Sri Lanka is a new destination for Thomson Holidays, in fact we were their second ever flight to depart Gatwick for Colombo International Airport, and so with a packed itinerary and just seven days to explore it all we set off on the 787 Dreamliner to sunnier climes. Here are the highlights from my trip:
We began our trip in Kandy, recognised as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, home to the famous Temple of the Tooth and the man made Kandy Lake at the heart of the city.
This cultural hub is a great place to start your trip to get a sense of the real Sri Lanka, the journey is around 3 hours depending on traffic from Colombo airport. We spent 3 nights in this magical city, taking in all the sights and eating some of the best curry I’ve ever tasted.
Whilst we were in Kandy we had the opportunity to view a performance of a Sri Lankan cultural show which was absolutely mesmerising. Located in a theatre close by to the Temple of the Tooth and Kandy Lake, we watched several dances which played out a series of folklore tales. I was in awe of the beautiful costumes! The performance lasted around an hour, after which we headed outside for the grand finale, watching the dancers walking on hot coals.
THE TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH
There are many temples to be found in Kandy, but the most impressive is The Temple of the Tooth and is considered Sri Lanka’s most holy shrine. As the name suggests it houses the tooth of Buddha and it really is a sight to behold. Whilst visitors aren’t able to see the tooth itself the building is stunning. With the golden roofed temple visible from many of the hotels in Kandy.
Although you aren’t able to see the tooth itself you can view the casket in which it’s displayed twice a day, we visited around 6:30 pm and was able to catch a very quick glimpse of it. The whole experience of visiting the temple is incredible. We gave in our shoes at the front entrance and then walked around the temple bare foot, listening to the drummers and watching the locals laying down their offerings of flowers in front of the casket area. Make sure you cover up shoulders and are wearing clothing that covers your knees.
TIME FOR TEA
A couple of days in to our trip we took to the hills to visit the Loolecondera Estate and Tea Factory. This was a highlight for me, as we were taken through the complete tea making process, from the picking of the tea leaves in the scenic fields to the factory where the fresh leaves are made into the black tea ready for us to taste. After our tour we enjoyed a beautiful lunch at Taylor’s hill, a colonial boutique guesthouse in the heart of the estate.
ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS
Considered the largest botanical garden in Sri Lanka, boasting an impressive 147 acres and 4000 species of plants as well as its collection of 300 variations of orchids, the Peradeniya Botanical Garden is well worth a visit. We spent a leisurely couple of hours exploring the grounds and making the most of the beautiful scenery for some great photo opportunities, which was a welcome break from having to have our wits about us from a morning in the centre of town dodging tuk-tuks, buses and locals going about their business.
MADU GANGA RIVER
After an incredible few days in Kandy we drove down to the south west of the island to Galle Provence, overtaking traffic caused by the masses of tuk-tuks flooding the roads and locals riding rickety looking bicycles carrying precariously balanced yellow king coconuts, ready to sell by the roadside. Our next destination was the Thomson Platinum Heritance in the quiet beach town of Ahungalla, the resort is positioned in an idyllic beach front setting, the perfect place to unwind after some time in Kandy.
Although this area is significantly quieter than Kandy, there’s still plenty to see. We enjoyed an excursion along the Madu Ganga River, one of the most important natural assets of Sri Lanka. We explored the river by boat, weaving through the mangrove forests which are home to a large number of aquatic bird, animal and plant species, such as monkeys, water monitor lizards, and kingfishers. The number of families living in the islands is estimated at around 250 and we were lucky enough to visit one of them on an island where they make cinnamon to purchase some to take home. Other excursions include a trip to a sea turtle conservation and elephant orphanage, the latter I didn’t experience personally but heard great reviews.
GALLE FORT & STILT FISHERMAN
Next up was a trip to Galle Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with incredible vistas. After a walk around the site to take in the views we made our way to a gorgeous restaurant nearby called Church Street Social in the Fort Bazaar Hotel. This meal was one of the highlights of the trip for me, I enjoyed one of the best curry’s I’ve ever had; the food in Sri Lanka tastes so fresh and flavoursome – a definite must for anyone travelling to Galle.
With full bellies after a glorious lunch we began to make our way to the next hotel: the Riu Ahungalla, a brand new resort that is owned exclusively by Thomson. But not before a quick detour to catch a glimpse of the stilt fishermen. The fishing method, which is unique to Sri Lanka is actually a relatively recent approach, despite looking like an ancient tradition, and is believed to have began during World War II when overcrowded fishing spots and food shortages forced them to try fishing on the water. The stilts are now passed down through the generations. A few of us even gave it a try ourselves!