Hotel Review: Max Wadiya

I had the pleasure of being hosted by the phenomenal Max Wadiya hotel for this stay, but, as always, all opinions are my own.

Sitting by the ocean, drinking a king coconut, has proved to be the best medicine I’ve tried so far. I’ve been sick for a week before arriving in Ambalangoda, but I start to feel better almost immediately. There is no such thing as stress at Max Wadiya, and somehow my body knows it. I can feel the tension melting out of my body as I sit on the wide tiled porch of this coconut jungle by the sea.

You feel more relaxed already, don't you?
You feel more relaxed already, don’t you?

I’m pretty sure I have this island paradise all to myself as I have seen no one else since my arrival, except Ranjan the manager and the team of barefoot staff boys who scurry around, mopping and delivering refreshing drinks like a silent team of gentleman ninjas.

The in-house chef is currently preparing my lunch, which will be served in a terracotta roofed gazebo near the edge of the sand and I’m worried I might be too distracted by the view of the enormous waves to eat. One of the barefoot boys has spent the last ten minutes carefully arranging tableware and polishing glasses because everything at Max Wadiya must always be perfect.

I can’t quite decide what I should do after lunch: walk along the beach or lounge by the pool? This will prove to be the most difficult decision I have to make at Max Wadiya, whose motto is “No Watch, No Wallet, No Shoes, No Menus.” No watch, because there are no set times for anything. Want to sleep late? You’re not going to miss breakfast. Prefer to get up with the sun and walk on the beach before breakfast? They’ll be ready when you are. No wallet, because your stay is all-inclusive. No shoes, because who wears shoes in an island paradise? I kicked off my flip flops when I arrived and didn’t put them back on until I left (and even that was somewhat grudgingly!) No menus because you don’t order; the chef will surprise and delight you with a creative presentation of whatever is fresh from the market and the sea that day. Everything is catered to your taste and ensuring you have an absolutely flawless experience.

Last night’s lack of sleep is catching up with me fast. I have a feeling tonight will bring the best night’s sleep I’ve had in quite a while. There is nothing like drifting off to the sound of the ocean right outside your door. (Spoiler alert: I was right; I slept like absolute royalty in the Tangerine Suite’s heavenly four-poster bed, with its crisp, high end linens. There was definitely no pea under the luxurious mattress.)

Max Wadiya is the kind of place where you use words like “laze” and “puttering.” I find myself putting down my notebook every so often just to get up and stretch a bit, stare out at the ocean, listen to the fountain in the koi pond in the courtyard, notice the breeze and the tropical greenery as far as the eye can see. You get the feeling nothing has ever been done in a rush here. The hotel grounds nudge right up against the water’s edge, so the air is always hazy with ocean mist, giving the whole place a soft, dream-like quality.

If Walt Disney were to open a Sri Lankan resort, I think it would look a lot like Max Wadiya, with its pineapple parrot garnishes and frangipani blossoms drifting gently into the saltwater pool.

I had heard that the food at Max Wadiya was magnificent, and I expected it to be good, but I had no idea I was in for such a feast. I had warned Ranjan when I arrived that I generally have the appetite of a small child and I was recovering from an illness so there was no need to go overboard at mealtimes. He paid absolutely no heed and utterly spoiled me with the freshest, most incredible meals I’ve had since arriving in Sri Lanka.

Lunch on the first day was all I needed to regain my lost appetite from being sick: a chopped salad of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion in a weightless vinaigrette, new potatoes and haricots verts roasted in fragrant garlic, and lightly glazed fish, grilled to flaky perfection.

 

Everything is as perfect, graceful, and gracious as if Martha Stewart has taken up residence on a South Asian island. Every meal that follows is equally splendid, carefully arranged and garnished and presented; served al fresco next to the sand, where the booming waves drown out all of the noise from the nearby road and make you feel completely alone in a tropical paradise.

My morning walk along the beach- not a soul to be found.
My morning walk along the beach- not a soul to be found.

After lunch, Ranjan gives me a tour of the property, which consists of the original villa, full of antiques and incredible sunset views out over the ocean; and a separate wing with two spacious and gorgeously decorated suites. There’s a saltwater pool tucked into a secluded coconut grove, and a pavilion where yoga, massage, and Ayurveda treatments can be arranged, if you’re so inclined (and you probably will be, if you can pry yourself out of the bathwater-warm pool).

Our last stop is Ranjan’s pride and joy: the cement tank from which he has released over 7000 baby sea turtles from eggs that he has hatched. He beams as he explains that locals from all over Ambalangoda bring him turtle eggs from endangered nests, and he personally tends to the eggs and releases the newly hatched turtles into the sea in the predawn darkness. The opulent luxury of Max Wadiya would be reason enough to visit, but knowing that your vacation dollars are going to support the endangered turtle population of this beautiful island is a wonderful feeling.

Every sunset is a little bit different. Collect them all!
Every sunset is a little bit different. Collect them all!

Do you have “Imagine I’m royalty living in a tropical paradise and being waited on hand and foot by the most gracious and accommodating staff imaginable” on your bucket list? (Hint: if you don’t, you should really add it!) Max Wadiya is the perfect place to check it off. If you decide to pay this magical oasis a visit, tell them Leslie sent you, and be sure to send me a picture!

Max Wadiya is located at 147 Galle Road (Parrot Junction) Urawatte, Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka. Find more information or book your stay at www.maxwadiya.com.

Ranjan (center, blue shirt) and the staff of Max Wadiya stand ready to make your tropical vacation dreams come true.
Ranjan (center, blue shirt) and the staff of Max Wadiya stand ready to make your tropical vacation dreams come true.

The Monthly Bucket- April 2017

Hey Adventurers! Is it just me or has April absolutely flown by?

Where in the world am I? Hello from Bangalore (Bengaluru), India! I’ve been here for two weeks and I absolutely love this glorious, chaotic mess of a city. This morning I walked straight into a cow on my way to Starbucks and that pretty much sums up Bangalore.

Items checked off the bucket list this month: Can you believe…none?? Apparently it’s really time consuming to uproot your life, get rid of all of your stuff, and traipse to the other side of the world. But don’t fret- I’m on my way to Sri Lanka in a few days to explore some gorgeous old temples (bucket list item #542!)

Highlight of the month: Hopping off a rickshaw in the middle of a traffic jam on a Sunday afternoon in Bangalore only to find myself in the middle of a giant Hindu flower festival.

Hindu parents hold their children up to the sacred statues inside the flower chariots for a blessing.
Hindu parents hold their children up to the sacred statues inside the flower chariots for a blessing.

Lowlight of the month: Crying in the parking lot of the doggie summer camp where I left Murphy Ann until I get back to the US at the end of July.

Best meal: Chicken Tacos at Tequila’s Town, Savannah, Georgia.  Honorable Mentions: The Squawking Goat chicken biscuit at Maple Street Biscuit Company, St. Augustine, Florida; the Cuban sandwich at El Ambia in Melbourne, Florida;

Seriously, these tacos. I can't even tell you. Just get in the car and head for Savannah. It doesn't matter where you are.
Seriously, these tacos. I can’t even tell you. Just get in the car and head for Savannah. It doesn’t matter where you are.
I'd probably eat a soggy piece of cardboard if you put goat cheese on it, but trust me- this is better.
I’d probably eat a soggy piece of cardboard if you put goat cheese on it, but trust me- this is better.

New blog posts published:  Have Dog Will Travel in which Murphy Ann the adventure dog takes over the blog while we adventure around the Southeast US. 

What I learned:

  • You never need as much stuff as you think you do.
  • If you can survive Bangalore traffic in an auto rickshaw, you can survive anything.
  • There aren’t any walk signals telling you when to go, so you just have to watch for an opening, take a deep breath, make peace with your creator, and plunge (ooh, life metaphor alert!).  
  • If you see a big crowd of people outside a sketchy looking food stand, go there. Bonus points if there’s no menu. Use hand gestures and look hungry. 
  • You never realize how much you take air conditioning and unlimited ice for granted until you don’t have them anymore.

 

What I read: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I loved this because Cheryl is quite possibly the only adventurer to have more travel catastrophes than I do.
What’s next? Heading to Sri Lanka on May 2nd for three months of temples, beaches, elephants, leopards, and adventure.

Well, I’m heading back out to explore more of this beautiful city before it’s time to leave. You should head to the comments and tell me where in the world you’re adventuring this month!

Things I Love

A completely random collection of things I love, in no particular order.

 

Tiny details

Flowers left as an offering to a Ganesh statue in Bali
Flowers left as an offering to a Ganesh statue in Bali

Slow travel

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Luxuriating in an exquisite meal

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Smelling flowers

Exotic flora in Uganda
Exotic flora in Uganda

Listening to a stranger’s stories

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Watching a new city wake up

A chilly November morning in Edinburgh
A chilly November morning in Edinburgh

Bonding with animals

Edgar the affectionate manatee
Edgar the affectionate manatee

Old cemeteries

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Leaving my fingerprints on every corner of the world

Chinatown, Singapore
Chinatown, Singapore

 

What do you love? Tell me in the comments!

24 Things I Loved About Burma

Sometimes I feel guilty about writing the negative aspects of my posts. Even though honesty demands that the negative be included along with the positive, I tend to feel like an ugly, entitled American when another country doesn’t live up to my expectations. To help combat that feeling, here is a list of 24 things I absolutely loved about Burma.

  1. The people are so nice, and genuinely try to be helpful to lost foreigners.
  2. Tiny monks everywhere.
  3. Gorgeous temples everywhere.
  4. The food is pretty good.
  5. I felt completely safe nearly everywhere as a solo female traveler. Being a Buddhist country, there is very little crime, especially against tourists.
  6. Many people have learned a little bit of English, either in school or free classes taught in the monasteries, and are very eager to try out what they know. Especially cute are the shy little kids who will run up to you and yell, “Hello-goodbye!” before running back to their parents.
  7. Women and children wearing thick yellow thanaka paste on their faces as sunscreen.
  8. People here have a charming affinity for western cartoon characters. Even grown men will travel with a Mickey Mouse or Snoopy duffel bag.
  9. The hot air balloon ride in Bagan. Pure magic.
  10. Children are remarkably well behaved here.
  11. The Islamic community in Mandalay. My hotel was right next to a large mosque and I loved to sit in the window and list to their calls to worship.
  12. Chapatis and Nepali food in Mandalay.
  13. Horse carts in Bagan.
  14. Going barefoot in all the Buddhist temples and monasteries. Somehow the act of removing your shoes makes the experience so much more reverent.
  15. My first day in Yangon, a toothless old woman approached me on the street and handed me  a beautiful white flower. Thinking she was selling them, I shook my head ‘no’ but she pressed it into my hands anyway and said, “Gift!”
  16. The way people worship their Buddhas, lovingly covering them with gold and flowers, washing them and making offerings of rice and incense. Misdirection of time and resources that it might be, I think almost all forms of worship are beautiful to witness.
  17. Little nat (earth spirit) shrines hidden in tress and other surprising places.
  18. Even though so many people here are going hungry or lacking basic necessities, there is virtually no theft. I watched a homeless man sitting on the dirty street pick up money and go chasing after the German tourist who had dropped it.
  19. The pervasive smell of jasmine.
  20. Making a wish at Shwedagon Paya in the ‘wish fulfilling place’.
  21. Nylon Ice Cream Bar, Mandalay.
  22. The beautiful, if chilly, boat ride across Inle Lake.
  23. The smell of incense.
  24. People who speak some English eagerly try to communicate with foreigners. Those who don’t just smile and laugh a lot.

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Rudyard Kipling is a Terrible Travel Agent

 

“This is Burma, and it is quite unlike any land you know about.”

                                                                                                 – Rudyard Kipling

March 25, 2009- Today’s the day. The entire reason I’m on the other side of the world. My driver, Zaw, will be picking me up early (surprise) for the 7 a.m. train to Mandalay. Yes, I know it’s “Travel the road to Mandalay,” but the poem was talking about a boat, anyway. Traveling the railroad tracks to Mandalay will be just as good, I’m sure. On the ride to the station, Zaw expresses amazement that I would rather take an 8 hour train ride than a 30 minute flight to the former capital. “Your airlines are run by the corrupt government and I won’t give them any more money than absolutely necessary. Also they have horrible safety records.” He’s astounded that an outsider knows so many things about his country.

We arrive at the train station only to find out that the overnight train from Mandalay has not appeared. Zaw goes to find out how much of a delay to expect while I wedge myself into a tiny plastic chair and swat mosquitoes. Finally he returns. “Now they do not expect the train to arrive until 2:00 p.m. and leave again for Mandalay at 4:00. Will that be OK for you?” Um, no.

Apparently my only other option is a 7 hour bus ride, so we race to the bus station in Nyang U, thinking this also departs at 7:00. The bus actually doesn’t leave until 8:00 a.m., so I’m there in plenty of time. Seated next to me on the bus is a very old Burmese woman with obvious motion sickness. She keeps a handful of jasmine pressed over her face the entire time. At ten a.m. we stop at one of the ubiquitous roadside curry stands for lunch. I have a remarkably good beef curry and a Coke for $1.80.

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We finally pull into the Mandalay bus station (actually just a large dusty parking lot) at 2:30 p.m., where another driver is waiting to take me to the Silver Star Hotel. The road to Mandalay? Not that impressive, actually.

The view from the bus
The view from the bus

The first thing I notice about Mandalay is the pervasive dust everywhere. Everything is so dry and covered in dust- cars, buildings, people. Everything. I don’t know where Kipling’s flyin’-fishes are, or the misty rice paddies. I’m coughing like crazy from the dust and feeling absolutely disgusting from the long sweltering bus ride. As soon as I check into the hotel I take a desperately needed shower- with ice cold water. The hot water heater isn’t working, the front desk clerk tells me with an apologetic smile. Oh, and the Internet is out- has been all week. Probably won’t be up any time soon. Welcome to Mandalay!

Turns out, that jerk Kipling never even visited Mandalay. That’s absolutely the last time I take travel advice from a long-dead English poet.

My first impressions of Mandalay don’t get any better after I leave the hotel and wander down to the local market. The streets are so full of garbage and human waste, I actually gag a few times. I’m shocked to see stalls full of adult videos and magazines; being a Buddhist country, this is very unexpected. It’s getting dark and the male stall keepers are openly leering at me, so I hightail it out of there.

I’m hungry, though, and not ready to call it a night until I find two places recommended by my Lonely Planet guide. One is a no-name chapati stand on the side of the road and I spot it from a block away. There is a throng of people crowding around to watch the chapati-maker flipping the hot bread on his griddle. Smoke rises up to mix with the clouds of dust from the street. There are no signs and I have no idea what the ordering process is, so I stand on the edge of the crowd looking hungry and hopeful until a boy of about 8 or 9, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, comes over and points to an overturned plastic bucket in front of a tiny table. I feel like I’m sitting on dollhouse furniture. Food magically appears in front of me: a big bowl of chicken curry, steaming plate of chapatis, and some sort of unidentifiable (but amazingly good) vegetable curry.  I could sit and eat this all night. There is traffic whizzing by right next to the cluster of rickety little tables, but no one seems to notice. We’re all just eagerly shoveling chapatis and curry into our faces with wild abandon. I’m heartbroken when I get so full I can’t eat any more. This was the best meal of my life, eaten on an overturned plastic bucket on the side of a dirty road in a filthy town, and it cost $1.36. This is what you should be writing poetry about, people.

I still dream about this meal.
I still dream about this meal.

Walking three blocks from the chapati stand gives me enough room for ice cream, though, and this is the second redeeming quality of Mandalay: Nylon Ice Cream Bar. Probably the closest thing to a western ice cream shop I’m going to find in this country, it is a welcome oasis from the brain-melting heat. Apart from the fifty cent dish of strawberry ice cream, I also take my life into my hands with a glass of water from the jug on the table. Not on purpose- it’s just so hot and dusty my brain isn’t working properly and the jug of ice water looked like a mirage in the desert. I have a stomach ache for about ten minutes, but that’s it. Apparently I’m invincible.

Thursday morning I meet my driver for a tour of Mandalay’s most famous sights. Our first stop is Mahamuni Paya, one of the most famous Buddhist sites in the country. It’s a major pilgrimage site and the center of a huge annual festival. Or so the guidebook says- what I saw were homeless people sleeping on festering piles of garbage and crying, hungry children begging for food while oblivious men rubbed more gold leaf on a statue.

We also go to Kuthodaw Pagoda, or “The World’s Largest Book” and Shwenandaw Monastery. The pagoda is interesting, but hard to appreciate when you have to push your way through crowds of beggars and step over piles of maggotty garbage to get in. The monastery itself is an incredible series of intricate wood carvings, but it’s still an active monastic site and I have no interest in shoving my camera in some poor monk’s face while he tries to eat, as I saw another tourist do.

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Driving from the monastery to our next site, a small child in rags approaches my side of the car. His face is a mass of horrific burn scars and one eye socket is glaringly empty. He grabs at the side of the car with one disfigured hand while holding out a cup with the other. “Try not to look,” my driver says quietly. “You can’t give him money- if you do, hundreds of others will swarm the car.”

I’m sure he’s right, but I can’t look away from the poor boy with the ruined face. “His parents did that, you know,” the driver says as we pull away. He shrugs at my horrified look. “With boiling water. The more badly disfigured they make their children, the more pity foreigners will have and will give them more money.” Imagine the utter desperation that would make you resort to pouring boiling water on your own child in hopes it will result in enough handouts to feed him.