How did my trip in Sri Lanka go? Let's see to start my flight was 8 hours delayed then I missed my train station the following day and had to grab a bus back to town where the tuk-tuk driver dropped me at the wrong guesthouse. My 1st safari was a bust then I was propositioned for sex on the train and followed off the train, one of my buses got a flat tire on the ride into town, I caught a villager peaking into my window at 2 am and my dive boat broke down in the middle of the ocean. And this was all in just my 1st week in Sri Lanka! How'd the second week go, and would I come back again? Read on!
Sri Lanka wasn't really on my list of places to go but after a conversation with my mom I figured why not? It was a cheap flight from Kuala Lumpur and a new country for me. Since I had a few weeks to kill before Bali, I decided to book a trip. I did a little research and bonus! Sri Lanka has safaris! Wild elephants score! Sign me up! I planned the trip in one day and decided to go for 15 days jumping around in 5 cities.
Colombo turned out to be my home-base. I felt most comfortable at the hostel I stayed in and found myself flocking to the western options while I was there. There’s not much to do in Colombo, but I did hit up Ministry of Crab, twice! I had both the famous Chili Crab and Pepper Crab. Although the chili crab was good, I preferred the pepper crab. I also visited the temple of more than 100 Buddhas. Not much else to say about here.
I took the train from Colombo to Polonnaruwa and missed my stop because I met five beautiful girls who befriended me. We were singing, dancing and taking pictures until we realized I missed my stop. No problem the locals helped me grab the correct bus back to the station. But then the tuk-tuk took me to the wrong guesthouse. After a bit, and help from the wrong guesthouse, I made it to the right one. The owner made me rice and curry for dinner which is the local dish of Sri Lanka; so tasty and a lot of food! The meal consists of a bunch of bowls of curry vegetables, meat and fruit, served with a large portion rice. My 1st Sri Lankan meal!!
I was most excited to come to this city as I've seen pictures from other bloggers from their visit to Kaudulla National Park. This park is known for its elephants, and I couldn't wait to go on my 1st safari! Well, it was a bust. I couldn't find anything online of companies selling safari services, but my guesthouse offered it, so went with them. The owners son took a guy from Holland and me out at 3:30 pm. He took us through a village and pointed out peacocks, lots, and lots of peacocks. After 90 minutes I checked google maps and saw we weren't near the park, let alone the one I requested. He finally takes us to Maduru Oya National Park, which is beautiful but it's just a 3km, paved road that we stay on the whole time, just driving back and forth on it. Finally, at the two and a half hour mark we see elephants! A family of 5 off in the distance. The driver pulls over the car and stops. We ask why we're stopping and aren't we going to go in? He tells us that we're staying on the road and can watch the elephants from the roadside. I'm thinking why do you have 4-wheel drive then? Long story short those were only 1 of 2 sets of elephants on the "safari". Clearly disappointed, my driver refunded me my money, but the sunset was beautiful! So not all was lost. Glad I had Yala lined up, though.
NIAVELI / TRINCOMALEE
I took the train to Trincomalee on the recommendation of a friend. At the train station, I was approached by a kid who kept asking me for sex then followed me on the train and off at my station. Luckily, the end station was asking for proof of tickets to exit which he didn't have so I was able to lose him. I grabbed a tuk-tuk to the bus station, then headed to my guesthouse in Niaveli. This place is gorgeous! White sand beaches and blue-green water that didn't disappoint. Unfortunately, my hotel did. Sri Lanka is the first country I've been to where I didn't use Airbnb but instead used Agoda to book my accommodations. My friend showed me the place he stayed, which was gorgeous, but at $150 a night was not in my backpacker budget. So I booked a place for $15 a night with decent reviews and was also right on the beach. Well on my second night I found out my windows didn't lock because a man opened the window and pulled open the shade and was staring right at me at 2 am. A little freaked out, I left and went to a nicer place down the road in Trincomalee. I did get to do one day of diving while I was there. There was a dive shop at the new hotel, and they took me to Pigeon Island for two dives. The water is really warm here (almost 90F) and the corals are mostly bleached. We saw a school of barracuda and a garden of anemones which was really cool. Even though I only did two dives here, I'm glad I got a taste of what the Sri Lankan diving is like and what the state of the underwater world is there.
YALA NATIONAL PARK
By far my favorite part of my trip! It was a bit of a hassle getting there, though. When I got to the train station, I found out the train would stop at Galle, not Matara (50 KM away) due to track repairs. This meant I would need to take a bus from Galle to Matara (1.5 hours) then take another bus from Matara to Yala (4 hours). The ride was mostly painless. On the first bus, a young girl sat next to me and in the 15 minutes (the time it took until her stop) she asked me the following questions, in this order:
Where are you from? Where are you going? Do you like chocolate? What do you eat for breakfast lunch and dinner? Do you have Facebook? Can we be friends?
The second bus was way over-crowded, but I managed to get a window seat, where the lady next to me decided I would be a good place to store her bananas and proceed to put the bag on my lap and told me to hold them. Ah, the public buses, at least during this ride I didn’t have an ass in my face, which happens if you get an aisle seat. I made it to my guesthouse, and the owner made me rice and curry. I was happy to find out they knew my safari driver too. The next morning I was off to explore Yala National Park.
My driver picked me up at 4:45 am for a private safari tour, and we arrived at the park by 5:30 am to line up with all the other jeeps. At 6:00 am we all entered the park. My driver was awesome and broke away from the pack. Within minutes of entering the park, we saw herds of water buffalo bathing in the water, so many wild boars and easily 30 white-tailed deer grazing. After about 20 minutes, my driver gets a call, and we speed off without him telling me what we’re chasing after. He’s flying over bumps and racing around puddles; I’m flying off my seat wondering what we’re chasing after. Ten minutes later we come up on a pack of Jeeps, and he squeezes in between them and when I look up over on the rock… Leopards!!!! Two of them! We stay for 30 minutes until the Leopards get bored of us and leave. So do we and less than 10 minutes later we run into our 1st elephant! This safari is already incredible, within the first 90 minutes we’ve now seen both leopards and elephants. My life is complete. So amazing to see them in the wild and eating off the land. The elephants could care less that we’re there and are less than 10 feet away while they walk past our Jeep. We wind up seeing another five elephants, toucans, another leopard sleeping in a tree, 20 monkeys running across the road, three crocodiles, a couple of land monitor lizards, 5-6 species of birds, and a jack rabbit. I'd call it a safari success! This little taste of a safari makes me want to go to Africa now! Well, worth the trip down to Yala!
I wasn’t planning to go to Galle, but since the train wasn’t running from Matara, my guesthouse recommended that I take the bus back after my safari and stay there for the night. I booked a hostel by the lighthouse and was happy that there were four other girls in the room with me. All were having the same problems with some of the Sri Lankan men staring at them and harassing them. I’m glad it wasn’t just me. Galle is a cute little town with cobblestone streets and a beautiful lighthouse. I woke up early to walk around and take pictures of the lighthouse. One of the girls was also headed back to Colombo on the same train as me, so we went and sat together. Once back in Colombo I helped her grab an Uber then I waited for mine, who decided he was going to take the long way to get to me. I was super uncomfortable waiting at the station. Men were staring, and then one walked by me stopped looked at me and took his phone and crossed it over his neck in a slit my throat motion. That freaked me out a bit, so I walked over and waited in front of the police station, where of course one of the police officers came out and started bombarding me with questions: Where am I from? What hotel am I staying at? Am I married? At this point, I’m over it. I cancel the Uber, since he’s still not there 30 minutes later and order another one who looks closer; he comes in 5 minutes, and I stay in the hostel the rest of the night.
Kandy was the last place I went to and after the day before’s event with the man doing the slit throat thing, I almost cancel the trip. I decide to go still because I’m meeting a friend’s friend who is a driver and he has the day lined up for me. It was nice to be with a local of someone my friend knows well. He was great and took me to a tea plantation, where we hiked up a hill and of course two locals follow us up and start posing for pictures pretending to pick the tea leaves. I take a few pictures but they look pretty inauthentic, so I’m probably not going to use them. My driver says let's go, and when we get in the car the woman comes to my side, she wants money. My driver gets in and drives away. I guess they do this and follow tourists to get money. After the tea plantation, we go to an old temple with 1000-year-old paintings, grab lunch at a place where his sister works, then head off to park the car and walk around town a bit before watching a cultural show. It was a nice way to end the trip, but still stressful taking the train ride back as I was in a car with all men. I put my ear buds in and ignored the stares during the 4 hour train ride.
SOLO FEMALE TRAVEL IN SRI LANKA?
So would I go back again? Yes, but not during low season and not as a backpacker if I'm traveling solo. I'd stay in nice hotels and hire a driver for the length of my stay. Essentially go as a tourist. The countryside is beautiful, and it's perfect for pictures and seeing the history. It just wasn't the place for me to see the country like a local.