Tell us about your travel background. What are some of your favorite destinations?
My partner, Honie, and I are both graphic designers. We generally travel in Asia, as it’s close to home—a six-hour flight gets you to Bali, or 11 hours to Korea. Last year, we visited Siem Reap in Cambodia, and that was an extraordinary experience. It has become one of our favorite places. Korea is also a big favorite—Honie is originally from there, so we go quite often.
What made you decide to seek some local expertise for your Sri Lanka trip?
We wanted to travel around quite a bit in the southern half of Sri Lanka. Sometimes you can travel by reading and researching and booking trains and hotels and off you go, but Sri Lanka was different. You can’t really book trains, and they don’t go everywhere, so a local driver was in order.
We greatly enjoyed the roadside experiences that our driver, Ossie, recommended. Buffalo curd stands (yum), eating lentils and rice at roadside restaurants with local farmers, and encountering wildlife on the way (spotted by Ossie) really made the trip great. The staff at Yala Adventure Camp and the Back of Beyond Pidurangala were truly terrific and deserve a special mention as well.
What are some particularly memorable moments from Sri Lanka you'd like to share?
Yala National Park was extraordinary. We did a wildlife safari one day which was terrific—lots of tourists, but still worth it. The next day, we went to a 2,000-year-old Buddhist monastery in Yala that was based on two mountaintops, and there were no other tourists around. After a strenuous climb, the view was fantastic. On the way back, we encountered a "tusker" (a bull elephant with tusks) that started to run at the jeep we were in. Somewhat terrifying, but exhilarating and beautiful at the same time—what a creature!
We ‘glamped’ at the Yala Adventure Camp in a tent with a concrete floor and bathroom and the people there made exceptional food with ingredients from their garden. The birdlife around the glamp-site was amazing. We’d get up early to walk the roads nearby and take in the birds’ dawn chorus each day. Yala was 100% enjoyable.
Sigiriya was also great. A solid climb to the top of the mountain was fun, but it was the surrounding landscaped grounds and gardens that were established in the kingdom era that we really enjoyed. And Ella was fun, too. Of course we took photos of the famous bridge, the old colonial train station was lovely, and the hills were great to walk there too.
Tell us how cultural experiences enhanced your trip.
Cultural moments added another dimension to the trip. Without them, you’re merely seeing the sights—but with little side-trips, you learn about the people. A gemstone museum and jewelry outlet in Kandy was completely surprising and interesting, and Honie walked away with a Sri Lankan gemstone ring as a memento of our trip.
We also enjoyed a farm visit, where we learned about fruit and veggies used in Sri Lankan curries and saw quite a bit of wildlife. We then went on a cruise on a large lagoon in an oruwa (traditional boat) with Sigiriya off in the distance. That was a very beautiful spot. We finished the farm trip with the best curry I’ve ever had, made with ingredients from the farm.
Did anything about the trip or the destination in general surprise you?
The friendliness of the people. As many spoke English, lots of people were often up for a quick chat, which was nice. Everyone in the countryside said ‘hello’ or ‘good morning' (a bit like home in Australia—loved it). The biggest surprise was the beauty of the countryside and the amount of wildlife about. We knew it would be good, but it was better than we imagined. We would sit on the balcony at our hotel in Ella admiring the view through the valley for hours.
Is there anywhere you wish you could have gone, but didn't have time?
Anuradhapura, up further north, to see the Buddhist stupas. But I think our two-week trip was pretty much perfect in terms of time.
Do you have advice for travelers interested in doing a trip like yours?
Listen to what the tour company recommends. Yala National Park was not part of our original plans, but missing that would have been very disappointing. A treehouse was our accommodation for our last two nights near Sigiriya. We didn’t know such a place existed, so again, the local knowledge of the tour company gave us a memorable experience in a very lovely spot.
Last but not least—where are you going next?
Possibly Spain and Portugal. We can hear the tapas calling!