After leaving Luang Prabang, I headed to Sri Lanka. I sat next to three glamorous young Thai women on the flight, who were on a girls’ trip and took a shine to me because they decided that I looked like a Thai singer called Palmy. In celebration of this, they insisted on playing her songs loudly on their phones just before the plane took off, much to my embarrassment.
On my first day in Columbo, I made friends with the three-year-old son of the owners of the guesthouse that I was staying at. It started off with me hiding under the breakfast table in order to dodge his imaginary bullets, and quickly escalated to him setting my finger on fire. I was happily playing along whilst he placed my baby finger in the barrel of, what I thought was, an innocent toy gun. It actually turned out to have a spark-igniting device inside. I yelped as he pressed the trigger and quickly removed my charred finger. He fell silent and looked up at me with big wide eyes, and that guilty look that comes so naturally to children, before attempting to nurse my burnt finger back to health. So we made up and proceeded to make rock towers with his toy digger.
The following day I met my closest friend from university, Hayleigh (aka Hayles), at Columbo airport. We spent a not insignificant portion of our time at university crying with laughter on the floor of our university library and in my bed at 2am eating chips whilst analysing the events of the night that had just unfolded, which were clearly life-or-death matters at the time. I had a feeling that this trip was going to involve just as much laughter, and it definitely did not disappoint on that front.
Our first stop was Kandy, which wasn’t our favourite place, but we were lucky to catch the last day of the Kandy Esala Perahera festival. It is one of the country’s biggest Buddhist festivals and people fly to Sri Lanka from all over the world to attend. There are ten days of processions, which feature dancers, jugglers, musicians (lots of drumming), acrobats, torch bearers and decorated elephants. We also visited the giant Bahirawakanda Buddha Statue, which is a walk away from the centre of town and is quite a sight.
After Kandy, we headed north to Sigiriya, where there are two famous rocks that you can climb: Pidurangala Rock and Lion Rock. We opted for Pidurangala Rock because the entry was £2.50 vs £25 for Lion Rock and the views are meant to be similarly beautiful from both rocks, although Lion Rock does have ruins at the top. The walk up Pidurangala Rock took us around half an hour and was moderately difficult. We accidentally took a less trodden route up the last part and ended up leaping from boulder to boulder. Fortunately, we found a less perilous route on the way down. The views from the top were quite spectacular.
One of the highlights of Sri Lanka for us was an elephant safari. We were due to do one at Minneriya National Park, but a road strike meant that we ended up going to Kalawewa National Park instead. We ended up seeing around 30 elephants, which was many more than we could have hoped for. Having read some some other blogs, I was concerned about the elephants being mistreated. However, on the safari that we did in Kalawewa, they were treated respectfully.
We had been staying in homestays up until this point, which are local guesthouses that serve both breakfast and dinner. A typical homestay dinner consisted of a bucket of rice, roti (doughy flat round bread) and around six different curry dishes between two. A typical homestay breakfast consisted of around four or five of the following dishes: pani pol (crepes with a sweet coconut filling), more roti, vegetable dahl, string hoppers (which look like nests of spaghetti made with rice flour), kiribath (sweet milk rice), halapa (a sweet rice flour-based food that usually comes wrapped in a leaf), coconut sambol (spicy shredded coconut) and fruit. The homestays were a great way to try local dishes; I probably wouldn’t have tried half those dishes if I was ordering from a menu at a cafe/restaurant. Hayles is naturally warm and friendly, and every family that we stayed with took an instant shine to her.
Despite enjoying the homestays, we decided to treat ourselves to one night at a hotel. We stayed at the Jetwing Lake hotel in Dambulla, which is close to Sigiriya, and saw one of the best sunsets that either of us have ever seen. I’d remarked to Hayles shortly before the sunset really kicked off, “So, it’s looking like there won’t be much of a sunset tonight.” Fortunately, I was proved wrong.