For weeks I had been saying that I wanted to spoil myself for a night, I was growing travel weary, tired of dorm rooms, long buses and constantly moving. When in Galle I had talked with another traveler who had hear if you wanted to splurge for a night, the Sigirya Hotel was worth it, mostly in part for the pool and view of Sigirya Rock. I knew I was going to spend at least one night in the city so I considered doing so at this hotel, but a little research persuaded me otherwise, and for good reason.
Entrance to Sigiriya opens at 7 am, wanting to avoid the crowds and heat I made sure to be one of the first to arrive the following morning. As I approached the park I passed an older man who offered a friendly “Good Morning” and told me to enjoy, we parted as he entered at the side (locals don’t require a ticket) and I continued towards the entrance. After entering the park and making my way through the water gardens we met again, the same big smile plastered across his face as minutes before. He told me to take my time, “Slowly, slowly climb the rock” and offered a parting handshake as I continued on my way. I did as he said and continued along slowing, taking time to appreciate where I was, take a few photos and catch my breath (there’s a ton of stairs). About halfway up the rock, there he was again, my smile friend and I soon realized he’d be with me the rest of the way...
The first two weeks of my visit to Sri Lanka were spent without hitting many of the “must see” destinations, I saved all the history for the tail end, but almost missed it. Friends, new and old, nearly persuaded me to head back to Ella, a place that I didn’t really want to leave in the first place. Eventually though I realized it’d be silly to come and not conquer the rock, Lion’s rock, in Sigiriya, so despite the heat and unappealing bus ride I made my way north.
A Google search for "Sri Lanka" will most definiltey return at least one result for the must do, "Epic" train ride from Ella to Kandy (or vice versa). I read countless blogs which equated this to the highlight of their trip, a once in a lifetime ride, and breathtaking views, all in all it was something to not be missed during my visit to Sri Lanka. After a few days in Ella I was due to leave, meeting an old friend in Kandy my time in the sleepy yet enchanting town was coming to an end. Due to some of those blogs I read and a fellow traveler I talked to, I decided to book my train ticket ahead of time. This was another learning experience, neither was it necessary or beneficial to pay the extra price and be prepared, but you live and learn. The price difference was small so I decided to book a first class ticket, but that was a mistake.
On my first day in the city, while taking a walk to explore the town, I passed “One Love Cafe” which looked like a cool place with friendly owners, urging me to stop in for a drink. I told them I’d come back, which I’m sure they hear all the time based on the “Sure, you said that yesterday” response I got. I laughed and explained that I had just arrived an hour before so I had not in fact already used that line, and I really did mean it when I said I’d come back. Wanting to follow through on my promise I paid them a visit on my second day, after my hike to Adam’s peak and a failed afternoon nap.
After the three buses and five hours it took to get there, as soon as I arrived in Ella I knew that it was a place I was going to enjoy. The air was cool and crisp, the hills were beautiful and it seemed I wouldn’t be hassled by tuk tuks every step of the way. I had pre-booked my first nights accommodation at Silent Night Guesthouse, conveniently near the bus stop, but I kind of regretted doing so. Most cities are overflowing with accommodation, from classy hotels to dodgy hostels and loads of friendly home-stays, I definitely should have waiting and struck a deal on arrival. My first afternoon in the city was slow, taking a walk to orient myself, enjoying a veggie burger after one too many rice and curry meals and taking a nice warm shower, something you actually need in Ella as the temperatures drop, especially at night.
My plans for Sri Lanka were pretty flexible when I arrived, my itinerary was an open slate in fact, I didn’t even have a flight out booked yet. Everyone I met asked me what I was going to do and where I’d be going, but I wasn’t quite sure. The one thing I did know though is that I’d be visiting Ella, a city I heard a lot about and after seeing various pictures, knew that I’d have to visit. After a facing Colombo, walking the walls of Galle Fort and almost getting stuck in Mirissa it was time for me to head north.
With the busy city and an interesting train journey behind me it was time to put my attention on a new town, Galle, the home of an old Dutch fort at the south western tip of Sri Lanka. I read that you could “see the sights in a day trip” or “stop on your way to Unawatuna”, but I’m tired of moving around and wanted to pay the town a proper visit. Unsure of accommodation I booked my first nights stay at Peddlars Hostel inside the fort and figured after arriving I’d decide of the town was worth an extra nights stay.
No trip to Asia would be complete without a tale of the tuk tuk drivers, would it? Synonymous with the region, these individuals are friendly yet cunning, helpful but coy, and goddamn are they persistent. My first interaction was in Bali, roughly four and a half years ago and at the time they drove me insane, fast forward a few years to Cambodia where I was once again combating their calls, but somehow grew to have an understanding of their ploys. It seems things have come full circle though, as they do, and I’m back in the Bali state of mind, “Why won’t they just leave me alone!?”
Although I was generally unprepared for my trip to Sri Lanka, as in I kind of just showed up and assumed I’d figure it all out as I went along, I managed to pull things together quickly. I fell into a habit of reading travel blogs pertaining to my plans a day or two before I actually executed them. This came in handy, as the blogs were recently written and therefore more up to date than most travel books. After giving Colombo a fighting chance, passing a day and a half between the parks, museums and chaotic bizarre I was ready to head south.
To be quite honest I have no idea where my desire to travel to this country originated, but it festered and grew for nearly 3 years. In a sense it's a cleaner, safer, smaller India and having always had that country on my radar it seemed like the perfect test drive.