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Sri Lanka - the Emerald Interior

P1040130Missed by many who only make it to the more crowded coastal resorts, the centre of Sri Lanka is a gem, in fact an emerald. Lush rice paddies, lofty palms and forested expanses that undulate as far as the horizon, occasionally studded with a towering Buddha statue glinting in the sun.

The Cultural Triangle awaited us.  On my previous visit, 20 years before there P1040168were places I couldn't get to - due to a meagre budget and their remote locations and a thing called 'war'.  Now, accompanied by our trusty driver, Asanka, some of the treasures were within my reach.  We visited the impressive Sigiriya rock fortress, a former plug of a long-since eroded volcano, with its beautiful cave paintings, and the large buddhist decorated caves at Dambulla. Also in the area are the National Parks of Minneriya and Kaudulla where elephants and other wildlife can, at times (depending on the amount of recent rainfall), be seen in large numbers, and the important ancient sites of Polonnuruwa and Anaradhapuru.

We arrived at the Heritance Kandalama Hotel at dusk so didn't get the full impact of the place until morning.  We woke to monkey calls from deep within the surrounding forest and glimpses of the lake through the vines that dangled over our balcony.  The eco hotel, designed by the famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa, is a part of the forest, actually engulfed in it.  It provides luxurious accommodation and facilities, devoted but discreet service, an array of cuisine and excursions, and mind-blowing views and wildlife whichever way you look.  Your eye glides across the infinity pool to the lake and somewhere beyond lies the shadow of Sigiriya in the distance...this place leaves a big impression. View details


I visited The Elephant Corridor which is close to Sigiriya itself.  This exclusive hotel has just 21 special rooms with private plunge pools, and a sophisticated dining room. You can leisurely wonder the paths neatly cut through the jungle plain to discover a quiet pool and spa area or find members of staff to do archery or play volleyball with. (Volleyball, as well as cricket of course, is played enthusiastically in Sri Lanka.)  Elephants may pass through here during the night. View details

We were invited for lunch with Yohan, the owner of Back of Beyond, at Dehigaha Ela. He is creating a small and carefully selected group of locations a step away from the more visited parts of Sri Lanka to give you an up-close and personal view of nature here. The Back of Beyond at Dehigaha Ela and the other eco retreats in the group are very special and create a new way of seeing the scenery.  Hiking and biking are encouraged.  There is no need to head off to the popular tourist focal points - you will be shown your own bit of paradise all around you.

On arrival, a clearing with large pond greets you. Beyond the rustic open meeting place, where delicious Sri Lankan curries are served, 2 rivers converge. The 2 treehouses and 2 cottages built around boulders that peak out from the trees are opensided, and although in that sense simple, show great attention to detail and design.  Soft towels and ceramic potted toiletries compliment the modern cement-molded fixtures on the outdoor bathrooms.  Although this is a true back-to-nature experience you feel very well cared for. At Dehigaha Ela Channa would be your host. He is a mild-mannered artist who appreciates his surroundings and will share them with you. View details


Ulpotha is a beautiful, peaceful and sacred place in which to practise yoga with some of the world´s leading teachers.  Tasty vegetarian food is served, excursions offered and there is also an Ayurvedic treatment centre. The retreat is a non profit project that helps to support locals in self-sustainable organic farming and reforestation.  View details

Back on the main road we make our way to Kandy, about 3 hours away. There is plenty of time to take in the landscape and bustle of local life as we weave our way amongst 3-wheelers and vehicles of every kind. There seems to be no road rage here.  All drivers are expected to swerve each other to avoid head-on collisions and being cut-up. Horns are used as warning and appreciation. Somehow it works.  Worryingly some parents are so confident of this that they will let a toddler stand between them, without a helmet, on a motorbike amidst the jumble of traffic.

P1040342Kandy has a large manmade lake in its centre bordered by the Temple of the Tooth.  Here Buddha's tooth is kept in a shrine and although no one actually gets to see it, it is much-visited and important for devotees and tourists alike.  The cultural dance show that is shown each evening closeby is also worth a trip - why not.  The next step for many visiting Kandy is to go on the high point at Nuwara Eliya to visit tea factories, and I would highly recommend continuing on to Ella where the incredible views are still imprinted in my mind from 2 decades ago.  But everything takes time.  Travel here is slow.

We had the great pleasure in staying at Helga's Folly on the hillside overlooking Kandy.  This unique hotel inspires people to visit just to take photos.  It is covered head-to-toe in colourful eastern and fantasy artwork that makes you want to wonder from room to room marvelling at it.  Distorted candles, an old gramophone player and a giant visitor´s book just add to the eccentricity.  Helga, who began her life in this house, has created a fascinating and flamboyant hotel.  Each room has its own quirks - ours had a huge fish painted in the bath, a dragon on the wall and a crown atop of the fairytale bed.  As you can imagine our children were thrilled with the place, especially the small movie theatre!  View details



Some important tips: 

P1040087When coming from the airport it is a good idea to stop off at Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage to see perhaps 70 elephants bathing in the river and babies being fed with giant teeted bottles.  Do not get distracted into other options in the area where you may be tempted by the chance to ride, feed or wash the elephants yourself.  You may see 5 sad, tired looking creatures in chains and wish you hadn't paid to support their maltreatment.

Sri Lanka is predominately a Buddhist country and if visiting places of worship you will be expected to have your knees and shoulders covered and take off your shoes.  Also its important to note that you shouldn't have your photo taken with your back to a Buddhist statue.

Monkeys are common here and we were enraptured with them - until they broke into our room.  Do not leave your balcony door unlocked.  We were warned but were not vigilant enough as they actually check closed doors!

Visitors often hire a driver if they are wanting to travel around Sri Lanka.  It is the easiest way and good value with meals and accommodation provided for the driver where you stay and eat.  If this interests you I would highly recommend you contact our new friend Asanka Fernando on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it who was an easy-going, cheerful, informative, P1040263reliable and safe driver.  We really enjoyed having him with us for a week.

Sri Lanka could simplistically be catagorised as having a feel somewhere between Thailand and India.  The people, in our experience, are friendly, welcoming and a pleasure to meet.  The traditional food is hot curry, but in most places its possible to choose western food or 'tourist' hot.  There are 2 monsoon seasons which affect different parts of the country at different times so if, for example, its not the time to travel north it may be perfect weather in the south.