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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Hotel Review: Villa Rosa, Kandy

The first thing that hits me when I check into Villa Rosa and start exploring is that this is the perfect location for a romantic retreat.

Between the candlelit dinners, the breathtaking mountain views, and the secluded hilltop setting, I’m really wishing I hadn’t come to Villa Rosa solo. This ridiculously photogenic villa just screams romantic rendezvous. The canoodling couple having dinner two tables away from me would likely agree; they’re currently holding hands and staring out at the river. I can’t say that I blame them- this view belongs on a postcard, or maybe your desktop wallpaper.

This is no business traveler’s hotel- the information binder in my room informs me that the Wi-Fi will be turned off at 10pm and when it’s on it can’t handle streaming a video conference. You might not notice- the cozy second floor library will pull your attention away from work with its large collection of reading material and panoramic views of the river and the mountains.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

Back to dinner, though. Villa Rosa is a foodie’s paradise, and they win my award for the absolute best rice and curry I’ve had during my three months in Sri Lanka. That’s a pretty big deal- *everyone* makes rice and curry here, and it’s almost always fantastic. Villa Rosa goes the extra mile, though. The chef visits the local market every morning, and guests are welcome to tag along and see how he chooses the freshest spices and produce. If you’re really keen, you can join him and his team in the kitchen to prepare your own meal while having a lesson in authentic Sri Lankan cooking.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

On the off chance that you want to do more than smooch your travel partner all day, Villa Rosa is perfectly positioned for exploring Kandy and the surrounding area. The extremely accommodating staff will happily drop you off in town at no charge, or arrange transportation for more far-flung adventures. While I was here, I explored the impressive botanical gardens, the city of Kandy, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (don’t miss this! Easily the most beautiful Buddhist temple I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen rather a lot) and the Kandy Garrison Cemetery.

The river that you’ll find yourself continually staring out over is the Mahaweli, the longest river in Sri Lanka. Every time I settled down to read or write or work on my laptop, I only lasted a few minutes before I found myself picking up my camera and wandering over to the edge of the property to snap just a few more photos. Sri Lanka is outrageously beautiful in general, but the view here is absolutely mesmerizing. Try to get back from your day of adventuring in Kandy before sunset if you can. There is no better way to start your evening than with a cold beer on the open air balcony while watching the sky go all pink and purple and orange while the flying foxes venture out to their nightly hunt and the chanting of the monks from the city temples down below drifts up on the breeze.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com
The view from my dinner table. Are you kidding me??

Art lover alert: The owners of Villa Rosa are connoisseurs of fine art, and have decorated the villa in impeccable style. Make sure you take a wander around the entire property to have a look at some of the fabulous pieces in their collection.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

Villa Rosa is located at 71/18, Dodanwela Passage, Asgiriya, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Visit Villa Rosa here for more information or to book your own romantic rendezvous.

Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com
Wouldn’t you like to wake up to this breakfast table view?

This has been a sponsored conversation with Villa Rosa. I had the pleasure of being hosted at their beautiful property for the purposes of this review, and as always, all words, photos, and opinions are my own.

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Villa Rosa Kandy MyAdventureBucket.com

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Hotel Review: Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya

I had the immense pleasure of being hosted by the Dolphin Beach Resort for the purposes of this review, but as always, all words and opinions are my own. Furthermore, I’ve been in Sri Lanka for two months at the time of this visit and Dolphin Beach is, hands down, the most incredible accommodation I’ve had on my entire trip. I would, without question, go back on my own dime and stay in their gorgeous tents and eat their amazing food for a ridiculously long time. 

So this is what it’s like to go “glamping” in paradise. Glamping, or glamorous camping, is a trend that has grown like crazy over the last few years, with more and more secluded destinations getting in on the act. Instead of pitching a tent and rolling out your sleeping bag on the ground, these resorts set up permanent tents on real foundations with real furniture and indoor plumbing.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya

My first thought upon entering my tent was that I’ve been transported to Harry Potter’s Quidditch World Cup tent; it looks like a normal tent from the outside, but on the inside it’s magically enlarged and furnished with all the comforts of home. Every time I enter the tent during my stay I imagine I can hear the flute music from the tent scene just before the Death Eaters pop in and ruin everybody’s fun. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you know what I’m talking about! And just like the movie, I find myself gazing around the tent in fascination, saying, “I love magic!”

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
Look. This is inside a tent! Tell me this isn’t magic.

Sadly there’s no quidditch being played on broomsticks outside the tent, but if you do need to get your sporting fix, there’s incredible kite surfing that you can watch from the beach or the pool. Kalpitiya is, after all, currently the hottest kite surfing destination in Asia, and Dolphin Beach runs a kite surfing school in which you can enroll if you’d like to experience the thrill for yourself. I’m more of a “spectator with a nice fruity cocktail” type myself, but to each her own.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
There are more gorgeous, private lounging spots than there are rooms, so you can always find a nice secluded place for your sunset cocktail.

As with most resorts in Sri Lanka, Dolphin Beach employs an army of ridiculously polite and helpful young men to take care of everything from carrying your luggage to arranging your meals. They are uniformly kind and solicitous and eager to please. And frankly, adorable.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
It would be creepy to post pictures of the staff, so here’s a beautiful flower bowl outside my tent that they create every morning.

Several times a day, the serving boys bring me a menu and I get to
order all the food and adult beverages I want while floating in the
pool next to the ocean. I don’t even remember dying, but apparently
Heaven is a lot easier to get into than you think.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
You can literally be lying here by the ocean while people bring you cocktails.

Speaking of menus… I was told by the Dolphin Beach manager when I arrived that Maduka would be taking excellent care of me and would recommend the best dishes on the menu for every meal. I eagerly awaited his arrival at my magical tent the first afternoon to put his culinary knowledge to the test. He arrived at 5:00 sharp, as promised, and presented me with the evening’s dinner menu. Before I even had a chance to look at it, Maduka said, “You have to have the pasta.” OK, I’m already skeptical. “Pasta” and “Asia” aren’t usually two things that go together. I’ve had several pasta dishes on this trip so far, and they have been uniformly disappointing. Maduka insists. “We have amazing chef. Please, try the pasta.” OK, fine. I order the spaghetti carbonara and prepare myself for a lackluster dinner.

Dude. You guys. THE PASTA. This, right here, is hands down the best meal I’ve had in Sri Lanka. This chef could be making pasta in Italy and be a star. Thick, creamy, al dente, freshly made pasta, in the most amazing Parmesan sauce with great big hunks of bacon. This is the best pasta I’ve ever had in my entire life, and somehow I’m having it in a grass roof dining hut on the beach in a random town in Sri Lanka.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
Just…just look at how beautiful this is.
Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
I love how sustainable this resort is while still being luxurious. They grow their own produce and it’s delicious.

After two days of frolicking in paradise (and stuffing myself silly with that amazing pasta) I’m really, really bummed to have to leave. Of course, they don’t make leaving easy; upon hearing that I have a long drive ahead of me, the manager insists upon packing me a lunch and sending me off with enough food and bottled water to feed an army. As I drive away, I’m already thinking about how I can rearrange my schedule to come back…

If this sounds like your kind of vacation, you can find more information or book your stay here. Please order the spaghetti carbonara and send me pictures.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
The resort really comes alive at night, with these glowing lotus flowers and illuminated orbs all over the property.

I also had the pleasure of staying at Dolphin Beach’s sister resort, Bar Reef Resort, and you can read about that stay here.

Dolphin Beach Resort, Kalpitiya
Did I mention that the sunsets are absolutely spectacular?

Hotel Review: Bar Reef Resort, Kalpitiya

I had the pleasure of being hosted by the incredible Bar Reef Resort, Kalpitiya, for the purposes of this review. As always, all words and opinions are my own. 

If you ever read any Swiss Family Robinson tales as a child, you’ll feel right at home as soon as you arrive at Kalpitiya’s Bar Reef Resort.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com

This eco resort is an environmentalist’s dream, without sacrificing even the tiniest luxury. The beds are kitted out in high end linens, but they’re washed by hand and hung to dry in the sunshine to conserve electricity. The whole resort is a flowering tropical paradise, but apart from being gorgeous, each plant was specially chosen to bolster the threatened bee and butterfly populations.

You probably won’t be thinking about the eco-friendly aspects of the saltwater infinity pool while you’re floating away the afternoon, but it’s still nice to know. And if it makes you feel better to know that the entire menu is organic and locally sourced, go ahead and order an extra dessert. It’s Sri Lanka, they’ll just smile at you.

Also, this is probably the only place in the world you can shower out of a giant sperm whale skull. I didn’t even know this was on my bucket list, but I’m adding it retroactively because it’s that cool.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
Seriously, it’s a giant sperm whale skull and you can shower under it. How cool is this?

I’m traveling during the “off season,” but all that means for Kalpitiya is that it’s kite surfing season. They put up a few woven screen barriers around the pool and the dining pavilions to keep the sand out, but otherwise it’s business as usual. 

This small peninsula on Sri Lanka’s west coast is fast becoming one of the best kite surfing spots in all of South Asia. During the week I’m here, I meet groups from as far away as France, Germany, and Australia who have come here just to experience the famous Kalpitiya winds at the various kite surfing resorts popping up all over the beach.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
Nothing goes to waste at Bar Reef Resort, including coconut shells.

Gliding along through the massive infinity pool as the famed Kalpitya
winds make waves on the surface, I think this must be what it feels
like to be one of the dolphins who makes her home off these choppy
shores.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
THE POOL. I’ve been in Sri Lanka for about six weeks now, and this is my favorite resort pool so far.
Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
The faucet in my outdoor bathroom.

At the end of the day, sitting in a thatched roof pavilion with a cold beer and candlelight, feeling the ocean breeze across your sun-warmed back is just about as close to heaven as you’re going to get.

Things I Loved:

  • The incredible attention to detail. Nothing is overlooked, no matter how tiny. The outdoor bathrooms would still be gorgeous even if the faucet wasn’t a conch shell, but these small touches make everything feel special.
  • The enormous pool! I felt like I was swimming to India.
  • The magnificent staff, whose attention to detail surpasses even the interior design. I mentioned after lunch on my second day that I had been under the weather when I arrived; the next morning at breakfast I was presented with a delicious homemade porridge known for curing tummy troubles.
  • The utter lack of plastic and man-made materials. Bar Reef Resort takes their commitment to the environment so seriously. Throughout my stay I only saw two items made out of plastic: the light switches in the cabanas, and the water bottles. The manager and resident naturalist assured me that he’s working to source a local supplier of glass bottles so even these will soon be a thing of the past. The staff collects fallen palm branches and other natural debris and turns it into everything from cabana roofs to bathroom coat hooks.
  • The solitude. During my stay there were very few other guests; only one small British family and a solitary kite surfer. I would have the entire pool area to myself for hours at a time, and it was unimaginable bliss. It helped that I wasn’t traveling during the peak season, but even when the resort is at capacity, you’re still talking about a very small number of guests. The cabanas and pool pavilions are arranged for maximum privacy, so you’ll never feel crowded.
Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
The front of my darling little cabana.

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
Truly, no detail is overlooked.
Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com
The pool bar serves more than fancy cocktails; they’ve probably got an herbal tea for anything that’s ailing you, too.

If you, too, have some luxurious deserted island fantasies to live out, you can find more information and book your stay here. I also had the pleasure of staying at the Bar Reef Resort’s sister property, Dolphin Beach Resort. You can check out my review here!

Bar Reef Resort Kalpitiya www.myadventurebucket.com

No Bus to Kalpitiya: Public Transport in Sri Lanka

I really can’t stress this enough: when it comes to Sri Lankan transportation, you can’t rely on Internet information. I’m telling you this as I fester in a broken plastic chair at Pettah Bus Station, swatting away flies like an irritable cow. According to “the Internet,” there is a Kalpitiya-bound bus leaving from here once an hour.

This, of course, is a lie. Armed with this misinformation, I assume I can arrive at the bus station whenever I please and have less than an hour to wait before I’m on my way.

“Kalpitiya? No, there’s no bus to Kalpitiya.” The tiny man in greasy overalls is all smiles as he juggles a pile of wrenches from one gnarled hand to another.

Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic…

“…not until 11:00.”

Whew.

An interested group of men appears in front of us, as an interested group of men always does when one is discussing how to get from Point A to Point B.

“11:00,” the youngest in the group agrees. “This bus right here.” He points to the shiny blue hulk in front of us with the flashy prismatic paint job.

More men join the discussion. One points further down the platform. “That way.” He’s the only one not smiling.

The rest of the group erupts in chatter, contradicting No Smile in Sinhalese I don’t understand. I take a seat on a filthy plastic chair and try not to be pissed that I got up at 6am for nothing. I’m stewing about missing out on an afternoon of lounging by the pool at my lagoon-front hotel.

After a few minutes, the youngest member of the group approaches and indicates that I actually should follow No Smile’s directions and head further down the platform. Apparently they’ve been arguing about it this whole time.

In the distance, I see a grimy yellow sign written in an alphabet I can’t decipher, with one word I do understand: Kalpitiya.

Hallelujah.

The bus driver at Bay #7 smiles as I approach. “Where are you going?”

“Kalpitiya.”

The smile fades. “Sorry, madam. There is no bus to Kalpitiya.”

“Not until 11:00, I know.”

He nods gravely. “Not until 11:00.”

“That’s OK, I’ll wait.”

This is, apparently, an unheard of proposition. It’s just past 8:30. He calls over another driver to help talk some sense into me.

“You can take this bus to Puttalam,” New Driver explains. He’s gesticulating as wildly as a man in a loud suit, hawking plastic crap in an infomercial. “Have the driver drop you off by the church before you get to the roundabout, then you can walk to the other bus station and take a different bus to Kalpitiya!” (What could possibly go wrong?)

I’m definitely not doing that.

“But the 11:00 bus goes directly to Kalpitiya? No changes?”

He reluctantly admits that it does.

“Ok, I’m going to wait for that one.”

He looks at me incredulously and shrugs at First Driver. ‘She’s clearly an idiot; I can’t help you,’ that shrug says.

I should note that only the red buses in Sri Lanka are government owned. They are generally considered to be ratty and inferior, and they pick up in a different place than privately owned buses. These are generally considered much nicer; some even have Wi-Fi. But because they’re privately owned, there is competition, and individual drivers will try to convince you to change your travel plans, even if it isn’t convenient for you. Stick to your guns unless you’re a lot more adventurous than I am.

No bus to Kalpitiya
On the plus side, there are lots of amusingly translated signs to occupy you if you end up with a long wait at the bus station.

Other things to know about taking the bus in Sri Lanka:

  • Unlike the train, you don’t need to buy a ticket in advance. Just get on; an employee will come around and sell you a ticket at some point after the bus departs.
  • Bus rides are ridiculously cheap; my 4.5 hour trip to Kalpitiya cost 198 rupees, which is a little over a dollar.
  • That cheap bus ticket came complete with 4.5 hours of Bollywood’s latest and greatest on the TV mounted above the driver’s head. Bring earplugs or headphones unless you hate yourself.
  • The “official” bus route might show few or no stops, but don’t kid yourself. They’re stopping at every bus stop they see and cramming on as many passengers as they can shove in. You won’t have that seat to yourself for very long.
  • Eating and drinking is fine on the bus; if you forgot to pack your own snacks, don’t worry. Vendors hawking drinks and food will randomly hop on and wander down the aisle. You can get a bottle of cold water for 50 rupees, awesome fried snacks, and maybe a large bag of coconuts.
  • Bus schedules for government owned red buses can be found on the National Transport Commission website here, but you’re still better off just asking someone.
No bus to Kalpitiya
The interior is as loud as the Bollywood movie marathon. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In the end, I get to Kalpitiya mid-afternoon, in plenty of time to get in some pool-lounging time. Well, it would be plenty of time, except I immediately get sick with some kind of rare Dengue Fever-like virus and do nothing all afternoon except lie in the dark and pray for death. What else did you expect?

 

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Extending Your Sri Lankan Tourist Visa

Sri Lanka is rapidly becoming one of the hottest new tourism destinations, thanks to its combination of gorgeous beaches, incredible temples and landscapes, lovely people and rock-bottom prices. Luckily, they make it simple to visit by issuing visas electronically before you travel at eta.gov.lk.  I had my email confirmation within 12 hours of applying online, and my visa was good for 30 days from the date of entry into the country. That’s more than sufficient for your average vacation, but what if you want to stay longer? Since I’m a nomad and have no office to hurry back to, I wanted to spend a little more time exploring the island. A two month extension (giving you 90 total days) is available, but you can’t apply for this online. The extension will only be granted at the Department of Immigration in Colombo. I had read online that this was a quick and painless process and you can just stroll up to the visa counter, get a stamp, and be on your way.

LIES. SO MANY LIES.

I ended up wasting a boatload of time because all of the information I had read before my trip was either completely outdated or so inaccurate I assume the authors of those articles were actually talking about a different country altogether.

Because I don’t want you darling readers to suffer the same fate, I have documented the entire visa extension process here, so you can breeze through the process and get back to exploring Sri Lanka. Well, maybe “breeze through” is a bit optimistic; you’re still going to have to sacrifice four hours of your day here. There’s no way around that unless you use one of the many visa couriers around Colombo to take care of this for you. I spoke to several people who did that, and I’m sure they were all happy with the experience, but I was determined to sort it out myself, for several reasons:

  1. How hard can it be? I hate paying someone else to do something just because I can’t sort it out myself.
  2. It irks me to pay someone to do something that I should be able to do myself.
  3. I just can’t bring myself to hand over my passport to someone I just met and trust that they’re going to bring it back to me the next day. What if they lose it? What if they get in a tuktuk accident on the way to the passport office and it goes flying off a bridge? What if they’re mugged?

If you, too, are determined to sort out your visa extension yourself, read on for everything you need to know.

Before you go:

    • Get visa pictures taken. Expect to pay 300-400 rupees and make sure you tell the photo shop operator that you need visa pictures, not passport pictures. There are tons of photo shops with aggressive touts lining the streets around the Department of Immigration office, but any mall photo booth can provide these for you if you’re out shopping.
    • Bring your own pen! And a notebook to use as a lap desk. The office doesn’t provide pens and there are only two small, wall-mounted writing stations in the entire office since they remodeled and took out the long writing counter.
    • Get there early. They stop processing applications at 1:30 p.m. and the place is a madhouse by 10 a.m. If you’re traveling to Colombo from elsewhere on the island just for a visa renewal, consider coming the day before and spending the night so you can get to the office soon after they open at 8:30 a.m.
    • Bring a book, Kindle, etc., and don’t make any plans for the next few hours. There are signs up throughout the office telling you that the visa extension process will take approximately four hours, and they don’t lie.

 

  • TAKE NOTE! The office has moved from the old centrally located spot referenced on some websites. The new building is in the suburb of Battaramulla, on Sri Subhuthipura Road. All the tuktuk drivers know where it is, just tell them you need to get to the passport office. For extra insurance, take a screenshot of the Google map listing showing the address and phone number (this is good advice for anywhere you need to go in Sri Lanka, actually!) If you’re coming by bus, the Department of Immigration website has a list of bus routes that will reach them.
Extending Your Sri Lankan Tourist Visa
No one cares what an ugly government office looks like, so here’s a lovely Buddha instead.

While You’re There:

  • When you arrive at the Department of Immigration, go into the main building, walk straight ahead and turn right (walking around all the rows of chairs that fill the center of the room). Go out the doors and across a walkway to the second building. The visa office is on the fourth floor. As you enter the building, turn to your left and pass a large staircase to reach the elevator bank. Look to your right: these are the elevators that go as far as the 9th floor; the ones on the left are for the 10th-19th floor only and won’t stop on any lower floors.
  • Exit the elevator on the fourth floor and take a right out of the elevator bank. The visa office (Wing C) is straight ahead. You can pick up an “Application for Extension of VISIT Visa” at the token issuing counter as you walk in. Note: You can also download the application from the website before you arrive, assuming you have a printer where you’re staying. It’s really short, though, so it’s not worth going to a lot of extra effort to fill it out ahead of time.
  • Fill out the application using that pen I told you to bring. There are a couple of wall-mounted writing stations to use, but if you listened to me and brought a notebook with you, you won’t have to wait for one of these. Notice the little canteen in the corner. This should tell you how long you’re going to be here. Avoid the coffee at all costs.
  • Affix one of your pretty mug shots visa photos to the top right corner of the application. There are bottles of glue on the wall mounted writing stations. Yes, I know the bottles are labeled “baby cologne,” but trust me.
  • Bring your completed application back to the Token Issuing Counter and hand it over along with your passport. The employee will enter a few details into the system and give you a false sense of hope that things are moving along nicely. A receipt (“token”) will print out and be handed to you along with your passport and application. The employee will smile kindly and motion you into the Wing C Waiting Area. You’ll go cheerfully, not realizing that you’ve just been sent to purgatory.
  • Keep an eye on the two flat screen TVs at the front of the room. These will display the token numbers ready for processing. No verbal announcements are made; you have to keep watch.
  • When your number appears on the screen, approach the counter under the televisions and hand your token/receipt to the queue master.
  • FYI, while you’re waiting, you can consult the large poster on the wall detailing visa extension fees for various nationalities. All prices are listed in US dollars. If you’re from neighboring India, you’ll only pay $3 for the privilege of extending your stay, while citizens of Tanzania have to pay a whopping $200. My American passport will cost me $100 for my extension.
  • The queue master will scan your ticket and direct you down the hall to the B Wing Waiting Area. You might get excited again, thinking that things are finally progressing. Don’t. Keep your book/iPad/knitting project out because you’ve only been sent to sit and wait in a different room. There are more flat screen TVs here for you to watch; once again, don’t get distracted and forget to watch for your number. No announcements will be made, and numbers don’t always appear on the screen in consecutive order.
  • When your number appears, it will be accompanied by a letter to designate which of the four glass cubicles you are to enter for your “interview” with an immigration officer. Don’t be nervous, it’s not as intense as it sounds. My interview consisted of watching the young officer in a lovely red and orange sari finish filing some paperwork for a few minutes, and then nodding when she asked, “You want to stay another two months?” She gave a little Indian head wiggle, said, “OK!” and directed me to go wait in the payment area until they were ready to take my payment.
  • The payment area (AKA Shroff Counters) is back down in the C Waiting Area, ahead and to your right as you enter. There is another screen where you will sit and wait for your number to appear before you will be allowed to go forward and pay.
  • You used to have to bring cash to pay for your visa extension, but that is no longer the policy. They take Visa and Mastercard now, and there are no extra fees for paying by card.
  • After you’ve paid, take your printed payment receipt across to the Dispatch Waiting Area (still in area C) to sit and watch one last monitor for your number. You’re in the home stretch!
  • At some point, an employee will enter with a huge pile of passports and the staff at the counter will sort them and start calling out numbers. When your number is called, go forward and present your payment receipt, sign the logbook to confirm that you’ve received your passport, and you’re done!

So there you go. Step by step instructions on extending your Sri Lankan tourist visa. If you use these instructions on your next trip, please drop me a note in the comments and let me know if they were helpful to you! If you find anything has changed in the future and needs to be updated, please let me know so I can keep these instructions as current as possible. Happy adventuring!

Extending your Sri Lankan travel visa
Now you’ve got this out of the way, it’s time to get back to having fun!

Psst, before you go! If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this one!

Sick in Sri Lanka: Yet Another Time I Almost Died

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Know what’s better than being sick and alone in a third world country, ten thousand miles from everyone know you know? Basically anything.

I had big adventuring plans for today, but here I am, still in bed late in the afternoon because I woke up feverish and feeling like I had a ball of razor wire stuck in my throat. No doubt the culprit is all the toxic smoke I inhaled yesterday while taking photos in a gorgeous old cemetery. What kind of moron wanders around a cemetery while they’re burning huge piles of poisonous trash? In my defense, a thunderstorm was rolling in and the sky was ridiculously atmospheric. Well, I never claimed to be smart. But look at these gorgeous photos:

Sick in Sri Lanka

Sick in Sri Lanka

Sick in Sri Lanka

But back to my current predicament.

Did I mention the power has gone out so I’m lying here in the 90 degree heat without so much as a fan? I wonder how long it generally takes a human being to sweat to death. If I’m still alive when the power comes back on, I’ll Google it. 

I muster up the energy to check my trusty Lonely Planet for the location of the nearest reputable medical facility. It appears to be about a 45 minute tuktuk ride away. Through madhouse Colombo traffic in the sweltering heat. That sounds even less appealing than death, so I don’t bother to get up.

Learn From My Mistakes

Here’s how you can be a little smarter on your travels than I generally am:

  • If you’re traveling to a place with a known air quality problem, bring a scarf or bandanna to cover your mouth and nose when necessary. Even if, for some reason, you don’t like poking around old cemeteries.
  • Have a well-stocked first aid kit, especially if you’re traveling alone and you don’t have anyone to go and fetch you supplies. I’d kill for a few throat lozenges right now. From now on I’m just going to assume I’ll be getting the plague at every destination and pack accordingly.
  • Yes, that lovely Airbnb apartment in a leafy suburb looks very appealing, but how far will you be from the nearest medical services in a worst case scenario? This may not be a huge concern in the developed world, but if you’re traveling off the beaten path, you could find yourself a long way from adequate medical facilities.
  • Keep some flexibility in your schedule in case illness does strike and cause you to have to rearrange some plans. Out of 8 days in Colombo, I have two that I purposely left wide open. This would have been more than sufficient if I had only been sick for two days. As it turns out, I’m sick for the rest of my time in Colombo and I end up missing nearly everything on my list. Including the once-a-year Vesak Poya celebrations. I’m still a little bitter about that, to be honest. 
  • Know the generic names for any kinds of prescription medicine you think you might need on the road, but keep in mind that you might not be able to get what you’re used to at home. I desperately want some NyQuil to knock myself out and stop my persistent cough, but discover it was outlawed in Sri Lanka several years ago. I end up dragging myself to a pharmacy and explaining my miserable condition to the pharmacist, who gives me a packet of pills wrapped in white notebook paper with a few handwritten words of instruction. I don’t realize until later that it’s nothing but generic Claritin. Pharmacies are plentiful and very inexpensive here, but you need to know what you’re looking for.
  • Last, and most importantly: don’t be as stubborn as I am. Seek real medical treatment when you need it. Preferably before you find yourself coughing up blood in an Airbnb and deciding you should just pack up your belongings to make it easier for the homeowner when you die. (Spoiler alert: I survived, barely. But I was sick for nearly two weeks and it really put a damper on the first part of my trip. Don’t let that happen to you!)

 

 

Become a More Patient Human: Travel in India

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? As an earnest proponent of the “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” school of character building, I can’t recommend traveling in India enough as a way to become a better human being.

As I write this, I am sitting in a rather dingy hotel suite in Chennai, mentally congratulating myself for not completely losing my mind with the kind, well-meaning, and utterly ineffective staff.

Knowing I had a 14 hour layover in this absolutely boiling southern Indian city, I had the utter stroke of genius to book a hotel an hour from the airport. Yes, I’d have to get up at 2 a.m. to return to the airport for my onward flight, but this hotel was right on the beach and it had a gorgeous pool! I envisioned myself lounging poolside all afternoon with a fruity umbrella drink before putting in a few hours’ work in the office area of my opulent six-room suite.

Have you ever noticed how my plans always seem to go to shit?

After an uneventful 55 minute flight from Bangalore (during which we were served lunch, even though the cabin crew barely had time to pass out the boxes of sandwiches and mango juice before turning around to collect the trash; American carriers, kindly take note), I land in Chennai, collect my suitcase (that I bought last night after deciding that backpacking was utter bullshit) and exit the airport in search of my pre-booked taxi.

My pre-booked taxi, I should add, that never shows up.

See? More patient already. I randomly choose a taxi counter, arrange a cab, and 5 minutes later I’m in the back of an ancient black Vauxhall, plunging into the melee of central Chennai. At every nauseating turn, I remind myself that I’ll be lounging poolside shortly.

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.
Even though it’s miserably hot and ridiculously chaotic, Chennai *is* beautiful.

We finally make it to my hotel, but not before my driver attempts to deliver me to two other hotels and a seafood restaurant. He’s really convinced that the latter is the right place, and calls the parking lot security guard over to help him argue with me.

Naturally, the security guard is on his side. “Yes, you are definitely in the right place, madam!” It’s not until I threaten to get out and walk the rest of the way that the driver believes I’m really not staying the night at India’s version of Red Lobster.

We drive the wrong way down a one-way street to arrive at my hotel, but apparently this is OK because he honks the horn a lot. I’ve learned that, in India, you can disobey any traffic rule you want as long as you make liberal use of your horn while doing so.

The hotel manager is round and cheerful and welcoming as he takes my bag and ushers me inside. “Which way to the pool?” I ask, hoping he doesn’t notice the rivers of sweat running down my arm as we shake hands.  

“Oh, sorry madam! The pool is being now closed for maintenance.”

I can almost feel the increased patience flowing into my body.

Another employee pipes up. “You can always go across the street to the beach, madam!”

“OK. Is the water safe for swimming?”

“Oh, no. Current is too strong. Definitely do not go for swimming.”

<Deep, deep breath>

While I’m sure it would be lovely to bake on the sand on a 95 degree day without any way to cool off, I decide to pass on that. I guess I’ll be spending the afternoon holed up in my room, getting caught up on work.

“Oh, madam?” I’m halfway across the parking lot when the hotel manager calls after me. “Sorry, sorry. WiFi is not working today. Sorry!”

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.
The exact expression on my face at that moment.

Patience. So much patience.

Please note: I absolutely love India, and the Indian people. I would never dissuade anyone from visiting India, especially my beloved Bangalore. But, ah, when you go? Bring a sense of humor.

Do you feel like you could stand to be a more patient person? Have you thought about traveling in India? I can’t recommend it enough.

The Monthly Bucket- May 2017

 

 

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My Adventure Bucket Monthly Collage May 2017

Where in the world am I? Ayubowan from gorgeous Sri Lanka! It’s monsoon season here on the west coast but I’m still having a blast. I’m a little late with the monthly recap- sorry about that! Internet access has been a little bit spotty lately. There are a lot of great things about life in the tropics, but reliable WiFi is unfortunately not one of them.

Items checked off the bucket list this month: #542- explore ancient temples in Sri Lanka- this will be ongoing for the next two months. There are so many gorgeous temples to see! Photos and blog posts coming soon.

Highlight of the month: Not a typical monthly highlight, but visiting the Tsunami Photo Museum in Hikkaduwa. Although it’s very basic and not at all professionally put together, this is one of the most poignant and gut-wrenching museums I’ve ever seen. It’s on par with the World Trade Center in NYC in terms of sheer emotional savagery. I had a hard time maintaining my composure when the owner of the museum showed me the tent in which her family lived for six months, surrounded by tens of thousands of bodies waiting in the tropical heat to be identified and buried. No photos were allowed in the museum, but imagine two small, damp shacks filled with grainy photos and handwritten accounts of the day, all variations on a theme of “a huge wave came and ripped my children out of my arms, took my family and my house and I never saw them again.”

Although the tsunami struck 13 years ago, there are still many homes and businesses that were never rebuilt.
Although the tsunami struck 13 years ago, there are still many homes and businesses that were never rebuilt.

Lowlight of the month: Having to move out of a guesthouse two weeks early because the owners thought I was a witch and refused to come near my room to clean it. My life is odd.

Best meal: Vegetable Kotthu at a street stand in Colombo. Think Stovetop Stuffing on spicy south Asian steroids. Watching the chef throw it together on a hot griddle with a giant cleaver was almost as great as eating it.

Honorable mention to the last dinner I had at the Max Wadiya in Ambalangoda, during which I swear a tiny crab overheard me discussing with the waiter that I don’t eat shellfish, apparently appointed himself my tiny crustacean guardian, and spent the whole meal circling my table and watching me. I swear I’m not drunk, this really happened.

New blog posts published:

Good Morning, India!

Hotel Review: Max Wadiya, Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka.

Barefoot Dentistry: Not as Horrifying as it Sounds.

What I learned:

  • A universal remote app on your phone is crucial when traveling in countries where they are liable to hold the A/C remote hostage in hopes of getting more money out of you. (But be aware that this might cause the owners of the guesthouse to think you’re a witch and refuse to come near your room to clean it. FYI. Yes, I’m still a little bitter.)
  • When a hotel review mentions karaoke that lasts into the wee hours of the night, PAY ATTENTION. For the love of dog, do not disregard this information and book a two week (nonrefundable) stay at this place which will make you think about flinging yourself off the balcony while drunk German tourists belt out “Eye of the Tiger” for the third night in a row. Or something. However, if you do find yourself in this situation, an email to the hotel’s parent company mentioning that you were hoping to review them for your 50,000+ social media followers will instantly get you an upgrade to a top floor suite. Or so I’ve heard. Wink wink. 
  • Sri Lanka has a marvelous invention known as a pastry truck, which is like an American ice cream truck but it drives around selling fresh bread and baked goods out of the back. It even plays music like an ice cream truck. Why does this not exist everywhere??
  • Coconut rotti with pineapple jelly is incredible.
  • There’s no such thing as NyQuil or other common western cough medicine here. It’s worth the luggage space to bring some with you.

What I read:

Prosperity for Writers by Honoree Corder. I love books about intention and positive thinking, and this was a great quick read. If you’re a writer or other creative type, check it out!

Rickety Buses Bumpy Roads: Travels in India Nepal Peru Bolivia by Michelle J. Coote. I love reading about other solo women adventurers, so I had high hopes for this travelogue. The author definitely had some interesting adventures, but there were unacceptable typos and parts of the book were clunky and in desperate need of a good editor. I’m not knocking self publishing, but if you’re the only person who looks at your book before it’s for sale, it’s going to be obvious.

What’s next? More Sri Lankan goodness! I’m here through the end of July and during the month of June I’ll be working my way up through the center of the island to the hill country and the Ancient Cities. This means more gorgeous old temples to explore! First, though, I’m spending another ten days in my new favorite city of Galle on the southwest coast. I passed through this gorgeous old Dutch fort town after leaving Hikkaduwa and thought I’d be able to see everything in two days before moving on. Technically you can; it’s a pretty small city and very compact, but I fell in love and hated to leave. As soon as I reached Tangalle I knew it was a mistake and came right back the next day. This means I cut several things from my planned itinerary and I might never reach Arugam Bay, but as I sit here on my balcony, watching the ocean over the fort ramparts and listening to the call to prayer from the mosque up the street, I don’t mind one bit. Some places just automatically feel like home, you know?

Galle, you are gorgeous and I love you.
Galle, you are gorgeous and I love you.

 

PS- are you following My Adventure Bucket on Facebook? I publish lots of new content there that never makes it to the blog, so check it out!

Barefoot Dentistry: Not As Horrifying As it Sounds

This post may contain affiliate links. Using these links costs you nothing but helps to offset the expense of running of this website and my weekly pedicure habit.

The sign outside the second-floor clinic instructs all visitors to remove their shoes before entering, and the staircase landing is littered with sandals. OK, apparently this is a thing. I briefly consider turning around and leaving, but I’m bolstered by the fact that I’m wearing my lucky Harry Potter underwear. Also, I just saw my first two sacred cows, which seems like a good omen. I’m about to have dental work in India, and I’m starting to think this was possibly a Very Bad Idea™.

I was totally serious about the cow thing, by the way. They're everywhere. I was also serious about the underwear thing but I'm not posting pictures so stop asking.
I was totally serious about the cow thing, by the way. They’re everywhere. I was also serious about the underwear thing but I’m not posting pictures so stop asking.

I feel better as soon as I step inside the clinic. Everything is clean and modern and sterile. I’m handed an iPad on which to check in. The receptionist has perfect hair and looks like he just stepped out of a J.Crew catalog, except he’s also barefoot.

As soon as I finish signing in and taking an extremely unflattering picture of myself with the office tablet, J. Crew leads me up another flight of stairs to the exam room, which is similarly spotless but full of Buddha statues and a small radio blaring Indian pop music.

Buddha statues = instant calm. Take note, Western dentists.
Buddha statues = instant calm. Take note, Western dentists.

Also, is it a bad sign when your dentist has the Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies on his office bookshelf? Asking for a friend.

Dr. Narayan cuts right to the chase, asking me what’s going on. I go into show and tell mode, and he only interrupts to ask a few questions. He can tell right away that I’ve been putting this off for some time, and that there was trauma to the tooth in question. He smirks when I tell him the story of being head-butted in the face by a rambunctious dog while drinking a beer.

“Well,” he says pushing back from his desk, “let’s have a look.” I pad along barefoot behind him into the treatment room. This is probably my last chance to bolt and I’m totally missing it.

The room is as bright and sterile as any Western dentist office, and he uses all the usual tools for the exam, but there is no forgetting where I am. He explains every step of what’s needed in distinctly Indian terms. The root of the tooth is like a sleeping tiger. Bacteria rise up like warriors. Etc. I try to close my eyes during the exam but he gently admonishes me to keep them open. “I know you are scared. Watching what goes on will remove the fear.”

Here's a lovely flower because I understand that absolutely no one wants to see a picture of me having dental work done.
Here’s a lovely flower because I understand that absolutely no one wants to see a picture of me having dental work done.

It only takes a few minutes for Dr. Narayan to decide I need a root canal and we should begin immediately. OK, hold up, I only psyched myself up for an exam. I was not prepared for this at all. “You’re already here,” he says, reading my mind again. “Best just to get it over with.” He’s right, of course, but I must not look entirely convinced. “I promise it won’t hurt a bit, and you won’t even need any anesthesia.” It’s not polite to call your doctor a big fat liar, so I tell him to go ahead.

As it turns out, he wasn’t a big fat liar at all. I would hereby like to insist that every dentist I’ve ever seen to go to India and take a few lessons from this guy. Especially Dr. Kmon, who was a really big jerk to me when I was six.

Fifteen minutes later, having experienced zero pain whatsoever, I was on my way. Who would have guessed that one Indian doctor could cure a decades old fear of the dentist’s chair?

I ended up going back for three additional visits for a follow-up, a temporary crown, and a permanent crown. My entire cost for four office visits, a root canal, and a porcelain crown was $230. I did a little bit of cost comparison with US averages, and it appears that a root canal on a front tooth can cost in the neighborhood of $900. If you need a crown, expect that to be over $1000. You might have insurance that minimizes your out of pocket cost, but if not, that’s a huge expense. I suddenly understand why so many of my American friends have chosen to have their dental work done overseas. For the cost of one root canal and crown in the US, you can fly to the dental tourism spot of your choice, stay in a nice hotel for a couple of weeks, enjoy a lovely vacation, and get some top quality dental work done while you’re there.

Worried about getting dental work overseas? I was, too (especially the whole barefoot thing, but I got over it) but I did a ton of research and got personal recommendations from other travelers, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience. The dentist I chose came highly recommended with over 18 years of experience and training in both India, Europe, and North America, and has trained dentists all over the world. I hope I don’t get too much hate mail from American dentists, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again and now I completely understand why so many people have chosen to travel for their medical and dental procedures instead of paying outrageous prices at home.

Have you ever traveled for a medical or dental procedure? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!