60+ Best Things to Eat, See, and Do in Sri Lanka

Ceylon. The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Teardrop of India. With descriptors like these, it’s no wonder Sri Lanka is fast becoming one of Asia’s hottest tourism destinations. If you’re planning a trip and looking for things to do in Sri Lanka, you’ve come to the right place. I recently spent three months exploring this tropical paradise, and this is my personal list of the best things to eat, things to see, and things to do in Sri Lanka.

(As always, posts on My Adventure Bucket may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps support the maintenance of this site and my dog’s organic broccoli habit.)

To make it easy for you, I’ve broken my recommendations down by region.

Because these are solely my personal recommendations, you won’t see anything from areas I didn’t visit. Although I saw a lot in three months, I’m sure I also missed some really excellent things. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have some recommendations I missed!

Colombo

Things to Eat:

  1. Sunday brunch in the Barefoot Garden Cafe (704 Galle Rd, Col 3). Purely for the atmosphere, the tea, and the live jazz in the afternoon. Have a browse through the shop when you’re done; it’s a sweet rabbit warren of books, textiles, and other unique souvenirs you won’t find at the kitschy airport kiosks.

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    More tea, Vicar? Indulging in a pot of real Ceylon tea in a sunny garden is a fabulous way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
  2. Vegetable kotthu at any no-name dive joint. You can find kotthu all over, but the very best ones come from the sketchiest looking little roadside stands. Walk out of your hotel around 6 p.m. and follow your nose. If you’ve never had kotthu, the best way I can describe it is “spicy Sri Lankan Stove-Top Stuffing on steroids.” Half the fun of eating kotthu is watching the chef prepare it on his flat-top griddle with knives and sizzling spices flying. 

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    If you could feel the heat emanating from this spicy plate of kotthu, your eyes would water.
  3. OK, this isn’t something you eat, but the blackcurrant iced tea at Tea Avenue (55 Barnes Pl, Col 7) was outstanding.
  4. Mouth-watering fried dumplings at Momos By Ruvi (43/1D Galle Rd, Col 4). One of my favorite meals in Colombo, and ridiculously cheap to boot. It’s hidden down an alley, so you may have to search a bit, but it’s worth it. 

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    Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know what a momo was, either. All you need to know is that they’re delicious.
  5. Chicken tacos at Let’s Taco Colombo. Ignore the recently-opened Taco Bell and come to this family-owned startup serving the first real Mexican food in Sri Lanka.

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    What? You can’t eat curry every day, can you? Long live Taco Tuesday.
  6. A proper Sunday roast at a proper British pub: the Cheers Pub in the Cinnamon Grand hotel puts on an incredible spread. Despite the unfortunately smoky atmosphere, my inner Anglophile doesn’t allow me to pass up this favorite English tradition, no matter where I am in the world. It’s pricey by Sri Lankan standards, but the food is excellent.

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    This is only a photo; please don’t lick your screen.
  7. Masala dosa and other Indian delicacies at Shanmugas (53/3 Ramakrishna Rd, Col 6). Having come to Sri Lanka from a very enjoyable stay in Bangalore, I was experiencing severe Indian food withdrawals. This modest vegetarian joint hit the spot amazingly well.Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to See:

  1. Wolvendaal Church (Wolvendaal Lane, Col 11). This whole building is a work of art. Built in 1749, this little church at the edge of hectic Pettah is an absolute jewel. From the carved wooden furniture to the ornate Dutch colonial tombstones used as floor pavers, I spent at least an hour wandering and admiring.

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    Little bits of aesthetic magic are hidden literally all over this timeworn historical treasure.
  2. A tree full of enormous flying foxes in the center of Viharamahadevi Park.
  3. Gay pride celebrations every June. If you’re visiting from a western country, these gatherings might seem like no big deal. But here in a country where homosexuality is illegal, these inspiring activists put themselves at risk to wave the rainbow flag. Check out this article I wrote for the G&LRBest things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  4. Arthur C. Clarke’s house (25 Barnes Pl, Col 7). Although this private residence isn’t open to the public, if you’re a fan you’ll definitely get a thrill from being able to stand outside the very house where the sci-fi master lived for so many years. According to this article, the inside has been kept exactly the way it was when he died.

Things to Do:

  1. Attend the Vesak Poya celebrations in May. This major Buddhist holiday is celebrated throughout the country, but at Gangaramaya Temple, this is the Sri Lankan version of New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Only without the freezing temperatures and inability to find a bathroom.
  2. Get a pedicure at Nail Anatomy (14 Reid Ave, Col 7). After walking around sightseeing all day, the peppermint cooling gel is pure bliss.
  3. Or, go all out with a spa treatment at Amber Spa at Colombo Courtyard.
  4. Sunday afternoon at Galle Face Green. It seems like the whole city comes out here to Colombo’s front lawn on Sunday afternoon to walk, fly kites, soak in the sun, and sample treats from the myriad food vendors. Pull up a chair, order a Lion Lager and a plate of spicy kotthu, and settle in for some magnificent people-watching. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  5. Shop for souvenirs at the Laksala Museum Store. The shop has a ton of cute things and they’re not ridiculously overpriced. If you’re not a huge museum buff and/or you’re short on time, don’t feel guilty about skipping the National Museum. I loved the architecture and the old Dutch tombstones, but otherwise found it dark, stuffy, and rather poorly presented. After shopping, stop in the attached cafe for a fresh lime soda.
  6. Wander around Borella Cemetery for a few hours. The final resting place of sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke and most of the city’s well-heeled dead, Borella Cemetery is a fabulous place to spend an afternoon. I don’t know about you, but I love to visit cemeteries in other countries and marvel at the different ways we find to memorialize our loved ones. See how many tiny Buddhist shrines you can find hidden in the trees. Learn from one of my myriad mistakes, though- don’t stick around too long if they’re burning plastic trash in the cemetery, which is unfortunately a common waste disposal  method. As I learned the hard way. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  7. Take your life into your hands by riding through the city in a tuktuk. OK, you’ll probably be fine, but…hang on, just in case. 

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    Clearly in mortal peril here, people.

 


The West

Things to Eat:

  1. Fresh pasta at the Dolphin Beach Resort. I know you’re not in Italy, but you may be second-guessing that after you taste one of the resident chef’s homemade pastas. The spaghetti carbonara I had here was the best pasta of my whole entire life. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Fruit salad with ice cream at Top Secret, Hikkaduwa. This backpacker joint is anything but a secret anymore. The food is just OK, but this chilly dessert was an absolute godsend on days it was too hot for anything more substantial. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Vegetable fried noodles at Tree Tops, Hikkaduwa. If all the spicy curries have your stomach a little on edge, this is just the kind of comfort food that will set you to rights. Added bonus: you’re basically eating in a tree house. 

Things to See:

  1. The Tsunami Photo Museum, Telwatta. Bring your Kleenex. This family’s tiny, handcrafted display of the devastating 2004 tsunami will rip your heart out. En route to the museum, take note of how many hulking shells of decimated homes and buildings still sit abandoned. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Lounge by the pool at one of Kalpitiya’s fabulous resorts. Yes, lounging by the pool is a no-brainer when you’re on vacation in a tropical paradise, but it’s even better here. The constant winds that make the Kalpitiya Peninsula one of Asia’s best kitesurfing spots also ensure you can sunbathe for hours without ever getting too hot or sticky. 

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    The massive oceanfront pool where I spent nearly all of my time at the Bar Reef Resort in Kalpitiya. Because it was the off season, I had this lovely scene all to myself most of the time.
  2. Touch a baby sea turtle at the Sea Turtle Hatchery & Rescue, Hikkaduwa. It’s a small rescue center so you won’t need a lot of time, but it’s more than worth a visit to support this grassroots conservation effort. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Watch the technicolor sunsets on the beach near Ambalangoda. Yes, all sunsets are beautiful. But these sunsets are something special. 

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    No filter necessary.
  4. Shower under an enormous sperm whale skull at the Bar Reef Resort. Yes, really. 

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    The resort manager informed me that this is the only giant sperm whale skull shower in the world. Who am I to argue?
  5. Get an Ayurveda massage. For about $20 US or less, a nice person will spend an hour pummelling your sore muscles and marinating you in so many oils and spices you’ll feel like a pork roast. A really, really relaxed pork roast. 

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    Embrace your inner pork roast, friends.
  6. Buy some of these darling and ubiquitous soft pants that all the roadside shops have on display. Once you realize that it’s socially acceptable to wear things that feel like pajamas out in public, you’ll never go back to suffering for the sake of fashion. 

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    This is my friend Pride, and she’s the sweetest.



The South

Things to Eat:

  1. Vegetable curry at Spoon’s Cafe inside the fort. This crimson-fronted walk-in closet of a restaurant serves some of the best curry in Galle. Grab an outside table just after sunset, place your order, and get in some great people watching as the two young men in the kitchen start filling the air with mouth-watering aromas, laughter, and tinny Bob Marley tunes. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Gelato from the Pedlar’s Inn, Galle Fort. They change up their selection every day, and after three weeks in the fort, I can confirm: they are all amazing. Grab one late in the afternoon to enjoy as you stroll along the fort walls.
  3. Fresh mango slices with paprika. Trust me on this.
  4. Hummus, Greek salad, and literally anything else on the menu at Chambers (40 Church Street, Galle). The best hummus I’ve ever had in my life, and one of the top three meals I had during my three months in Sri Lanka. I hate to repeat restaurants while I’m traveling because I always feel like I’m going to miss out on all the other great places around, but I came back to Chambers three times. It’s just that good. 

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    Would it be weird if I went all the way back to Sri Lanka just to eat here again?

Things to See:

  1. The Dutch Reformed Church (Church & Middle Streets, inside Galle Fort). If you enjoyed poking around Wolvendaal Church in Colombo, you’re going to love this antique beauty. From the stunning exterior with its curved moulding to the tombstone-paved floor and stained glass windows, there’s enough here to keep history and architecture buffs occupied for a good long time. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Take the train from Colombo to Galle or vice-versa. Secure your baggage and lean out the open doors with the hand rails for support. The track runs right along the ocean in some places, and you’ll feel the salty sea spray on your face and arms. Bonus points if there’s a light, cooling rain. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Take an early morning or sunset stroll around the Galle Fort walls. Sunset will be crowded; that’s when the whole city comes out to relax and reconnect. Trust me, you’re going to want to grab a gelato and join them. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Get a pedicure at the Galle Fort Spa. This was one of the most relaxing pedicures I had in Sri Lanka, and that’s saying something. Instead of traditional pedicure chairs, you sit on a cushioned bench on the wide back porch and watch for monkeys frolicking in the plumeria trees while the aesthetician works her magic on your tired feet. 

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    Yes, I’m wearing these pants again.
  4. Watch for whales! If you stay inside the walls of the fort, try to get a guest room facing the water. I spent many happy hours relaxing on my guesthouse balcony with a cocktail, watching humpback whales migrate past.
  5. Crash a wedding inside Galle Fort. Or, just watch from the sidelines. Sri Lankan brides are uniformly stunning with their colorful gowns, flawless makeup, and flower-accented hair. On one sunny Saturday I counted no less than 14 weddings taking place inside the fort, each one more elaborate than the last. 

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    You’ll want to stop short of crashing the reception, though. Don’t make it weird.
  6. Drink a “Galle Fort” cocktail on the balcony of the waterfront restaurant A Minute By Tuk Tuk in the Dutch Hospital Shopping Complex while watching a storm roll in over the ocean. 

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    Take lots of pictures like this one and you, too, can make your friends back home hate your guts.
  7. Listen for Galle’s musical garbage truck inside the fort. No one leaves their trash outside to attract vermin; when they hear the pastel truck’s soft classical melody, residents walk outside to deposit their refuse directly into the truck. It’s a terribly elegant way to deal with such an unsavory task.



The Hill Country

Things to Eat:

  1. Chicken curry at Villa Rosa. If you’re a guest of the hotel, you’ll even be invited to join the chef on his daily trip to the local market and help out in the kitchen. 
  2. Anything on the Menu du Jour at Ceylon Tea Bungalows. In my collaboration with this hotel, I described it as being less like a hotel and more like going to stay with your doting Grandma. That absolutely extends to the dinner table, where you can relax with a glass of wine under the stars while they whip up some delicious comfort food for you. Don’t pass up the chance to try the spicy beet curry if they offer it. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Chicken samosas on the train. You might not even be hungry, but when a man with a large plastic bin hops on your train and yells, “Hot hot very fresh samosas!” you need to flag him down. Period.Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  4. Baskin Robbins flavors you can’t get in other parts of the world. Try a Roses & Cream, made with pink and white rose ice cream and real rose petals. Your breath will smell like Valentine’s Day.

Things to See:

  1. Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy. The holiest site in Sri Lankan Buddhism, this is the one spot in Kandy that you just can’t miss. The temple itself is absolutely gorgeous, and the reverence with which the locals approach it is beautiful to watch. Photos are allowed, but read up on appropriate temple etiquette before you go so you don’t inadvertently become that clueless tourist taking selfies with a Buddha statue. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. The World Buddhism Museum. On the same grounds as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, this was one of my favorite museums in Sri Lanka. It’s very well laid out and takes you on a journey following the spread of Buddhism throughout the world.
  3. Kandy Garrison Cemetery. Yeah, you may have noticed I have a thing for cemeteries. This little hilltop graveyard is a fantastic history lesson, though. If you want to know what became of the British officers who settled in Kandy, well…here they are. Keep an eye out for the charming young man who tends the cemetery; he is an absolute wealth of knowledge. He knows the story behind every monument here and will happily tell you about all of them, including the “very very fat man” who succumbed to sunstroke while fleeing a rampaging elephant. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Take a stroll around the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. You can easily pack a picnic lunch and spend an entire day here if you’re a nature lover. And if you enjoyed the flying foxes in Colombo, wait until you catch sight of the massive colony that roosts here. Thousands of them fill the trees near the avenue of majestic royal palms; walking under them with your eyes glued skyward will make you feel like you’ve stumbled into a prehistoric jungle. In the unlikely event that enormous bats aren’t your thing, the orchid house is breathtaking. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Take the train to Ella, or anywhere else in the hill country. There’s a reason this is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Photos don’t do it justice, and you can experience all of this breathtaking beauty for just a few dollars. If you’re feeling extra fancy, pay a dollar more and get a first class reserved seat in a glass observation car for the ride of your life. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. Walk to Ella Rock. Make your trip to Ella worthwhile, because it’s mostly a huge tourist trap. If you replaced the mountains with the beach, you’d be in Hikkaduwa. But the mountain views are legitimately gorgeous and worth the stroll. If you can stand a little bit of tourist trap atmosphere, make a brief stop at Cafe Chill for an Ella Mule: cardamom-infused vodka, lime, local ginger beer, and fresh ginger. (Then get back on the train and head somewhere with fewer backpacker hostels and juice bars.) Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  4. Get up at the crack of dawn for a visit to Uda Walawe National Park. Have you ever had a herd of wild elephants all to yourself? You can here. Worlds different than the crowded Yala, Uda Walawe always seems to get passed over for its hectic sibling. I left my guesthouse in Galle at 5 a.m., spent two hours trying not to hurl on the winding mountain roads, and arrived at the gates right when they opened. Without another tourist vehicle in sight, I spent a brilliant morning riding through the empty park, spotting elephants and loads of other wildlife with no other company besides my jeep driver and guide. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com



The Ancient Cities

Things to Eat:

Keeping it real here: I don’t have anything to recommend in this category. I ended up eating in my hotel most of the time, due to a combination of illness and not having other options within a reasonable distance. Between bland hotel food and lackluster local options, there’s nothing in this category I can recommend. I’m hoping one of my readers can make up for my failings in the comments!

Things to See:

  1. Dambulla Cave Temples. Despite the disastrous day I had surrounding my visit to Dambulla, I had an absolutely amazing time poking around in these ancient caves. It’s a pretty steep trek to the top, so wear comfortable shoes and bring lots of water. And watch out for the monkeys. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Climb to the top of Sigiriya. This ancient rock monastery has come to symbolize this whole exotic island, and once you get there, it’s easy to see why. It’s an even tougher climb than Dambulla, but the views from the top (and sense of accomplishment) are more than worth it. Beware the extreme winds you can encounter as you near the top; at one point I was crawling on my hands and knees to avoid becoming a human kite. Please note that is not on this list of things to do. Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  2. Join the throngs of white-clad Buddhist faithful on a pilgrimage to Sri Maha Bodhi on a full moon poya day. Make sure and go early if you want a chance of getting near this sacred tree; by mid-morning, the crowds and heat will be unbearable. Black and very dark clothing is prohibited, so consider adapting the local dress code. (Wearing all white will also keep you as cool as possible!) Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com



Jaffna & The North

Things to Eat:

  1. Ice cream at Rio in Jaffna. The perfect spot to cool off on your walk around town. You’ll see everyone here from elderly Buddhist monks to groups of young men on motorcycles. When you’re out braving the punishing northern sun, the mango sundae is the best 200 rupees you’ll spend all day.
  2. The morning pastry buffet at the Jetwing Jaffna Hotel. Find the things that look like skinny croissants rolled in coarse sugar crystals and eat 15 of them. This is nirvana. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to See:

  1. Puja at Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil. This regular ceremonial worship inside Jaffna’s massive golden temple is like a rock concert for your soul. There’s drumming, elaborate ritual, and shirtless men running around with fire. Expect it to stir the very pit of your stomach.
  2. The Mantri Manai, the ancient Minister’s Quarters of the fallen Jaffna Kingdom. If you’re a history buff, be prepared for heartbreak. Decades of war means precious little attention has been paid to preserving, excavating, and protecting Jaffna’s archaeological treasures. At the time of my visit, I was able to walk right into this and other priceless historical sites unquestioned. Unfortunately, vandals and graffiti artists have been afforded the same freedom. If you can overlook layers of spraypainted initials, you’ll marvel at the bones of this grand old structure. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  3. The Mansion at Old Park. Like the Mantri Manai, this former British colonial governor’s residence is an architectural work of art that has been allowed to fall into heartbreaking disrepair. I spent hours walking around and taking photos without anyone bothering me because there is no official protection or preservation for this crumbling piece of history. If you haven’t had enough of my beloved flying foxes yet, there’s a tree full of them in the back of the playground next door. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
  4. Thousands of Hindu temples like sweet shop candies piled up into the sky. The intricate detail of these carvings is made all the more remarkable by the fact that you’ll only see a tiny portion of them from your vantage point on the street. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

Things to Do:

  1. Wander down any random Jaffna street and marvel at what remains of the elaborately appointed old homes, mouldering and overgrown but still as captivating as an aging beauty queen. There’s no denying that war has ravaged this city ferociously, but the beauty is still there. If you have a little imagination, you can see what a paradise this place once was. Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com

There you have it, adventurers: my personal list of the best things to eat, things to see, and things to do in Sri Lanka. Did I miss something? Do you have favorite things to do in Sri Lanka that I missed? Let me know your favorites in the comments!


Looking for more things to do in Sri Lanka? Check out all of my Sri Lanka posts.

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Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a Common Hotel Scam

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.

Technological Witchcraft: Outsmarting a common hotel scam
I never frolicked in this ocean even once.

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.

“Um…what?”

“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.

“500 rupees.”

“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.

Technological Witchcraft: outsmarting a common hotel scam
Seriously, not even one damn frolicking monkey? There is literally no frolicking here whatsoever.

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.

Oops.

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.

Technological witchcraft: outsmarting a common hotel scam
The view from my new hotel balcony. I regret nothing.

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. 

 

 

Hotel Review: Kalahe House

I had the pleasure of being hosted at Kalahe House for the purpose of this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

 

In Stephen King’s landmark work of nonfiction, On Writing, he describes his idea of the perfect writer’s retreat. Secluded cabins set in the woods with an unobtrusive staff who prepare your meals and never disturb your afternoon nap. Could someone let him know I’ve found it?

My first glimpse of Kalahe House; I'm already charmed.
My first glimpse of Kalahe House. I’m already charmed.

If you’re looking for seclusion, Kalahe House has it in spades. As I write this at the dining room table, night has fallen and the grand wooden doors that line three walls of the room are open to the woods and rice paddy that surround the property on all sides. I can’t see a single artificial light but the ones in sconces around the room, and the only sounds are those of monkeys, frogs, and insects performing their nightly concert. It’s hard to believe this sanctuary is only a fifteen minute tuktuk ride from Galle’s busy (but extremely charming) Dutch fort.

The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
The sunny living and dining wing of Kalahe House. I may have lost track of the amount of time I spent sitting here with a pot of tea, daydreaming
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees at Kalahe House
A view of the surrounding rice paddy through the trees

When I arrived at Kalahe House early this afternoon, I was met by the extremely efficient Prasanga, who takes care of everything from meals to massages (yes, they provide spa treatments as well. What better way to keep your creative juices flowing than a deep tissue massage under the flowering trees in the garden?)

Before I even managed to extricate myself from the taxi, Prasanga had seen my bags to my room and made afternoon tea appear on the living room table. Did I say efficient? I meant magical. Within minutes he had determined what I wanted for dinner and set off to the local market for fresh ingredients, leaving me to explore the beautiful house and grounds.

Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
Exploring the gardens of Kalahe House
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?
How gorgeous is this jackfruit tree?

There’s no TV to distract you from what you came here to do: write. (Don’t worry, there is WiFi, so you’ll be able to fact check that article on the go…or post pictures of your beautiful home away from home to make all of your friends and family jealous. Whichever.)

My room has a cozy alcove with a beautiful wooden desk, a comfortable chair, and plenty of natural light. It’s an extremely inviting spot to sit down with my notebook and get to work…just as soon as I take one more stroll around the gardens for inspiration.

Writing and meandering have always gone hand in hand, so when I need a longer walk to clear my head, I wander down the drive and start exploring the surrounding countryside. There is absolutely no hint of the nearby expressway or the city of Galle itself. A local man in a traditional sarong and a plaid shirt waves as he passes buy on an ancient Royal Enfield motorcycle, but I see no other people.

I’m visiting Kalahe House at the start of the annual southwest monsoon season, which means I’m treated to a lovely rain shower every afternoon to help lull me into that aforementioned afternoon nap. Don’t judge; it’s hard work churning out these masterful works of literature in paradise.  Especially when there is a very inviting bed sprinkled with orchids only steps from your writing desk.

Back to the dining room: the soft rattle of china on a wooden tray announces Prasanga’s arrival with dinner. He has prepared an amazing spread of traditional Sri Lankan chicken curry with rice and accompaniments, followed by more tea and a fresh fruit platter. Just as I decide I’m far too stuffed to take another bite and head back to my room, the local monkey population decides to put on an impromptu acrobatic show in the trees outside. Prasanga warns me that they may decide to frolic on the roof in the morning, and hopes they won’t wake me. His tone is apologetic, but I can’t think of anything more charming.

As it turns out, the monkeys like to sleep later than I do, and nothing disturbs my sleep. As Prasanga prepares what turns out to be the best breakfast of my trip so far, I ponder the most pressing issue I’ll have all day. Shall I venture into the gorgeous old fort and wander around the ancient streets in search of artistic inspiration, or settle down in my sunny writing nook for another day of unhurried creative effort?

The answer, of course, is both.

No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House
No detail is overlooked at Kalahe House

I’m happy to report that I finished four articles while sequestered at lovely Kalahe House, and emerged feeling even more inspired than I did when I arrived. In need of a creative retreat of your own? Kalahe House is located on the outskirts of Galle, my favorite city in Sri Lanka.  Find more information or book your stay at www.kalahehouse.com.

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.