Travel writer: Melissa Foo
When the time came for our annual family retreat, Sri Lanka sounded like a great destination in terms of accommodation and logistical arrangement. We had a specific budget in mind for this 5-day getaway, taking into consideration there were 6 of us. Most people might this destination of choice surprising, but I’m always one to say, “Why not?”.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the factors to why we pick Sri Lanka:
- Flights – As we were traveling during a long weekend, it was a great bargain for us to find return (direct) flights at RM 550 per person via Malindo Airlines.
- Accommodation – Planning a trip for 6 people is no easy feat. Thanks to Airbnb again, we had plenty of options when it came to renting an entire villa. All we needed to do was decide on a location.
- None of us have been to Sri Lanka before.
Again, I feel the need to reiterate the importance of proper planning and curation when it comes to holidays. You’d be surprised to know how a simple family holiday can potentially turn into a stressful, difficult and emotionally draining ordeal. So planning is key!
To maximise our 5 days in Sri Lanka, we tried to get a general understanding of the main areas of attraction in relation to the capital – Colombo. Most travellers spend minimal time in Colombo, and instead, opt for the central highlands rich with lush forests, national parks, scenic tea plantations and ancient temples (about 3-4 hours from Colombo).
Alternatively, some prefer to venture to the coastline and its golden beaches, famous for whale watching activities (2-3 hours south from Colombo). To those of you who don’t know, Sri Lanka is an island country and also one of 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world which makes it a haven for nature lovers.
We decided to spend less time traveling and chose to stay in a small town called Hikkaduwa on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, 17 km away from Galle. One important thing to note: all Malindo flights arrive at odd times (close to midnight) in Colombo. We travelled to Hikkaduwa upon arrival and our van hire was arranged by our local Airbnb host for $95 USD. Our beachfront villa was reasonably priced at RM770 a night, complete with 3 bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms.
There were also 2 caretakers who stayed on the property and cooked some of our meals (for an additional cost). We read from several online reports that the beaches at Hikkaduwa aren’t safe for swimming and we did not see a single person in the water along the stretch we were staying at. That said, waking up to the majestic ocean view was a good enough start to our 3 days that we spent there.
Although September is general monsoon season in Sri Lanka, we were fortunate not to encounter any rain during our trip. Getting around Sri Lanka is best done on a tuk-tuk as it’s relatively inexpensive and convenient; we asked 2 tuk-tuk drivers to give us a local tour of the town at RM30 each.
Albeit it was only a 1-hour tour, we got to see a side of the town that we never would have experienced by ourselves. They brought us around to some of the smaller villages and showed us how cinnamon trees grew in abundance on the island.
We even discovered a new type of fruit called the ‘Wood Apple’ which is native to countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. No tour in Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to a temple and that was how we ended our short Hikkaduwa tour.
On our 3rd day, we arranged the same van hire for a whole day to explore Galle and its surrounding. Galle is only 30 minutes away from Hikkaduwa but bear in mind that the train ride can be chaotic and often, packed. It was a long weekend in Sri Lanka, causing the trains to be overpacked and delayed. I can tell you this – standing in a packed carriage full of inquisitive stares wasn’t fun.
The Galle Fort is only walking distance away from the Galle Station – overlooking azure seas and is a renowned UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent about 45 minutes soaking up the breathtaking views and strolling along the cobble stone pathways.
After lunch, we then headed to Handunugoda Tea Factory, about 30 minutes away from Galle. This particular tea plantation is special because of its close proximity to the sea and it is also well known as the Virgin White Tea factory. The white tea is said to be one of the healthiest tea in the world and is one of the most expensive teas in the world at over $1500 USD per kilo.
Our favourite part of the tour was that it was complimentary and at the end of it, we were treated to a selection of teas and homemade cakes at the owner’s residence on the estate. On the way back to Galle, we stopped by Rumassala Mountain or also known as the Japanese Peace Pagoda, where we enjoyed the magnificent views of the Indian Ocean.
Before leaving Hikkaduwa for Colombo, we visited the nearby Tsunami Museum – photographs and newspaper articles line the walls of this community museum, depicting how badly Hikkaduwa and the rest of Sri Lanka were badly struck by the 2004 Tsunami.
Our last day in Colombo was spent visiting popular tourist spots including sampling the famous Sri Lankan crabs at Ministry of Crabs, situated at the Old Dutch Hospital – one of the oldest buildings in Colombo. A meal here is not for the faint hearted, budget or health wise. Be prepared to pay at least RM100 for the smallest portion (500g-600g) to RM 660 (2kgs) for what they call the ‘Crabzilla’.
I have to say this was the best tasting crab I’ve ever had – the meat was sweet, juicy and leaves you wanting more. We also tried Upali’s for their Sri Lankan, where prices were very reasonable for great quality food. One of the highlight for us was the spicy and savoury Jaffna Crab Curry at about RM60 for 2 medium sized crabs. Other sights in Colombo include the Gangaramaya temple and just a few kilometres away, take a long leisurely evening walk along Galle Face Beach as the sun sets.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Sri Lanka and we would love to return and discover the central as well as northern parts of the island, which promises to be a completely different adventure altogether. This is perhaps one of the most underrated Asian destinations and looks to remain this way in years to come; a blessing in disguise in my opinion.
Melissa Foo is a glorified Quality Assurance Manager with a not-so-enviable 9-5 job, who still dreams of being an urbanite once in a while. She kills her time experimenting in the kitchen, inconsistently practicing yoga, and discovering obscure movies. Occasionally, she and her husband travel for leisure to make up for lost time in the future (when life gets more serious and you wish you had travelled more).
P/S: She is also a walking Shazam.
Find her on Instagram @mellymellyfoo