My Sri Lanka companion, Hayles, and I kicked off our second week with what must be one of the most beautiful and famous train journeys in the world: the route from Kandy to Ella. We had high hopes, but it did not start well. The train was so busy that we could barely fit in the carriage. There wasn’t even enough space for us to sit down on the floor and, as we were the last to get on, we ended up right next to the open door. The thought of having to stand squished right up against sweaty strangers for the next seven hours was unappealing, to say the least.
Fortunately, the train journey gradually changed from being the worst train journey of our lives to the best. First, a few people got off the train and lo behold after a couple of hours there was space for us to sit on the floor, which felt like luxury at the time, in comparison to standing. Secondly, we met a lovely couple from Lisbon to whom we chatted. Thirdly, given we were next to the open door, we had completely unobstructed views of the landscapes. Finally, and most importantly, the scenery was spectacular. We went from tea plantations to forests to waterfalls. It felt like we journeyed through four different seasons in a day. One moment it would be clear, bright sunshine and five minutes later we were passing through colossal rainstorms.
Some people just do part of the Kandy to Ella train journey but, it’s so varied from start to finish, I would recommend doing the whole trip. We took the train on a Friday and it was still very busy. I would avoid doing the journey on weekends and school holidays because some local people told us it’s much busier then. We bought second class tickets, but if you’re organised, you can reserve first class seats a month in advance.
We had originally planned to get off the train at Hatton in order to climb Adam’s Peak but, a couple of days before we were due to, we decided that getting up at 1am to hike for hours in the dark wasn’t for us, so we hiked Little Adam’s Peak in Ella instead. The walk up only took around half an hour and we timed it to reach the top at sunset. In Ella, we also visited Ravana Falls, which was a disappointment, as it was super busy when we arrived (just after breakfast) and the water was dirty.
In Ella, we found one of our favourite restaurants in Sri Lanka: Cafe Chill. It served incredible local food and giant ice teas. After experiencing intense yogurt-withdrawal symptoms, I decided to try the closest Sri Lankan alternative: buffalo curd. It was not all that different to yogurt, but if you’re squeamish, don’t read about how it’s made. After dinner, we got a tuk tuk back to our homestay, which had views of Nine Arches Bridge (we would run out and watch the trains going past whenever we heard a tooting sound). The tuk tuk driver accidentally dropped us off in a field just down the road from our homestay. As we were searching around to find our way back, we looked up at the sky and saw the most beautiful sight of the milky way. We sat at the edge of the field for the next half hour chatting and taking long exposure photographs (see below).
Next, we spent a few days at Hiriketiya relaxing at the beach and attempting to surf. There are quite a few restaurants and bars along the beach, our favourite being Dot’s Surf Cafe. Just a short drive away from Hiriketiya we discovered Silent Beach, which has got to be one of the most amazing beaches I’ve ever visited. It’s lined with hundreds of palm trees and there was only two other people on the beach when we visited. We’d done a lot of research about which beach location to visit, and I’m glad we ended up going to Hiriketiya. The beaches were gorgeous and they weren’t too busy.
Our last stop in Sri Lanka, Galle Fort, was by far the prettiest place we visited. We happily wandered around for two days, continuously discovering street after street of beautiful Dutch-colonial buildings and cute boutique shops. We had so much incredible food in Sri Lanka, but I had my favourite meal in Galle at a little restaurant called Coconut Sambol. The banana and aubergine curry was the tastiest curry I have ever eaten (it might sound like an odd mixture, but you couldn’t really taste the banana). Galle was the perfect last stop in Sri Lanka: pretty, relaxed and a great place to buy gifts before heading home. Even for pets. We were excited to discover a shop called Embark with pretty much every pet-related item that you could imagine. The profits from the shop are used to better the lives of street dogs, of which there are many, by rescuing and finding homes for them.
Looking back, the variety that our two weeks in Sri Lanka entailed was quite amazing. From safaris to palm-tree lined beaches, giant buddha statues to mountain towns, tea plantations to surfing bays, dusty little towns to beautiful colonial streets…It feels like there is something for everyone.