After my disastrous/awesome adventure to the Dambulla cave temples, I checked into The Other Corner to recuperate, and I’m so glad I did. You can tell as soon as you arrive that this is not going to be like any other hotel, unless you’re accustomed to having to cross a swinging rope bridge to get to your accommodation.
Most writers live in their own heads, you know? We spend so much time sequestered in our own thoughts, spinning words and worlds out of the ether, that it’s no surprise most of us feel more at home there than in the “real” world. I’m no different, and I instantly fall in love with any place that lets me live in my imagination instead of being confronted with a dreary reality full of other people and traffic and blaring televisions, and…did I mention other people? Nothing against other humans in general, but there are so many of you, and sometimes you pack together in large groups and make excessive amounts of noise and it’s just sort of the worst. It’s not your fault, of course, but it’s really hard to imagine that I’m Indiana Jones or a fierce fighter pilot or (my personal favorite) an animal-whispering fairy princess when I’m breathing in clouds of exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke and listening to your baby scream while you play YouTube videos on your phone without headphones.
I only mention all of that because I’m sort of in paradise right now. I’m working on my laptop by the pool, and it is exactly the kind of blissfully secluded dream world that makes me feel at home. The resort is completely empty today, so I have the pool to myself. This greatly helps me to imagine that the resort is my private jungle palace, obviously. There’s a gnarled, vine-choked tree dominating the pool area, and it’s covered with great clouds of butterflies like something out of a Disney movie. There’s also a small brass bell hanging from the tree, with a room service menu. In case you get so worn out from swimming and sunning yourself that you need to be revived with a beer and a cheeseburger, obviously. (I did say it was paradise, didn’t I?)
The only sounds are the wind rustling the leaves of the surrounding trees, the songs of dozens of exotic birds, and the bubbling water from the spa behind me. (I later get my very first fish pedicure in that spa, and laugh-squeal loud enough to startle several passing monkeys. You should definitely try this if you get the chance.)
The silence is briefly broken by a small family of monkeys who swing down and take a quick drink out of the pool before scampering back up to the treetops and continuing on their way. Once they’ve gone, two gorgeous bright red dragonflies swoop down and skim across the surface of the pool. A pair of jewel-colored birds alight on a branch above my head for a just a moment, before the distant trumpeting of an elephant startles them away.
An hour or so later, drama erupts as a gang of monkeys descends on a nearby mango tree and makes off with fistfuls of fruit before a groundskeeper chases them away with a rake. They are gleefully unrepentant as they huddle together near the spa and enjoy their stolen treat. (Monkeys are such jerks, aren’t they?)
I spent three nights at The Other Corner, and it was the perfect spot for lounging by the pool as well as an amazing base for climbing the famous rock monastery of Sigiriya. I’ll write about that awesome experience in another post, but for now, just know that you should 100% visit Sigiriya if you’re in the neighborhood. The Other Corner can also arrange tours to Minneriya National Park, the Dambulla cave temples, Ritigala Forest Monastery, and all the other cool stuff there is to do here in the Cultural Triangle area.
I also took a nature walk with the resident naturalist, and he was an absolute fountain of local knowledge. If you go, ask him to do some of his amazing bird calls for you. The area around the resort is absolutely gorgeous, and you can even see Sigiriya if you walk along the lake bordering the property.
The three nights I spent at The Other Corner were like being at summer camp for grownups. You stay in a really adorable cabin and there’s nature hikes and tree houses… but there’s also a nice beer and wine selection. I suppose you can bring the kids, if you want to share the tree houses.
As you explore the grounds, you’ll see a sign pointing to the hotel’s organic garden. One of the best things about staying at an eco resort is knowing that all the produce in your meals was grown right there on the property.
You might also see some of the other local residents lounging about:
The Other Corner is located in Laksirigama, Habarana, Sri Lanka, right on the edge of Habarana Lake. Find more information or book your own stay here.
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This has been a sponsored conversation with The Other Corner, and as always, all words, photos, and opinions are mine.
I don’t think anyone comes to Sri Lanka without a stop in Kandy, and for good reason. This busy hill country town is known as the country’s cultural capital, and has plenty to keep you occupied for several days- longer if you make it your base for exploring the area. And explore it you should; the hill country was one of my absolute favorite parts of my 3 months here in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
If you don’t think Sri Lanka is the vacation destination for you because you’re not a fan of beaches and tropical climates, this is why you should come. Misty mountains, cool air, fantastic hiking, and Buddhist history like you’ve never seen anywhere else.
Here are some of my Kandy highlights:
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
You can’t skip this; this temple is the main reason people visit Kandy. It’s also one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples I’ve ever visited, and that’s saying rather a lot. The holiest site in Sri Lankan Buddhism, this temple houses a tooth reportedly taken from the Buddha’s funeral pyre. It’s kind of the Sri Lankan Buddhist Mecca; everyone is supposed to make at least one pilgrimage here in their lifetime. It’s so revered, you even see rowdy groups of teenage boys stopping on the sidewalk across the street to bow in prayer before walking on. Worshipers inside are frequently overcome with emotion, so if you’re visiting as a tourist, please be respectful and unobtrusive. As with all temples, you’ll have to cover up- no exposed knees or shoulders.
One of the most popular attractions on the temple grounds is Rajah the Tusker, a moldering old taxidermy elephant with crumbling ears. This small building is always packed with loud children and selfie-stick-wielding tourists, inexplicably needing a photo of themselves with the remains of this poor creature behind a wall of smudged glass. Suffice to say I think you can skip this spectacle.
Other tips for visiting:
Wear slip-on shoes as you’ll have to leave them at the shoe minder’s counter next to where you pay the admission fee. There’s no charge for leaving your shoes, but they’ll ask for a tip when you pick them up.
The entry fee for foreigners is 1500 rupees ($10 USD). Do try to have exact change as they’re loathe to break 5000 rupee notes and may tell you that they can’t give you all of your change back. Don’t fall for this; someone is just trying to get a 500 rupee tip.
Never pose with a Buddha statue for a photo or selfie. This is basically the most offensive thing you could possibly do.
Go as early as you can. The place is overrun with schoolkids by midday.
World Buddhist Museum
This was my favorite museum in all of Sri Lanka, and it’s conveniently located on the same property as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. They charge 500 rupees ($3.25 USD) for foreigners, which is a steal. The museum walks you through the spread of Buddhism throughout the world, and it’s fascinating to see how the story of the Buddha is interpreted country by country. I had a great time reminiscing over some of the other famous Buddhist sites I’ve visited, like Shwedagon Paya in Burma and Borobudur in Indonesia. The lighting and signage in this museum is good…by Sri Lankan standards. It’s not the Smithsonian, but nothing here is. I was really bummed that you can’t take photos inside, because there are some really lovely exhibits. There’s a small gift shop to the left of the staircase down which you exit.
Kandy Garrison Cemetery
When you’re done with the World Buddhist Museum, exit left and head up the little hill past the National Museum (toward the public restrooms, incidentally, if you need to stop.) There are signs at the bottom of the hill pointing the way to the cemetery. Once you get to the top of the hill behind the public facilities you might think you’re actually on someone’s driveway, but keep going. There will be a small maintenance shed on the left and then you’ll round the corner to the cemetery. It’s small, and many of the inscriptions are worn, but it’s a really neat piece of Kandy history. The young caretaker is an absolute fountain of knowledge; he knows every name, inscription, and cause of death by heart. Let him tell you all about the extremely large man who died of sunstroke while running from an elephant or the baby who died of a snakebite despite the best efforts of the village medicine man.
St. Paul’s Church
This red brick church dates to the 1840s and is currently undergoing renovations, but is well worth poking around for a few minutes. There are some neat funerary markers for deceased parishioners lining the walls and a gorgeous stained glass window behind the altar. Watch for frolicking monkeys outside.
Royal Botanic Gardens
This 147 acre park on the outskirts of Kandy is a really great place to escape the noise and pollution of the city for a few hours. There’s a gorgeous orchid house and some really nice walking trails through the wooded areas. If you’re a botany nerd, welcome to paradise. There are more than 4000 plant species here, and they’ve done a really nice job with signage.
Other tips for visiting:
Go on a weekday! 2.2 million people visit the gardens annually and every single one of them showed up on the same Saturday morning I visited. Weekdays are much quieter.
Look up! Thousands of huge flying foxes roost in the trees and fly around during the day. If you take the path to the right of Royal Palm Avenue you’ll most likely have it to yourself to appreciate these beauties. (And, if you’re me, imagine that you’re in Jurassic Park and they’re actually huge screeching pterodactyls. Don’t judge.)
I partnered with this gorgeous hilltop hotel for a review, and absolutely loved it. My only minor quibble was the somewhat unreliable Wi-Fi, but the views and the amazing chicken curry more than made up for my inability to upload all of my photos. Wi-Fi was a bit of an issue throughout the hill country for me, so plan your Internet needs accordingly. If you just want to check email and Facebook a few times a day you’ll be fine, but business travelers might have difficulties.
Far and away the best mode of transportation anywhere in the hill country is the train. These creaky, lumbering old locomotives trundle through some of the most beautiful scenery on the island, and nothing beats leaning out the open doors for a blast of cool mountain air in your face. And train travel in Sri Lanka is CHEAP. Check the timetables here and try to coordinate your schedule for a ride in one of the first class observation cars. It won’t cost more than $8 US even for the longest, all-day journeys. There are tour companies who will reserve your tickets for you (for two to three times the going rate) but as I traveled in the off season I never bothered. Turning up at the station an hour before the train was scheduled to depart was always plenty of time to get a first class ticket. Pack some snacks or wait for a man with a big plastic tub of fresh samosas to make his way through the train.
So there you have it! Some of my favorite parts of my visit to Kandy. Have you been? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know if I missed any of your favorites.
The first thing that hits me when I check into Villa Rosa and start exploring is that this is the perfect location for a romantic retreat.
Between the candlelit dinners, the breathtaking mountain views, and the secluded hilltop setting, I’m really wishing I hadn’t come to Villa Rosa solo. This ridiculously photogenic villa just screams romantic rendezvous. The canoodling couple having dinner two tables away from me would likely agree; they’re currently holding hands and staring out at the river. I can’t say that I blame them- this view belongs on a postcard, or maybe your desktop wallpaper.
This is no business traveler’s hotel- the information binder in my room informs me that the Wi-Fi will be turned off at 10pm and when it’s on it can’t handle streaming a video conference. You might not notice- the cozy second floor library will pull your attention away from work with its large collection of reading material and panoramic views of the river and the mountains.
Back to dinner, though. Villa Rosa is a foodie’s paradise, and they win my award for the absolute best rice and curry I’ve had during my three months in Sri Lanka. That’s a pretty big deal- *everyone* makes rice and curry here, and it’s almost always fantastic. Villa Rosa goes the extra mile, though. The chef visits the local market every morning, and guests are welcome to tag along and see how he chooses the freshest spices and produce. If you’re really keen, you can join him and his team in the kitchen to prepare your own meal while having a lesson in authentic Sri Lankan cooking.
On the off chance that you want to do more than smooch your travel partner all day, Villa Rosa is perfectly positioned for exploring Kandy and the surrounding area. The extremely accommodating staff will happily drop you off in town at no charge, or arrange transportation for more far-flung adventures. While I was here, I explored the impressive botanical gardens, the city of Kandy, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (don’t miss this! Easily the most beautiful Buddhist temple I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen rather a lot) and the Kandy Garrison Cemetery.
The river that you’ll find yourself continually staring out over is the Mahaweli, the longest river in Sri Lanka. Every time I settled down to read or write or work on my laptop, I only lasted a few minutes before I found myself picking up my camera and wandering over to the edge of the property to snap just a few more photos. Sri Lanka is outrageously beautiful in general, but the view here is absolutely mesmerizing. Try to get back from your day of adventuring in Kandy before sunset if you can. There is no better way to start your evening than with a cold beer on the open air balcony while watching the sky go all pink and purple and orange while the flying foxes venture out to their nightly hunt and the chanting of the monks from the city temples down below drifts up on the breeze.
Art lover alert: The owners of Villa Rosa are connoisseurs of fine art, and have decorated the villa in impeccable style. Make sure you take a wander around the entire property to have a look at some of the fabulous pieces in their collection.
Villa Rosa is located at 71/18, Dodanwela Passage, Asgiriya, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Visit Villa Rosa here for more information or to book your own romantic rendezvous.
This has been a sponsored conversation with Villa Rosa. I had the pleasure of being hosted at their beautiful property for the purposes of this review, and as always, all words, photos, and opinions are my own.
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Imagine you’ve gone to pay a visit to your dear British granny…who happens to live in a gorgeous, modern house on a tea estate in in the middle of Sri Lanka, that is. That should give you an idea of what it’s like to visit Ceylon Tea Bungalows.
My first thought when I enter the Windermere Suite is that I’m in an English country house. Blue floral paper on the walls, a large wooden canopy bed, delicate grey silk window treatments. The vases of fresh tropical flowers give away the location, though. Nothing like these wild blooms grow in English cottage gardens.
I’ve arrived late, after dark, and am met by the lovely staff, who immediately inquire about my journey, ask me if I’m hungry, and bring me a cup of tea. Just like visiting Grandma’s house, actually. To enhance the feeling, there is no menu. “Whatever you want” is the mantra. Kumar, the manager, starts listing possibilities from traditional rice and curry to roast chicken. I tell him to surprise me, and this turns out to be an excellent idea.
Thirty minutes later I’m settled at a table under the covered porch, protected from the pouring rain. I have a glass of wine, and all is once again right with the world. Dinner is a delicious cream of vegetable soup and an entree of roasted chicken in a unique sweet and mildly spicy sauce, with mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. Comfort food through and through, just like Grandma makes. And of course there’s always ice cream for dessert.
I don’t see Ceylon Tea Bungalows in the daylight until I wake up the next morning. Opening the drapes covering the French doors leading onto my private patio, I’m shocked at the absolute riot of flowers outside. The front lawn looks out over green hills as far as the eye can see, and rainbow hued blooms spill out over pots and planters and garden beds everywhere I look. Lounge chairs and intimate seating areas are arranged around the lawn. A classic Morris Eight sits at the end of the walkway, completing the English country house feeling perfectly.
Over breakfast (fried eggs, thick cut bacon, sausages, toast and jam, endless pots of tea… they will try to feed you just as much as your grandmother always did), Kumar suggests I take a tuk tuk to the nearby town of Ella. Having heard that Ella is everyone’s favorite hill country town, I readily agree.
Honestly, Ella is pretty underwhelming. The mountain views are lovely, but mostly blotted out by the endless stream of guesthouses and juice shops that plague most Sri Lankan tourist meccas. Take away the views, and this could be Hikkaduwa, only with more tourists walking around in swimwear, which is bizarre because there aren’t any beaches here. (Also, please don’t do this. It’s really offensive to the locals.) I see more European backpackers than I do locals, and if it weren’t for the occasional Sinhala street sign, I could be in Austria. The views really are magnificent, though.
Next time I’ll arrange to go on a nice day hike instead of hanging with the backpacker crowd. The mountain views are spectacular, and it’s so nice to be out in weather that isn’t miserably hot and sweaty all the time.
Things I loved about Ceylon Tea Bungalows:
Being treated like family. There’s no set menu or mealtimes, and the staff has a genuine desire to please. It doesn’t feel like a hotel at all, but like you’re visiting family.
Big fluffy white robes (not a common amenity in Sri Lanka!)
Spacious rooms and common areas for lounging.
The location, away from tourist hordes, literally in the middle of a tea plantation. You can even go out and help the plantation employees pick tea and see where your favorite afternoon beverage comes from. If you do, you’ll have a new appreciation every time you brew a cup- these ladies work hard.
The most comfortable bed of my entire 3-month trip.
The gorgeous flower gardens.
Attention to detail: all of the art, fresh cut flowers, coffee table books, and bath amenities have been chosen with tremendous care.
Ceylon Tea Bungalows is located at Hilpankandura Estate, Mirahawatte, Bandarawela, Sri Lanka. You can visit their website here for more information or to book your own visit.
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This is a sponsored conversation with Ceylon Tea Bungalows. I had the pleasure of being their guest for the purpose of this review, and as always, all photos, words, and opinions are my own.
I’m on my way from Kandy to Habarana, sad to be leaving the cool elevation of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, but excited to visit the ancient cities on my journey north to the rarely-visited Jaffna and the northern islands. I’ve booked a private driver for the day, as there’s no easy train between the two cities and I want to stop at the famous Dambulla Cave Temples on the way. I’m expecting an easy and relaxing day in a nice, air conditioned car, punctuated with a great visit to some marvelous caves filled with gorgeous old Buddha statues.
But you, dear reader, know that what I expect and what actually happens are rarely the same thing.
The Dambulla caves were just as spectacular as I had imagined, but I had the misfortune to be stuck with the worst driver I’ve ever had on any trip anywhere in the world. And I once had a Burmese driver pick up a pregnant woman and wedge her up against me, where she promptly started to go into labor. So when I say this guy was the worst, you know he really put some effort into it.
Not many things will get me out of bed at 5:30 in the morning, but 2000 year old cave temples on top of a mountain are one of them. I’ve arranged my driver through Blue Haven Tours, a company listed in my Lonely Planet and vouched for by the manager of my hotel. Nuwan arrives at 7:00 a.m. on the dot, and we set off for Dambulla in his mildly battered black Suzuki Celario.
As most Sri Lankan taxi drivers do, Nuwan likes to make small talk, and begins asking me questions. Where am I from, why did I come to Sri Lanka, how long am I staying, etc. I rather wish he wouldn’t, as his glances into the rear view mirror are taking his attention away from the narrow, winding roads out of Kandy. But I’m a captive audience, so I answer as blandly as possible, to keep him from getting more distracted from his driving.
His face breaks into a broad leer in the rear view mirror as he says, “United State! And are you happy with your new president?”
Oh, brother. Here we go.
“No, not especially.” Please watch the road, please watch the road, please watch the road.
There is a brief pause as we round a bend and come bumper-to-bumper with a white Toyota. The road isn’t wide enough for two cars (it’s barely wide enough for one, with a steep drop into a drainage ditch on my side and a tall, unruly hedge on the other). After a brief stare-down, Nuwan puts the Suzuki into reverse and backs up a few feet. The Toyota inches forward. Nuwan refuses to back up further and honks the horn. The Toyota doesn’t have enough room to pass, so he honks back. Men emerge from a nearby building and become impromptu traffic conductors. They’re yelling and motioning for Nuwan to back up a little further, to a point where the road widens enough for the Toyota to pass. He refuses. They shout and gesture some more. Finally the Toyota driver lays on his horn until Nuwan relents and backs up enough for him to pass.
As soon as we’re back on the road, Nuwan starts in again. “You should be very happy with your new president. Everyone in Sri Lanka love him!” (This is categorically false, as he is the only person to express this view during my 3 month trip, but anyway…)
“Well, good for you.” The erratic driving is starting to make me nauseous, and I wish I had skipped breakfast. One day, I will be smart enough to lie and say I’m Canadian.
“He defeat Hillary Clinton, who support terrorists!” The way he’s staring at me in the mirror, eyes bulging, is well past creepy and closing in on psychotic.
“Um, no, I’m pretty sure that’s not accurate.”
“Yes it is!” He’s shouting now, and slaps the steering wheel for emphasis. “She give money to dirty Tamil dogs to bomb our Buddhist temples and kill Sri Lankans!”
Cool, so now he’s a gross bigot on top of being delusional. Only 2.5 hours to go. I’m definitely feeling carsick at this point, and breaking out into that pre-vomit cold sweat that signals impending doom.
“I’m not going to have this discussion with you. I’m paying for a driver, not some rando to yell at me while swerving all over the road.”
I’ve momentarily shocked him into silence. I’ve noticed that Sri Lankan women tend to be fairly meek, and Sri Lankan men aren’t used to being chastised. He stops talking, but continues to stare at me in the rearview mirror. I’m unsettled and nauseous, and almost want to skip the cave temples altogether. I would open my mouth to say so, but I’m afraid I would be sick.
Two uncomfortable hours later, we arrive at Dambulla. Nuwan drops me at the bottom of the steep rock stairway that leads to the caves, and points to a small parking lot nearby, saying he’ll be waiting there for me when I finish. He seems to have calmed down from his earlier rant.
The silver lining of the day: the Dambulla cave temples are absolutely stunning. It takes a bit of effort to reach them, what with maneuvering the slippery steps and dodging the marauding local monkey population, but once you do, the reward is magnificent.
At the top of the first set of steps you’ll visit the ticket window and pay your $10 USD for admission. Make sure you’ve got plenty of water, spare camera batteries, or whatever else you need before you start slogging your way up. You’re not going to want to turn around and do this twice. Also make sure your shoulders and knees are covered, as you’re not getting past the guards without being properly attired.
Even though you’re on top of a mountain, poking around in some caves, they’re still sacred temples, so you’ll have to leave your shoes outside. As you reach the top of the steps you’ll hand your shoes to the shoe minder in the little kiosk (and pay 25 rupees when you pick them up later). A few touts hang around the shoe drop, selling beaded bracelets and carved wooden boxes. They’re not as numerous or as pushy as most other tourist sites in the Cultural Triangle area, however.
As you enter through the wooden archway, a guard will stamp your ticket. FYI, this is where the quiet zone starts; the guards have no problem pouncing on unruly tourists and demanding they follow proper temple etiquette.
It won’t take long to visit all five temples, as most of them are quite small. The first and smallest cave is my favorite; there’s barely enough room for a handful of visitors at once, and the bulk of the chamber is taken up by an enormous reclining Buddha with a captivatingly serene expression.
Large tour buses do visit Dambulla, and the cave temples can get crowded. They all tend to stick together, though, and as the caves are right in a row it’s easy to avoid the groups and move back and forth to enjoy empty or nearly-empty caves most of the time.
As these are still active temples, you’ll see groups of Buddhist monks moving around from cave to cave to pray. They’re accustomed to being surrounded by tourists all day, of course, but I still think it’s nice to give them some space and vacate a temple while they’re using it. Or you could be like some tourists I saw and shove your camera in their faces while they’re kneeling in prayer. (No, don’t do this, those people were horrible. Seriously, who does this?)
When you’re finished, there are two ways to get back down to the bottom. You can go back down the King’s Way steps that you came up (dodging the same monkeys and slippery steps). You can also exit down the other side of the mountain to the Golden Temple (these steps are new, wider, and with nice sturdy hand rails…but the same monkeys, unfortunately.) Personally I wouldn’t bother with the Golden Temple as it’s a new construction, over-the-top gaudy tourist trap.
I make my way carefully back down the way I came up, head across the dusty road to the car park…and find no little black Suzuki. It’s a tiny parking lot, so it only takes me about 30 seconds to determine that Nuwan is most definitely nowhere to be found.
Not panicking, not panicking, not panicking…
I approach the driver of a bright red tuk tuk parked nearby and ask him if there is another parking lot nearby. He immediately looks concerned. “No, madam. This is the only one.”
I explain that my driver dropped me off and was supposed to wait here for me, but he’s not here, so I’m thinking there has to be another car park nearby. He shakes his head vigorously. “The only other car park is by the Golden Temple, but no driver would drop you off here and pick you up there. He would wait here. He must be here.” He looks back over his shoulder as though Nuwan is going to pop out from the bushes.
“He’s definitely not here. How do I get to this other parking lot?”
Red tuk tuk driver points at the road that brought us into the cave temple complex, and I start walking.
This may be an appropriate time to mention that it’s 92 degrees outside, there’s no shade whatsoever, and I’m wearing long sleeves and long pants because I was visiting temples. So this is nice.
It takes 40 minutes to reach the other parking lot. Remember how, earlier, I reminded you to take your water with you when starting your climb? Yeah, that’s because I didn’t. I didn’t want to carry it and I assumed it would be there waiting for me at the bottom when I finished. I should really not assume things, based on my track record, but I’m a slow learner.
By the time I stumble into the second parking lot, I’m a sweaty, sunburned, half-delirious mess. But the car is there! Hallelujah.
My excitement is short-lived, however, because Nuwan is nowhere to be found. This car park is much larger than the first, with a few shady spots for waiting drivers to pass the time. I walk around the perimeter of the lot, hoping to spot him among the groups of men, but he isn’t there. I return to the car and wait, unwilling to let it out of my sight now that I’ve found it again.
More than half an hour passes with no sign of Nuwan. I’m definitely on the verge of sunstroke at this point, so I stop a passing driver on the way to his car and ask if he has possibly seen the driver of this black Suzuki. He says he hasn’t, but he’s a regular at Dambulla and he knows the car. I confirm it belongs to Blue Haven tours, and he kindly offers to call the owner of the company and get him to track down his errant driver.
Five minutes later, Nuwan comes speed walking around the corner. It would appear that the owner was successful. He immediately starts interrogating me, raising his voice loud enough for a few of the waiting drivers to turn and stare. “Why are you here? You aren’t where you’re supposed to be! You should have gone to the Golden Temple!”
I’ve already started to cry; I’m so weak and exhausted from the climb and the walk and the sun and the lack of water that I can’t even answer. He had asked me before we arrived at Dambulla if I was interested in seeing the Golden Temple, and I had declined, saying I was only interested in the Dambulla cave temples. I don’t have the strength to remind him of this as I practically fall into the car and start chugging water. The driver who called the tour company on my behalf approaches Nuwan’s window and starts speaking to him sternly in Sinhala, frequently gesturing to me and then to the sky, presumably referencing the blazing noontime sun. I don’t have to speak their language to know he’s asking where Nuwan has been and why he left his client out here for so long. Nuwan ignores him and backs out of the parking space as the man is still speaking.
He continues his tirade as we exit the parking lot, but all I can do is sit there, shaking, and wipe my tears on my sleeve. He finally stops as he realizes I’m not going to answer him.
It’s another 30 minutes from Dambulla to my hotel in Habarana, which passes in desperately uncomfortable silence. All I can do for the first four hours after I arrive is lie in the dark, air conditioned room and drink water until I stop shaking. The stress of the day has hit me like a truck and I can feel the onset of the fever and joint pain that signal a bad flare up of my fibromyalgia. It’s going to be a long night.
Once I can type again without shaking uncontrollably, I fire up my laptop and send an email to the tour company to express how upset I am at the behavior of their driver. In. Excruciating. Detail.
A few hours later I get their response: “We are sorry this happened! Please try to forget about it and enjoy the rest of your holiday.”
Now, with all that said, I still think you should definitely visit the Dambulla Cave Temples. They are extraordinary, and Dambulla is situated perfectly for visiting the unmissable ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya. Just, um, don’t let Nuwan drive you there, OK?
Dambulla Cave Temples are a UNESCO World Heritage site located on the Kandy – Jaffna Hwy, Dambulla, Sri Lanka. You can read more about them here.
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Hey Adventurers! I’m back with another awesome solo female traveler to introduce to you! Meet Cali, from Cali O on the Go! I felt like Cali and I were instant besties because she, too, knows what it feels like to be charged by a hippo. If you don’t, you probably want to do your best to keep it that way. Trust me on this.
Where are you from, and where are you currently residing? I am from Boston, Massachusetts and I reside in the area when I am not traveling.
Where is your next destination? Guatemala!
How long have you been traveling? I have always had some level of interest in traveling, but it truly became an obsession about two years ago. I quit my job, sold my belongings, moved back home (from Texas to Massachusetts), and started traveling the world, mostly full-time, mostly solo!
What’s on your bucket list? What is not on my bucket list? One place I really, REALLY want to go is Madagascar. I just love nature and wildlife and Madagascar is home to some very unique species. I also love adventure and adrenaline so I am always on the lookout for unique adrenaline pumping activities to add to my bucket list.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while traveling? I was charged at by a hippo at a campsite in Zambia. Luckily it was a warning charge, which is atypical of hippos as they usually charge to kill. We were separated by an electric fence which was not actually electrified due to planned daily power outages during the dry season in Zambia.
What’s your favorite place in the world and why is it so great? I know you know this is one of the hardest questions you can ask someone! Uzbekistan was a special country for me. It had an amazing balance of history (the Silk Road), culture, delicious food, and the friendliest people.
What lessons have you learned from travel? My favorite lesson I have learned is the recurring theme of generosity. Regardless of where I am in the world, I have been humbled by the generosity of local people. They offer assistance, food, or anything they have, even if it is beyond their means, in order to help improve my experience in their country. It is a lesson I truly try and implement when I am back home.
How do you combat loneliness when traveling solo? I try to turn it into appreciation. For me, when I am traveling solo, I am very rarely alone. Whether that be because I am staying in a busy hostel or I have joined a popular day tour or the locals strike up a conversation with me because I am alone. When I do truly find myself alone or potentially lonely, I force myself to appreciate that moment. Finally, I am by myself. I will likely go for a long walk, or binge eat local delicacies (because that is not my favorite way to make a first impression when I am among new friends), or find a quiet park and read a book. I use it as the time to do things I like to do, but don’t want to do with other people.
What advice would you give a woman who wants to start traveling but is struggling with doubts and uncertainties? I have gone off on my own so many times now and I always psych myself out into a whirlwind of doubts prior to leaving. That feeling is SO normal whether this is your first trip or you are a seasoned traveler. Being at home is easy and comfortable and I don’t have to think. But traveling is an opportunity to see the world, be resourceful, and open your eyes to culture, food, and scenery you’ve never experienced. Don’t let your inhibitions hold you back. All you have to do is take that first step to go. Book that plane ticket, know you can’t back out and your instincts will take care of the rest. You will surprise yourself and you won’t be disappointed.
So there you have it, the world according to Cali! I love what she has to say about experiencing acts of generosity all over the world. I have experienced the same thing, over and over again, and it’s always so humbling.
Happy June, adventurers! OK, I know it’s July 3rd and I’m late again, but I’ve been stuck in some pretty remote places this month. Don’t feel sorry for me; they were all amazing!
Where in the world am I? Two thirds of the way through my great Sri Lankan expedition! This month I’ve visited Galle, Udawalawe, Colombo, Kalpitiya, Kandy, Ella, and Bandarawela.
Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka. This is a three month project! Check out some of the amazing temples I’ve been exploring:
Highlight of the month: Hanging out with elephants (and elephant babies!) at Udawalawe National Park. I went early (and I do mean EARLY!) in the morning and had the whole place to myself. Not another tourist in sight, and the weather was perfect. June is supposed to be the start of monsoon season in this part of the island, but I had a cool, breezy, sunny day.
Lowlight of the month: Arriving in the secluded paradise of Kalpitiya Peninsula only to be struck down by a random virus as soon as I got to my hotel. Fever, chills, nausea, extreme joint pain; I would have called my travel insurance company for a medical evacuation if I’d had the strength to make the call. Thankfully I made a full recovery without medical intervention, but I later read in the local paper that doctors were perplexed by a mysterious Dengue Fever-like virus exploding in the Kalpitiya peninsula throughout the month of June. Um, yikes?
Best meal: It’s a tie! I really can’t choose between these two:
1. A simple Greek salad and freshly made hummus with grilled flatbread at Chambers inside Galle Fort. I will never, ever go back to eating store-bought hummus again. Chambers, you have ruined me.
2. The spaghetti carbonara at Dolphin Beach Resort in Kalpitiya. I know you’d traditionally think of something seafood-based at a Sri Lankan beach resort, but trust me when I say this was the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life.
I’m going to Australia! I fired up my random bucket list picker and let it choose another adventure, so I’ll be heading to the Land Down Under soon to drive the Great Ocean Road. But first, I’m going home to the US for a two month road trip, and then popping down to Brazil to pick some coffee beans. I hope you’ll be following along on all of my adventures.
Galle is the most magnificent little city in Sri Lanka and I should definitely live here. It’s so darling, the garbage trucks play classical music so you know when to bring out your trash.
You know a man really loves you when he finds a way to have a random cake delivered to you even though he’s 10,000 miles away.
Transportation around the island is always more complicated than the Internet suggests.
Every time I sit down, a stray animal appears. I have embraced this as my spiritual gift.
Sri Lanka’s hill country has the most magnificent climate, and you should definitely visit. While June on the southern coast is miserably hot and sticky, the hills are crisp and cool and perfect.
Getting your roots touched up in a Sri Lankan hair salon is a nerve wracking experience. I almost said “hair raising experience” but even I would have hated me for that.
Kalpitiya is full of chipmunks who will sneak into your cabana and abscond with all of your tea, sugar, and creamer. I choose to believe that they are having little chipmunk tea parties somewhere in the woods.
You can make an outdoor shower out of a sperm whale skull.
Sri Lankan gay rights activists are some of the bravest, kindest, most inspirational people I’ve ever met. June is Pride Month all over the world, but it’s extra special in a country where homosexuality is illegal and people are fighting for their basic human rights.
What I read:
Stephen King’s On Writing for the billionth time
Jon Vrom’s The Front Row Factor. I loved this book about transforming your life into a series of “front row” moments.
Eleventy billion brain-numbing articles on the technical aspects of blogging that would make your eyes glaze over if I even started to list them all.
What’s next? One more month of exploring ancient temples and exotic beaches before I head back to the US for a while. I can’t wait to see my dog after four months apart!
Don’t forget to follow My Adventure Bucket on Facebook if you haven’t already! Have a fantastic July (and for my American readers, please be careful with your fireworks! Happy Independence Day!)
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I had the immense pleasure of being hosted by the Dolphin Beach Resort for the purposes of this review, but as always, all words and opinions are my own. Furthermore, I’ve been in Sri Lanka for two months at the time of this visit and Dolphin Beach is, hands down, the most incredible accommodation I’ve had on my entire trip. I would, without question, go back on my own dime and stay in their gorgeous tents and eat their amazing food for a ridiculously long time.
So this is what it’s like to go “glamping” in paradise. Glamping, or glamorous camping, is a trend that has grown like crazy over the last few years, with more and more secluded destinations getting in on the act. Instead of pitching a tent and rolling out your sleeping bag on the ground, these resorts set up permanent tents on real foundations with real furniture and indoor plumbing.
My first thought upon entering my tent was that I’ve been transported to Harry Potter’s Quidditch World Cup tent; it looks like a normal tent from the outside, but on the inside it’s magically enlarged and furnished with all the comforts of home. Every time I enter the tent during my stay I imagine I can hear the flute music from the tent scene just before the Death Eaters pop in and ruin everybody’s fun. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you know what I’m talking about! And just like the movie, I find myself gazing around the tent in fascination, saying, “I love magic!”
Sadly there’s no quidditch being played on broomsticks outside the tent, but if you do need to get your sporting fix, there’s incredible kite surfing that you can watch from the beach or the pool. Kalpitiya is, after all, currently the hottest kite surfing destination in Asia, and Dolphin Beach runs a kite surfing school in which you can enroll if you’d like to experience the thrill for yourself. I’m more of a “spectator with a nice fruity cocktail” type myself, but to each her own.
As with most resorts in Sri Lanka, Dolphin Beach employs an army of ridiculously polite and helpful young men to take care of everything from carrying your luggage to arranging your meals. They are uniformly kind and solicitous and eager to please. And frankly, adorable.
Several times a day, the serving boys bring me a menu and I get to
order all the food and adult beverages I want while floating in the
pool next to the ocean. I don’t even remember dying, but apparently
Heaven is a lot easier to get into than you think.
Speaking of menus… I was told by the Dolphin Beach manager when I arrived that Maduka would be taking excellent care of me and would recommend the best dishes on the menu for every meal. I eagerly awaited his arrival at my magical tent the first afternoon to put his culinary knowledge to the test. He arrived at 5:00 sharp, as promised, and presented me with the evening’s dinner menu. Before I even had a chance to look at it, Maduka said, “You have to have the pasta.” OK, I’m already skeptical. “Pasta” and “Asia” aren’t usually two things that go together. I’ve had several pasta dishes on this trip so far, and they have been uniformly disappointing. Maduka insists. “We have amazing chef. Please, try the pasta.” OK, fine. I order the spaghetti carbonara and prepare myself for a lackluster dinner.
Dude. You guys. THE PASTA. This, right here, is hands down the best meal I’ve had in Sri Lanka. This chef could be making pasta in Italy and be a star. Thick, creamy, al dente, freshly made pasta, in the most amazing Parmesan sauce with great big hunks of bacon. This is the best pasta I’ve ever had in my entire life, and somehow I’m having it in a grass roof dining hut on the beach in a random town in Sri Lanka.
After two days of frolicking in paradise (and stuffing myself silly with that amazing pasta) I’m really, really bummed to have to leave. Of course, they don’t make leaving easy; upon hearing that I have a long drive ahead of me, the manager insists upon packing me a lunch and sending me off with enough food and bottled water to feed an army. As I drive away, I’m already thinking about how I can rearrange my schedule to come back…
If this sounds like your kind of vacation, you can find more information or book your stay here. Please order the spaghetti carbonara and send me pictures.
I also had the pleasure of staying at Dolphin Beach’s sister resort, Bar Reef Resort, and you can read about that stay here.
I had the pleasure of being hosted by the incredible Bar Reef Resort, Kalpitiya, for the purposes of this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own.
If you ever read any Swiss Family Robinson tales as a child, you’ll feel right at home as soon as you arrive at Kalpitiya’s Bar Reef Resort.
This eco resort is an environmentalist’s dream, without sacrificing even the tiniest luxury. The beds are kitted out in high end linens, but they’re washed by hand and hung to dry in the sunshine to conserve electricity. The whole resort is a flowering tropical paradise, but apart from being gorgeous, each plant was specially chosen to bolster the threatened bee and butterfly populations.
You probably won’t be thinking about the eco-friendly aspects of the saltwater infinity pool while you’re floating away the afternoon, but it’s still nice to know. And if it makes you feel better to know that the entire menu is organic and locally sourced, go ahead and order an extra dessert. It’s Sri Lanka, they’ll just smile at you.
Also, this is probably the only place in the world you can shower out of a giant sperm whale skull. I didn’t even know this was on my bucket list, but I’m adding it retroactively because it’s that cool.
I’m traveling during the “off season,” but all that means for Kalpitiya is that it’s kite surfing season. They put up a few woven screen barriers around the pool and the dining pavilions to keep the sand out, but otherwise it’s business as usual.
This small peninsula on Sri Lanka’s west coast is fast becoming one of the best kite surfing spots in all of South Asia. During the week I’m here, I meet groups from as far away as France, Germany, and Australia who have come here just to experience the famous Kalpitiya winds at the various kite surfing resorts popping up all over the beach.
Gliding along through the massive infinity pool as the famed Kalpitya
winds make waves on the surface, I think this must be what it feels
like to be one of the dolphins who makes her home off these choppy
At the end of the day, sitting in a thatched roof pavilion with a cold beer and candlelight, feeling the ocean breeze across your sun-warmed back is just about as close to heaven as you’re going to get.
Things I Loved:
The incredible attention to detail. Nothing is overlooked, no matter how tiny. The outdoor bathrooms would still be gorgeous even if the faucet wasn’t a conch shell, but these small touches make everything feel special.
The enormous pool! I felt like I was swimming to India.
The magnificent staff, whose attention to detail surpasses even the interior design. I mentioned after lunch on my second day that I had been under the weather when I arrived; the next morning at breakfast I was presented with a delicious homemade porridge known for curing tummy troubles.
The utter lack of plastic and man-made materials. Bar Reef Resort takes their commitment to the environment so seriously. Throughout my stay I only saw two items made out of plastic: the light switches in the cabanas, and the water bottles. The manager and resident naturalist assured me that he’s working to source a local supplier of glass bottles so even these will soon be a thing of the past. The staff collects fallen palm branches and other natural debris and turns it into everything from cabana roofs to bathroom coat hooks.
The solitude. During my stay there were very few other guests; only one small British family and a solitary kite surfer. I would have the entire pool area to myself for hours at a time, and it was unimaginable bliss. It helped that I wasn’t traveling during the peak season, but even when the resort is at capacity, you’re still talking about a very small number of guests. The cabanas and pool pavilions are arranged for maximum privacy, so you’ll never feel crowded.
If you, too, have some luxurious deserted island fantasies to live out, you can find more information and book your stay here. I also had the pleasure of staying at the Bar Reef Resort’s sister property, Dolphin Beach Resort. You can check out my review here!
I really can’t stress this enough: when it comes to Sri Lankan transportation, you can’t rely on Internet information. I’m telling you this as I fester in a broken plastic chair at Pettah Bus Station, swatting away flies like an irritable cow. According to “the Internet,” there is a Kalpitiya-bound bus leaving from here once an hour.
This, of course, is a lie. Armed with this misinformation, I assume I can arrive at the bus station whenever I please and have less than an hour to wait before I’m on my way.
“Kalpitiya? No, there’s no bus to Kalpitiya.” The tiny man in greasy overalls is all smiles as he juggles a pile of wrenches from one gnarled hand to another.
Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic…
“…not until 11:00.”
An interested group of men appears in front of us, as an interested group of men always does when one is discussing how to get from Point A to Point B.
“11:00,” the youngest in the group agrees. “This bus right here.” He points to the shiny blue hulk in front of us with the flashy prismatic paint job.
More men join the discussion. One points further down the platform. “That way.” He’s the only one not smiling.
The rest of the group erupts in chatter, contradicting No Smile in Sinhalese I don’t understand. I take a seat on a filthy plastic chair and try not to be pissed that I got up at 6am for nothing. I’m stewing about missing out on an afternoon of lounging by the pool at my lagoon-front hotel.
After a few minutes, the youngest member of the group approaches and indicates that I actually should follow No Smile’s directions and head further down the platform. Apparently they’ve been arguing about it this whole time.
In the distance, I see a grimy yellow sign written in an alphabet I can’t decipher, with one word I do understand: Kalpitiya.
The bus driver at Bay #7 smiles as I approach. “Where are you going?”
The smile fades. “Sorry, madam. There is no bus to Kalpitiya.”
“Not until 11:00, I know.”
He nods gravely. “Not until 11:00.”
“That’s OK, I’ll wait.”
This is, apparently, an unheard of proposition. It’s just past 8:30. He calls over another driver to help talk some sense into me.
“You can take this bus to Puttalam,” New Driver explains. He’s gesticulating as wildly as a man in a loud suit, hawking plastic crap in an infomercial. “Have the driver drop you off by the church before you get to the roundabout, then you can walk to the other bus station and take a different bus to Kalpitiya!” (What could possibly go wrong?)
I’m definitely not doing that.
“But the 11:00 bus goes directly to Kalpitiya? No changes?”
He reluctantly admits that it does.
“Ok, I’m going to wait for that one.”
He looks at me incredulously and shrugs at First Driver. ‘She’s clearly an idiot; I can’t help you,’ that shrug says.
I should note that only the red buses in Sri Lanka are government owned. They are generally considered to be ratty and inferior, and they pick up in a different place than privately owned buses. These are generally considered much nicer; some even have Wi-Fi. But because they’re privately owned, there is competition, and individual drivers will try to convince you to change your travel plans, even if it isn’t convenient for you. Stick to your guns unless you’re a lot more adventurous than I am.
Other things to know about taking the bus in Sri Lanka:
Unlike the train, you don’t need to buy a ticket in advance. Just get on; an employee will come around and sell you a ticket at some point after the bus departs.
Bus rides are ridiculously cheap; my 4.5 hour trip to Kalpitiya cost 198 rupees, which is a little over a dollar.
That cheap bus ticket came complete with 4.5 hours of Bollywood’s latest and greatest on the TV mounted above the driver’s head. Bring earplugs or headphones unless you hate yourself.
The “official” bus route might show few or no stops, but don’t kid yourself. They’re stopping at every bus stop they see and cramming on as many passengers as they can shove in. You won’t have that seat to yourself for very long.
Eating and drinking is fine on the bus; if you forgot to pack your own snacks, don’t worry. Vendors hawking drinks and food will randomly hop on and wander down the aisle. You can get a bottle of cold water for 50 rupees, awesome fried snacks, and maybe a large bag of coconuts.
Bus schedules for government owned red buses can be found on the National Transport Commission website here, but you’re still better off just asking someone.
In the end, I get to Kalpitiya mid-afternoon, in plenty of time to get in some pool-lounging time. Well, it would be plenty of time, except I immediately get sick with some kind of rare Dengue Fever-like virus and do nothing all afternoon except lie in the dark and pray for death. What else did you expect?