[TRAVEL GUIDE] SRI LANKA

Oh Sri Lanka, you stole my heart! I guess it’s safe to say that this small island in the Indian ocean is one of the most beautiful spots on earth, featuring picture perfect sunsets, lonely beaches, bright green tee plantations and a very warm and hospital people. I spent a little more over three weeks there and miss every second of it so badly.

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Things to do in Sri Lanka

One of the main advantages about travelling to Sri Lanka is how much this small island has to offer. There sure is something for everybody, whether you prefere exploring old temples or surfing some waves.

Surfing in Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka is the best spot for learning how to surf, as the water is warm all year round (aka it doesn’t matter if you fall…). I got my first ever surfing experience at Talalla Surf and Yoga Retreat. The resort was quite pricey, particularly for Sri Lankan standards, but I had an amazing surf coach, met so many cool people from all over the world, had the best food and also had a little crush on my yoga teacher. So yes, if you ask me, it was worth the money.

You can also go out on our your own or take private lessons with a local coach. The best locations for surfing are pretty much the entire South coast and Arugam Bay in the east. Just make sure to check where the season is on before you go.

Sri Lanka for walkers

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Pure bliss at Lipton’s Seat in Haputale

Nature lovers will not come short on this magical island, and one of the absolute must-dos it certainly walking up the 5000 stairs to Adam’s peak in the middle of the night in order to watch the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque sunset from the top.

Another walk I absolutely recommend is around the tea plantations of Haputale. There are no words to describe the beauty of this place and I want to go back so badly.

City trips in Sri Lanka

Kandy Cylon Tea Museum
Learning all about my favourite brew at the Cylon Tea Museum

Sri Lanka has many great thing to offer to visitors, but its cities are not one of them. I only heard negative things about the capital Colombo and decided to not stay there at all. And from what I saw just from my taxi from the airport to the train station, I am glad I didn’t.

I did however visit Kandy for two days, the second largest city and supposed cultural capital. And what can I say? I freaking hated it there. Luckily I at least had the best guesthouse on earth and stayed close to the Cylon tea museum, so I just got some much needed detox time.

Sea, sun and fun in Sri Lanka

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Talalla beach. Is this place even real??
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This is not a postcard
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Mirissa

The center of the island is beautiful and you can visit lots of temples old and new, tea plantations and what not. But make sure not to miss out on the crazy beaches. I thought beaches like this only exist in movies and I promise you will feel like living in a postcard every day!

If spending entire days at the beach is not your exactly your thing, there are also numerous other activities to do in the south of Sri Lanka, such as whale watching in Mirissa or chilling, eating and shopping in the cute towns of Galle and Unawatuna. And if you are in Unawatuna, make sure to sign up for Karuna’s cooking class, in order to learn how to fix that yummy rice and curry at home.

How to get around in Sri Lanka

 

Three girls one TukTuk
Three girls one TukTuk
Oh those Sri Lankan train rides
Oh those Sri Lankan train rides <3

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Do not worry too much about local transport: Busses go from everywhere to anywhere, but their schedules and routes are completely incomprehensible to foreigners and also untraceable online. The locals will know and will always be happy to help you figure out a route.

I highly recommend you take the train as often as possible, as this is on of the island’s most beautiful adventures. Check out my story about the party train from Hatton to Haputale, for example. You can find a schedule online, but do not rely on much on it, as trains tend to be very late. My advice: Just check out how to get from Colombo to your first real destination (Matara in my case), and figure the rest out once you’re there.

Considering you’re in Asia, another important way of transport are TukTuks – of course. You can hail them anywhere at anytime and they will drive you whenever you want. Just make sure to negotiate the exact price and destination before jumping on, as TukTuk drivers tend to be evil and annoying and will say whatever it takes to make you pay more.

Where to sleep in Sri Lanka

Asanka's Guesthouse
Waking up to this in Asanka’s Guesthouse in Midigama…

The best way to discover local life is to stay in one of the numerous guesthouses. Most of them are listed on booking.com and actually prefere if you book online. This is how I found out about Buddhika’s guesthouse in Matara, for example, where I spent my wonderful first night.

Don’t bother about booking your entire trip in advance though: Just get your first few nights sorted and deal with the rest once you’re there (I know I already said this a few times, but Sri Lanka is really easy to figure out once you’re there). Wifi is available in many places in case you want to do more online research, and in many towns you can also just show up without a reservation and find yourself a nice place to stay upon arrival.

Sri Lanka – Good to know

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Dahl in the making
  • Negotiate always and everything! Guesthouses, TukTuks, food… But especially TukTuks. Sri Lankans tend to want to rip you off, so make sure to bargain at all times.
  • Eat Streetfood. The locals teahouses might look very dirty, but that’s where you get the best food! Oh my gosh Rotti, I miss you so much. <3
  • Eat any kind of food, basically. Sri Lanka is a foodie heaven, with all its savory curries, fresh fruit juices and fatty pastries.
  • Buy a SIM card. You can get them at the airport and I was really happy to have 3G pretty much all the time, in order to check out guesthouses etc. (unless the idea of your whole trip is to totally disconnect from everything, in which case don’t get a SIM card).

Sri Lanka for solo female travelers

I was in Sri Lanka as a solo female traveller, and I never encountered any trouble. Just be reasonable about what you do (i.e. not staying out alone at night) and you will be perfectly fine. Locals will tend to talk to you a lot – especially the men – but just be nice and friendly and everything will be awesome. Also, keep in mind to bring long clothes (to cover knees and shoulders), as you will really not feel comfortable in tiny shorts in places like Kandy or Haputale.

Oh Sri Lanka, I miss you!

[Travel Diary] Lazy Seaside Days in Galle and Unawatuna

The bad news for all non surfers is that the majority of beaches in Sri Lanka are not exactly suitable for swimming and bathing. Even in Mirissa, where there’s only a small surfer spot in the very corner of the bay, the waves can often get too high even for experienced swimmers. But don’t be sad just yet:

This is actually in Mirissa, but I was too busy chilling that I completely forgot to take a photo of Unawatuna's crazy beach hihi
This is actually in Mirissa, but I was too busy chilling that I completely forgot to take a photo of Unawatuna’s crazy beach hihi

Beachfun in Unawatuna

Unawatuna beach is located in a bay and I do not exaggerate when I say that I have never seen a beach like this. The white sand and turquoise water look like the setting of a very cheesy postcard.

Yes, Unawatuna is a tourist hotspot and can be quite crowded – and also quite expensive for Sri Lankan measures – but the beauty of the place clearly makes up for it.

Unlike many of the other towns aligned on the coast, Unawatuna has more to offer than “just” perfect beaches (even though, for most of the time, that would be more than enough). With its numerous cocktail bars and restaurants, it feels like an actual holiday town and is the perfect spot to chillax for a few days.

The beach town is also a good spot for shopping (unlike most parts of Sri Lanka) and I bought a nice handmade dress, altered to my measures by the lovely store owner. Make sure to have dinner at the Pink Elephant at least once – I loved this cosy place and the food was ultra delicious.

And if you want to learn how to fix that awesome rice and curry once you get back home, make sure to join a real Sri Lankan cooking class.

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Dahl in the making in Unawatuna

Hipstershopping in Galle

Located in a historical fort just a short ride from Unawatuna, the old town of Galle is everything you imagine a colonial port to be. European inspired architecture and shops meet local style.

In the unlikely event that you will get bored of rice and curry, fancy Galle also offers many western food options, such as pizza or lobster. (I ended up having rice and curry once again at Mama’s roof café and it was totally delicious). It’s a great spot to spend a lazy afternoon/evening shopping, eating and drinking.

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Galle Sri Lanka

I loved Galle very much, but personally found that half a day there was sufficient for exploring everything the fort has to offer and actually recommend to stay in Unawatuna for the night, as the beaches in Sri Lanka easily beat just any potential shopping.

If you do need accomodation in Galle, I can highly recommend the Galle Center Home Guesthouse. It’s only a short walk away from the Fort – which makes it much cheaper than many of the overpriced hotels inside the Fort – is very nice and clean.

It’s also just a few meters away from the amazing Galle food market. So much tasty, fresh goodness to discover <3

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Tomatoes at Galle market

[Travel Diary] Sea, Sun and Surf in South Sri Lanka

Safaris, yoga, surfing, swimming, sunbathing, getting drunk…: There are so many things to do in the picturesque Sri Lankan south. Please take me back to this happy place!

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Surfing in South Sri Lanka

Surfing is probably the first thing that pops to your mind when you think of Sri Lanka, and for now I can surely not think of a better place for my first surf adventure. I have not been to one of the world’s most legendary surfer spots – Arugam Bay in the east of the island – due to rainy season, but the south coast alone offers more than a gazillion beautiful spots for all levels (full list here).

You can either check in to one of the surfcamps (read all about my stay at Talalla Surf and Yoga Retreat) or hit the waves on your own. Another option which I highly recommend – especially if your surf skills are as ridiculous as mine – is to take private lessons with a local coach. There are numerous surf shacks on Weligama beach, and you can take lessons or hire a board whenever you need – no reservation needed.

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I enjoyed surfing with my coach Loco so much that I actually ended up hitting the waves there every morning and evening for almost an entire week. Loco is the nicest guy on earth – he even helped me send my overweight stuff back to Austria by post, which sounds so much easier than it actually was! – and I was more than sad when it was time to say goodbye. Not before sharing a beer and cigarettes on my last evening and a hearty breakfast in a local teashop before it was really time for me to leave, of course.

After a week of surfing with my awesome coach April at Talalla, the private sessions with Loco in Weligama were the perfect way to improve my skills.

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Travelling South Sri Lanka – Good to know

The towns are all relatively close to each other, so in my opinion it does not make sense to constantly move all your belongings from town to town. Staying in Mirissa is probably the best option, especially if you don’t have tons of time. It’s very easy to make day trips by bus or tuktuk to the neighbouring villages and Mirissa also has a decent amount of beach bars, restaurants and spas to offer. There are numerous excursions starting from Mirissa as well, such as whale watching or safaris.

Busses go regularly between Matara and Galle, and you could even take the train to get around (even though highly unrealiable so probably not the best option).

If you know how to drive and are not scared of the crazy Asian traffic (watch out for the high speed busses in the middle of the freaking road!), then renting a scooter is a very good idea as well.

Asanka's Guesthouse
Waking up to this in Asanka’s Guesthouse…

Accomodation

Two places I can really recommend – not exactly for their perfect locations, as there is not much to do in these towns, but rather for their welcoming hosts and delicious food, are Asanka’s guesthouse in Midigama and Buddhika’s guesthouse in Matara (read all about my wonderful first day in Sri Lanka with Buddhika and his family here). We were lucky to stay in Sri Lanka during Buddhist new year, and Asanka and his family kindly invited us to celebrate the traditional festivities with them in their house. This involved a lot of food and my newfound Swiss friends and I were very full, yet very happy afterwards.

[Travel Diary] Whale Watching in Mirissa

Sri Lanka is blessed with an enormous diversity of flora and fauna and you can even see blue whales – the world’s largest animals – if you please.

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Morning glory at the port of Mirissa

This clearly is an activity for earlybirds, as the boats set out at about 6am form the cute port of Mirissa. I went with Raja and the Whales and fully recommend them. They are more eco-responsible than many of their competitors and put the wellbeing of the animals first. This means you might not get as close to the whales as some other boats, but I think respecting the animals is a clear priority.

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Cosy with my girls
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Leaving Mirissa

In any case, don’t expect a Free Willy-like jump over your boat. We saw a couple of whales from the distance – but that was all it took to make me happy in those early hours of the day. Seeing the water fountains blowing out of the backs of these majestic animals was pure magic.

Another highlight was seeing a giant turtle as it was chilling in the sea before we approached. It’s hard to describe those kind of encounters, but seeing those majestic animals in their natural environment is a very emotional experience, which I highly recommend.

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Can you see it?
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<3 Whale <3 (as captured by my friend Martine, as I was too slow to take a picutre)

At about 60USD, whale watching was not exactly the cheapest of activities one could find in Sri Lanka. But due to many years of experience, the guides will almost always know where to spot some whales, so it’s worth the experience. And you get a very yummy breakfast on board!

Just beware that going whale watching is not exactly a good idea if you have a weak stomach. Even though the boats are quite big, things can get quite shaky on the deck.

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Beautiful Mirissa

Whale Watching Mirissa

And speaking of wildlife, I actually also went on a safari to Yala National Park. This, however, is one of the rare things I should have missed out on. Of course, you never know how lucky you get and if the elephants feel like showing up or not. Well, they didn’t seem to be in a good mood on the day I went, as we only spotted a single one – from very far away… If you really want to go on a Safari, I recommend going to Udawalawe instead, as everybody I know who went there was raving about it. But in any case, keep in mind that Sri Lanka is not Africa and that going on a safari in South Africa should definitely be way more exciting.

[Travel Diary] Magical Haputale

Oh, Haputale!! I was not planning on going there at first but am so glad I ended up in this magical little town in the middle of Sri Lanka, as it’s quite possibly one of the most beautiful spots on earth.

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Pure bliss at Lipton’s Seat

After walking up (and down) the approximately 5000 stairs in the middle of the night to watch the beautiful sunrise from Adam’s Peak – the most sacred site for Sri Lankan Buddhists – with my new found friends, we decided against some much needed rest and continued our journey straigt away on the very same morning. (And I am more than thankful we did, as the train ride from Hatton to Haputale might just be my favourite Sri Lankan souvenir.)

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Beautiful memories from the train to Haputale

Luckily, Haputale is the perfect place to get some rest after an exhausting hike followed by a three hour train ride spent with about 10 people in a 2m² corridor. Why? Because except for some early morning hiking excursions, there is absolutely nothing to do there! And sometimes, that’s just the perfect way to spend a day.

The weather can get quite gloomy in the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea county, and I was more than happy to cuddle up in my sweater and to enjoy my book over a nice cup of tea. (Ok I actually made friends with a bunch of Australian ladies in the best age and we spent the whole after noon chatting and giggling and I also went to get a massage.) In the evening, my friends and I all went for the best dinner at a local Roti shop (Oh how I miss them!!!), where we indulged on some of the most flavourful food in the whole of Sri Lanka for about a Euro each.

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After a few beers on the terrace of our guesthouse, we all headed to bed at a reasonable time, as we were planning on getting an early morning wake up call once again! If somebody had told me before that I would get up in the middle of the night almost every day on my much deserved vacation, I would not have believed a single word of it!

But as Sri Lanka is so close to the equator, the sun sets quite early every night. And with a pretty much non existent nightlife, you just want to make sure to get the most out of your days. But once more, I was not disappointed to leave my cosy nest while it was still dark outside. Our tuktuk driver – a local surfer boy we met at the liquor store the night before – came to pick us up in order to drive us all the way up Haputale’s major tourist attraction.

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Can we all take a moment to laugh at my ridiculous rapper pose please!?

Must-Do in Haputale: Lipton’s Seat

I suppose you all have enjoyed a cup of Lipton’s tea (the one in the unmistakable yellow packaging) at some point in your life – but I bet you didn’t know that the global brand has its origins in Sri Lanka. Thomas Lipton started building his impressive tea company on this fertile island, and he chose no other place than the top of a hill in the surroundings of Haputale to build a platform from which he could enjoy the satisfying view ower his growing empire.

And he chose wisely, as it sure is a hell of a view. Watching the sun go up over this bright landscape left me in awe and I really have a hard time describing how stunning the view really was. Apparently you can even see the sea on very clear days. Just make sure to drive up there really early (like 5ish), as it might get misty in the morning and you won’t see a thing!
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Once the sun is out, you can get a cup of tea or two (of course!) and some fresh Roti (did I mention how much I miss those???) to finally wake up for real and to get ready for some exercise. Because while riding up the tuktuk all the way up is nice and stuff, you should definitely take the time for a walk back down! Our legs were still so so heavy from Adam’s Peak, it was worth the pain once more:

Those early hours of the day are when the teapickers of the surrounding villages get on their way to work and their warm way of greeting us made me love Sri Lanka (and tea) even more. The tea pickers – a job that requires delicate fingertips and is reserved exclusively for women – earn next to nothing for spending the whole day out on the fields and usually live in small huts with I don’t know how many people squeezing into one room. And yet, we were greeted with nothing but friendly smiles by the women we passed by.

Plus the view along the whole track is breathtaking and the walk down took us quite a while because we just couldn’t stop gazing and taking pictures. You can even walk in the fields – not just on the street!! And at the risk of repeating myself: This walk was just so, so awesome!!

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Learn all about tea in Haputale’s Lipton Tea Factory

Midway between Haputale and Lipton’s Seat you can visit the original Lipton Tea Factory – which today is still up and running. The art of producing tea has not changed much since the “modern” machines were first invented in the 19th century.

I already learnt quite a bit on how to produce tea in Kandy’s Cylon Tea Museum, so not much we heard on the guided tour throught the factory was new for me. However, it was still very interesting to see the actual machines at work and if you are in Haputale, you just can’t miss out on this place – no matter if you care for tea or not. Only down-point: We were pretty disappointed that we were not offered a cuppa at the end of the tour. I mean come on, you get tea everywhere in Sri Lanka safe the place that is actually at the origin of the local tea culture!?

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Haputale is a clear favourite of mine and if you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, I strongly suggest to make a stop there. Marta and I even enjoyed it so much, that I decided to stay one extra night in order to go for this little hike again the next day. This whole experience was pure bliss and I loved every second of it.

[Travel Diary] Adam’s Peak

After spending two quiet nights in for some much needed detox- and alone-time in the horrible city of Kandy, it was time to pack up my bags again for an adventure I was very much looking forward to: Hiking up Adam’s Peak.

Sunrise over Adam's Peak
Sunrise over Adam’s Peak

The hike up this holy site was one the few things I knew I absolutely wanted to do when in Sri Lanka – besides surfing and taking a cooking class. What makes this walk so special is that you have to do it in the nighttime, in order to watch the beautiful sunrise from the top.

It turned out there was no need to be worried about hiking up – and down – the approximately 5000 “stairs” that lead the way to one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites on my own: While I was waiting for my train in Kandy, another solo traveller asked me to watch her backpack for a few minutes. It turned out she was going to Adam’s Peak as well, and so Marta and I (and a sweet couple from CZ) ended up not only hiking up the Peak together, but also travelled on to Haputale together.

Jan and I waiting for the train - still optimistic about getting a seat
Jan and I waiting for the train – still optimistic about getting a seat…
Good times on the train
Good times on the train
Oh those Sri Lankan train rides <3
Oh those Sri Lankan train rides <3

We stayed in the Green House guesthouse in Dalhousie, which I fully recommend to anybody who is keen on walking up the peak. The guesthouse is located a mere 30 second walk from the starting point of the hike and there really is no better location to stay in the whole town.

The rooms and bathrooms are super basic, so don’t expect anything even slightly fancy. But it really doesn’t matter, as you are only here for a few hours anyway. However, the whole place is really cosy, providing plenty of out- and indoor seating opportunities – perfect for getting some rest over tea and a good book while enjoying the fresh air and the hilly scenery.

Exploring Dalhousie
Exploring Dalhousie

But the best part of this guesthouse was without a doubt the food. Oh! My! God! The Food! I don’t remember what exactly was served for dinner, but – as always in Sri Lanka – it was some sort of rice and curry, with plenty of small dishes to share. All the guests had dinner together and it was such a nice evening spent at the guesthouse; exchanging travel stories with fellow travelers while indulging on this delicious meal.

We sadly had to call it a night quite early though, as we had to get up in the very early hours of the next “morning”. Be prepared to set your alarm clock at about 2 or 2:30am. For a less painful start to your day, I recommended you sleep in your hiking clothes and prepare your backpack well before going to bed. This way, you just have to brush your teeth, put on your shoes and you’re good to go.

Oh and how you will be going. Walking up the 5000 steep “stairs” all the way up to the peak might not be the most adventures hike in the world, but it still is no walk in the park. Especially if you – like me – are clearly not an early-morning person.

Luckily, you can buy delicious tea (after all, you are in the middle of tea county!) along the way, which makes the walking so much more bearable. And once you get to the top – after about three hours of walking – in order to watch the beautiful sunrise, you know that the pain was very much worth it!

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Early morning tea time - one hour into the hike
Early morning tea time – one hour into the hike

While the hike can be a bit crazy – after all, the way is quite narrow and can be very crowded, especially once you get closer to the top – the atmosphere on top is very quiet and peaceful. Take a moment to consciously watch the picture perfect sunrise, which draws light on the surrounding tea plantations and lakes in a very Lord-of-the-Rings-esque kind of way.

It was up there that I realised how in our busy everyday lives, we watch sunrises far too little. That is, unless we are walking out of the club all wasted on a Sunday morning, starving for a kebab and figuring out how to find a taxi to bring us home…

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I told you Adam’s Peak looks like Lord of the Rings, doesn’t it?
Sunrise over Adam's Peak
THIS makes you forget your fatigue in the blink of an eye
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Adam’s Peak can get quite crowdy
Sunrise over Adam's Peak
Sunrise over Adam’s Peak

Watching the planet getting back to life after a long night of darkness is one of the most perfect things to do, and Sri Lanka is without a doubt one of the best places for doing so. I am so thankful I chose Sri Lanka for this solo adventure of mine, as its beauty clearly helped me to find joy again in the small things of life.

Sunrise over Adam's Peak
Take a moment to consciously watch the sun rising behind the hills

But enough with all the sentimental talk. After all, you have to walk back down all those 5000 stairs as well! And while walking down is far less spectacular, let me just assure you that your calf muscles will be burning! By about 8am, we were back in the guesthouse and all felt so sore but so good! Not only is walking such a good way to clear your head. Also, when was the last time you got so much exercise before even having breakfast?

After all the hiking, I would have been ready to eat pretty much anything. But of course, eating a really mouthwatering breakfast after all these early morning activities makes the whole experience even more rewarding. Luckily, we were more than spoiled upon getting back to the guesthouse, with fresh tea and fruit and pancakes and several other mouthwatering servings that I can’t remember. (Sorry, but I was so hungry and couldn’t be bothered about writing down the names of all the yummy dishes).

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get any well deserved rest after this early morning workout. Since – besides walking up and down Adam’s Peak – there is really nothing to do in the town of Dalhousie, we all decided to hit the road again the very same morning after breakfast and a quick shower.

And thank God we did, because the magical train ride from Hatton to Haputale turned out to be my favourite Sri Lankan souvenir

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Tips for hiking Adam’s Peak

Accommodation:

Green House, Dalhousie. (The guesthouse is quite big and showing up without reservation shouldn’t be a problem. In case it’s fully booked, there are plenty of other guesthouses in Dalhousie)

How to get there:

Trains go regularly to Hatton from Colombo and Kandy as well as Ella – if you’re coming from the other side. Make sure to secure a spot next to a door or window, as you will drive by some of Sri Lanka’s most picturesque sceneries. A bus will be waiting for you outside the train station to drive you up to the town of Dalhousie. Attention, the road is very curvy, so you might want to make sure to spot a seat in the front of the bus and to avoid heavy foods just before…

What to bring:

Long trousers and a sweater, as it can be pretty chilly on top of the peak in the middle of the night. Also, a walking stick is very helpful, as your legs will probably be super sore on your way back down..

There is no need for crazy fancy hiking equipment and lots of food supplies: The locals walk up in flip flops, so hiking in regular trainers will do the deal for you. And you can buy water, foods and tea every few meters, so no need to carry more than one or two liters of water.

Keep in mind that you are on a place of pilgrimage, so please be respectful and avoid shorts and tight shirts as a girl – even if temperatures rise fast once the sun is out.

Adam’s Peak for solo female travelers:

There is no need to hire a guide to walk up with you (as recommended by some guides to solo female travellers). The guesthouses are packed with backpackers all sharing the same goal: Getting up in the middle of the night for some very-early-morning hiking. Everybody is leaving the guesthouses at about the same time, and you will surely find somebody to start walking with, as in fact you will only have to walk on a badly lit, deserted way for the first thirty minutes or so. Also, it is impossible to get lost, as there is only one way up!

When to go:

DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT WALKING UP ON A SATURDAY OR SUNDAY NIGHT!!!! This is when lots of locals go on the pilgrimage as well, and hiking up might take six hours due to the massive crowds.

[Travel Diary] Two Days in Kandy

I am not going to beat about the bush: Kandy – even though Sri Lanka‘s “cultural capital” – was probably the biggest dirthole of a city I have ever been to. But I still managed to make the most out of my two days there by spending two nights in detox heaven.

Sunset over Kandy
Sunset over Kandy

Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second largest city and was the last capital for the former kings. Home to one of Sri Lanka’s most sacred sites, the city, which is sourrounded by the hills of the Kandy Plateau, is a UNESCO world heritage site.

So this all does not sound so bad and when I finally managed to say goodbye to the awesome waves of the south coast, I knew I had to go there and see for myself.

Sri Lankan train adventures never get boring
Sri Lankan train adventures never get boring

One of the best parts of Kandy was probably getting there by train. I drove up all the way from Galle to Kandy via Colombo, and it was stunning to see the landscapes change, as you drive from the coast up the hills. I already mentioned here and here that riding the open-door trains through the fascinating Sri Lankan landscapes and meeting so, so many kind locals is one of my favourite souvenirs from this magical island.

Kandy train station
Inspirational Quotes decorate Kandy’s train station
Details at Kandy Train Station
Details at Kandy Train Station

Once I arrived in Kandy, I made up my mind quite quickly: Even though there is a pretty temple next to a lake in the city center, I found the city too ugly, too dirty and too crowded. I also found that tuktuk drivers, vendors etc. were even more aggressive/annoying in trying to rip you off than in the smaller towns. Having to pay a big, fat extra tourist price at all the sight was very unpleasant as well. Add a fair amount of street harassment (even by a group of teenage boys – something I had no encountered in the south) to that and you have got all the ingredients to get me in a bad mood.

Nevertheless, I ended up quite enjoying my stay in Kandy, thanks to some much needed alone-time filled with books, tea and fresh fruit.

View from the Kandy lake
View from the Kandy lake

Things to do in Kandy

In order to make Kandy bearable, you actually have to get out of Kandy. It is surrounded by beautiful hills and tea plantations – perfect for a little bit of hiking and exploring.

Cylon Tea Museum

I love, love, love tea and Sri Lanka being one of the world’s main tea producers, I knew I had to explore as many tea-related sites and activities as possible.

So luckily, Kandy is home to Sri Lanka’s very own Cylon Tea Museum. The museum is located in an old tea factory up the hill in the middle of the tea plantations that surround Kandy.

You can walk all the way up from downtown Kandy, which will take about two hours. Not a super challenging hike – if it weren’t for the heat. The scenery is very nice though, with the curvy street making its way up through the tea plantations. And if you are lucky, you might see some monkeys on the way. But if you are lazy, just take a tuktuk and walk back down instead.

Just don’t expect anything fancy from the museum: You get a tour around the old manufacturing site, with a local lady dressed in a pretty Sari explaining how tea is made. You can explore the other two floors on your own, reading your way through the old info boards on the history of tea in and its impact on Sri Lanka. The museum is super simple, but kind of cute and I liked it anyways. And after you learnt all about tea, you get a free pot of fresh Cylon on the top floor, where you can also learn more about the health benefits of tea and the different regions in which Cylon brew is grown.

Kandy Cylon Tea Museum
Learning all about my favourite brew at the Cylon Tea Museum
Kandy Tea Plantations Sri Lanka
Lush forests and tea plantations surround Kandy
Kandy Sri Lanka
I am glad I just finished my banana just before I encountered this suspicious looking fella

Enjoying a quiet night in at Eagle’s Rest Homestay

I am so, so glad that I booked a guesthouse outside the city center. Eagle’s Rest is a homestay located about 3km from downtown Kandy, up the hill leading to the Cylon Tea Museum.

I was given a very warm welcome by the lady of the house, who immediately made me feel at home before showing me to my room. The room was probably the cleanest, most spacious and most tasteful room I have slept in during my whole stay in Sri Lanka.

And the best past: My room had a spacious private balcony with the most breathtaking views over Kandy, the surrounding hills and the tea plantations. I had some fruit and tea there to rest after the long journey and had a hard time motivating myself to walk back downtown for some sightseeing.

Breakfast was just as perfect, with a ton of fresh fruit (banana, watermelon, papaya…), homemade juice, tea, bread, different jams… Dinner costs extra, but since Kandy doesn’t really have any nice options for eating out, I ate there both nights anyways and it was super yummy.

I do not really recommend Kandy to other travellers – especially if you are on a tight schedule. However, I did enjoy my quiet time in Eagle’s Rest so much that I would not want to miss those two days.

Just make absolutely sure to book one the deluxe rooms, as this will give you access to your picture perfect private balcony with one of the most stunning views in all Sri Lanka.

Kandy Sri Lanka
Reading, writing, drinking tea and watching the sunset: Detox at Eagle’s Rest

Things not to do in Kandy

Visiting the Temple of the Tooth Relic

So, apparently Buddha came to Sri Lanka and lost one of his teeth. This sacred national treasure is conserved in a beautiful temple in downtown Kandy – probably the city’s biggest (and only) tourist attraction.

Bad news is, you can not even see the tooth, as it is not on display in order to protect it. (And even if you could: It would still be nothing more than an old freaking tooth.) Instead, you get to fight your way through the hopelessly overcrowded temple, which makes it almost impossible to appreciate the beauty of this place. Bonus: You get to pay a super special tourist price. Entrance for locals and Buddhists is free, whereas foreigners pay around 10USD. This is a lot of money for Sri Lanka, so this is definitely not cool!

You can also visit the World Buddhist Museum, located inside the temple walls, and find out more on how Buddhism is practiced in different countries. While this sounds kind of interesting, I really wasn’t keen on paying the exaggerated tourist price once more and opted for a walk back home up the hills instead.

Luckily, I was right in time for sunset and the view from my balcony made up for all the disappointments of downtown Kandy. I stayed in both nights, enjoying the delicious dinner at my guesthouse, before retiring to my room for some cosy reading and writing on my wonderful balcony.

The temple in Kandy
At the temple in Kandy

Lesson learnt: Sri Lankan cities are really not worth your time. I only heard super negative things about Colombo from really everybody I know who has been there, which is why I decided to not even set foot there. And from what I saw just driving from the airport to the train station, I am glad I didn’t. Unfortunately, I was equally disappointed by Kandy. Sri Lanka has so many great things to offer – but cities are just not one of them. So don’t waste your time and just enjoy the beautiful beaches, national parks, rain forests, tea plantations, temples etc. to the fullest!

[Travel Diary] A Sri Lankan Cooking Class

Long before I set foot on Sri Lankan soil, I already knew that I absolutely wanted to take a cooking class while there. Why? Because I only heard good things about Sri Lanka food. And well, what can I say? I was not disappointed and the food was mouthwatering indeed. Reason enough to bring some major curry-making skills back home!

Dahl Curry Sri Lanka
Dahl in the making

I found out about “Karuna’s Cooking Class” in Unawatuna via Lonely Planet. It had super positive reviews and when my friend Katja and I arrived at the restaurant, we immediately knew why: Karuna is the most cheerful person and she had uns under her spell immediately.

Korunas Cooking Class Unawatuna
Lovely chef Karuna

We attendend the class with seven other people and after getting to know our fellow chefs (due to some funny coincidence, everybody but me worked in medicine), we first drove to the market in Galle, which is a mere fifteen minute ride from Unawatuna. What a feast for the eye! All those beautiful fruits and vegetables! Karuna asked us about our preferences – tuna vs. chicken – and favourites (pumpkin! beetroot! yeeeey!) and together we picked all the fresh ingredients we needed for the cooking.

Galle Market Sri Lanka

Galle Food Market Sri Lanka

Food Market Sri Lanka

Back in Koruna’s open air kitchen, we all got to snack on some fresh watermelon (Yeeees!! Give me watermelon and you will be my friend until the end of my days!) before it was finally time to really get started.

We first learnt how to make cocunut milk and water out of fresh coconuts: All you need is what Sri Lankans call a “coconut machine” and strong arms. Needless to say that the coconuts in Sri Lanka taste absolutely divine and that it will be hard to recreate the recipes with the coconut cream we get in supermarkets back home. :(

Cooking Class Sri Lanka
Building up arm muscles with the “coconut machine”

Then we went on to prepare the different curries one at a time. Koruna always took the time to let us write down all the ingredients and also told us ways to modify the different curries with different veggies or meats. The cooking class was very hands on and we all took turns in cutting and stirring and cooking for the next couple hours, before indulging over the amazing food we prepared.

We learnt how to prepare six or seven different curries – from the mandatory Dahl to tuna and mango curry. But it was not what you might imagine a classic cooking class to look like, but rather a get-together with nice people / group cooking over Koruna’s casual instructions. Because “Learning by doing” is always the best way to learn something new and it’s even better when doing so in nice surroundings.

Beetroot Curry Sri Lanka
Beetroot Curry <3

One of my favourite dishes of Sri Lankan cuisine is without a doubt beetroot curry. I was really surprised to find out that Sri Lankans eat a lot of beetroots, potatoes and squash – food I would not necessarily associate with Asian cuisine. So of course, I was more than pleased to learn how to prepare it myself. If you like beetroot, give it a shot – you will be amazed by the deliciousness of this meal. And if for some incomprehensible reason you are not so much into beetroot, just replace them with squash, potatoes etc.

SPICY BEETROOT CURRY (serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 4 crushed garlic cloves
  • 0,5 kg raw beetroots
  • 1 cup cocunut cream
  • 20 curry leaves
  • 1,5 tsp salt
  • 1,5 tsp pepper
  • 1,5 tsp chili flakes
  • 1,5 tsp currypowder
  • 2 tsb curcuma

Crush the garlic and cut the raw beetroots in thin slices.

Add all the spices and the cocunut cream.

Stir thoroughly.

Bring to a boil and cook for about 8 minutes (or until the beetroots are soft), stir regularly.

Let sit for a few minutes before eating, in order for the curry to develop its whole creamy amazingness.

Serve with rice.

It was such a nice afternoon, spent with nice people and yummy foods. What more could you ask for? Even though it is a bit pricey, I definitely recommend this cooking class in the south of Sri Lanka.

Cooking Class Unawatuna
Our reward: Indulging on all the yummy curries we prepared! And too hungry to take a decent picture of the feast…

And if you don’t stay in Unawatuna anyways, don’t forget to bring your bikini for a swim in the ocean! The beach in Unawatuna is picture perfect and definitely one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Considering pretty much every single beach in Sri Lanka is breathtaking, this really means a lot. Bonus: It’s also one of the rare beaches that are perfectly suitable for swimming and letting yourself float on the gentle waves (one of my favourite passtimes in the whole world). AND there are lots of bars serving fresh cocktails and juices.

How to get there:

Karuna’s Cooking Class @ Sonja’s Healthfood Restaurant

Wella Dewala Road (= impossible to miss, as this is the main road behind the beach)

+94 77 961 5310

The class starts at 11am and ends at around 3pm. 

[Travel Diary] Talalla Surf- and Yoga Retreat

I can’t believe that my stay in a surf camp on the south coast of Sri Lanka, which marked pretty much the beginning of my seven week adventure, through Sri Lanka and Myanmar is already two months away. I also still can’t believe that I managed to stand up on a surfboard and to poorly ride a small green wave. My week at the Talalla Surf- and Yoga Retreat was really everything I could have hoped for.

Talalla Surf Yoga 1
Heaven on earth….

After my exciting train ride down the coast and a perfect first night spent in Buddhika’s guesthouse, I headed from Matara to Talalla – a beautifully hidden beach surrounded by just a few houses – on Sunday morning.

As the gates opened and I caught my first glimpse of the resort, I knew that I had arrived in paradise. The pictures on their website were already really promising and all my friends were very jealous when they showed them where I was going, but the place looked even more beautiful in real life.

The retreat is situated in a gigantic garden, where they also organically grow most of the fruits and veggies used for the meals. And oh my, were the meals delicious!! Fresh salads and fruit, curries of all sorts, fish grilled to your liking, homemade papadam… But my favourite, of course, was breakfast (rice pancakes with pineapple jam – need I say more?). Drinks were not included in the package and were pretty pricey, but the freshly prepared smoothies and lassies were well worth their money.

Talalla resort also has it’s own private beach access, leading the way to the most breathtaking beach I might have seen in my entire life. The beach it suited for swimming and paddle boarding and it was so nice being able to hop into the ocean after the sweaty Yoga classes. There is also a private Ayuvedic spa, in which you can get a well deserved massage. And watch out for the crazy little monkeys living in the Talalla gardens, as they might feel like messing up your room and stealing your food…

Talalla Surf Yoga 2
Talalla beach. Is this place even real??

As the weeklong camp was already expensive enough, I opted for the cheapest accomodation: the dorm. Luckily, my fellow dormmates were all really sweet and we hit it off right away. The dorm, however, was really basic indeed and I kind of regretted not getting one of the semi open-air private rooms, where you can watch the lush gardens from your bed.

Shortly after checking in to our rooms, all the surfers got together for the introduction meeting. We got to know our guides and the schedule for the upcoming week before we headed out to our first surf lesson straight away. So exciting. Oh no wait a minute. SO HARD!! I knew that surfing was going to be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be that difficult.

Luckily, I had a really great coach and fellow teammates and I managed to stand up on the board already during the second lesson. There were only four of us in the group, meaning each and every one of us could get the most out of every surf lesson. Our coach April took the time to work with every one of us individually and to set new goals every day for everyone, according to our own progress.

Talalla Surf Yoga 4
Surfing in Talalla. No skills but lots of pride. I woudln’t have imagined being able to do this after only a few sessions.

Additionally, every session was filmed by a member of the Talalla media crew. Watching the videos of the surf also helped a lot – even though it’s kind of frustrating to see how small the waves look on video and how scary they feel in real life and how you ridiculous you look trying your best not to fall of the board. ;)

As the beach right in front of the Resort is not suitable for surfing, we drove to different spots every day – all according to weather conditions and surf skills. We would usually drive out with the other beginner’s group and always had so much fun in the back of the big surfer van.

The camp often did feel like a real camp indeed, especially when squeezing into the back of the van and bringing conversations back to high school level, or when those of us staying in the dorm all brushed their teeth together in the shared bathroom. We were about 20 surfers of all different levels and from all over the world – from Norway to Australia, from the United States to Dubai. Every evening, we all would have dinner together and discussions focused mainly – but not exclusively – on surfing. What else?

Talalla Surf Yoga 6
Our girlie surf crew with coach April © Joe Spa / Talalla

I really enjoyed the surfing, but I guess I won’t ever be a real surfer babe. It’s more of a “I like you, but I don’t love you” thing. But I still feel the urge to give it another try and work on my (still poor) skills and (still non-existing) style.

However I not only discovered the fun of surfing, but also the joys of yoga. I guess being instructed by a particularly good looking guy who teaches yoga classes over Indie music helped a little, especially as it was completely not what I was expecting a yoga class to look like. I have to admit that the schedule was pretty intense, with two surf sessions almost every day followed by the late-afternoon Yoga class. But I really felt how I did something good for my body and soul and it was so, so satisfying to fall into bed tired as hell, knowing that you worked hard and really deserve a good night’s sleep.

Talalla Surf Yoga 5
Surfing and Yoga: A perfect match. Bonus: Yoga teacher was hot. © Joe Spa / Talalla
talalla yoga
Photo © Eva Fischer

The retreat is pretty pricey, especially for Sri Lankan standards, but I do not regret having treated myself to this wonderful week. The surf and yoga coaching was top notch, the food was fantastic (most of the time) and the resort really is a paradise on earth. Bonus: Most people at the surfcamp were around my age (mainly between 25 and 35) and I was really glad about it, as I am no longer into getting drunk with 18 year olds or talking about school.

The only downside: While most of the staff was really nice and friendly, I didn’t find the local staff at the front desk particularly helpful and nice. Also make sure to carefully check your bill when checking out – most of us found several items we didn’t order on it.

Talalla Surf Yoga 3
Sea, pool, cocktails, spa: Talalla is the perfect place to treat yourself

And even though we all really enjoyed our time at Talalla, we all agreed that one week there is enough: The resort really is in a very remote area of the Sri Lankan south coast and there is not much nothing to do in the immediate surroundings. Even though the front desk can organise excursions (stay tuned for a post about whale watching!), you tend to get cabin fever after a few days.

Yet, I could not have wished for a better place to start my travels, as it was the perfect way to disconnect from everything I left behind in Europe and to focus on new adventures.

PS: Here is our video, in case you are interested in seeing my progress (so sorry for my lack of style haha).