Sara is originally from Northern Virginia, just about an hour outside of Washington DC. She’s lived in New York since college. She is a runner and a reader. She loves an adventure and a good dance party. She is an aspiring full-time traveler.
How long were you in Sri Lanka?
Only seven days. We could have stayed much, much longer. We had a last minute opening in our schedules so we jumped on the opportunity. We were already planning on being in Dubai for Christmas to see family so we decided to take advantage of the proximity and go for it.
Had you traveled a lot previously?
A lot compared to some people and not at all compared to others. I have the bug for sure. I have big goals for the places I want to see and the experiences I want to have. I think that’s part of it though, the anticipation of the world and all there is to see.
What made you decide to take this trip?
A few factors—proximity from Dubai along with last minute ticket prices. We were kind of like, when else would we go to Sri Lanka? Let’s go for it!
How did you find the time and resources to be able to do this?
I am a freelancer so I have more control over my time off than someone with a 9-5. I work as much as possible when I can and when there is down time I take advantage of it. What you lack in stability you gain in freedom.
Who did you go with?
I went with my boyfriend at the time and forever best friend, Matt.
Who did you meet along the way?
Samit— We met the most amazing taxi driver named Samit. It was his first week on the job and he had never met Americans before. We were staying at this little bed and breakfast in Kandy. We wanted to see Sigiriya Rock and the Golden Temple in Dambulla, which were about a two-hour drive from Kandy.
Taking a taxi was definitely not the most economical way to get around but when you only have seven days, sometimes you have to bite the bullet for efficiency sake. Samit spoke almost no English. We communicated as best as possible and somehow generally clicked. He ended up being our driver for several other trips over the next few days either via tuk tuk or car depending on the distance. At the end of our stay in Kandy, Samit ended up taking us to his family’s house and we met his daughter, wife, and his mother in law. They served us tea and some sort of pastry I haven’t had before. We had our Polaroid camera with us and we took two photos, one for them and one for us to keep. They were wonderful good humans and I am incredibly thankful for the experience. It was a highlight of our trip. They sent us off with a bag full of mangos from their back garden. I teared up when we left Samit and I think he did too.
The old man on the train— Leaving on the way back to Colombo from Mirissa we took a local train up the coast. These are steam-powered trains that date as far back as 1864. They were originally used to transport tea from the hills to Colombo. We were a little hungover from the beach party from the night before. Being the good girlfriend that I was, I let Matt lay on the ground and sip sprite out of a glass jar we had to return, and I crammed myself in line and fought my way to get two train tickets. After being cut several times I basically turned myself into a roadblock and wouldn’t let anyone pass. Success! At first we loved the train ride. We were dangling our feet out the open doors and sipping fresh coconut. One of those “Yes, we are traveling!” moments. Then, as the stops went by the train filled up more and more, we ended up standing face to chest on top of our luggage to conserve space. Just when we thought not another thing or person could fit on the train, a very sweet, very old man slipped himself between Matt and I. He was small, I’ll give him that, and out of all the people we met along the way, we became the closest, quite literally.
The man who taught us the pool game— There is a funny little town that I actually do not recommend at all called Nuwara Eliya. It was originally settled by the British and is actually referred to as “little England.” Its architecture reflects that of the colonial period and feels like you are in an English town. Although interesting, it feels completely inauthentic to me. There really isn’t a ton to do unless you want to take a tour of a tea plantation or hang out in a fancy hotel. We ended up having high tea at one of these fancy hotels and stumbling across a basement bar with a back room with pool and snooker tables. We were the only ones down there and met this very lovely Sri Lankan bartender who turned out to be an expert pool player. He unsuccessfully tried to improve my lacking pool game and also ended up showing us a bunch of tricks. It was like our own private lesson with all the beer you could drink. He was fascinating to me because he learned the game from working at the pool halls and fancy hotels in the area. Totally not something I would ever expected to find while traveling Sri Lanka.
How did you manage payments and money on your trip?
We were not totally budget conscious on this trip. It was only seven days total so we went for efficiency over budget travel. Not to say we stayed in crazy pricey hotels or anything. Most of our money went towards transport. We took taxis between all the cities but two. There aren’t a lot of transport options available like some other countries. The trains are slow and long, good to experience when you have the time. You definitely need cash for tuk tuk rides, snacks on the trains, and most of the activities.
How did you find the places where you stayed?
We stayed in a mix of hostels and hotels. We found them through the Internet, via Google and travel sites. We used Agoda frequently.
What were the three things you were happiest to have with you
An iPad for research
Comfortable tennis shoes for walking
A pashmina to cover yourself for temple entry- I always had it with me just in case.
The Best Of
Which cities did you go to in Sri Lanka? Which was your favorite?
I loved Kandy. Maybe because we were there the most days out of our short trip. It was peaceful and beautiful. A place where you easily feel comfortable. The people are relaxed, have peaceful energy, and are kind. The city wasn’t a huge metropolis, just manageable.
What are best things to do in Kandy?
Sri Dalada Maligawa or The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. They do ceremonies three times a day. We attended the temple at night and I strongly recommend it. It is beautiful all lit up. You take your shoes off and leave them at a shoe check before you enter. We purchased baskets of blooming lotus flowers as offerings. Locals still attend this temple so it’s a large mix of people paying respects and tourists. We aren’t Buddhist but we did both. There was a large altar littered with lotus flowers and other offerings. The paintings on the wall were so intricate and beautiful. There is a side exit with rows and rows of oil candles lit by devotees.
Walking around Kandy Lake is great as well, and be sure to go to the Kandy View Point which gives you a beautiful vantage point of the whole city. We also attended a cultural dance show at the Kandy Lake Club. We stayed at Elegant Hotel and it was my absolute favorite. I could have stayed here the whole time. We were the only guests for two whole days and the food was incredible. We had a little deck we could hang out on with a really incredible view. They had insane plant life and views of the mountains. The owner and his wife ran the whole place.
What other cool things would you recommend doing in Sri Lanka?
Definitely take a local train. It’s not the most comfortable but you see the countryside or the coastline in such a beautiful way. You are with local people passing through local towns. We took one from Colombo to Kandy and then again from Mirissa Beach back to Colombo.
The best train ride is supposed to be from Ella to Kandy because of the epic views of the mountains. It’s about a seven hour ride and not supposed to be the most comfortable but well worth it.
What were your favorite aspects of Sri Lanka in general?
The people and the food. The people were the friendliest I have come across. Very open and happy to see you. Sometimes while traveling there are people harassing you to buy things and they can sometimes be relentless. This wasn’t the case there. People would still approach you but would accept “no thank you” as an answer. The food was my favorite. I literally ate my way through Sri Lanka. The food has a fresh-Indian influence with their own island take on it. Lot’s of coconut and spices.
What were the best new foods you discovered?
Egg hoppers. You can buy them at street stalls and many restaurants serve them too. There are different versions, my favorite being a kind of crispy bread/tortilla-like bowl filled with egg.
A must go to is Ministry of Crab. It’s not cheap but it’s so worth it! You also need to make a reservation in advance. You order crabs by the size and then choose your curry. Quite literally some of the largest crabs I have ever seen. They come out in these large clay bowls covered in curry with a side of rice and bread to soak it all up. It was the last night of our trip and a great way to end it.
Did you feel safe there?
I felt totally safe. We didn’t see tons of travelers like you do in some places. Sometimes I think that is safer than when you are traveling in a circuit populated by western tourists.
The only part of the trip when I felt I stood out as a woman was in the English town, Nuwara Eliya. We found a sort of local pub while looking for some authenticity in this strange place. When we entered, we were quickly brought upstairs where there was absolutely nobody present except for us. I didn’t really think anything of it until we were leaving. Matt went to the bathroom and I went to walk downstairs to wait for him and our server said, “You should wait for your husband.” It then dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t okay for me to be there as a woman. I didn’t feel threatened, just not welcome.
Do you have any safety tips to share with other women traveling to Sri Lanka?
As with anywhere, be smart, respect the culture, and if you feel uncomfortable change the situation. It is a religious place, with many temples and religions present. Dressing conservatively is beneficial out of respect for the culture but also for safety. I’m not saying cover your whole body, but longer shorts or pants and nothing crazy tight or low-cut. I lived in loose drop crotch pants and tank tops. A light jacket and pashmina were always in my bag.
Why do you love traveling?
I love traveling because it’s exhilarating. I love to be in different situations and have as many experiences as possible. I think it’s the greatest education on being a human.
In the wake of the current election results it makes me as a woman more empowered than ever so I can’t go without saying this:
Travel. It’s empowering. Don’t be afraid because you’re a woman. Don’t be governed by the norms of where you’re from or what you’re supposed to do. Open your heart to all experiences good, bad, and scary. Recognize people—people who are different, people of different cultures and walks of life. Experience everything and take those experiences to heart. Be kind along the way, grow, and bring those world experiences home to fight for what is good. Educate those who are closed-minded. We may not be able to change everyone, but we as women can lead by example. We are strong, smart, and beautiful. Let’s be inspiring. Let’s talk about our travels, the people we meet, and the cultures we experience. Let’s contribute to a world of acceptance.