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Set your sights on Sri Lanka

Published May 11th, 2015

A jewel in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is jam-packed with ancient sites, fascinating culture, beautiful wilderness and idyllic beaches. From the ancient Anuradhapura city and the well-preserved Polonnaruwa ruins to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and the impressive Sigiriya rock fortress, Sri Lankan culture spans more than 2,000 years and still remains vibrant and alive today. Trek through lush tea plantations, indulge in seafood feasts in quaint fishing villages and dip your toes in the calm, clear waters of Mirissa beach on this all-encompassing adventure for those seeking a unique travel experience, writes Student Flights National Marketing Executive Sharna.

 

Sharna drinking tea in the mountains.

 

Where did you go in Sri Lanka?

All over! My tour was amazing to get a full taste of what Sri Lanka has to offer. Departing from Negombo, the round trip circled through the country's top spots, from bustling cities to awe-inspiring ancient sites to the luscious tea-picking villages up in the mountains and all the way back down to the beautiful beachside surfing and fishing towns along the coast.

 

Kandy Train Station

 

How did you travel around?

Our tour was great for experiencing all sorts of local ways of getting around. Most of the time we were on a small group coach that had a cool '70s vibe and was decked out in awesome Hindu trinkets. Throughout the trip though we travelled by tuk-tuk, train and rode the local bus, which was a great experience. We also did a few hikes, swam in beautiful waterfalls and picked wildflowers. The countryside is really pretty.

 

Sharna and her favourite family on the mountain hike.

 

What were your first impressions of Sri Lanka and did that change over the course of your trip?

I’d heard a few good things from surfy mates before I visited, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect. First impressions: touching down in Colombo was busy, but certainly the more I got out and about, the more I fell in love with the country. The people are so warm and friendly – I’ve never really connected with the locals in a country as much as I did in Sri Lanka. It’s a really cool place.

 

Lion Rock - check out the claws!

 

What was the most breathtaking spot you saw in Sri Lanka?

Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) – an impressive ancient palace fortress built on top of a 200 metre-high rock, located in the central Matale District, near the town of Dambulla. I get the impression the king was like an ancient Hugh Hefner, living in a glorious palace with all of his wives, until most of the population abandoned the city following the king’s death and it was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. You walk about 1,200 steps to get up to the top, but the 360-degree views are spectacular. It’s crazy to imagine what it would have looked like in its glory days.

 

The fresh ingredients for a local cooking class.

 

What were some of the most memorable activities you did in Sri Lanka?

  • Cooking experience with a local familyusing local produce and cooking on traditional clay pot stoves, we cooked up a traditional feast! Great fun.
  • KandyLocated in the central province, Kandy is a beautiful town about 500 metres above sea level that is surrounded by lush countryside. While a little chaotic in peak hour, Kandy is a rich cultural and religious hub that also holds a beautiful sense of peace and calm. The Temple of the Tooth is a must-do experience in Kandy.
  • Spice gardens and tea plantations – Sri Lanka is famous for spice gardens and tea plantations, both making up its biggest exports. Getting to spend time with locals, learning about the healing properties of Eastern medicine, while eating amazing locally made curries and drinking tea, is a lovely way to spend the day.

 

Temple of the Tooth

 

What did you take the most photos of?

Ancient sites! Cycling around the 1,000-year-old Polonnaruwa temple complex lent itself to many photo opportunities, as did the Dambulla Caves and Sigiriya. The rich history, culture and melting pot of religious influences makes for such a vibrant experience and loads of amazing photo opportunities.

 

A Hindu blessing before hiking.

 

What surprised you most about Sri Lanka?

The wildlife and diverse landscape. We saw elephants in the wild. How cool is that? We also visited Uda Walawe National, an orphanage for baby elephants that had been abandoned by their mothers. They are looked after until they’re strong enough to enter the wild. You can only watch from afar, but it's fun to see them play and chug massive yard jugs of milk!

The constantly changing landscape was also a surprise. On minute it’s red dir and temples, the next it’s misty, luscious mountainside with green tea plantations as far as your eye can see, massive eucalyptus trees (like the big gums in Australia) and then chillaxed beachside bungalows. Sri Lanka really does have it all.

 

Sri Lankan food with our guide, Bruno.

 

What was the number one thing you took away from your trip to Sri Lanka?

The people are just the coolest. It really makes you appreciate how lucky you are when the people you meet don’t even have roofs on their houses but they’re still smiling ear-to-ear, and the most welcoming and generous people you’ve ever met. Everyone I met melted a little piece of my heart – hanging with the locals was definitely the highlight of my trip.

 

The lush tea plantations in Sri Lanka.

 

What are your top tips for someone thinking of travelling to Sri Lanka?

Touring with a local guide is the way to travel! The roads are kinda crazy in Sri Lanka, and it’s not really signposted for tourists once you get out in the countryside, so having a local guide to get you around means you get to see the local gems, eat awesome street food and meet such cool people. It really allows you to enjoy it.

Another thing when it comes to ordering food  - be patient. I wasn’t sure about the prospect of eating curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the truth is, the food was so fresh. I definitely missed it when I got home. Often when you order, your host will go to the market and buy the produce fresh, so it can take a little longer – but it’s so worth it! Try as much local food as you can – hoppers, curry, roti – yum!

 

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