Ultimate Sri Lanka Packing List

I created this Sri Lanka packing list after spending three months on the island and realizing there were quite a few things I wished I had brought with me. This post does contain affiliate links, which help to maintain this website and my dog’s organic broccoli habit.

Everyone loves packing lists, right? Just having a list of something makes you feel more organized.

Whenever I’m planning a trip, one of the first thing I always search for is a packing list, especially if it’s a country I’ve never visited before.

Sri Lanka was no exception. Unfortunately, once I was actually there, I found that every Sri Lanka packing list I had read in preparation for my trip were a little, um, lacking. If you’re a 20 year old Instagram goddess you might be able to spend a month on the island with only a dozen flowing dresses and a selfie stick, but I found there were quite a few things I wish I had brought with me.

Lucky for you, I wrote them all down, so you can be much better prepared.
Please note: there are tons of general packing lists on the Internet and I assume most people understand that they should bring pants and a toothbrush on their trip, so I’m going to skip the basics and just focus on the things you’re definitely going to want in Sri Lanka.

Without further ado, here is everything I think you should have on your Sri Lanka packing list:

Baby wipes. I almost always travel with these anyway, but somehow I completely forgot to pack some on this trip. If only I’d had a list…

Hand sanitizer. Once you see your first train bathroom, you’ll understand.

Safety pins. Apart from preventing a variety of wardrobe malfunctions, I wish I’d had a safety pin with me every time I visited a museum and paid the camera fee to be allowed to take photos. The ticket agent would give me a slip of paper and a microscopic straight pin with which to attach it to my shirt. I would then spend the next hour trying to keep it attached while my camera bag strap continually knocked it onto the floor.

Spray bottle of rubbing alcohol for shoes and sweaty clothes. Keep your luggage fresh, and disguise the fact that you’ve been wearing that tee shirt for 3 straight days.

Dryer sheets. Along the same lines as the rubbing alcohol, tucking a few dryer sheets into the nooks and crannies of your suitcase or backpack will keep everything smelling clean long after it actually is.

Portable Wi-Fi like Tep. I almost always carry Wi-Fi with me when I travel, but I decided to skip it on this trip for a couple of reasons. One, I was going to be in Sri Lanka for three months, making the rental cost pretty high. And two, on past trips I’ve ended up not using the device very much because I had reliable Wi-Fi in hotels and other public areas. Unfortunately, that was not the case in Sri Lanka. Even hotels that advertised reliable Wi-Fi were subject to frequent service interruptions and the signal rarely reached the rooms even when it was working.

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It’s way easier to be an Instagram goddess with reliable Wi-Fi.

Sunscreen and mosquito repellent. It’s getting easier to find these products and you won’t have any trouble locating them in Colombo or the main tourist strip down the coast, but they’re much more expensive than what you would find at home and the selection is very limited.

Benadryl and Claritin. I thought I was being super resourceful by taking a small first aid kit with me, but because I’m an idiot, it didn’t have either of these things in it. I lost an entire week of my trip due to getting a sinus infection that I thought was the flu. I suffered in sweaty, miserable solitude in my Airbnb until I worked up the strength to walk a mile to the nearest pharmacy in the 90 degree heat.

(Speaking of Airbnb: sign up here for a free $40 travel credit, which will go a long way in Sri Lanka.)

Cough drops. Between the sinus infection and the air pollution in Colombo, my throat was painfully raw. I did manage to find throat drops at the local Cargill’s supermarket, but it was another long, hot walk when I was feeling near death.

Hair product. Because I was traveling for so long, I made the (wrong) decision not to devote precious packing space to bringing all the toiletries I would need for the entire trip. I knew I would be making several passes through Colombo and I assumed (wrongly) that I would be able to pick up anything I needed while I was there. One day I will learn that everything I assume is probably wrong, but today is not that day. Anyway that’s how I ended up sitting in a salon chair with a bunch of random chemicals burning my scalp while an old Sri Lankan lady chugged gin straight out of a bottle. (Side note: if someone tells you that you can buy boxed hair dye in Sri Lanka, they’re not lying, but what they’re not telling you is that the only color you’ll be able to find is black.)

Dry shampoo. You’re going to be hot and sweaty and your hair is going to get nasty. Trust me.

Sri Lanka packing list MyAdventureBucket.com
My hair never looked this good on vacation, so here’s a random stock photo model. Isn’t she lovely?

Contact solution. Another thing I wish I had brought enough of for the entire trip. As it turns out, you can only buy this in optometry shops in Sri Lanka, and you won’t find these outside the main tourist areas.

Pajama pants. Not just for sleeping, I wore these darling pants constantly and they were so ridiculously comfortable I decided to never wear anything but pajama pants again for the rest of my life.

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Yes, I climbed Sigiriya in pajama pants. Fight me.

Energy bars. Most restaurants will close down for a few hours in the afternoon and not reopen for dinner until around 6 p.m., by which time you might be so starving and hangry that you collapse in the first restaurant you find and sadly eat horrible veggie fried rice with ketchup while internally berating yourself for missing out on hot cheese kotthu. For example.

Extra memory cards and spare camera batteries. Despite how earnestly the entire country tried to kill me, Sri Lanka is ridiculously photogenic. You’ll have a tough time finding decent photography supplies anywhere here, so bring more than you think you’ll need. On that note, having a good camera is a must here. I still regret all the trips I took before I got a “real” camera. If you’re looking for something that’s going to take amazing photos without you needing to be a professional photographer, I can’t recommend the Sony mirrorless A6000 strongly enough.

 


A flask. Only half kidding. If you enjoy a cocktail before dinner and your trip falls on the full moon Poya day, you won’t be able to buy alcohol anywhere.

Multiple credit cards. I had two situations arise while I was in Sri Lanka that necessitated my bank closing the account and issuing me a new card. Luckily I had a third credit card and a debit card with me.

A lightweight umbrella. Between the unrelenting sun and the sudden monsoon rains, there are many reasons to have an umbrella with you. I didn’t pack one and spent a lot of time drenched and/or sunburned.

Chapstick. Speaking of getting sunburned, have I mentioned that the sun is really powerful here? I was constantly re-applying Chapstick to combat the drying effects of the sun and the salty air.

The appropriate travel adapter. Sri Lanka was the first country where my usual universal converters didn’t work. I ended up buying a couple of cheap converters at the supermarket in Hikkaduwa. You’ll want to bring a universal adapter anyway, because you never know what kind of outlets you’re going to encounter. I’ve been in Sri Lankan hotel rooms with 3 different kinds in the same room.

Laundry detergent for washing your own clothes in your hotel room. I brought a few packets with me, but after I ran out I had to rely on hotel laundry services. Hotels with self-service laundry machines don’t exist in Sri Lanka and I had some terrible experiences with sending my clothes out to be cleaned by the hotel. One hotel lost my favorite pair of pants, another ripped two seams out of my second-favorite pair of pants, and they all wanted to count everything (including dirty underwear) in front of me, which is a special kind of embarrassing. If nothing else, I would carry laundry detergent and wash my own undergarments so I wouldn’t have to stand there while a teenage errand boy sorted through my unmentionables. (If you’re on a shorter trip, you can always just pack your oldest, rattiest tee shirts and underwear and toss them as they get dirty!)

A travel clothesline. Even if you’re not going to do your own laundry, you’ll probably go swimming and need a place to hang up wet clothes so they can dry properly and not turn your bag into a festering mildew colony.

Clothes that cover knees and shoulders. You can’t swing a string of prayer beads in Sri Lanka without hitting some kind of temple or religious site, and they all require modest dress. Please don’t be that clueless tourist prancing past temple entrances in short shorts and a bikini top while outraged locals stare in horror. At the very least, carry a sarong or large, versatile scarf with which to cover up. Opt for white or light colors as much as possible; in some places like Anuradhapura, you won’t be allowed to enter temples wearing black. The locals wear white as a sign of respect, and you’ll be so much cooler if you follow their lead.

Sri Lanka packing list MyAdventureBucket.com

A heavy long sleeve shirt for cooler hill country evenings. I don’t think a jacket is necessary unless you’re really cold natured. I hate being cold and I was comfortable in a flannel button-down layered over a tee shirt. (And it was a fantastic break from the heat!)

Sunglasses and/or a wide brim hat. I had sunglasses but wish I had made room in my luggage for a hat. The sun really is brutal, especially along the coast. Plus then I could have pretended I was a 20 year old Instagram goddess in a flowing dress.

Tampons, Thinx, menstrual cup, whatever combination of feminine contraptions you use to deal with Satan’s Sacrificial Waterfall. You won’t be able to find tampons outside of a few stores in Colombo, and the ones you find aren’t going to be what you’re used to at home. I relied on a combination of tampons and Thinx panties, but if trying to use a menstrual cup hadn’t caused me permanent emotional scarring, that would have been a better option. Maybe one day I’ll write about that experience, but only after the trauma fades enough for me to discuss it without needing to do straight shots of Johnnie Walker Blue.

(Side note: If you’re thinking about trying Thinx before your next trip, use this link for $10 off!)

http://ref.thinxify.me/hKVam Sri Lanka packing list MyAdventureBucket
This will probably be you, right before you prance through a field of daisies in your new Thinx.

Kindle Fire. I finally hopped on the e-reader bandwagon and bought a Kindle before my trip so I wouldn’t have to carry so many physical books around with me. It was also good for watching the occasional movie. I’m not a TV watcher, but if you need digital entertainment you’ll want to have some movies or shows loaded on your Kindle or laptop because many of the hotel rooms I stayed in didn’t have televisions in them.

 


Notebook, pen, and printed itinerary showing the addresses and phone numbers of all of your hotels. Extra credit if you have them translated into Sinhala (or Tamil if you’re going up north) because not every taxi and tuk tuk driver can read English. Most appreciated having the information on a piece of paper they could look at and almost all of them preferred to call the hotel and get verbal directions in their own language.

Travel Insurance. I did have travel insurance, although I didn’t end up using it on the trip. While in Kalpitiya, I managed to contract the mystery virus that was sweeping through the area and I honest-to-goodness thought I was going to die. I thought about contacting my travel insurance for a medical evacuation but I was too sick to pick up the phone. I’m extremely fortunate that years of doing stupid things like drinking tap water in Burma have apparently made me immortal, because I slowly started to recover on my own. If I hadn’t, getting transported to the nearest western-style hospital outside the country would have been astronomical.

Sri Lanka packing list bonus: 3 things you definitely don’t need to take with you:

Jeans. It’s going to be like a billion degrees. Jeans will make you miserable. Fashionable locals in Colombo do wear them, but it was far too hot for me to worry about trying to blend in with them.

String bikinis. I like to get my tan on as much as the next Florida girl, but Sri Lanka is a very modest country. No one is going to say anything to you if you lounge around the beach in that tiny two-piece, but the locals are definitely going to notice. If you’re traveling solo, wearing a tiny bathing suit is going to get you a lot of (presumably unwanted) attention. Whatever you do, definitely don’t wear your swimwear off the beach. And don’t even think about trying to avoid tan lines by going au naturale on the beach. If you’re up around Jaffna or anywhere in the north, you’re going to need to swim fully clothed. It’s that conservative.

Travelers Checks. Leave these dinosaurs at home and just hit the ATM at the airport when you land to stock up on cash.

 

If you’d like to receive a free printable copy of my ultimate Sri Lanka packing list in checklist form, enter your information below:

OK, you’re packed! Have a fantastic trip! Don’t forget, if you’re planning to stay over 30 days, you’ll have to extend your visa while you’re there. (You can’t get a longer visa before entering the country.) I wrote a handy guide to extending your tourist visa here.

Wait, don’t leave me. Have you read everything I’ve written about Sri Lanka?

If you found this Sri Lanka packing list helpful, pin it!

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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.

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    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. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    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.

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    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. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    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. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    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. 

    Best things to do in Sri Lanka www.myadventurebucket.com
    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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Dear Galle…a Love Letter

Have you ever visited a place that was too special to be summed up in an ordinary way? The minute I arrived in this southern Sri Lankan city, I fell in love. I know I’m not the only one; huge numbers of Galle’s fantastic old houses are being bought up by expats, which lends to the fort’s multicultural air. I originally only planned two nights in Galle before moving on to points east, but felt such homesickness the day after I left that I impulsively hailed a cab to go back and stayed for three weeks. I completely derailed my itinerary, but I don’t regret it for a minute. 

To my beloved Galle,

It has now been four months since I left your rocky walls and boarded the train. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t imagined myself sitting on the balcony of my small guesthouse, looking out over your embankments to the crashing surf full of passing ships and migrating whales.

Dear Galle...aLove Letter www.MyAdventureBucket.com

Though we only had a few short weeks together, we made so many memories, and they will stay with me forever.

I could have gladly spent the rest of my life wandering your hidden alleyways and walking your fort walls at sunset, gelato in hand. 

Dear Galle...aLove Letter www.MyAdventureBucket.com
Every evening the citizens of Galle converge on the fort ramparts to fly kites, stroll hand in hand, and take in the spectacle of the sun setting among the waves.

 

I miss so many things about you. Your street dogs who stole and broke my heart in equal measure. Your Dutch scrolls reaching into the tropical skies, whitewashed walls keeping the secret of mystical blooming courtyards. Grey bricked streets ending in ancient beachfront steps cracked with bougainvillea roots. I loved it all.

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.myadventurebucket.com

You are glittering jewels and white plumeria, salt air and swaying palms, ornate history and softly crumbling magic. Nowhere have I ever felt so instantly at home.

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.myadventurebucket.com

 

I have danced in the falling snow in Athens and sailed over the fairy tale landscapes of Bagan, climbed through misty mountaintop jungles in Africa and floated through the Balinese surf. And still you are the most beguiling place I have ever seen. Equal parts tropical island and walled medieval kingdom, you are as singular as you are lovely.

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.myadventurebucket.com

Until we meet again…

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.MyAdventureBucket.com
Can’t you just smell the salty air?

All my love,

Leslie


No matter how much I travel, some places just capture my heart in unexpected ways. Usually it’s the places I never expected to love; the runners-up, the “if I have room in the itinerary I’ll squeeze this place in” spots. If you ever find yourself in my beloved Galle, take some time to stroll the fort walls at sunset, and please- give her my love. 

Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.MyAdventureBucket.com

Want to read more of my Sri Lankan adventures? Start here.

Want to visit? Galle is located in southern Sri Lanka, a short drive or train ride from the capital Colombo.

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Dear Galle...a Love Letter www.myadventurebucket.com

The Monthly Bucket- July 2017

Hey adventurers! I hope everyone had a fantastic July. Mine was certainly eventful- here’s what I got up to this month.

Where in the world am I? I just landed back in the USA at the end of July after nearly four months in India and Sri Lanka. I am currently gorging myself on all the American fast food I’ve missed (I love you, Steak N Shake) and gearing up for two months of road tripping around the country.  

Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka. This was a three month project! Check out some of the amazing temples I’ve been exploring:

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic Kandy Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy
Dambulla Cave Temples Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Dambulla Cave Temples
Nallur Kandaswamy Hindu Temple Jaffna Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, Jaffna

#365- Deep fried hot dogs at Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, New Jersey

Deep fried hot dogs Rutts Hut Clifton New Jersey MyAdventureBucket.com
Yes, deep fried hot dogs. Dog bless America.

 

Highlight of the month: Climbing the ancient rock monastery of Sigiriya! I was really nervous about this, guys. I’m not in the best shape and my health has been kind of sketchy on this trip as you know. But I made it to the top! And not without considerable effort. Apart from the sheer physical exhaustion, I was also contending with potential swarms of wasps and huge wind gusts that could easily blow a person (or at least their camera) off the rock. At one point I was down on my hands and knees crawling up some steps because the wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t stand up. But the important thing is, I made it! Even if coming down did take twice as long because my knees were absolute Jell-O.

Sigiriya Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

Did you accomplish something awesome in July? Comment below and let me know so I can celebrate with you!

Lowlight of the month: Getting stuck with the absolute worst driver on the planet while moving from Kandy to Habarana, Sri Lanka. Proof that, even when you do your research and use a reputable tour company, you can still be stuck with a complete nincompoop. Read all about it here.

Best meal: Pan fried dumplings at Momo’s by Ruvi in Colombo. These things were amazing. If you’ve never had a momo, you should go get some immediately. Actually just get on a plane and come to Sri Lanka because I have to assume these are the best on the planet.

Momos by Ruvi MyAdventureBucket.com

New blog posts published:

Hotel Review: Bar Reef Resort

Hotel Review: Dolphin Beach Resort

June Monthly Bucket

Solo Female Traveler Interview: Cali

Dambulla Cave Temples & the Worst Driver EVER

Hotel Review: Ceylon Tea Bungalows

Hotel Review: Villa Rosa, Kandy

Highlights of Kandy, Sri Lanka

Hotel Review: The Other Corner

Solo Female Traveler Interview: Charlotte

Spa Review: Amber Spa, Colombo Courtyard

So Long, Sri Lanka! What’s Next?

What I learned:

  • Fish pedicures: actually the best thing ever.
  • Sri Lankan road construction crews have no problem whatsoever using a jackhammer at 3 a.m. Never travel without earplugs.
  • The train is never on time. Like, ever.
  • Jaffna, Sri Lanka is home to some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen…and they’re rapidly crumbling into ruin. Can someone please do something about this?
  • Arrack (the local coconut flower liquor) and ginger beer is amazing.
  • Sri Lankan desserts are so sweet they’ll make your teeth hurt. Proceed with caution.
  • There are spas in Europe where you soak in a tub full of beer. This right here is why Europe is always going to lead the rest of the world into the future.
  • There’s a donut shop in Los Angeles selling donuts filled with ice cream. Maybe Europe has a little competition.
  • Upgrading to Emirates business class is worth every penny.
  • The sprayer hose next to all of the toilets here makes for a handy weapon if you encounter a large insect while getting into the shower. Welcome to the tropics.

 

What I read:

A Man Called Ove  by Fredrick Backman- this book tore my heart out, flattened it, folded it into an origami swan, and then set it on fire. But it also made me laugh, hard. I only read it because someone recommended it to me, and I’m so glad they did. Put this one way, way at the top of your reading list.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai- yes, I’m way behind in reading this book, but I’m so glad I finally did. I love to surround myself with positive people and inspirational stories (because who needs more negative crap, seriously?) and this book gave me wings.

What’s next? I’m spending the month of August driving the entire length of I-80 from New York City to San Francisco, and seeing lots of cool stuff along the way. Including a giant butter cow at the Iowa State Fair. Tune in next month to find out if I was able to get close enough to lick it.

Posts on My Adventure Bucket may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps support the upkeep of this site and my daily cheeseburger habit. 

So Long, Sri Lanka! What’s Next?

Wait, didn’t I just get here? How can it possibly be time to leave Sri Lanka already?

I’m killing an afternoon in a Colombo coffee shop until my taxi arrives to take me to the airport. I’d love to take another stroll around the neighborhood, but as I’m going to be stuck in these clothes for about 45 hours, I’m trying to stay as sweat-free as possible. You’re welcome, fellow passengers.

The last three months have been a fantastic adventure, and I’ve made some memories that will last forever. Like being the only visitor to sit and watch a family of elephants just after sunrise in Udawalawe National Park. Or being run out of a guesthouse on suspicion of being a witch.

I have left pieces of my heart all over this gorgeous little island- mostly with the hundreds of sad-eyed street dogs who trusted me enough to approach me for a bit of food, and love.

So Long Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

When I first told friends and coworkers that I was quitting my job to travel full time, starting with a brief stint in India and three months in Sri Lanka, many of them said I was crazy. Well, obviously. But who wants to be normal? Normal is boring, and no one is handing out prizes for being a martyr and giving up on your dreams.

If what I’m doing is crazy, the way I’m doing it is downright insane. Who lets a random computer algorithm determine where they go and how they spend their life? Well, I do, and it’s a terrific amount of fun, actually.

I’m only in Sri Lanka today because my Random Bucket List Picker chose it from my massive list after I completed a train ride across Canada. I was only on that train because the RBLP decided that’s where I should go after visiting the Scottish highlands, after exploring ancient Buddhist temples in Indonesia, etc., etc.

I wonder how normal people do things.

The last three months have flown by in an absolute blur of ancient temples, gorgeous beaches, breathtaking train rides, amazing food, and approximately 175 gallons of Lion beer. You have to admit, there are worse ways to spend a summer. I will miss this quirky little island paradise (and street cart samosas) but the next adventure awaits.

So Long Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com

As always, the next adventure has been randomly chosen for me by the Random Bucket List Picker: driving the entire length of Interstate 80 from New York to California. With my favorite canine copilot by my side, naturally.

So Long Sri Lanka MyAdventureBucket.com
She’s cute, but she’s absolutely useless with directions.

As a bonus, there are quite a few other bucket list entries I’ll be able to cross off along the way. No, I’m not going to tell you ahead of time what they are- what fun would that be? I have to make sure you keep checking back for more stories.

I have set aside six weeks for this adventure, which should be plenty of time to get myself into all kinds of predicaments. I hope you will follow along with me!

Don’t miss any of the adventure- follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, too.

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Spa Review: Amber Spa, Colombo Courtyard

Leslie’s Rules for Traveling, Part One: always begin and end every trip with a spa ritual. I figured this out on my first trip to Greece and I’ve tried to stick to it as much as possible ever since. Apart from just being a big fan of pampering the heck out of myself at every opportunity, I really do think this helps to keep jet lag at bay. Not to mention that awful post-vacation “Ugh I’m so exhausted I should have just stayed home” feeling. Since my three months in Sri Lanka are drawing to a close, I decided to visit the Amber Spa at Colombo Courtyard for a relaxing massage to get me in full trip wind-down mode.

This was a very good idea. I opted for the Signature Amber Massage, which is a traditional deep tissue massage, and the therapist was outstanding. She used just the right amount of pressure (lots) and beat all of my tension into submission. (But she did ask a few times if the pressure was OK, so don’t be alarmed if you like a lighter touch.)

I have to add a note for my fellow modest girls who might not have experienced a massage in Asia before: it’s common here for the therapist to uncover you to the waist in order to massage your stomach and collarbone areas, but if you’re not comfortable with that, it’s no big deal. Just mention to your therapist that you’d like your chest to stay covered the whole time. (Or forget, like I did, and then squeal and yank the sheet back up and cause your therapist to apologize profusely. Either way.)

The spa itself is located off the pool area in the middle of Colombo Courtyard, and is accessed by walking across an elegant stone bridge over the pool. Even though the hotel is located right on busy Duplication Road in the heart of Colombo, the treatment rooms are completely serene and they manage to block out all of the traffic noise with thick walls and tranquil music.

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa also wins my award for the most gorgeous robes I’ve ever seen in a spa, goldenrod yellow with a beautiful floral print.

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com
I need to find one of these to take home…

The whole atmosphere of the inner courtyard and spa area is full of fountains, koi ponds, ornate lanterns, and soft seating arrangements. It has a clean, Morocco-meets-Miami Beach look. 

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

When I left the spa an hour later, all of the usual pain in my back and hips is gone, at least for a while. I also smelled like a frosted spice cake, thanks to the scented massage oil and the spice-filled pillow that covered my eyes during the second half of the treatment. The smell reminded me of some of the solid perfumes I’ve gotten from Egypt in the past, and I surreptitiously sniffed my arm several times while walking down the street. I hope no one noticed.  

Amber Spa is located inside the Colombo Courtyard Hotel. Find more information, including a full menu of spa treatments here.

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Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

I had the pleasure of being hosted by Amber Spa at Colombo Courtyard for the purposes of this review, and as always, all photos, words, and opinions are my own.

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Amber Spa MyAdventureBucket.com

Hotel Review: The Other Corner

After my disastrous/awesome adventure to the Dambulla cave temples, I checked into The Other Corner to recuperate, and I’m so glad I did. You can tell as soon as you arrive that this is not going to be like any other hotel, unless you’re accustomed to having to cross a swinging rope bridge to get to your accommodation.

The Other Corner MyAdventureBucket.com

Most writers live in their own heads, you know? We spend so much time sequestered in our own thoughts, spinning words and worlds out of the ether, that it’s no surprise most of us feel more at home there than in the “real” world. I’m no different, and I instantly fall in love with any place that lets me live in my imagination instead of being confronted with a dreary reality full of other people and traffic and blaring televisions, and…did I mention other people? Nothing against other humans in general, but there are so many of you, and sometimes you pack together in large groups and make excessive amounts of noise and it’s just sort of the worst. It’s not your fault, of course, but it’s really hard to imagine that I’m Indiana Jones or a fierce fighter pilot or (my personal favorite) an animal-whispering fairy princess when I’m breathing in clouds of exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke and listening to your baby scream while you play YouTube videos on your phone without headphones.

I only mention all of that because I’m sort of in paradise right now. I’m working on my laptop by the pool, and it is exactly the kind of blissfully secluded dream world that makes me feel at home. The resort is completely empty today, so I have the pool to myself. This greatly helps me to imagine that the resort is my private jungle palace, obviously. There’s a gnarled, vine-choked tree dominating the pool area, and it’s covered with great clouds of butterflies like something out of a Disney movie. There’s also a small brass bell hanging from the tree, with a room service menu. In case you get so worn out from swimming and sunning yourself that you need to be revived with a beer and a cheeseburger, obviously. (I did say it was paradise, didn’t I?)

The Other Corner MyAdventureBucket.com

The only sounds are the wind rustling the leaves of the surrounding trees, the songs of dozens of exotic birds, and the bubbling water from the spa behind me. (I later get my very first fish pedicure in that spa, and laugh-squeal loud enough to startle several passing monkeys. You should definitely try this if you get the chance.)

The silence is briefly broken by a small family of monkeys who swing down and take a quick drink out of the pool before scampering back up to the treetops and continuing on their way. Once they’ve gone, two gorgeous bright red dragonflies swoop down and skim across the surface of the pool. A pair of jewel-colored birds alight on a branch above my head for a just a moment, before the distant trumpeting of an elephant startles them away.

An hour or so later, drama erupts as a gang of monkeys descends on a nearby mango tree and makes off with fistfuls of fruit before a groundskeeper chases them away with a rake. They are gleefully unrepentant as they huddle together near the spa and enjoy their stolen treat. (Monkeys are such jerks, aren’t they?)

I spent three nights at The Other Corner, and it was the perfect spot for lounging by the pool as well as an amazing base for climbing the famous rock monastery of Sigiriya. I’ll write about that awesome experience in another post, but for now, just know that you should 100% visit Sigiriya if you’re in the neighborhood. The Other Corner can also arrange tours to Minneriya National Park, the Dambulla cave temples, Ritigala Forest Monastery, and all the other cool stuff there is to do here in the Cultural Triangle area.

I also took a nature walk with the resident naturalist, and he was an absolute fountain of local knowledge. If you go, ask him to do some of his amazing bird calls for you. The area around the resort is absolutely gorgeous, and you can even see Sigiriya if you walk along the lake bordering the property. 

The Other Corner www.MyAdventureBucket.com

The three nights I spent at The Other Corner were like being at summer camp for grownups. You stay in a really adorable cabin and there’s nature hikes and tree houses… but there’s also a nice beer and wine selection. I suppose you can bring the kids, if you want to share the tree houses. 

The Other Corner www.MyAdventureBucket.com

The Other Corner MyAdventureBucket.com

As you explore the grounds, you’ll see a sign pointing to the hotel’s organic garden. One of the best things about staying at an eco resort is knowing that all the produce in your meals was grown right there on the property.

The Other Corner MyAdventureBucket.com

You might also see some of the other local residents lounging about:

The Other Corner www.MyAdventureBucket.com

The Other Corner is located in Laksirigama, Habarana, Sri Lanka, right on the edge of Habarana Lake. Find more information or book your own stay here.

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Other Corner MyAdventureBucket.com

 

 

This has been a sponsored conversation with The Other Corner, and as always, all words, photos, and opinions are mine.

Highlights of Kandy, Sri Lanka

I don’t think anyone comes to Sri Lanka without a stop in Kandy, and for good reason. This busy hill country town is known as the country’s cultural capital, and has plenty to keep you occupied for several days- longer if you make it your base for exploring the area. And explore it you should; the hill country was one of my absolute favorite parts of my 3 months here in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

If you don’t think Sri Lanka is the vacation destination for you because you’re not a fan of beaches and tropical climates, this is why you should come. Misty mountains, cool air, fantastic hiking, and Buddhist history like you’ve never seen anywhere else.

Here are some of my Kandy highlights:

 

Attractions

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

You can’t skip this; this temple is the main reason people visit Kandy. It’s also one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples I’ve ever visited, and that’s saying rather a lot. The holiest site in Sri Lankan Buddhism, this temple houses a tooth reportedly taken from the Buddha’s funeral pyre. It’s kind of the Sri Lankan Buddhist Mecca; everyone is supposed to make at least one pilgrimage here in their lifetime. It’s so revered, you even see rowdy groups of teenage boys stopping on the sidewalk across the street to bow in prayer before walking on. Worshipers inside are frequently overcome with emotion, so if you’re visiting as a tourist, please be respectful and unobtrusive. As with all temples, you’ll have to cover up- no exposed knees or shoulders.

One of the most popular attractions on the temple grounds is Rajah the Tusker, a moldering old taxidermy elephant with crumbling ears. This small building is always packed with loud children and selfie-stick-wielding tourists, inexplicably needing a photo of themselves with the remains of this poor creature behind a wall of smudged glass. Suffice to say I think you can skip this spectacle.

Other tips for visiting:

  • Wear slip-on shoes as you’ll have to leave them at the shoe minder’s counter next to where you pay the admission fee. There’s no charge for leaving your shoes, but they’ll ask for a tip when you pick them up.
  • The entry fee for foreigners is 1500 rupees ($10 USD). Do try to have exact change as they’re loathe to break 5000 rupee notes and may tell you that they can’t give you all of your change back. Don’t fall for this; someone is just trying to get a 500 rupee tip.
  • Never pose with a Buddha statue for a photo or selfie. This is basically the most offensive thing you could possibly do.
  • Go as early as you can. The place is overrun with schoolkids by midday.

Kandy Sri Lanka myadventurebucket.com

 

World Buddhist Museum

This was my favorite museum in all of Sri Lanka, and it’s conveniently located on the same property as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. They charge 500 rupees ($3.25 USD) for foreigners, which is a steal. The museum walks you through the spread of Buddhism throughout the world, and it’s fascinating to see how the story of the Buddha is interpreted country by country. I had a great time reminiscing over some of the other famous Buddhist sites I’ve visited, like Shwedagon Paya in Burma and Borobudur in Indonesia. The lighting and signage in this museum is good…by Sri Lankan standards. It’s not the Smithsonian, but nothing here is. I was really bummed that you can’t take photos inside, because there are some really lovely exhibits. There’s a small gift shop to the left of the staircase down which you exit.

 

Kandy Garrison Cemetery

When you’re done with the World Buddhist Museum, exit left and head up the little hill past the National Museum (toward the public restrooms, incidentally, if you need to stop.) There are signs at the bottom of the hill pointing the way to the cemetery. Once you get to the top of the hill behind the public facilities you might think you’re actually on someone’s driveway, but keep going. There will be a small maintenance shed on the left and then you’ll round the corner to the cemetery. It’s small, and many of the inscriptions are worn, but it’s a really neat piece of Kandy history. The young caretaker is an absolute fountain of knowledge; he knows every name, inscription, and cause of death by heart. Let him tell you all about the extremely large man who died of sunstroke while running from an elephant or the baby who died of a snakebite despite the best efforts of the village medicine man.

Kandy Sri Lanka myadventurebucket.com

St. Paul’s Church

This red brick church dates to the 1840s and is currently undergoing renovations, but is well worth poking around for a few minutes. There are some neat funerary markers for deceased parishioners lining the walls and a gorgeous stained glass window behind the altar. Watch for frolicking monkeys outside. 

Kandy Sri Lanka myadventurebucket.com

Royal Botanic Gardens

This 147 acre park on the outskirts of Kandy is a really great place to escape the noise and pollution of the city for a few hours. There’s a gorgeous orchid house and some really nice walking trails through the wooded areas. If you’re a botany nerd, welcome to paradise. There are more than 4000 plant species here, and they’ve done a really nice job with signage.

Other tips for visiting:

  • Go on a weekday! 2.2 million people visit the gardens annually and every single one of them showed up on the same Saturday morning I visited. Weekdays are much quieter.
  • Look up! Thousands of huge flying foxes roost in the trees and fly around during the day. If you take the path to the right of Royal Palm Avenue you’ll most likely have it to yourself to appreciate these beauties. (And, if you’re me, imagine that you’re in Jurassic Park and they’re actually huge screeching pterodactyls. Don’t judge.)

Kandy Sri Lanka myadventurebucket.com

Accommodation

Villa Rosa

I partnered with this gorgeous hilltop hotel for a review, and absolutely loved it. My only minor quibble was the somewhat unreliable Wi-Fi, but the views and the amazing chicken curry more than made up for my inability to upload all of my photos. Wi-Fi was a bit of an issue throughout the hill country for me, so plan your Internet needs accordingly. If you just want to check email and Facebook a few times a day you’ll be fine, but business travelers might have difficulties.

Kandy Sri Lanka myadventurebucket.com

Transportation

Far and away the best mode of transportation anywhere in the hill country is the train. These creaky, lumbering old locomotives trundle through some of the most beautiful scenery on the island, and nothing beats leaning out the open doors for a blast of cool mountain air in your face. And train travel in Sri Lanka is CHEAP. Check the timetables here and try to coordinate your schedule for a ride in one of the first class observation cars. It won’t cost more than $8 US even for the longest, all-day journeys. There are tour companies who will reserve your tickets for you (for two to three times the going rate) but as I traveled in the off season I never bothered. Turning up at the station an hour before the train was scheduled to depart was always plenty of time to get a first class ticket. Pack some snacks or wait for a man with a big plastic tub of fresh samosas to make his way through the train.

Kandy Sri Lanka myadventurebucket.com
Scenes from the train on my way from Bandarawela to Kandy, in a $6 first class seat.

So there you have it! Some of my favorite parts of my visit to Kandy. Have you been? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know if I missed any of your favorites.

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Sunset over Kandy’s hills like a ball of fire in the sky.

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Hotel Review: Ceylon Tea Bungalows

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.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

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.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

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.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

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.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

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. 

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

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 MyAdventureBucket.com

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.

Ceylon Tea Bungalows MyAdventureBucket.com

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.

Dambulla Cave Temples & the Worst Driver EVER

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.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
The start of the climb. Also the easiest part, to lull you into a false sense of security.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
Pretty soon it gets steeper and less hand-rail-y.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
In some places, whole chunks of the stone steps are missing. This adds to the excitement of the climb.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
Check out the views once you get to the top! You’ll need to do something while you catch your breath, anyway.

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.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

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.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

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.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
Don’t forget to look up! There is magnificent art everywhere in the caves, including on the ceilings.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
…and the door hardware!

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?)

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
Isn’t it fantastic?

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com

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.

Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
For real about the monkeys, though, they’ll snatch food right out of your hands, so keep your snacks in the car.
Dambulla MyAdventureBucket.com
These views, though! They’re absolutely mesmerizing. Also I’m really dreading going back down these godawful steps so I’m just kind of killing time now.

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.”

Yes…that’s likely.

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.

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