While I’ve often heard from friends how beautiful Sri Lanka is, it still wasn’t quite on my travel radar list just yet. But when I was invited to a 40th birthday getaway, where all I had to do was pay my way and turn up, how could I say no to that? 4 nights in paradise with 10 strong independent women (some of whom have never met) – this holiday could be either blast or bust.
But a blast it was. From beautiful sights to a fab villa, delicious food, a happy hour in perpetuity, dancing and conversations with barrels of laughter into the wee hours of the morning, we had everything to make for a memorable holiday … even a ghost child, but more on that later.
Truth be told, I didn’t know much about Sri Lanka besides it being known for its tea, its sapphires and its beaches, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But if the chaos of the International Airport was anything to go by, it was going to be interesting indeed.
As the Birthday Girl wanted a relaxing beach getaway, we opted for a villa in the quiet village of Talpe, located on the South West Coast, about 2.5hrs from the airport. Wow – that is a long time and I really wasn’t fancying the ride back when we would be in post-holiday blues mode. I think that’s the first thing I found surprising – just how long it takes to traverse the country. Even though it’s only about 435km long, the roads off the expressway are busy and narrow, and the drive can be quite hair raising at times. Animals crossing, all manner of vehicles vying for space with horns constantly beeping and buses screeching to a halt within an inch of your life, you feel quite relieved to arrive at your destination intact.
But once we entered our villa, any tension we may have had from the drive or otherwise melted away as the tranquility of our surroundings set in and we became transfixed by the breathtaking view of the sea. I must admit, seeing the tide rise right up to our perimeter wall with thoughts of the Tsunami tragedy on my mind did make me a little anxious. Of course, I needn’t have worried because they do have early warning systems in place now. And really, once you’ve had a few vinos, you find yourself not thinking about much at all besides soaking in the atmosphere while lazing about and getting your tan on – which we did a lot of.
If you’re needing a villa that can accommodate a cricket team, I would look no further than Auraliya. With direct access to the idyllic Palatugaha beach, the 6 air-conditioned rooms spill out onto either side of the swimming pool, a large dining pavilion and a central chill-out area that served as a hub for our shenanigans and also our private dance club that played everything from Egyptian music to Calvin Harris. With high ceilings and lots of open spaces, the property is airy with plenty of room to spread out, unwind and enjoy picture perfect sunsets.
The staff were wonderful and always accommodating, no matter your request. From ironing to ice to food allergies, they always did their best with a smile, even arranging a delicious birthday dinner in the ambalama-style bar overlooking the beach, complete with fairy lights, balloons and banner. The chef Jagath is amazeballs! His curries and hoppers are out of this world – I could have eaten it for days and would go back for the food alone. And if you ask, he’ll happily give you a crash course cooking lesson on Sri Lankan cuisine.
Beyond the villa, the South West Coast is made up of sleepy fishing villages and towns scattered along palm fringed, crescent shaped beaches that go on for miles. Home to the stilt fishermen who are often seen perched above the surf from dusk till dawn, the people are warm, friendly and unashamedly laid back, with a sense of time that seems to defy the 21st century. I get that we’re on island time but there seems to only be two gears … slow and slow motion, which was a little too slow for us city girls, but the pace lends itself perfectly to the charm of the region’s essentially rural setting.
Despite its somnolent disposition, experiences abound for all kinds of travelers. From virgin white tea to turtles, cinnamon island to temples, safaris to history to nature … the list goes on. And if being a beach bum is more your thing, you’ll definitely be spoilt for choice.
One thing you shouldn’t miss however is a wander through the Fort City of Galle which just oozes old world atmosphere. A living, working UNESCO World Heritage site, the walled enclave is flanked on three sides by the Indian Ocean – its rich history and colonial architecture echoing the Portuguese, Dutch and British influence of its past, making it feel like you’ve just stepped into a time capsule.
As you meander through the narrow cobblestone streets stumbling across one heritage wonder after another, walking past jewellery stores, art galleries, laid-back cafes, quirky shops and boutique hotels housed in lovingly restored buildings, one could almost forget where they actually are. You could quite easily spend a day just walking its picturesque streets and exploring its treasures.
We did a guided walk along the fort walls which was a great way to delve into the history and culture of Galle while taking in the sights. Along the way you’ll catch glimpses of fort life beyond the tourists – an informal cricket game, gatherings atop walls high above the shoreline, young couples on a romantic rendezvous, wedding photo shoots and street vendors selling anything from fresh coconut water to handcrafted wooden toy boats.
But Galle is not all history lesson. No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without at least checking out some gems. I was hoping to pick up some big loose stones and had in my head that I’d leave with a sapphire after everyone kept telling me how much cheaper they are in Sri Lanka. Turns out, I have no idea just how much precious gems cost to begin with, because when I was told the price of a wee carat and did the mental calculation for the size I wanted, it almost knocked my sarong off. “Err .. anything in here that cost half of that?”. As I hadn’t planned on blowing a month’s savings, I settled instead on an 11 carat Aquamarine (at least it’s still blue) while my friend Snow picked up some beautiful Garnets for herself and her mum.
Even though it would probably have been cheaper to shop outside the Fort walls, we didn’t have the time nor the expertise to know what to look for, so we got our stones from Sandaken on Pedler Street which was recommended by a Jeweller friend. Perhaps more renowned however is the 3rd generation sapphire specialists, Ibrahim Jewellers on Church Street. Their designs are contemporary and elegant, so it’s well worth a visit if you’re looking for pre-set pieces – they will also customise anything to your heart’s desire.
But the jewellery stores aren’t the only shops that will entice you. There’s Barefoot’s collection of vibrant hand woven cloths that are used to create everything from clothes to unique toys, the quirky Stick No Bills‘ retro collection of travel posters and postcards, the art space of Exotic Roots and the designer fabrics and soft furnishings of Tallentire House, to name a few. With surprises in every store, you’d be hard pressed to leave Sri Lanka without taking a little something with you.
Alas, after a day and a half of walking and exploring in intense heat, this Princess was ready for a little pampering. As a few of the girls had a somewhat disappointing massage at the Galle Fort Spa, I decided to splurge and booked myself into Amangalla’s spa, The Baths, for their signature massage. Yes, it was expensive but worth every relieved muscle and knot in my tired body.
The hotel itself is quintessential colonial splendour from a bygone era. Built in 1684, the rich tapestry of its past whispers to you as you enter the large grand room or ‘Zaal’ with its soaring ceilings, lazily rotating fans and elegant antique furnishing. As you sip a cocktail on the verandah, you can’t help but wonder what tales the walls and 300 year old teak floor could tell. The one story we did hear was of the previous owner, a Grande Dame named Nesta Broheir, and her great love affair with a man 40 years her junior who was gifted the cottage within the grounds of the hotel.
Sadly, our pockets weren’t deep enough to luxuriate overnight but we did have the privilege of dining there for Zee’s formal birthday dinner, which was lovely. It must have been rather amusing though seeing our rather eclectic group with one boisterous birthday girl arrive and instantly cut right through the quietude of whispered conversations. Lucky for them, the Fort area gets pretty deserted by about 10pm, so after a few post dinner drinks on the verandah, we headed back to our villa to get the party started.
For all that Sri Lanka has to offer, 4 nights is barely enough time to scratch the surface, unless you’re there to just enjoy the coastline with 1 or 2 activities thrown in, like we were. However, I did see and hear enough to pique my interest and I look forward to going back with my hubby to properly explore all its wonders.
What about the Ghost Child?
As to the ghost child, picture this. A few of us were chilling out in one of the Villa pavilions swapping stories in the wee hours of the morning – music from the iPod streaming through the speakers in the background. It was just past 3am when the music abruptly cut out. We were all engrossed in our conversation and didn’t pay it much attention at first until … all of a sudden, over the same iPod speakers loud and clear, came a child’s little voice singing ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are … ” and then, just for good measure, she ended the song with a big chuckle! 😱
Everything went quiet after that, including us who could only look at each other in horror and disbelief while the hair on the back of our necks stood on end. WTF??!! To say we were freaked out would be an understatement. If there’s one thing that scares the bejeezes out of me, it’s ghost children. I was already telling my roomie that I was going to be jumping into her bed later.
While I knew that the lullaby definitely didn’t come from my iPod, I went through it anyway should there be a forgotten playlist from when the kids were little. Of course it wasn’t in there, but even if it was , it still wouldn’t explain that chuckle.
The only reasonable explanation we could come up with was that the speaker’s blue tooth signal had accidentally picked up a connection from another phone, but everyone else was asleep in their rooms. So as we could neither confirm nor deny the theory we were desperately clinging to, there wasn’t much more we could do besides pour another drink and try to pretend that nothing happened.
Thankfully, the mystery was solved at breakfast the next day when we were relating our ghost child story to the girls and one of them, who had been in her room at the time, piped up that she had in fact been watching a video of her niece singing said lullaby. Ahh … so our desperate explanation of the crossed blue tooth signals was right. Of course it makes perfect sense now! But when you’re faced with the voice of a singing child that comes out of nowhere during the witching hour, your first reaction is anything but logical.
And that about wraps up our Sri Lankan adventure. To all my fabulous fellow divas, thank you for a fantastic time, from the dancing to the games to the conversations and the ghost child that will never be forgotten. A big shout out to Zee who brought us all together and the organising committee for making it all happen. Not only were new friendships made but existing bonds were strengthened and I for one would go away again with any of you anytime.
The Diva Deets • Traveled January 2018
Before you go
You can get a visa on arrival but its easier to just apply for one online at the Sri Lanka ETA website. It costs US$35 and once approved, they’ll send you confirmation via email. Mine took less than 24 hours
Don’t forget to bring
Sunglasses • Hat • Sunblock • Umbrella • Mosquito repellent
As it’s a closed currency, it’s cheaper to exchange your cash in Sri Lanka. I changed mine at the airport and the rates between the banks are pretty much the same. Technically, you can only bring into and leave the country with 5,000 Sri Lankan Rupees.
The easiest way is to hire a private car. We used DM Tours & Travel for our airport transfers and general shuttling around to Galle and other sites. They’re reliable with good, clean cars. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or +94 0773 628 685
For shorter distances, jump into a Tuk Tuk … if you dare.
Check our Shanjei from Galle Fort Walks. He’s quite a colourful bearded character and will take you for a refreshing iced tea at the Prince of Galle hotel once you’re done.
The beaches • Galle Fort
Whether you’re a Culture Vulture or Beach Bum, you’ll enjoy both
Sri Lankan cuisine • Gems, gems and more gems!
The unrelenting heat!! Even with a hat and umbrella I was boiling and had to resort to taking lots of mental pictures. Thanks Snow for contributing some of your pictures to this travelogue
Sarongs, saris, shorts and sundresses in every colour of the rainbow