Down the street from India and around the corner from the Maldives lies the land nicknamed ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’. This name is not one given to the island lightly; surrounded almost entirely by white sandy beaches and framed by beautiful, orange sunrises and sunsets - out of the Indian Ocean and into the Bay of Bengal – Sri Lanka is indeed a traveller’s paradise. Beyond fun in the sun and surf, there's plenty to see and do. The country is home to a number of attractions of historical and cultural significance, such as its eight UNESCO World Heritage sites which include the sacred cities of Anuradhapura and Kandy, and the Golden Temple of Dambulla, among others. There are also a number of national parks, where visitors can see a plethora of leopards, sambar, exotic birds and, of course, elephants in their natural state. And if a visit to the parks doesn't fill your need to make the elephant connection, a trip to either of the country's two main elephant orphanages will! Yes, Sri Lanka is an amazing place but it isn’t without its issues, however. Years of civil conflict between the Government and the Tamil Tigers, though ended, mean questionable security in a few remote areas, while the 2004 tsunami certainly left the place worse for wear in a number of coastal communities. That aside, though, a visit to Sri Lanka is an opportunity to experience a culture that is often overshadowed or confused with that of its neighbour to the north; sure, there are similarities to India, but Sri Lanka is also rich with its own traditions and history, and a better understanding of both will make a trip to this ‘pearl’ an unforgettable one, to say the least. ~ WBB Staff Writer
Seven days into our Sri Lankan voyage, we decided to make tracks to Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak, as you and I might call it. We left wonderful Sigiriya very early in the morning, and headed by bus to the the chaotic bus terminal in Kandy. I slept for most of the journey, though did wake up occasionally and wonder how on earth the bus could still be moving with so many people on it. Our technique thus far, of wandering around bus terminals shouting a poorly pronounced version of our destination worked once again, and we were loaded on a bus that took us first to Hatton. I noticed immediately the closer we became to Hatton the more we were in tea picking country, which is a stark contrast to the Cultural Triangle we had been exploring. There were a lot of hills, and I spent a lot of time in amazement at the skill of the Sri Lankan bus drivers! Heads bob up and down collecting tea for the masses; it is exactly how I imagined it. Hatton itself is a very small village that looks to be primarily for trading. Snaking through its tiny main street on the bus is an experience, and I came to realise just how many people there are living in this part of the world.
As the saying goes, good things come in small packages and Sri Lanka is a small island that delivers on that promise. Now that the civil war is over, travellers are visiting by the planeload and are being welcomed by the friendly locals. Sri Lanka can be easily explored and offers up a large variety of things to do. From beaches to jungles, ancient cities to enchanting temples, there really is something to please all travellers here.
The starting point for most travellers is the largest city, Colombo. This is a big bustling city, but with its beach-side location isn’t as hectic as some other Asian cities. It can be pleasant taking an evening stroll along the coastline, particularly Galle Face Green, the locals’ playground. This is exceptionally full of people on the weekends, picnicking, playing frisbee and swimming. Next to this large open space you’ll find the Galle Face Hotel, a luxurious Colonial hotel that has claimed the ocean views since 1864. If you can’t afford the price tag to stay there - which most travellers cannot - you can still sit by the terrace and enjoy a cocktail and just pretend to be a little bit glamorous.
Colombo’s beaches, however, are not the city’s main attraction, as far cleaner and more beautiful beaches can be found elsewhere. There are lots of things to see and do, not the least of which is shopping and the city has enough to suit all shopping tastes. Odel is the best known department store with a wide variety of clothes and other items, while Majestic City and Liberty Plaza are two outlet stores where shoppers scramble over the bargains. For a real market experience, try the Pettah Market with its broad range of offerings from electrical goods to jewellery. Bargaining is expected, but it’s hard to out-bargain the locals.