitors for short stays, just like us. There is a range of accommodation available and a street lined with tour agents and eateries. We stayed in the tourist end of town well away from the centre.
The first thing we notice in Negombo is the many Catholic churches. All prominent and well positioned on large blocks of land, they are well kept.
Our hotel was under renovation and from the reports on line it has been for quite some time. It was old and had seen better days. The ceiling fan looked and sounded like it was going to drop from the roof. However, ignoring all of this, it was situated on a long stretch of coast line, had a large pool, the restaurants nearby had cheap food and the price of the hotel suited us even if the small double and single bed didn’t.
- Dutch Canal – called Hamilton Canal we checked this out from the land. This canal leads all the way to Colombo. Much of it is being renovated and would be a nice trip in cooler weather.
- Beach and surrounds – the sailing craft on the beach head out everyday as either working fishing craft or tourists boats that sail out to a large engine sticking out of the water. The water off Negombo beach is relatively shallow and after a ship wreck was cleared the large engine remained and I even saw this rusting block from the plane the morning we flew to India.
- The Sri Lankan signature curry is orange in colour, spicey and creamy in texture. We mostly had it with chicken or prawns and can be quite hot if ordered that way. It is sweet with a lovely aroma hinting at the many layers of spice. We never had a bad curry in either Unawatuna or Negombo, unlike Cambodia that is sometimes confused by it’s Thai neighbours influence.
- Roti – we ate freshly made roti nearly everyday for lunch. On the beach it is made as a large sheet and then folded into a square with the ingredients warmed inside, such as; last nights curry chicken, cheese or sweet varieties with fresh banana and chocolate melted over the top. Another variety we found was a thick chewy eight inch circle that could be ordered with coconut and chilli.
- Coconut Chilli Sambal – if you like chilli sambal with your meals then this tropical version is a winner. The coconut and chilli are finely chopped and combined in equal portions to make the perfect sweet and sour accompaniment to all good curry’s.
- Hoppers – mostly a breakfast dish, they are like a pancake that has been fried in a bowl and swirled to make a high crispy edge. We tried two varieties, the first, plain variety is great for children as they simply melt some butter in the middle, add some jam, fold them or roll them and eat them with their hands. Egg hoppers have the egg cooked on top when the batter is not quite cooked.
- String Hoppers – similar name and circular shape, they are totally different from pancake hoppers. They are made by pouring the mixture through a strainer into a steamer and then shaped into small round moulds during the cooking process.
Best experience as voted by the entire family:
- Chilling out on the beach. Also the adults voted the coconut chilli sambal as the best unique food we have ever tasted.
Worst experience as voted by the entire family:
- Tie between fighting off a smelly Komodo Dragon living in our roof in Unawatuna and the public bus ride back from Colombo. They are very unique experiences for all of us and not really that bad but nothing really bad happened to us in Sri Lanka.
We had KFC in Colombo while we waited for the visa office to open, it wasn’t the worst we have had but it also wasn’t the best.
Would we go back?
Yes, we would go back to both visit Unawatuna but also to see the mountains, elephants and temples near Kandy.
The people in Sri Lanka are wonderful however, the staff at the cafe’s and restaurants in Unawatuna did try to make more than they deserved. Once we knew this was happening we were just straight up with them and they looked very embarrassed.