Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sri Lanka's Southwest Coast: Galle and Unawatuna Beach

We spent the last few days of our trip to Sri Lanka relaxing on the southwest coast. We stayed at the wonderful Thaproban Beach House in Unawatuna and enjoyed visiting the town of Galle as well. After a lot of driving and seeing so much diversity over the past several days, it was wonderful to settle in to this little beach town for some true R and R.

Thaproban Beach House and our lovely balcony room with a view to the ocean

View from Thaproban's restaurant
A lovely beach and cove for water sports/swimming

Evenings on Unawatuna

A great thing about Thaproban is that they have three resorts in Unawatuna and you can use the amenities at all of them. I loved staying right on the beach, but it was great to be able to go to their resort down the road for the pool (in an amazing oceanfront setting) and spa.

Unawatuna offers plenty of relaxation and fun. Yes, it might be considered a bit touristy (some say spoiled) and you will have to constantly say no to sales offers (everything from fruit to sunglasses and clothing) but we found it quite peaceful in the off season. There are plenty of little shops, restaurants and bars. You have to while away some time enjoying beachfront dining and cocktails...or water sports for the more active vacationers.

I also enjoyed walking down to Jungle Beach (just me, the monkeys and the Buddhist chanting along the way) and the Japanese Peace Pagoda. The other great feature of Unawatuna is the surrounding area, with lots of other lovely beaches and Galle nearby (as well as turtle sanctuaries, wildlife sites and tea plantations).

We had our driver take us in to Galle to spend the afternoon and evening there (about a 15 minute drive). Galle reflects the Dutch and Portuguese colonial era of Sri Lanka and is one of the best preserved examples of a Portuguese fortified city in Asia. It has lovely shops and restaurants and it's well worth spending some time walking along the city wall and enjoying the colonial architecture.

Strolling around the city wall as sunset nears, you will find plenty of other people enjoying the afternoon hours: tourists (even some from our adopted home wearing evening gowns...go figure!), local children playing sports, families enjoying a snack and even a few animals. Walk past the iconic lighthouse and continue around the wall, and stroll through the little streets to fully enjoy Galle.

There's a big cricket ground in Galle, but we happened upon an impromptu match in the middle of town. Then, we settled in at a nearby spot with a great view over the wall to watch sunset (and the buses full of others enjoying it too). It was a perfect way to spend my birthday...of course, capped off with a tasty meal. We enjoyed the art deco architecture and ambience (and food!) at Deco on 44.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sri Lanka from the Road

Sri Lanka is a relatively small, but amazingly diverse country. However, drive times can be quite long (and treacherous) due to small roads and traffic of all sorts (buses, trucks, tuk tuks, and loads of animals). The most popular options for traversing the country are public transportation (bus and train) and hiring a private driver. Either way, you'll be rewarded with many amazing glimpses of the country as you ride along.

First, there's the varied modes of transportation:

We started an animal count after our first day (most of which we couldn't capture quickly enough on camera). Stray dogs are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka and they show no fear of traffic, darting in front of the car regularly and lying in the middle of any road. We also saw a small crocodile crossing the road, cows everywhere (even in big city medians), horses, and a cobra (when walking on the road...fortunately, a nice man said "watch out for the cobra"!).

Of course, it was also enjoyable just watching daily life as we passed by. We saw many Sri Lankans along the road engaging in all types of activities, from old men and women working at fruit stands and other businesses to large groups of Muslims going to worship. Every day, we saw many groups of school kids and lots of people working and waiting on buses. You could see the mix of people that make up Sri Lanka...Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, urban and rural, young and old.

Tea Plantation Workers

Fruit and veggie stands (or simple one woman operations) everywhere

You could also see the diversity in the roadside architecture and religious sites.

Nurawa Eliya colonial architecture

Most commonly businesses and living spaces lined the roadside, such as little grocery/all purpose stores and the ever-present fruit stand selling king coconuts (and many motorbike and tuk tuk repair places and auto parts stores galore).

Of course, the best part was the natural views. In covering just a small portion of this island, we saw an array of beautiful beaches, stunning mountains, tons of waterfalls, lakes, marsh land and lush forests. On our drive from Kandy to Ella, we slowly climbed the hills surrounded by tea plantations and watched the change from palm trees to massive pines. Making our way back down to the coast a couple days later, the views were no less dramatic and the cool air changed to humid, salt-filled sea mist as we returned to sea level.

Sri Lanka is definitely a place where the journey is as worthwhile as the destinations. You'll likely spend a lot of time in transport, but you'll have plenty of photos to memorialize the natural and cultural richness of this country.