I left Myanmar after two weeks and went for a couple of days to Kuala Lumpur to get my dose of civilisation. That meant filling myself with burgers, kebab, and other food that doesn’t include rice. I bought toiletries, some clothes and enjoyed sky bars with some friends from London. With my batteries recharged, I took a plane to Sri Lanka where I planned to spend New Years Eve.
Sri Lanka, known as Ceylon until 1972, is a small island in the south of India. Under civil war until 2009, Sri Lanka became a popular destination for honeymooners and couples looking to run away from cold weather. Not very developed in terms of tourism, Sri Lanka is cheap and it can offer a variety of activities. You can go to the beach, surf, hike in the mountains, ride a scenic train through tea plantations, do safari and visit ancient sites. Accommodation can be sometimes very basic (outdoor toilets and cold showers), transportation slow, internet not always working (you can buy a local sim very cheap) and services a bit hectic. However, for me Sri Lanka is better than India, much cleaner and safer.
One nice thing about Sri Lanka is the people. They are very welcoming and friendly (except maybe some tuk-tuk drivers and restaurant owners that will try to rip you off). If you are riding a train with locals they will try to find a seat for you and they will share food and make conversation. The kids will wave and say hello when they see you on the street.
Food is another thing that I liked here. Similar to Indian cuisine, the main dishes here are curry, rotti (savory or sweet indian pancakes) or kottu (traditional Sri Lankan dish, chopped vegetables, meat and rotti ) and as drink, lassi. If you are just a bit hungry, you can find a lot of bakeries selling takeaway rotti, samosas or sweet pastries.
The south-west coast
The southwest coast is the best destination to enjoy the sun on the beach, party, surf and other similar activities. The beaches are ok, but don’t set high expectations.
Two hours south of Colombo you can find Galle, a Portuguese fort occupied by Dutch and later by British. In around two hours you can do the tour of Galle Old Fort, walk on the walls, admire colonial buildings and if you are brave, swim in the small beach. The most iconic buildings here are the old lighthouse and the British clock tower (the clock doesn’t work anymore). Due to the ingenious Dutch drainage system, Galle Fort survived the big tsunami in 2004.
A few kilometres further south of Galle is Unawatuna (U wanna tuna?). Good for surfing or sunbathing, this is the place where I’ve spend New Years Eve 2018. On the main beach there are a lot of restaurants, some clubs (two maybe?) and many hotels. A bit less accessible is the beautiful Jungle Beach.
Last on my list, but not the least, is Mirissa. The most popular place on the coast, with a big beach and many options for accommodation and eating out. It is a good place to chill and the starting point for whale watching tours.
The most beautiful region in Sri Lanka is right in the middle of the island. With the highest altitude of 2300m, the beautiful mountains that are perfect for growing tea and coffee. There are a few sacred rocks that are worth climbing for sunset or sunrise.
Udalawawe National Park
Located at the base of the mountains, Udalawawewawee (nobody can remember this name) National Park is on the way from Mirissa to Ella. Elephants are the most common animals in this park, but you can also spot crocodiles, peacocks, water buffalos and a lot of colourful birds.
My favourite place in Sri Lanka is Ella, a small town in the mountains. With a perfect weather (not too hot nor too cold), this is a great place to do some hikes, visit waterfalls and take pictures of the scenic Nine Arch Bridge.
The sacred rock in Sri Lanka, Adam’s Peak is a 2200m high mountain and a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. It takes 3 hours and 6000 steps to get to the top and another 2 hours to get down. Most of the people start the hike around 2am from the base to see the incredible views from above the clouds during the sunrise.
Usually accessed by train from Ella, Kandy is a medium-sized city. It doesn’t have anything too special, other than being the start or end point for the Ella-Kandy train ride. The botanical garden is worth paying a visit.
Further north of Kandy is Sigiriya, another beautiful place with two massive rocks. Lion’s rock is the most popular one (30$ entrance), but Pindurangala rock offers better views during sunset for only 5$.
Getting sick while travelling
One of the things that you can not avoid when you travel for a long period is getting sick or injured. You are exposed to many factors: local food, insects, riding motorbikes, different sports, hikes, etc. When you start a trip like this you need should expect these to happen and you have to take care of yourself. In general, healthcare system in Asia is bad and it should be avoided if possible. Resting for a few days in a place until you recover is sometimes the best thing you can do.
The worse that happened to me was last time I went to Kuala Lumpur during my SE Asia trip. I left Vietnam with a simple cold and after one day it developed into a bad tonsils infection with very high fever. I couldn’t eat anything, I was feeling like dying and I really needed to see a doctor. I was lucky that Kuala Lumpur is a big city and there are private doctors available almost everywhere. I went to a private clinic in a shopping mall next to where I was staying and I’ve got one injection on the spot and a treatment with three antibiotics (all for 35$). In three days I was ready to continue my trip.
More common is food poisoning. People say that nobody leaves Asia without getting food poisoned at least once. The main factors for food poisoning are the unfiltered water (or ice) and meat. It is highly recommended to avoid drinks with ice, uncooked food like salads (washed with unclean water) or meat from street vendors. I got food poisoned three or four times during five months spend in Asia. These are usually mild bacteria unknown to your body and you recover in one or two days (Imodium FTW!).
Mosquito transmitted diseases are more serious and usually the biggest worry for people planning to travel in tropical countries. However, malaria or dengue are not as common as you might think. I got bitten maybe hundreds of times and luckily I didn’t get anything bad. There are millions of people living in these countries that never take malaria pills or use mosquito repellent. Is this risk higher than something else bad happening to you? Probably not. Is this risk high enough to stop you from travelling? I think not. If you think like this you will never leave home. You will do nothing. Of course, using insect repellent wearing long sleeves or trousers are good ways to minimise the risks.
Getting sick while travelling will happen and you should take it as part of your adventure. Try to minimise the risks, but don’t make this an impediment for enjoying local food, trekking in the jungle or visiting new countries.
Bali is my next stop before leaving Asia and going to Australia.