Before I get into the nitty-gritty of my time in Sri Lanka, I must first address a few key things that happened before I arrived. I spent my final week in Thailand in Bangkok, mainly recovering from having two wisdom teeth extracted. You’ll recall from my divemaster blogs, that I had planned on having these removed in Thailand before I even landed. While I was a little apprehensive before the extraction, things couldn’t have gone better. I was in the chair about 40 minutes while the dentist removed the two teeth, costing me a total of £180. Overall, it was a huge success and I recommend a dentist trip to Thailand for anyone who has an expensive bill they wish to resolve for a fraction of the cost at home. Plus, you get a holiday along with it too. Although the op went well, I did spend the rest of the week taking it easy eating mashed potatoes to aid the recovery process. With my final day in Thailand looming and 5 days having pasts since the dentist visit, I determined I should do something to commemorate it. I decided to visit the famous floating and railway markets outside of Bangkok. The markets provided some culture for my final day, but the key point is that over the course of the day I struck up conversation with two Geordie girls also on the tour. I had already planned to go for a beer (or two) on Khaosan Road that night, so when Lucy and Elle (The Geordies) suggested we grab a beer there that evening, I was grateful for the company on my final night in Thailand. We met on Khaosan that evening and the night started in a relaxed fashion. Before long things were escalating though as we were invited over to a table full of Spanish lads also celebrating their final night. (I suspect had I been alone and not with the two ladies, my invite may have been lost in translation haha). Anyway, as is often the case in Thailand, the night turned from beers to the infamous buckets. And before I knew it, I was rocking home to my hotel at 4:30 am after a cracking last night in the land of smiles. That smile would quickly be wiped off my face though! My flight to Sri Lanka was scheduled at 9:20am and I planned to leave for the airport at 6am. I was already packed with an alarm set, so jumped on my bed just to rest for an hour or so.
The next thing I know my eyes bolt open and the room is filled with morning sunshine. Not a good sign. I look at my Fitbit watch, which failed to wake me at 5:30. 7:50 flashed on the screen. Panic mode instantly kicked in and the overwhelming thought of “I’m going to miss this flight” by 8am I’m out the door of the hotel jumping in a taxi and bombing it to the airport 20 minutes away. I get to the airport around 8:10, not even sure if the check-in counter is still open. Sod’s law, it’s also the other end of the terminal to which I was dropped. I sprint the few hundred meters to the counter, where thankfully someone is still there. Although she too was very frantic, and I guess not too optimistic about my chances of still making the flight. Regardless she checked me in and instructed me to drop my bag over there as this conveyer belt was now shut. After this, I then ran the wrong way to security, before retracing my steps and going the correct way. Thankfully I flew through security in about 5 minutes. Then was the line for departure immigration, which was about 8 people deep. With about 40 minutes until departure, I knew I couldn’t wait in the line. So pleaded with every individual in front of me that I was very late and would it be possible for me to jump ahead of them. Thankfully all obliged. I’ll be sure to pass on the favour one day if someone else finds themselves in the same predicament. Once through immigration, again in typical fashion, the departure gate was one of the furthest away. Also blaring over the tannoy was “This is the final call for Sri Lankan Airline flight XYZ to Colombo”. Brillant more running. I flew around that airport like a blue arsed fly, fuelled by a few hours’ sleep and the early onset of a hangover. Till the day I die, I’m not sure I’ll be able to process how I made the flight, having woken up 1.5 hours before it departed. Anyway, make the flight is exactly what I did. On boarding the plane, fighting the urge to be sick after a heavy night of drinking and the past hour of running, I was ecstatic to be greeted by 3 empty seats just for me. Here I blissfully slept the 3-hours to Sri Lanka. In some ways, it was an ominous sign of the chaotic nature of things to come in Sri Lanka. But regardless, we shall add it to a long list of cracking stories I’ve accumulated over my years of travel. It’s this collection of stories and experiences that I cherish most, along with the people I’ve met.
Having made it to Sri Lanka I was very grateful that I had pre-arranged a taxi to take me from the airport to the South Coast (or more accurately my friend Paul who lives in Sri Lanka had arranged). The taxi driver remarked that I looked rather buggered so left me to sleep peacefully during the journey to Unawatuna and my first stop in the country. That Afternoon I took it very easy just chilling on the beach before having an early night. The following day I took the local bus to Galle to explore the old Dutch Fort that remains here. Additionally, opposite the fort was a cricket stadium where a local school test match happened to be on. Cricket in Sri Lanka is a big deal so although it was only a school match it was pumping. I stopped to watch a few overs of the game through the fence with the locals. After some lunch, I caught a tuk-tuk to a nearby turtle sanctuary. It was founded by a local man and aimed to rehabilitate injured turtles before releasing them back into the wild. He also protected and released baby turtles, hopefully increasing their chances of survival too.
After 2 nights in Unawatuna, I moved further along the coast to Weligama. I had hoped to take the bus, but sadly due to the economic situation, the buses were on strike all day (this would become a common theme during my time in the country). This meant I either had to stay put or pay more for a tuk-tuk. I elected for the tuk-tuk, as I would do multiple times over the trip. Certainly not as cheap as the bus, but in the grand scheme of things still not too expensive. Weligama is a lively town on the south coast famous for surfing. I stayed for 4 nights, surfing pretty much every day and also making the most of the yoga classes laid on by the hostel. I also met some great people at my hostel, called Hangtime. I would go on to travel with some of the people I met there for the next week or more. Although I had done some surfing before, going out every day, sometimes twice a day, meant I certainly improved. It allowed me to start catching some green waves as opposed to just playing around in the whitewash. Weligama is a great spot for beginners, but there are also more advanced spots not too far away for those after more of a challenge. Outside of surfing and yoga, I relaxed on the beach. Although a group of us from the hostel did head out one night to the nearby club/beach bar called Dr’s House. Everyone who has been to Sri Lanka has likely been there. I’m not sure why it has such a big reputation, but it was a good night out, ending up at some beach club in Mirissa.
After the 4 nights in Weligama, I decided to move for one night to Mirissa itself. Although only 30 minutes down the road from Weligama, I wanted to get some sunrise and sunset photography done here. So reasoned staying the one night would allow me to do so. I spent the afternoon walking along the beach in Mirissa, before making my way to Parrot Rock Bridge, which is a little rocky outcrop that juts out from the two bays. It was a great spot for sunset and mother nature didn’t disappoint because it was an absolute beauty. The following morning, I was up for sunrise, making the short journey by tuk-tuk to Coconut Tree Hill. No prizes for guessing what’s here but going early meant I had the popular spot to myself and was able to get some great photos with my drone. As I was leaving another person showed up to fly their drone however, they ended up crashing into one of the palm trees. Thankfully I didn’t share the same fate, but I did lend him some of my spare parts to get him back in the air. By mid-morning, I was on the train from Mirissa to Hiriketiya further along the southern coast. The train ride was about an hour long and cost me a massive 17p. I also met up with a few mates on the train who were moving from Weligama to Hiriketiya. I only stayed in Hiriketiya one night, chilling out on the beach, surfing at sunset and sunrise and eating good food with friends. I even managed to fist bump my mate Nick while we both surfed the same wave which was funny until his board smacked me in the head. It’s a beautiful beach though and I could certainly have spent more time here, if only for the fact there wasn’t so much else for me to explore.
From Hiriketiya I would leave the South Coast Behind, just as the season there was finishing. It’s one reason I went south first as Sri Lanka has two distinct seasons. The south coast season running from November to May and the east coast from May until November. About 5 of us made the journey from Hiriketiya into the central Sri Lankan highlands, staying in Ella for 3 nights. We were recommended a hostel called Tomorrowland, but on arrival, it was obvious the place had become a victim of the pandemic with only us there. We therefore moved to a new hostel in town before taking a trip to the famous 9 Arches Bridge that evening. We waited here a good hour and a half for one hoping to get an epic photo of the train passing over the bridge. But sadly as darkness loomed the train never arrived and we had to call it a day. The next morning, we were up at 3:30am in preparation to hike Ella’s Rock for sunrise. We got to the start of the hike around 4am after taking a tuk-tuk to get there and reached the summit at 5:30am. The hike wasn’t too hard, but in the dark, trekking an un-signposted route made it a bit tougher. Thankfully the app All Trails expertly laid out the path making it easy to climb without a guide. The sunrise was beautiful though, looking back down to the coast and plains below. Certainly, one of the highlights of the trip. After being up so early the rest of the day was spent exploring a few places in town, before heading up Little Adams Peak for sunset. This was only a short 20-minute walk, which was lucky seeing as the cloud rolled in and spoiled the view for us. We then also got soaked when the heavens opened.
The following morning some of the friends I had been travelling with moved on, but myself and a girl called El decided to go on Safari at the nearby Udawalawe National Park. It was a 2-hour drive to the park, meaning again I was up at 4am. We arrived just before 6am ready for our early morning game drive. It was my first Safari experience and was great. Especially for the price too. We saw loads of elephants, some crocodiles, water buffalo, monkeys, various reptiles, birds and mongooses. So certainly, lots to see on our 2.5-hour drive around the park. It was so good to see these animals in their natural habitat as opposed to a zoo which would have been the only time, I’d seen them before. After the Safari, El was heading back to the coast whereas I took the scenic route back to Ella for one more night. I did so via the largest waterfall in Sri Lanka Bambarakanda Falls plus took a very charming train ride from Haputale to Ella to finish off the round trip.
After 3 nights in Ella, I made my way back to the coast, this time Sri Lankas each coast. Again, I was plagued by buses not running but thankfully was picked up by a taxi containing a group of people also heading to the east coast surf spot of Arugam Bay. This is also the place where my friend Pual was now living in Sri Lanka, so I was excited to catch up with him. Arugam Bay is the east coasts version of Weligama, meaning people go there for surfing. The season hadn’t fully begun when I arrived, but it was still a cool place. I stayed in Arugam Bay for 4 nights surfing most of the time. Often going for sunrise and sunset surfs. Thankfully I was able to borrow a board from Paul so didn’t have to worry about board hire, however, the surf sports in Arugam Bay are a bit out of town so you must get a tuk-tuk to them every time which, can soon start to add up. The surf also hadn’t fully started so some days I was out for a couple of hours and only a few sets of waves would come through. However, it’s still so nice just hanging out on the board chatting to your mates watching the sunlight dance off the water. Far worse places to spend some time relaxing. One night when coming back from a sunset surf, a family of elephants decided to block the dirt road that led from the beach back to the main road. An army of tuk-tuks, transporting surfers back to town had to wait until the wild elephants had moved on. They had a baby with them so understandably were being very protective. Plus, the elephants here often get chased away by farmers protecting their rice crop, meaning they aren’t too fond of humans and can be very dangerous. Meaning everyone gave them a wide birth.
Having spent time catching up with Paul and surfing with him and some other friends I made in Arugam bay it was time to leave and head back to the hills. I took the bus from Arugam Bay to Badulla, where I spent the night in a hotel, before taking the early morning train to Hatton. When people plan a trip to Sri Lanka, they no doubt hear of the Kandy to Ella train ride. This was essentially that journey, just in reverse and starting a bit after Ella. The train ride certainly is beautiful though, at least the parts between Hatton and Badulla. The ride took around 5 hours and it was lovely to watch the numerous tea plantations fly by outside the window. I would later catch the train from Hatton to Kandy which was less great. Once in Hatton, I stayed at a local family’s homestay. Dushy was the Sri Lanka man whose house I would stay in along with his wife and two young children. It was one of the best parts of my trip and I’m so glad I stayed there. Their hospitality was amazing and Dushy’s wife’s cooking was unbelievable. They made me the most amazing breakfast lunch and dinner for the price of about £1.50 each meal and the portion sizes were huge. At dinner time I would sit outside and watch the many fireflies buzz around the nearby trees and fields that surrounded their home. They even invited me along to the nearby Hindu temple to take part in a ritual for their youngest son’s birthday the second day I was there plus gave me a cooking class teaching me how to cook the amazing dahl curry I ate so much while in Sri Lanka. I spent one afternoon wandering around the nearby tea fields before having an early night due to a 1:30am sunrise hike wake-up call. Dushy dropped me at the nearby bus station which then got me to the base of Adams Peak at 3am. It then took a good 2.5 hours to hike the 5500 steps to the summit for sunrise. It was honestly so hard, but worth it for the views at the top. It was also inspiring to see countless people making the pilgrimage to the top of the sacred rock. People who could barely walk and those far older than me, often barefoot hike Adams Peak as a pilgrimage. It has the unique distinction of being sacred for various reasons to the followers of four of the world’s major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity.
After a wonderful 2 nights at Dushy’s Home Stay and having just about recovered from Adams Peak I took the train from Hatton to Kandy. This journey was far less scenic, mainly because the train was rammed full, and I had to stand for the 4-hour journey. It was certainly an authentic experience though being the only westerner on the carriage. But I was very glad to arrive in Kandy. I didn’t stay here long though, catching the bus directly to Sigiriya. I stayed the night here before waking up for yet another sunrise. This time climbing Pidurangala Rock which offers views of the more famous Lions Rock which has a temple perched on top. Sadly, it wasn’t the most amazing sunrise as clouds blocked it for a while, but the setting was still beautiful. It also produced one of the most random chance encounters I’ll likely ever have. While sat watching the sunrise, I turn to my left and see two faces I recognise walking toward me. Doing a double-take in shock it just so happened to be two friends I made while living in Queenstown NZ. I hadn’t seen them for a good 9 months and had no idea they were even in Sri Lanka. Yet here we were at the top of some rock randomly bumping into one another. It was honestly so surreal but can be added to a growing list of such chance encounters.
After sunrise, I wanted to move back to the East Coast but this time the northern part of Trincomalee. Again, I was plagued by a bus strike so had to pay £20 for a tuk-tuk as opposed to like 75p for the bus. But I was left with little choice. I can’t say I did too much in Trincomalee. The hostel I stayed in was right by the beach and it was so hot I spent most of my time cooling off in the sea. I did bump into a few other travellers I met down in Arugam Bay so spent a bit of time with them. We also went for a night out seeing as it was one of their birthdays. The highlight though was the two dives I snuck in while here. I had earmarked Trincomalee as the place to dive so saved myself for here. I knew it wouldn’t be the best diving I’d ever done but I still wanted to get a few last ones in before I headed home. The coral wasn’t much to shout about, and I’m not surprised seeing as the area has a big problem with dynamite fishing. Although the area is a marine park, especially around Pigeon Island, sadly the label alone doesn’t provide much protection. Anyhow the sea life didn’t seem to be suffering too badly, there were loads of moray eels, some of the biggest I’ve ever seen, quite a few blue-spotted stingrays, lots of various fish species and we were even lucky enough to see a massive turtle which was cool.
My time 3.5 weeks in Sri Lanka was now rapidly coming to an end so it was time to start making my way back towards the airport. I elected to go to Anuradhapura for the night. Which was the ancient capital of Sri Lanka and took a walk around the many temples here. However, sadly the situation in Sri Lanka was rapidly deteriorating. Protests which had been peaceful for months were now turning violent. A state of emergency and curfew had also been enacted by the government. The same very government the protests were aimed at. This meant I couldn’t do much during my final few days so just booked a taxi to take me to a hotel by the airport in Negombo. I waited here a day or so before catching my flight. I left the country having had the best time despite all the troubles. The Sri Lankan economy had collapsed, the country was bankrupt and had no foreign currency to pay for important imports such as fuel and food. Partly brought on by the pandemic and lack of tourism but also through the poor management of the corrupt government and the people had rightly had enough. Sri Lanka has been governed by one family for the past 20 years. Many Sri Lankans blamed the family for the current issues so therefore wanted them gone. They had been protesting peacefully for a while, simply wanting a better quality of life and a more competent government. As with many places the cost of living was getting out of control, there were daily power cuts, often for hours at a time because the country couldn’t generate enough power and fuel prices were soaring because they had no money to pay for imports. Although all this did cause me some disruption, I have nothing but sympathy for the Sri Lankan people, they are simply fighting for a better more capable government and fair living conditions. I was hesitant to go to Sri Lanka due to everything I had read about what was going on, but I’m so glad I still made the trip. Even with everything, I still had the best time. Which makes me think how great it must be when things are “normal”. It truly is a wonderful country. The people are probably the nicest I’ve ever met and being able to say that with everything they are currently facing is a testament to how lovely they truly are. The food was outstanding, I mean western food was shocking, but sticking to the local stuff was amazing. There was also so much diversity in such a small country, which is only 7% larger than Ireland. From the beaches, to the tea plantation of the hill country, to the many wildlife parks and nature reserves it really is a country that offers so much. I hope the economic and political situation can be resolved soon. Allowing the people of Sri Lanka to get on with their lives as prosperously as possible. I also hope things settle down allowing more people to go and see this amazing part of the world.
Sadly, for me, that’s it for a while. I am now back home in the UK after 3.5 years on the road. It’s been by far the best years of my life! Little did I know when I set up Everitts Adventures back in the summer of 2018, that it would still be going 4 years later. Having now written over 80 blogs spanning 11 different countries. It’s been quite the journey and I can’t wait to read it all back. For now though I’m looking forward to an action-packed summer at home and figuring out what the next part of my life has in store. While the travel blogs might die down for a little while, I still have lots I want to see and do. I’ve no doubt I shall be back out there again in the not too distant future and I look forward to blogging it. Thanks to all who followed along the past 3.5 years. I hope you enjoyed the adventure; I know I did.