5 Reasons Sri Lanka Should Be Your Next Travel Destination 

There’s no doubt about it – Sri Lanka has something to offer everyone. Whether you are a backpacker on a budget, mid-range traveler, or enjoy a more luxurious holiday, Sri Lanka caters to all.

Regardless of your preferred travel style, we’ve complied a list of 5 reasons Sri Lanka should be next on your ‘to-travel’ list.

1. Variety - There is Something for Everyone

Maybe you enjoy hiking and nature – you can spend some time in Ella. Perhaps you prefer a beach vacation – check out Tangalle for a quiet, peaceful escape from reality, or Unawatuna for a more upbeat vibe. If wildlife is your jam – go on safari in either Uda Walawe National Park or Yala National Park, or whale watching in Mirissa. If you are a culture and history buff, there are temples and 8 Unesco World Heritage Sites scattered across the island. If you’d rather stay at a 5 star hotel with a pool and spa services, you can find that too. However you like to spend a vacation, Sri Lanka will not disappoint.

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Little Adam’s Peek, Ella
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Uda Walawae National Park
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Long Walks on the Beach, Tangalle
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Luxurious 98 Acres Resort, Ella
2. Beauty - The Natural Landscape is Unbelievably Beautiful  

The rolling hills and lush green tea gardens of Ella, grasslands of Uda Walawe National Park, and stretches of seemingly untouched beach in Tangalle are absolutely stunning. Not only is the scenery beautiful, it often feels uncrowded, untouched, and like you have discovered a secret that isn’t out yet.

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Green, Green, Green
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Tea Plantations in Ella
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Sunset in Tangalle
3. Friendly People - Locals are Hospitable and Kind

Every experience we had with locals was pleasant. There are home stays popping up all over the country, in which Sri Lankan families open a room in their home or guest house for a very reasonable price. The hosts often prepare breakfast and dinner if requested, help arrange tours and transportation, and are happy to share their knowledge about Sri Lanka. Hospitality in Sri Lanka is top-notch!

4. Tasty Food - Fruit, Curries, Seafood

There is nothing better than fresh fruit, grown locally. A heaping fruit plate is the best way to start each day! A traditional breakfast in Sri Lanka usually includes a fruit plate, coconut sambol, dhal curry, roti, and rice. You can also order hoppers, string hoppers, and pancakes filled with honey and caramelized coconut. Sri Lankan curry dishes for dinner are delicious, featuring local spices and vegetables. Along the coast, the ‘catch of the day’ seafood is the best I’ve ever had. If you get tired of Sri Lankan food, there is always a good pizza place!

5. Affordability - It's So Cheap! 

When traveling, Matt and I definitely fall into the mid-range category. We enjoy a holiday that doesn’t break the bank, but are happy paying for conveniences and some luxuries (within reason). To give you an idea, we treated ourselves by spending 100 CAD per night at Mangrove Beach Cabanas for a beachfront cabana with a porch, day bed, outdoor shower, hot water, ceiling fan, and mini-fridge. Considering we could have booked a home stay 10 minutes from the beach for 25USD, this was a splurge! Overall, our 8 night trip cost less than 3,000 CAD including flights, accommodations, drivers, all activities, meals, drinks, and souvenirs.

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What Are You Waiting For? – To Beach!

 

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Taking Our Time in Ella, Sri Lanka 

The 3 nights we spent in Ella were by far the best part of our short trip to Sri Lanka! We moved at a slow pace, enjoyed out downtime, and simply enjoyed the fresh air and lush greenery.

Here is a list of tips for traveling to Ella – things to keep in mind when planning, activities to add to your list, and suggestions of places to eat.

Accommodations

Get a room with a view: 

There is no shortage of accommodation options in Ella, from luxury hotels to budge-friendly home stays. Our recommendation: spend a little bit more for a room with a view. Waking up to the mountains, enjoying breakfast on the balcony, and watching the sunset is worth every penny.

For two nights we stayed at a small hotel called Laura. The room and view of Ella Gap were spectacular. The location was also great for hiking to Ella Rock and walking into town for dinner, drinks, or tea shopping.

For the third night, we moved to a guest house called Ella Ridge View. It was closer to Little Adam’s Peak and a short tuk-tuk ride (200 rupees) or walk to town. We had a spacious cottage with a balcony and scenic view for only 44USD. Breakfast was by far the best we had in all of Sri Lanka, and the staff were exceptionally hospitable.

Both locations were incredible – highly recommended!

Activities

Hike to Ella Rock: 

Depending on your fitness level, walking from Ella Town to the summit of Ella Rock and back will take anywhere from 2.5 – 4hrs.

To get there, we followed the railroad track to the bridge and took a left after the Hindu temple. We were greeted by a small group of locals, including a police officer, and shop owner selling refreshments. Initially, we started our hike up the well-traveled path alone, but quickly realized that we were going to get lost in the tall grass. In that moment, a woman magically appeared and said “follow me.” Naturally, we did. She guided us all the way to the top, talking to us about her life and family. She told us it was her second time up that day. To top it off, she was wearing flip flops and barely broke a sweat! We paid her 2,500 Rupees – money well spent. There were others without a guide, but we were happy to have the company and to help her out.

Hike to Little Adam’s Peak in the Morning:

Little Adam’s Peak was less challenging than our hike to Ella Rock, and equally if not more beautiful. You can either start from 98 Acres Resort or follow the path and signs at Ella Flower Garden. The hike is well marked from either direction, and you can expect a combination of dirt path and concrete stairs. When you get to the top, there is a second peek that is worth hiking to, but this part was very steep and more challenging.

I would recommend doing this hike in the morning. When we left out hotel at 6AM, the sun had just risen and the temperature was perfect. There were very few tourists at the top, but we met lots on the way down, so getting an early start seemed to be worth it. We were back at our hotel by 8AM, just in time for breakfast!

Watch the Train at Nine Arches Bridge:

Continue walking along the road past 98 Acres Resort until you see the sign for Nine Arches Bridge. Follow the signs, ask some locals when you get lost, and don’t worry when you start walking through what feels like someone’s backyard. Eventually, you will be guided to the perfect lookout point. There were chairs, benches, and a smiling man selling cold drinks. Check the train schedule to make sure you are there on time! When we got to the bottom, the rain clouds were rolling in quickly, so we decided to take a tuk-tuk ride back to town. It was the most beautiful ride and our driver stopped along the way for us to take some pictures.

Get a Massage at 98 Acres Spa & Resort:

So peaceful, relaxing, and rejuvenating, especially after a long day of hiking! It was expensive, Sri Lankan standards, but worth it! Looking out over the tea plantations while getting a massage was such a unique experience.

Where to Eat

Unwind at Cafe 98

Ya… it’s more expensive than other places in Sri Lanka, but it’s amazing. The atmosphere, beer options (Lion Stout), and food is superb. If your looking for a place to have a cup of tea, wait out the rain, or have a cold one after your hike to Adam’s Peak – this is a great spot! Plus, you can’t beat this view.

 

Eat, Drink, and Chat at Chill Cafe:

All the tourists are doing it. The mojitos, carrot ginger soup, and Sri Lankan dishes are delicious. It’s a great place to chat with other travelers and hangout. Great atmosphere!

Smoke Shisha at Cafe Guru:

They have a shisha lounge, open concept kitchen, chill house music, massive portion sizes, and the perfect combination of Sri Lankan dishes and western options if you are craving a pizza! It’s a bit farther along the road, and much quieter than some of the other restaurants in town. Don’t let the quietness deceive you.

Have a Mango Shake at Garden View Restaurant

After our hike to Ella Rock, we were craving a cool, refreshing drink. Along the train tracks as you approach town, there is a little restaurant called Garden View Restaurant. We had a delicious fresh mango shake! It’s the perfect spot for a bite to eat or cool drink before or after trekking to Ella Rock.

 

Overall, our time in Ella was the perfect combination of hiking, relaxing, eating, and drinking. We fell in love with this beautiful hill town, and highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Sri Lanka!

Appreciating the Small Things in Sri Lanka

Since arriving in Sri Lanka, I’ve found myself noticing and appreciating seemlingly small things that likely would have passed me by before. 

More than ever, I feel in tune with my surroundings. I’m sure it is partly due to slowing down, and taking time to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors around me. I’m also sure that since moving to Qatar, I’ve been desperately missing so many of these things without even realizing it.

The Sounds of Life: 

Right now we are sitting on our balcony, just listening. Besides the rain drops hitting the grass roof, I can hear frogs, birds, crickets and other insects, dogs barking, laughter, soft chattering that I can’t make out, a television program coming from somewhere in the distance, pots and pans in the kitchen next door, and tuk-tuks reving their engines. It’s like music.

Living Creatures:

Birds, dogs, cats, lizards, snakes, insects, monkeys, elephants, water buffalos, wild bores, crocodiles, crabs, fish, you name it, we’ve seen it. Besides elephants, the dogs have been my favorite. They are on every street corner, on the steps of every restaurant, waiting for tired tourists at the top of each hike, rolling in the sand on the beach, and curled up under the table at breakfast, lunch, and dinner (waiting patiently for a taste). All of the pups we’ve encountered have been so friendly, playful, and sweet. 

Color: 

Everything is vibrant, so colorful, and beautiful. The clothing, the houses, the fruit, the markets, the buses and tuk-tuks, the flowers, the landscape, and the people. In Qatar, where the buildings come in many shades of beige, I’ve been deprived of color. I realize now how happy hues of blue, pink, yellow, and red make me feel! 

Specifically, the Color Green:

Of all the colors in Sri Lanka, my most favorite is green. The shades of green, especially in Ella, are breathtaking. I’ve caught myself many times staring into the hills and tea gardens, completely mesmerized by the amount of green. The natural landscape in this country is unbelievably beautiful. 

Rain:

When most people go on vacation, the thought of rain is dreadful, and a few days of rainfall could ruin an entire trip. Those people have obviously never lived in a desert climate before! Surprisingly, the almost daily afternoon rainfall on our trip hasn’t bothered me one bit. It is peaceful, cools the air, and forces us to truly relax.

Local Produce: 

There is nothing better than fresh mango, bananas, and papaya grown in the backyard. The fruit smoothies and fruit plates are flavorful and delicious and all grown locally. The curry dishes are made with beet root, green beans, eggplant, and whatever vegetables are in season. On the coast, the menu features the catch of the day – fish, prawns, calamari. Whatever the fishermen brought in is what you get. 

In just a few days, Sri Lanka has helped me recognize the small things in life that I’ve come to appreciate most.  Never again will I take these for granted! 

Bangkok & Beaches, Thailand

Matt and I have both been aching for Thailand since we left in June 2013. Since leaving, we’ve dreamed of the next time we would be back. We’ve imagined what it would be like to visit our favorite beaches, favorite restaurants, and favorite street vendors (and sincerely hoped they would still be there)!

I wasn’t at all surprised that arriving in Bangkok felt like coming home. Kind of like when we were kids and we would spend a week, or even a weekend, away from home. As we drove past Plainville School my heart would be pounding, anticipating the view of Rice Lake, the long windy hill into the village, our gravel drive-way leading up to Lilac Lodge and all the changes Nana and Grandpa had made in the house. Pulling onto Sukhumvit in stop-and-go traffic felt remarkably similar.

Our two week itinerary was extremely slow paced and gave use plenty of time to do all of the things we love without rushing or having to wake up early (sleep is very important for teachers on vacation!). We wandered Bangkok in search of craft beer (which doesn’t exist in Doha), visited some of our favorite shops and Chatuchak Market, ran some errands (things that are more affordable in Thailand compared to Qatar – like glasses, contact lenses and gluten-free cooking supplies), shopped for art, relaxed on the beach, got massages (sometimes more than one a day), went to yoga, logged a few dives, rented a motorbike and ate so much delicious food.

Our Itinerary:

Bangkok (3 nights): 

We spent our first night in BKK with a friend from ISB having dinner, drinks and catching up on Soi 8. The next morning she headed home to Canada for the holidays, but kindly offered her apartment as our home-base. It was perfect and filled with Mexican art because she used to live in Monterrey! It was so cozy, central and exactly what we needed to kick start our slow-paced vacation.

We went to Cabbages and Condoms for lunch (which is always yummy and entertaining), rode the BTS, spent an afternoon at Chatachuk  weekend market shopping for spices, essential oils and art, ate an amazing Indian dinner at Charcoal Tandoor Grill on Soi 11 (highly recommended) and discovered CRAFT on Soi 23. It was a bit pricey, but considering Matt’s love for beer, we parked our butts here all night long.

Koh Lipe (4 nights): 

A bit off the beaten path compared to some of Thailand’s most popular beaches, Koh Lipe is by far the most beautiful island I’ve been to in Thailand and definitely worth the trek to get there. The entire island is walkable, the beaches are incredible, the food was amazing, drinks from Happy Vibe Bar and Cast Away Resort went down smoothly everyday and I found an adorable yoga studio called Kierita’s Yoga next to our hotel with Ashtanga Yoga classes every morning. We only stayed for 4 nights, but could have easily parked ourselves on Sunset Beach for weeks.

Koh Lanta (5 nights): 

I don’t know how I never made it to Koh Lanta when I was living in Thailand. Do I ever regret it! It was wonderful. Much larger and more developed than some of the other islands, which means it was completely different than Koh Lipe, but it had so much to offer.

We stayed at a lovely guest house called Cozy Guesthouse, which is run by a friendly Swedish couple and their Thai staff. The room was comfortable and spacious, the service was great and the breakfast and lunch options were delicious. Within walking distance we found Pra Ae Beach, Dive and Relax (one of the top rate dive shops on the island), and a variety of restaurant options. On the days we weren’t diving, we rented a motorbike and used it to tour around the island. I used the bike to drive myself to morning yoga classes at Oasis Yoga.  We visited with old friends from Thailand, spent Christmas Day and had dinner with colleagues from Doha, and soaked up some sunshine before heading back to the city.


Bangkok
(3 nights): 

Back in Bangkok and our friend had other guests at her place so we stayed at a hotel on Soi 21 (next to Terminal 21). While I can’t recommend the hotel, the location was great – close to the BTS, CRAFT  (yes, we went back), and lots of street food options. We visited China Town and Pak Klong Talad (wholesale flower market) then walked to Koh San road for people watching, shopping fisherman style pants and cheap drinks. One evening we met up with some friends from Doha for dinner. They recommended a place called El Mercado, which was unreal. It was hands-down one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at. I’m still dreaming about the cheese platter, sausage spread and red wine. Matt got a suit made for our upcoming vow-renewal ceremony at Jesse & Son and I went to Villa Market to stock up on gluten-free baking and cooking supplies. On our last evening, we went to H&M to buy something to wear, freshened up in the mall bathroom and headed up to the Red Sky Rooftop Bar.

We said good bye to Bangkok with a glass of wine and beautiful sunset over the city. What a perfect way to end our vacation! Until next time, Thailand! See you soon!

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Bombay Bound and Feeling Brave

Excited, nervous, anxious… all feelings that I’m experiencing right now. I’ve read so many books that are set in India, read travel blogs, and heard stories from colleagues and people we’ve met traveling over the years about their time in India. I feel like I have somewhat of an idea of what to expect, but am trying to let go of all expectations and be completely open minded. I’ve been told over and over again, “Everyone’s experience in India is different. Everyone reacts differently to the sights, sounds and smells. Let go of all expectations… just let India be what it is for you.” I might love it, I might hate it. I’ll let you know tomorrow after a day of exploring!

It feels really odd to be traveling without Matt, or at least a familiar face (like Rebecca, who I miss traveling with so much)! The last time I got on a plane to go somewhere completely new and alone was my flight to Thailand in 2012. Since that year, independent travel hasn’t really been “my thing.” I had one terrifying experience in a Thai taxi in September 2012, and didn’t take a taxi alone until Uber came to Monterrey in 2015. I would hire the same two drivers who took me everywhere and was totally comfortable on the back of a motorbike, but every time I entertained the thought of getting into a taxi alone, anxiety paralyzed me.

Quickly after the taxi incident, I began to feel anxious about feeling anxious (silly, right?). An overwhelming sense of nervousness trickled into other areas of my life, making me feel reluctant to try new things, less confident in myself, and like I’d lost control of myself.

I’ve been recovering from that experience for years now, one step at a time. Now I have strategies to use when I feel my hands start to sweat and my heart start racing. Yoga has helped me learn to control my thoughts, or at least to let the negative ones go. Matt is almost always there to hold me tight, or put pressure on my chest (we call this squashing my elephant, haha). I can ride in a taxi alone (preferably an Uber, but it’s a step), and I’m learning the difference between my intuition and anxiety (this has been the most challenging). For the past year, I’ve started to feel like I have control again. At least most of the time.

The next step for me was to go back to Thailand… get into a taxi with the familiar smell of jasmine and lemongrass and Buddha images pinned to the ceiling, and see if I can do it. Ya, I could keep cool in a taxi in Canada or Doha, but could I do it in Thailand? I partially expected to get in the bright pink cab at the airport in a Bangkok and have a full on panic attack.

Fortunately, I got through two weeks in Thailand this past Christmas panic attack free. What a relief! After our holiday, I’m feeling even more so like my brave self again. It feels good.

Fast forward to India. As I was waiting in the immigration line, a Irish-Indian man asked me if it was my first time traveling to Mumbai. I told him yes, and that it was also my first time in India. He replied with,

“Alone? Bloody hell, you’re brave.”

Why, thank you. 🙂 Here I go!