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Travel Experience – Sri Lanka
By Brianna Van De Ven
This October I was lucky enough to head to Sri Lanka with a fantastic company that specialise in boutique 5 star experiences, Abercrombie & Kent.
After an 8 hours flight on board Sri Lankan Airlines we arrived in a very warm Colombo.
We were greeted by very well-dressed A&K representatives and travelled in our airconditioned mini bus through to our beautiful hotel for the night the Wallawwa Hotel, just a 20-minute drive from the airport.
Up early today after a late night, we were refreshed with a beautiful breakfast spread then we were off on our 3½ hour drive to Dambulla. Once arriving into Dambulla we went to visit UNESCO site of the cave temple dating back to the First Century BC, it is also still recognised as one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in the world.
After our Temple Cave visit, we were back onto our mini bus and travelled 30 minutes to Habarana. Here we did need to do a little bit of work, inspected a couple of beautiful 5-star boutique hotels. With the evening approaching it was time for us to turn in at our lovely hotel the Water Garden. This hotel had stunning views of the Sigiriya Rock, from all over the property.
Day 3 we travelled 1½ hours through some amazing countryside and arriving into the Ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Yet another beautifully preserved UNSECO site, Polonnaruwa was the second kingdom of Sri Lanka, and is filled with beautiful Buddhist statues & boasts ruins of ancient palaces.
From Polonnaruwa we stopped for a quick lunch break in a local community where we had the biggest buffet style lunch with the most amazing flavours, all owned and run by a local family. After the belly was full, we continued to travel to the Minneriya National Park.
Here we boarded our jeep safari vehicles and travelled into the dense forest seeing many monkeys, reptiles, birds & butterflies before coming out to a clearing where we could finally see our first elephant in the wild. He was all by himself just by a large watering hole.
As we got closer to the beautiful creature we travelled around a slight bend and some large bushes and what could we now see? HUNDREDS of Elephants. There was a mix of mother elephants, tusker elephants and even a bunch of babies just all munching on the grass and playing in the clearing.
We stayed a safe distance in our jeeps and watched the elephants in their element moving between the herd for a little while before having to head back before sunset approached. This really was the most magical, surreal experience and we all felt very lucky to have witnesses this event!
The next morning after yet another nutritious breakfast it was time to tackle the ROCK Sigiriya Rock is a UNESCO world heritage site, an enormous rock boulder rising 200 meters above the surrounding jungle. The rock fortress was built by King Kassyapa I in the fifth century and served as a royal citadel for more than 18 years, the rock also then served as a Buddhist monastery.
After a quick visit through the museum we then headed for the large boulder to start the climb. The limb of the rock can be a little tricky for some as there are some very steep areas and a lot of uneven surfaces so I would recommend you are both steady on your feet and do have a good level of fitness to reach the top of the rock. In saying this the view from the top made the climb well worth it.
After the climb, our driver greeted us at the mini van with cold towels and some ice-cold water. Very refreshing after a hot sticky climb and just one of the extra things A&K do to make your time with them special.
Our day was not yet over as we headed towards Kandy to meet with a Botanist to show us around the amazing Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya. These gardens house over 4,000 species of plants & trees from all over the world, also the largest collection of orchards I have ever seen. We learnt a lot about the garden’s history, seeing the trees where famous & Royal leaders had planted trees.
The Tooth Relic Temple was our last place to visit today. Built during the 16th Century AD, this temple is very important to Buddhists as it houses the sacred tooth relic of buddha. We were lucky enough to witness the ‘Therava’, an auspicious offering to the sacred tooth relic where hundreds of Buddhists brought forward offerings to the temple’s monk. This was a very sacred experience to witness.
When the day drew to a close, we rested our head and bodies in the beautiful Kings Pavilion which overlooked they bustling Kandy city.
This morning we head to the hills up to the tea country for a little R&R. We got to travel like a local, boarding a regional train from Peradeniya station through to Hatton station. This journey was very scenic with lots of twists, bends and plenty to see along the way. Within only half an hour on the train we also drastically noticed the change in climate and scenery as we got closer to the high country.
On arrival into Hatton our driver met with us and we headed straight to the Ceylon Tea Trails properties to inspect all properties. These properties are a handful of beautiful old residence which have been transformed into boutique bungalows. We were lucky enough to call one of these properties home for the night. All properties had fantastic facilities, features and fabulous views of the lake & tea plantations all being set at the top of the hills and amongst the famous Dilmah tea plantations.
The following morning, we were taken on a ‘Tea Experience’ with one of the staff members who thoroughly explain to us the whole tea growing, harvesting and drying processes by showing us through the famous Ceylon Tea factory (the home of Dilmah tea).
At the conclusion of our relaxing time in the highlands it was time to take the windy 4-hour journey downhill towards Colombo.
We arrived late in the afternoon to our beautiful colonial hotel style hotel, The Galle Face Hotel. We had enough time for a quick change and then we enjoyed a lovely dinner at The Gallery Café a beautiful ambient restaurant in the heart of Colombo.
The next morning, we visited a couple boutique residence in Colombo. We then had a quick shop break visiting well known textile and homewear stores before heading to the old town Colombo.
Here we met with the amazing Dutch resident and passionate photographer Mark Forbes. We started our tour of the Old Colombo near the cruise port and finished up at the Old Dutch Hospital.
Along the way we learnt a lot about architecture, history and even political issues of the past years. Once we arrived at the Old Dutch Hospital, now home to a bustling shopping and restaurant complex. Here we were treated to a roof top bar experience with a fun cocktail class on how to make some of Sri Lankas most famous beverages.
All good things must come to an end and today was our last day in this amazing country.
Today we visited the fishing town of Negombo. With its hectic harbour, bustling fish market, palm-fringed beaches and colonial architecture all adding to the character of this little fishing village.
We also got to inspect a few more beautiful properties in this area before having a beach front lunch. We had a relaxing afternoon just to repack and get ready to head back to Australia tonight.
We travelled home just after midnight from Colombo, the flight home was a great time to reflect on just how diverse this country really was, Sri Lanka was such a friendly, colourful, flavoursome country with beaches, forests, animals, highlands, cities, plenty of history & religion.
A fantastic way to see this country was with Abercrombie & Kent, this company really thought of everything and Sri Lanka is defiantly a place to pop onto your bucket list!