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.

Good Morning, India!

Daybreak on my first morning in India. I’ve been up since 3:30 a.m. after getting less than four hours of sleep. Thanks, jet lag.

My first Indian breakfast. That bowl of hot looking stuff is called sambar but I just call it fire soup and it's delicious even if it makes smoke come out of my ears every day.
My first Indian breakfast. That bowl of hot looking stuff is called sambar but I just call it fire soup and it’s delicious even if it makes smoke come out of my ears every day.

I’ve already used the four days’ worth of wifi codes provided by the hotel. I’ve been here for 9 hours. Oops. I’m already reconsidering my decision not to rent a personal wifi hotspot “because I’ll have access at the hotel so I won’t really need it.”

I discover at 5:00 a.m. that there’s a mosque somewhere nearby. Some people would be annoyed by the early wake up call, but I love it. The sound of the adhan breaking through the predawn darkness brings me back to my first solo trip, when I discovered I’d booked a Mandalay hotel room next door to a mosque, and sat on the wide marble windowsill, hugging my knees and listening to the Muslim call to prayer for the first time.

Getting to the hotel last night was an adventure. The only thing more exciting than Indian traffic is Indian traffic at night, in the rain, while your taxi driver is texting because he can’t find your hotel.

Travel Tip: In addition to your hotel’s address, make sure you have their phone number handy before you travel. Many cabs in Asia don’t have GPS and your driver will want to call the hotel to get directions before setting out. Don’t rely on the promise of free wifi in the airport to pull up this information as most Indian wifi hotspots require you to have a working Indian phone number at which to receive an access code by text message.

It’s such a beautiful morning I’ve dragged my wooden desk chair out to the balcony to listen to the city wake up. I’m surrounded by Bougainvillea bushes and thin-leafed trees I’ve never seen before. It’s barely dawn but the traffic already sounds heavy on the main road. A flock of pigeons on the roof of the building next door is making a huge racket, and a local woman in a blue tee shirt is jogging around the block before the oppressive heat that is surely on its way.

Good morning, India! I could easily make this my office for the next few weeks.
Good morning, India! I could easily make this my office for the next few weeks.

Good morning, India. I could sit here all day but there is adventure to be had!

 

Bucket List #22- Ride in a Hot Air Balloon

March 24, 2009- I’m excited to be able to check off multiple bucket list items on one trip. While I was researching this adventure, I spent a lot of time reading hotel reviews and travel forums, trying to make my tight budget stretch as far as possible. Luckily, traveling in Southeast Asia is notoriously cheap and there were plenty of options that wouldn’t break the bank. One thing I knew I was going to have to make room in the budget for as soon as I saw it was a hot air balloon ride over the temples of Bagan. Balloons Over Bagan is a UK company with an impeccable safety record, and even though flights were pricey, it immediately went on the itinerary.

I have to wake up at 4:00 a.m. for the sunrise flight. This trip is a lot of things, but relaxing isn’t really one of them. Note to self: try to build in more leisure time in future. I’m picked up in a rickety old red bus at 5:30 and we drive to an open field next to a golf course. Two other buses have already arrived with other passengers and the crew is unfolding our balloon. Three European couples and two monks, my fellow passengers, are having tea and coffee while the balloon pilot, a funny little British man, runs around the crew, giving orders.

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The balloon flight itself is absolutely magical. Floating through the air over these temples that look straight out of a movie set is an otherworldly experience. The valley is hazy with fog, which is a shame for photos, but feels like a dream. The occasional burst of noise from the burner is the only sound- everyone in the balloon is mesmerized into silence and the world below is still asleep. I know this is going to be the absolute highlight of my trip, and probably one of the travel highlights of my life.

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The flight only lasts about 45 minutes, which is far too short. I’d like to stay up there all day. Our landing is relatively gentle, for a basket full of people dropping out of the sky. The crew serves us champagne and pastries before the buses take us back to our hotels. As we’ve landed in a field right next to mine, I could have walked (along with all the local women carrying baskets on their heads).

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More than seven years after this experience, I can confirm- this hot air balloon right was easily one of the highlights of my life. If you find yourself in Burma, don’t miss this!

Good Morning, Yangon!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

33 hours of travel have completely discombobulated my internal clock, so I’m awake hours before dawn. My hotel doesn’t start serving breakfast until 7:00 a.m. and I’m eager to start exploring, so at 6:00 I go for a walk with my camera to see what Yangon looks like at this hour.

Street vendors are already cooking on small fires along the side streets. This stuff smells better and better all the time, whatever it is.

Packs of wild dogs roam the streets along with the ubiquitous monks in their long red robes.

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Women walk around with baskets of produce on their heads and trucks are already full of people, stacked three deep and hanging off the backs, on their way to somewhere. This city wakes up early.

Back in the hotel, my favorite discovery of the morning is that the giant windows in my 9th story room don’t lock. I slide one open and pull up a chair to watch the city come alive.

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A young monk is running from a playful pack of dogs. Trucks full of the local faithful trundle up the hill to Shwedagon. Longyi-clad men perform basic grooming tasks outside. One brushes his teeth on his front steps, another is bathing shirtless with the aid of a garden hose. I can hear chanting from the monastery next door, and frequent wake up calls from the rooster population. Hundreds of pigeons and sparrows add to the soundtrack. I could sit here all day, but I have adventuring to do.