Superb Sri Lanka
SUPERB SRI LANKA
If you’re looking for surf, shopping and super food, pack your bags and head out to Sri Lanka, a value-for-money destination which is poised to become the “new Bali”.
I want it all. I want to go to a place where I can splurge on Prada and Banana Republic. I want to lounge by a golden beach, and visit an Ayurvedic spa where the therapist massages my head to Nirvana. I want to trek through the misty mountains and marvel at giant ancient Buddhist stone statues. I want it all, and during a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I found all this and more. Sri Lanka offers beaches and mountains, great food and cheap shopping, awesome temples and serene spas, making it a must-go destination for tourists looking for the New Asian paradise.
After a 19 year civil war that killed almost 65,000 people, the Sri Lankan government declared a cease-fire between the army and the Tamil rebels on 24 Dec 2001. Now that the Tamil Tigers have been tamed, I found Sri Lanka to be a very safe destination. The locals are friendly, the streets are free of beggars and everyone speaks English – making it easy for you to find your hotel even if you – if you’re like me – have a bad habit of wandering around foreign countries like a headless chicken with a camera.
For bargain hunters, head to the markets of Colombo, which I dubbed “Cheapskate Central”. After some hard-nosed bargaining, I managed to get the vendor to reduce the price for a CK wallet from $3 to $1.50, and snagged some slippers for only eighty cents. You’ll also find leather sandals retailing for only $15.
After stocking up on my designer sports gear, I was all ready for some serious hiking. Sri Lanka has some of the most stunning scenery in Asia. Our tour operator, Lanka Sportreizen, took us through a gorgeous hike around the tea plantations of Horton Plains. We started on the top of a mystically mist-shrouded mountain and wound our way around the verdant tea bushes. The Sri Lanka hill country is sensuously beautiful, full of round mounds of green curving around the land like sexy breasts and bums. It’s also intriguingly varied – when you start off at the top, the view of the hills and lake reminds one of the English Lake District, but as you reach the bottom of your hike, you’re surrounded by some very Asian padi fields. And there’s no better way to end an exhausting five hour break with a perfect cup of Ceylon tea.
Sri Lanka also offers many activities for the sea-sport lover, including surfing at Hikkaduwa and diving in the south coast. If you’re a spa junkie, Sri Lanka also has many fine Ayurvedic spas, though the treatments can be pretty hard core – you have to lie down on a cold metal bed while being rubbed vigorously with oil. For the foodie, Sri Lanka is an unbeatable destination, with the restaurants especially strong on fragrant curries and chilli crabs.
1) Banana Leaf
Hilton Hotel, 86 Galle Road, Colombo 4
Tel: +94 1 584 403
This restaurant offers an extensive array of favourite Sri Lankan specialities. There are over ten curry dishes, including the cashew nut curry, banana blossom curry and innala curry (spinach and yam). The devilled beef curry should only be eaten if you want to clear your sinuses in a major way. The curries go well with red rice and string hoppers, and you can watch the chefs preparing fresh chilli crabs behind the curry counter. Wash down the buffet with a healthy lime juice or a deadly Arak.
2) Moshi Moshi Japanese Restaurant
594/2 Galle Road, Colombo 3
Tel: +94 1 500312
We were pleasantly surprised to find that this Japanese Restaurant – despite its humble décor – serves some impressively authentic Japanese dishes. The tempura is light and crispy, and the set lunch is great value-for money: it offers generous portions of fresh fish, rice, miso soup and pickles for around $10.
3) The Governor’s Restaurant
Mount Lavinia Hotel
100, Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94-1-715 221 – 7
The Governor’s Restaurant offers an amazing vegetarian buffet, including the best vegetable tempura I’ve had in my life. There are over fifty dishes, both Western and Asian, including many different varieties of chicken, beef, prawn and dhal curries, and also great vegetarian Italian dishes like ravioli with pumpkin-filling and mushrooms in a white cream sauce. The green pea soup was excellent and so was the pineapple crumble.
1) Odel Unlimited
5 Alexandra Place, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 – 1 – 074 722 200
Colombo’s most famous shopping mall offers everything from designer skirts to luxury teas and soaps. Sri Lanka is a major manufacturer for most of the world’s top fashion brands, like Banana Republic, FCUK, Adidas and CK. The law requires them to keep about 20% of clothes for sale in the local market, so you’ll be able to find top designer brands selling at prices 80% cheaper than in Singapore. I picked up a pair of Banana Republic trousers for $20 and a FCUK skirt for $3.
338 Darley Road, Colombo 10
Tel: +94 – 1 – 075 555 338
Arena is another good place to hunt for designer bargains. You’ll find Diesel shoes for $50, and Nike socks for $5. The boys can stock up on the cheap Quicksilver and Levi t-shirts, while the girls can pick up affordable dresses from Dorothy Perkins, DKNY and Esprit.
3) House of Fashions
28 Duplication Road, Colombo 5
Tel: +94 – 1 – 504 639
The House of Fashions isn’t as posh as Arena or Odels, but this slightly chaotic department store yields good bargains if you’re willing to rummage through the piles of clothing. You’ll find Adidas and Reebok shorts selling for only $3 each.
4) The Leather Collection
26 Flower Road, Colombo 7
Tel: +94 – 1 – 575 299
This small store sells elegant leather shoes and many beautiful “genuine copy” (as the salesgirl put it) Prada handbags. With outstanding “genuine copy” handbags like that, who needs the real thing?
5) Barefoot Gallery
706 Galle Road, Colombo 03
Tel: +94 – 1 – 589 305
Probably the most cheerful shop in Colombo, Barefoot is filled with beautiful textiles products – richly embroidered pillows, silk dresses, shiny blue Nehru shirts and bright orange stuffed animals. It’s set in an old colonial house, giving it a very elegant feel and the Garden Café plays host to the local artsy crowd. If you’re looking for intelligent hideaway, buy a literary novel from its bookstore and enjoy reading it in the serenity of its frangipani-filled garden.
- Tea Factory Hotel
Kandapola, Nuwara Eliya
Tel: +94 – 052 – 296 004
One of Sri Lanka’s most unique hotels, the Tea Factory Hotel is a tea factory built during the British Raj that has been converted into a five star property. Perched 7000 feet above sea level, the Tea Factory offers stunning views of the mountainous plains, and at sunset you can marvel at the red rose-mist rising above the green mounds.
- Mount Lavinia Hotel
100, Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia
Tel: +94 – 1 – 715 221 – 7
The former residence of British Governor Sir Thomas Maitland, Mount Lavinia is an elegant white colonial residence located near Colombo. This is a good choice if you’re looking for a hotel near a beach that isn’t too far from the city. Mount Lavinia’s romantic reputation has drawn celebrity guests like Vivian Leigh, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, King Leopold of Belgium and Somerset Maugham.
- Kani Lanka Resort and Spa
St Sebastian’s Road, Katukurunda Kalutara
Tel: +94 – 1 – 389 270
Designed by renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, Kani Lanka Resort and Spa is an elegant hotel set on the edge of the Indian Ocean. In the morning, you can take a walk along the beach and watch the fishermen cast their nets as the red sun rises above the drooping coconut trees. The resort also has an excellent spa. My therapist, Raja, an elderly Yoda-like therapist with three decades of experience, gave me one of the most amazing head massages ever.
Lanka Sportreizen: Specialists in Watersports & Nature Trails
Tel: 0094 – 1 – 824 500
Lanka Sportreizen runs an exciting range of watersports and boat cruises. We went canoeing past the tropical rainforests and also took a boat cruise near Bentota. The cruise delves right into the dark heart of mangrove country, winding you around the snake-like vines of the swamp.
- Visit a Tea Factory
Kelani Valley Plantation Limited, Tea Centre, Pedro Estate, Nuwara Eliya
Perched on top of a beautiful hill, the Kelani Valley Plantation is an active tea factory that you can visit to find out how tea is manufactured. You can watch women plucking tea leaves at super-sonic speed and take a look at the noisy machines that grind and spit out the fragrant leaves.