It’s been five years, but our honeymoon is still the bar by which we measure all other holidays. Everything else has come up short. We chose a twin centre holiday: one busy week of a Discover Sri Lanka tour, followed by a week of relaxation in the Maldives. It was perfect.
There were a few reasons that made it so. Firstly, we flew first class. Do it. It’s an eleven hour flight from London to Colombo. Secondly, we had a first class tour guide who seemed to know a lot of people and was very knowledgeable. Finally, the second week of relaxing heaven wouldn’t have been appreciated half as much if we hadn’t had such a busy first week, so I would definitely recommend doing it this way around.
We made the decision to stay in the fantastic Nutfield Priory before and after we flew, so our holiday started a day earlier (and ended a day later), as well as having free parking in between.
Day 1 – Arrival
As I said, we flew first class and it was lovely. They gave us real cutlery and everything. It was a bit scary when we arrived, as the airport in Colombo was really busy, there were lots of people trying to take our bags off us (so you would pay them something for carrying them), and it seemed a bit overwhelming. As lovely as flying first class was, we were still pretty tired.
It turned out we were on a coach in a group of around 25 people. Some were on their honeymoon; some were on a family holiday, and everyone seemed quite friendly.
We met our tour guide for the week, Jude, who was great. He stopped the bus a few times on the way to our first hotel to introduce us to local fruit and flowers, like lychees still in their spiky red coats and pineapple with spice and salt, and answered all of our many questions with great detail. The traffic was crazy, and people on motorbikes and in tuk-tuks seemed to have a death wish!
Although only 35km from the airport, it took us around an hour-and-a-half to get to the Holiday Inn in the centre of Colombo, and we were wiped out when we got there. We spent a few minutes by the pool, and had a huge meal of tomato salad, rice, curried chicken, daal, and chili oil potatoes, which all came to around 3700 Sri Lankan rupees, which was around £15. We couldn’t wait to get to sleep that night, it had got to the stage where everything was a bit surreal and we were quite dazed.
Day 2 – Sigiriya rock fortress
Each day, we woke up at around 6am as we had a lot of travelling to do and sights to see.
We drove to Hotel Sigiriya, and as we were on our honeymoon, a lot of the places made little arrangements on our beds. Here it was two swans kissing, made out of our towels. It seemed a shame to take them down, but we needed the towels! It was very hot when we arrived, and we’d had a long drive. We had lunch, which was always curry, and Sri Lankan curries contain a lot of curry leaves, which have a musty scent. It took a bit of getting used to, as it’s not the usual curry flavours and scents we know, but by the end of the trip, we couldn’t get enough of it!
Sigiriya means Lion’s Rock, and it’s found in Matale, in central Sri Lanka. There is a lot of history (or legend) about the palace and its gardens. Apart from the stories about the royalty who built the fortress, the one that stuck with me was that it was lost in the jungle for years and only rediscovered recently.
It was a long walk to the top. I think we’d been told it would be about 45 minutes up, and 45 down, but it took much longer than that. One of the girls in our group had a broken leg, and made the whole trip on crutches. On the way up, there are quite a few people hanging around who try to help you up (for a charge) – most of us didn’t want or need the help, but she was happy for the support and they helped her all the way up and back down again.
There were a few comedy signs on the way up – “keep off the grass”, surrounded by desert, and “noise may provoke hornet attacks”, complete with cartoon of a man getting chased by hornets. We were very quiet at that point!
It was worth the climb – the views were breathtaking from the top and you could see for miles: rice fields and jungle (as well as our hotel!). There were more carvings and frescoes to look at the higher you went – like the huge lion’s paw, although a lot of it is now in ruins. There were monkeys hanging around the spots where tourists stop. Fascinating to watch, but we didn’t get too close.
We then travelled further north.
On the third day, we visited the holy city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Anuradhapura. We saw several Buddhist temples and were talked through the history of the city. We also saw the Bodhi Tree, which is the oldest tree in the world. It was very well protected by security, so you couldn’t get too close.
We stopped at a fruit seller so Jude could let us try Stink Fruit. They quite literally smell of vomit, but apparently taste quite nice. I couldn’t get past the smell, so couldn’t tell you what it tasted like!
Day 4 – Polonnaruwa
We travelled south east to Polonnaruwa, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the way, we stopped at a typical Sri Lankan house, where the owners were quite happy for us to nosey into every room. The roof was made of coconut leaves, and then the lady of the house demonstrated how she grinds grain to make flour. We also made a stop at a gorgeous wood-carving factory. I really wanted an elephant (some of them came up to your hip), but it seemed a bit impractical to get it home. We bought a little one that we could pack in our cases instead.
There were beautiful ruins at Polonnaruwa to walk around. A lot of the stonework was very well preserved – some of the moonstones looked like they hadn’t been touched. On the same day, we travelled west to Dambulla Caves, which contained Buddhist statues and paintings. People came from all around to leave fresh flowers on the altars as an offering. We got some great photos of cheeky monkeys then running off with these flowers to eat.
We also stopped off to have a ride on an elephant at Habarana. You could buy tiny little bananas to feed them from above; it was amazing to see how the end of their trunks are so flexible – they’re like little hands.
We were given a guided tour around a spice garden, and told about the healing properties of many plants and spices. They even gave us an information leaflet about what natural remedy you should take for various ailments! There was a shop at the end of the tour, and quite a few members of our group spent a lot of money on packaged natural weight loss programmes. We also received a little shoulder massage, which I enjoyed but my husband hated!
The Dambulla caves had more Buddhist paintings and statues – it was nice to get out of the midday sun! I do have to say, I have some fabulous photos from the temples we went to see, but we were all getting a bit templed out at this point.
We visited Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, stopping at a batik factory on the way. I bought a brightly coloured skirt. We were allowed to bottle feed a baby elephant very briefly, and then watched around 20 elephants walk to the river for their daily bathe. You had to stand well back – they walked on the road, on the footpaths, very close to the shops, in order to get to the river. We then had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the water, watching them bathe. There was also a wedding party in the restaurant, as well as lots of tourists.
On the evening, we attended the Kandy Esala Perahera, which is a festival held during the summer months. We had the good fortune of clinching some plastic chairs outside of a Pizza Hut – many people were sat on the ground for the procession to go past, and the streets had just been cleaned and were still wet!
The procession was amazing. It started with men dancing and snapping whips. You could hear them coming closer, as they went around their route. Then there were fire jugglers with spinning wheels aflame. Elephants walked by, decorated with flowing material and lights – Jude told us that they had car batteries on their backs to power all of the lights! There was music, drums, dancing and singing; it really was a spectacle.
Day 7 – Tea plantation, Nuwara Eliya
On our last day in Sri Lanka, we woke at 6am to rain lashing down. Trees outside our hotel balcony were being blown sideways by a strong wind, and then an hour later it was hot and sunny again, but there was a thick mist rolling in the distance.
We visited the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya and saw some beautiful flowers. There were a few men around who were performing for money – one shimmied up a tall tree extremely quickly with a piece of rope, and another was provoking a glossy scorpion he had on a leaf, which was a bit scary, but made for a good photo.
We had lunch at a place that overlooked some gorgeous waterfalls. My husband and another man from our group went trekking to take a closer photograph, and came back with leeches on their legs. They were instructed not to pull them off the skin, as the leeches’ mouths get left behind and can then infect you. Jude burnt them with a lighter, as it apparently makes them release their grip before falling off, but the other man had one between two of his toes, and got quite badly burnt. We were all triple- and quadruple-checking ourselves when we got back on the bus.
We then drove high up into the mountains to reach the tea plantation in Nuwara Eliya. It was about 6800 feet up, and I felt really light headed, and the air was damp and chilly. The road up was very scary – no barriers off the side, and Jude told us a storya bout how 16 tourists had dies 8 months previously after their tour bus went over the edge. He could have saved that story for another day!
The tea plantation was interesting – we were taken through the picking, sorting, and packing processes, and then had some tea at the end. I was told off for adding milk and sugar! We had to go back down the mountain in the dark, as if it wasn’t scary enough going up in full daylight!
The next day, we departed to the Maldives.
There were also experiences that I can’t really explain fully, like children begging and banging on the bus windows, which was scary and heartbreaking at the same time. The smell of curry leaves still takes me back to Sri Lanka. Whenever anyone says the word “auspicious”, it reminds me of Jude.
Despite it being our honeymoon, there was a distinct lack of romance being on a sweaty tourbus with a load of people, going to bed so tired you fall asleep when your head hits the pillow, and back up for more of the same at 6am. However, this is what made the second week so enjoyable. We spent most of it talking about the first week!
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