One of “The Top 16 Places To Go In 2016”, Sri Lanka is hot in every sense of the word
Day 1 – ColomboIt’s hot and sticky in Sri Lanka, at least in its low-lying regions, and the mugginess is enhanced when strolling beside Colombo’s traffic-clogged streets. We quickly learn the error of our ways and decide to use metered (and incredibly cheap) tuk-tuks instead of walking. While spread-out Colombo isn’t as thrilling as cities like Bangkok or Hong Kong there are pockets of intrigue in areas such as its central business district, Fort, where historic buildings from the Dutch (1656-1796) and British (1796-1948) colonial eras are being revived. After mulling over the menu at the Ministry of Crab – a stylish seafood eatery in the revamped Old Dutch Hospital – we end up sitting under whirring ceiling fans at Pagoda Tea Room, feasting on fragrant fish curry as we hum Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” (the music video for the 1983 hit was filmed in this classic downtown restaurant). While Sri Lanka is generally less hectic than neighbouring India, our post-lunch dip into the sensory-jolting Pettah district was an exception – with its sprawling markets selling everything under the sun. Our plan to watch the sunset from Galle Face Green – a family-friendly park hugging the coast of the Indian Ocean – is scuppered by a tropical downpour, so we hunker down nearby in the hotel, Taj Samudra, sipping coffee and cocktails and reading Time Out Sri Lanka for travel tips.
Day 2 – Kandy Our train to Kandy creaks out of the mildly chaotic Colombo Fort Railway Station at 7am. We elect to travel first class, which, while hardly Orient-Express standards, is comfy enough. Tea and snacks are provided, and a raft of lush vistas keeps us entertained for the two-and-a-half-hour journey. The British built this line in the 1860s and it’s a masterpiece of engineering, slicing through long tunnels and along narrow ridges with heart-fluttering drops. Perched 500 metres above sea level, Kandy – the “cultural capital” of Sri Lanka – is a touch cooler than Colombo. The banks of its manmade lake are dotted with sacred sites including the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which pilgrims believe houses Buddha’s tooth. Our most vivid memories of Kandy, beyond just sightseeing, are the organic iced coffee from National Coffee, the mountainous plate of devilled chicken (a sweet and sour affair) that we consume in a bustling side-street eatery, and cacophonous bird shrieks that pierce the night sky – like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Days 3 and 4 – Polonnaruwa The name Polonnaruwa is such a mouthful that we initially refer to it as “Polyblablabla”. But, it’s worth learning how to pronounce the name of this UNESCO World Heritage site, which is located about three hours north of Kandy by taxi. We take the rickety, cramped public bus which is only supposed to take three to four hours, but thanks to traffic we arrive in Polonnaruwa almost six hours later. While we chose the public bus, we’d opt for the taxi next time. Dubbed Sri Lanka’s “Lost City”, Polonnaruwa is the former royal capital of the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms, and somewhere to indulge your Indiana Jones or Lara Croft fantasies. Its jungle-fringed collection of ruined temples, tombs, palaces and Buddhist carvings date back almost a millennium, and there’s also an archaeological museum brimming with monuments and statues. While some tourists explore Polonnaruwa with a guide in a minivan, we prefer a leisurely pedal around its picturesque relics on bicycle. Whenever it gets too steamy, we retreat to shady trees where cheeky monkeys frolic and affable vendors machete open coconuts for us to sip from. Essentially, Sri Lanka is an early-to-rise and early-to-sleep country with minimal nightlife. This suits us just fine because 7am starts and busy days in the heat mean we’re usually blissfully asleep by 10 pm.