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.
Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image to your favorite travel board!
Like this? Check out more of my amazing hotel partners here.
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.
Like this? Find more hotel reviews I’ve done here.
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.
Like this? Before you, go, check out some more posts you might enjoy.
Posts on My Adventure Bucket may contain affiliate links. Using these links when you shop costs you nothing, but helps support the running of this site and my weekly pedicure habit.
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!)
This post may contain affiliate links. These links cost you nothing but help to support the upkeep of the blog, and my room service habit.
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?
Hey Adventurers! I’m back with another awesome solo female traveler for you to meet! I caught up with Carrie Mann of Trains, Planes and Tuk Tuks to talk about my favorite subject: solo travel, of course! Carrie is a woman after my own heart, as you’ll see when you read her account of befriending a group of villagers in Laos.
Where are you from, and where are you currently residing? I’m American — originally from New England, but I’ve lived in Washington, DC my entire adult life.
Where is your next destination? I’m deciding between Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Nepal, or Peru for an early September trip.
How long have you been traveling? I’ve been traveling my whole life, but I took my first solo trip — to China — 7 years ago.
What’s on your bucket list? Current top-three are: 1. See the mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda or DRC. 2. The Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal. 3. Iran — when I can get a visa to travel independently.
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while traveling? Good crazy or bad crazy? (I have plenty of travel-fail stories if you want the latter…)
Five years ago, I did a jungle trek in Laos. After two days in the jungle, my group and I swam across a river to get to a Khmu (hill tribe) village for a ride back to town.
Our guide was from the village, and one of the other people in my group spoke a little Lao. So they conversed a bit and apparently reached the conclusion that we were all invited to the chief’s house to drink some Lao Hai (local moonshine) and be initiated into the village life.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting on this bamboo porch, in a circle with all the men in the village. In the middle, there was a giant urn filled with concentrated Lao Hai and two bamboo straws. The chief had a metal cup. The idea was you fill the cup with water, pour it into the urn to dilute the liquor, and drink until the liquor level is back to where it was before you poured in the water. So we went around in a circle and everybody drank from the urn. We sat around chatting (or mostly hand-gesturing for communication) for about an hour.
It sounds like a little thing, but even in the moment, I was thinking “I can’t believe this is happening. This is the 21st century. People don’t spontaneously gather on porches in the middle of the afternoon to initiate a handful of strangers into their village.” But there I was — the only woman in the group — in this village with no cell phones, no computers, (probably no electricity), joking and laughing with these strange men who spoke no English. We didn’t even pull out our cameras. It was a travel experience I never could have dreamed of.
What’s your favorite place in the world and why is it so great? It may not sound that exciting, but I really love Mexico. I’ve been three times and still want to go back.
In terms of sights, it has everything — an ancient wonder of the world (Chichen Itza), amazing beaches, fascinating museums, jungles, volcanoes…you name it. I could spend months exploring Mexican history through Diego Rivera’s murals alone.
It’s also culturally fascinating and unique. The food is good. It’s cheap to travel in and easy to get around. And no two parts of the country are the same.
On top of that, the whole country just exudes a good-times vibe. When I step off the plane, I can feel the stress of travel bounce right off me. People are friendly, but more than that, it’s just a much more laid-back place than the U.S. — and only a three-hour flight!
What lessons have you learned from travel? The big one is “don’t panic; everything is going to be fine.”
When you travel alone on a tight budget, sometimes things don’t go your way. Hotels might be full. Restaurants might be closed. Buses could break down. You might have a hard time pulling together a good group of people to do an adventure tour with.
Travel helps put these minor annoyances into perspective. As long as my safety isn’t at risk (and it’s very, very rare for my safety to be at risk), I’ve learned to avoid freaking out, stay clear-headed and solve the problem, then laugh it off.
I’ve applied that lesson at work and in relationships with friends and family. A big project doesn’t go my way? While I might have once been tempted to hide in the bathroom and cry, now I use it as a learning experience and let it go.
On a less serious note, I used to be extremely shy. Travel taught me to not worry so much what other people think of me and just dive in and talk to strangers.
How do you combat loneliness when traveling solo? I actually feel like I spend less time alone when I travel solo than when I travel with friends or family. I meet more people. I think when you’re alone, you look more approachable to strangers.
I’m often an object of locals’ curiosity — especially local women. They’ll chat with me, show me around, or invite me to spend time with them and their families. I also usually stay in hostels instead of hotels, since it’s easier to meet other backpackers. Finally, public transportation — trains and buses — are great places to make new friends. I just look for anyone else with a beat-up backpack or suitcase and ask where they’re headed!
What advice would you give a woman who wants to start traveling but is struggling with doubts and uncertainties? I have doubts and uncertainties every time I get on a plane, so I know how you feel. But the hard parts are deciding to go and getting there. Everything kind of falls into place after that. After all, walking around, visiting museums, eating great food, going to the beach, and enjoying nature are not exactly hardships. You may never feel fully prepared — but that’s okay, you don’t have to be. People will help you. So just go!
Also, recruit an encouraging friend to watch you buy your plane ticket. When the doubts creep in, they’ll put you back on track!
Here are all the places you can follow Carrie and her adventures:
There you have it- Don’t panic; everything is going to be fine! Definitely words to live by. Now I think I’ll go find some friendly villagers myself. Or at least some moonshine… Happy adventuring, Carrie!
PS, definitely go see those gorgeous Ugandan gorillas. Standing face to face with one of these incredible creatures was the absolute highlight of my entire life. You can read about it here.
Like this? Check out more awesome solo female travelers like Carrie here!
Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam.
A Story of People Not Knowing Who They’re Dealing With, As Usual.
Taking a chance on a hotel or guesthouse without many reviews is always a crap shoot. Sometimes you get lucky and discover a great new place before the unwashed masses. Sometimes you end up having to pretend you’re a witch just to get a good night’s sleep.
I was excited about this accommodation; the price was right at a whopping $10/night, and the only other English review had described it as “delightful” with a charming host family and frolicking monkeys on the roof every morning. And only a 3 minute walk from the beach! I was sold. I booked a three week stay and prepared to spend mornings swimming in the ocean and afternoons writing with a pot of tea.
The host family does, in fact, seem charming when I arrive. They eagerly show me to my little jungle cabana and provide me with the WiFi password.
The charm doesn’t last long.
Working up a sweat as I unpack my suitcase, I try to turn on the A/C, only to find the remote missing from the wall holder. I search the whole cabana but come up empty handed. The ceiling fan just isn’t cutting it, though, so I head up to the main house in hopes they have a spare.
“Excuse me, the air conditioner remote is missing from my room. Do you happen to have a spare?”
The guesthouse owner is all smiles. “Oh, we took it out. You have to pay 500 rupees a day extra for it.”
We just stand there and smile at each other for a minute.
“Yes,” she nods vigorously. “500 rupees, please.” She holds out her hand. “You book a room without A/C, so you have to pay if you want it.”
“…I’ll be right back.”
I’m not a fan of looking like an idiot despite how often I do it, so before saying anything else, I want to make sure I actually had booked a room with A/C. I check the booking confirmation on my phone and I’m relieved to see “air conditioning” listed under the room amenities. I’m just as smiley as the guesthouse owner when I return to her porch, pleased that we can now clear up this little misunderstanding.
“Ok, see, right here on my booking confirmation, it states that the room does have air conditioning…” She’s refusing to look at the screen, and the smile has vanished.
“Ma’am, I’m not going to pay more for air conditioning when my booking confirmation states that I’ve already paid for a room with A/C.”
She shrugs, and looks angry. Apparently she was counting on this scam going off without a hitch. I wonder how many other guests have just paid it without question. Having reserved the room through one of the major booking websites, I let the guesthouse owner know I’ll just contact them to clear up the issue with her. Her eyes get wide.
“No! Do not contact, please.”
“Yes, I’m going to. I’ve showed you my booking confirmation so you can see that I booked a room with air conditioning. If you want to continue to argue, you can argue with them because I’m not paying any extra.”
Bizarrely, she calls over one of the small children playing on the dining room floor and asks him to explain to me that I need to give them 500 rupees. I can’t believe I’m even humoring them at this point, but I show my phone screen to the boy anyway. He also refuses to look. “500 rupees!” Little droplets of spit accompany his shout. Oookay, we’re done here. I turn and walk back to my cabana. It’s hot, and my frustration doesn’t help.
Five minutes later, I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, still staring at the confirmation email on my phone, wondering how I’m going to get through to these people…when I recall another hotel on the other side of the world where this phone saved the day. A hotel where I used a universal remote app to turn on the TV instead of going in search of new batteries. I check to see if I still have the app installed. I do. What are the chances that it’s able to control a wall-mounted air conditioner?
Very good chances, it turns out, and five minutes later I’m lying in the path of a glorious blast of cold air, feeling extremely pleased with myself.
Less than an hour later, there’s a knock at the door. It’s the guesthouse owner, apparently wanting to continue our conversation. She has brought her teenage daughter along to assist in the negotiations. The girl is the picture of smiling diplomacy. “Hello…I came to help explain why you can’t use the A/C?”
I match her smile. “Oh, you don’t have to waste your time. I’m actually completely uninterested in continuing this conversation and I’m definitely not going to fall for your scam.”
Before she can reply, she notices the air conditioner running and the smile melts. “But…how?”
I’m still smiling as I start to close the door.
“Please! How did you start the A/C without the remote?”
“Magic!” I chirp, turning the deadbolt.
I’m not so smug four days later when my room sits untouched by housekeeping and they refuse to answer the door when I go looking for a fresh towel. I spot the guesthouse owner entering the local market and when she notices me, she looks horrified and ducks inside as I approach her. Apparently they believe I actually had turned on the air conditioning by magic, and are avoiding me (and the room) because I’m a witch.
I end up leaving the guesthouse (where I never heard any damn monkeys on the roof anyway) and moving into a hotel with an oceanfront balcony suite nearby. But just to make sure they’re left wondering long after I’m gone, I unwrap a bar of soap and draw an evil eye on the mirror before I go.
What have we learned here today? Always keep your hotel booking confirmations, don’t give in to obvious scams, and keep a universal remote app on your phone at all times. Also, use your technological witchcraft sparingly unless you want to use the same gross towel for three weeks.