[Wanderlust Tips January 2020] I was surprised and overwhelmed when I was informed that I would be visiting Sri Lanka at the end of 2019. Sri Lanka? A country off the beaten path? A place with so much political instability? I was apprehensive, to say the least. Despite my doubts, I hopped on the plane to this new destination.
SRI LANKA – MAGNIFICENT ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE
I have heard many rumours Sri Lanka has been subject to many bombings that are extremely politically unstable. However, as soon as I arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport, I realised this was a far cry from the truth. I was taken aback by the friendly smiles of the locals. Just a few months ago, Sri Lanka hit the headlines around the world because of a series of bombings, so I was expecting the scenery to be a bit shabby and messy.
However, I was completely wrong. Sri Lanka was so peaceful and gentle that no one would have thought that this place had ever faced so much instability. In fact, I was extremely mesmerised by the amazing variety of magnificent architectural structures in the pearl of the Indian Ocean. Perhaps the place that left the deepest impression on me is Sigiriya Rock Fortress, a towering natural masterpiece. Just seeing this place in photos, many people might think that this place is simply a “giant stone”. Only when you travel to Sigiriya, can you really appreciate and admire ancient generations?
Known as an impregnable fortress, it is not easy to conquer the giant 200-metre stone. Following the guide, we found the steep path to reach the top of Sigiriya extremely difficult to climb. The stairs are so long and high that even the fittest male visitors occasionally had to stop for a rest. After a difficult hour, I finally reached the top. It was really worth the climb to take that first step onto the magnificent fortress built in the fifth century. I was fascinated by the ancient remnants that appeared before my eyes, for instance, the entrance to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress shaped into a giant lion’s toenail, the patterns of the beautiful Sigiriya women carved on the walls, the giant stones facing the sun and overlooking the cool crystal-clear lakes.
After waving goodbye to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, I visited the unique Golden Temple of Dambulla in an extremely good mood. I am a little weary after my trip to Sri Lanka because I had to move so much. To enter the Golden Temple of Dambulla, our group had to climb over a steep path. The lush green trees lining the path made me feel relaxed and refreshed. Every time I was engrossed in my thoughts, some naughty monkeys appeared from nowhere. A moment later, I saw the Golden Temple of Dambulla in the distance. The temple is truly a sight to behold and made everyone question how such a wonder could exist. Situated inside a giant cave, the temple is divided into five small caves. I was particularly impressed with an array of Buddha statues inside the cave.
These statues were made of clay, jade, stone and gold in a variety of sizes. Additionally, a wide range of spellbinding art and patterns depicting the life of Buddha were painted on the ceiling. It is said that visitors were extremely mesmerised by its mystifying architecture. Moreover, Sri Lanka is home to a variety of epic architectural attractions. Notably, the mysterious ancient city of Polonnaruwa fascinates visitors and the Temple of the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic is a pilgrimage destination for both Sri Lankan Buddhists and Buddhists from all over the world.
THE LAND OF WILD NATURE
I still clearly remember stopping to rest when I wearily climbed the stairs to reach the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. At that time, as I caught a glimpse of the surroundings in the distance, the entire town of Dambulla was covered by lush green. I saw nothing except for trees. With such wild and untouched nature, Sri Lanka has been recognised as the ideal tourist destination for wildlife tourism only after Africa. Despite its average size, Sri Lanka is home to a vast array of different animals. Currently, there are 12 national parks and 52 wildlife sanctuaries in Sri Lanka. These figures certainly prove the richness and diversity of wildlife.
Unfortunately, during this trip, I did not have the chance to visit any of the wildlife sanctuaries in Sri Lanka. Therefore, if I have the opportunity to visit this island nation again, I will certainly treat myself to an exhilarating wildlife experience. Aside from the sanctuaries, I was extremely surprised by the wildlife that lived on the streets. Dogs lay comfortably on the highway, crows soared overhead, flocks of bats hung themselves upside down in the trees. Sometimes, I encountered squirrels running around or elephants slowly crossing through the forest and snakes on the streets. It was an exciting yet somewhat scary experience for me.
One day on the trip, the guide took us to a lush garden where there are many attractive local spices, for instance, ginger, turmeric, curry powder, even cocoa beans and vanilla. I cannot recall exactly how many species of plants and spices that I came across that day. I was most impressed with the signature aroma of ginger, vanilla and aloe. It would not be exaggerating to say that everything is available in Sri Lanka except for the snow. Home to verdant green tea fields in the mountains, the azure sea, smooth white sand and huge whales, Sri Lanka is a far cry from the places I have visited previously. Sri Lanka is wilder, greener and contains more surprises and mysteries than I ever could have imagined.
My first impression of Sri Lanka as soon as I arrived was the friendliness of the locals. After the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had come to an end, the riots and bombings also stopped, leaving the Sri Lankan people to return to a simple life. Wherever I went, the Sri Lankan people greeted me very formally and sincerely with friendly smiles. They carefully and thoroughly introduced their country to me. Even at the main tourist attractions, vendors do not solicit from tourists. Sri Lanka is considered the land of Buddha as the majority of the Sri Lankan people worship Buddhism.
Although I come from Vietnam, a country famous for many ancient temples, I was very surprised when I came to Sri Lanka. There are so many temples from small ones to large and you often encounter people on their way to work that suddenly stops to pray in the morning. That really left me with a beautiful impression of the nation that was once dubbed the cradle of ancient Buddhism. Finally, you must try Sri Lankan cuisine. During this trip, the curry was the most outstanding and popular dish on our dining table. Notably, the local people use curry powder to cook all kinds of attractive dishes, from chicken, mango and fish curry, to curry-flavoured sauce. My group was a little bit intimidated by the strong flavour of the curry.
I have to admit that eating curry was the most unforgettable culinary experience during my time in Sri Lanka. A week in Sri Lanka passed in the blink of an eye. We waved goodbye to this land with many regrets because we felt we had not even scratched the surface of this charmingly beautiful country. The tear-drop-shaped island genuinely boasts an untouched beauty that no cameras or lens can capture its grandeur and charm. I fell in love with Sri Lanka not only because of its beauty but also because of the peaceful and gentle way of life, it definitely made me want to return to Sri Lanka in the future.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL SRI LANKA
There are two distinct seasons in Sri Lanka, rainy and dry season. The best time to travel to the West, the South and the highlands is between December and March; between April and September is the best time to travel to the East.
Visitors can also take the opportunity to enjoy and explore a variety of exhilarating festivals held in July and August in Sri Lanka.
TRANSPORTATION TO SRI LANKA
There are no direct flights from Vietnam to Sri Lanka, so visitors will have to transit in another country. Malaysia Airlines is the perfect choice for travellers to Sri Lanka. You can depart from Hanoi or Saigon to Kuala Lumpur and then fly directly to Bandaranaike International Airport in Sri Lanka.
Despite the long-haul flight, passengers will feel energised after experiencing the best in-flight services including delicious meals and entertainment programs.
SRI LANKA CURRENCY
There is no place to exchange Sri Lankan Rupees in Vietnam, so you should convert VND to USD first, then convert USD to Rupees when entering Sri Lanka.
Exchange rate: LKR1 = VND126,59
ACCOMMODATION IN SRI LANKA
You can opt for suitable accommodation depending on your budget. Wanderlust Tips recommend Jetwing, which offers a variety of accommodation, ranging from budget to luxurious hotels.
FAMOUS TOURIST DESTINATIONS IN SRI LANKA
As a Buddhist country, Sri Lanka is famous for an amazing variety of beautiful sacred temples, for instance, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, Temple of the Tooth and Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple. Additionally, Sri Lanka is home to a variety of fascinatingly beautiful landscapes, for instance, Sigiriya Rock Fortress, the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, the green tea hills and many other unique architectural structures.
The island nation is also famous for its rich and valuable gems, so make sure to get a better understanding of the valuable jewellery on offer when visiting.
SRI LANKAN CUISINE
Sri Lankan cuisine is a rich blend of savoury flavours from various countries including India, Spain and the Netherlands. In Sri Lanka, you can enjoy a variety of attractive traditional dishes such as Kottu, Apps, Pol Sambol and many others. In particular, you should try curry, a signature dish on the dining table of Sri Lankan people.
Moreover, Sri Lanka is extremely famous for many kinds of high-quality tea. You can visit the tea factories to learn more about the process of making the best tea. You can also buy tea as a gift for your friends and relatives.
Le Ha | Wanderlust Tips