My girlfriend wanted to go to Sri Lanka but I preferred Alaska, so we compromised and booked tickets for Sri Lanka. Having only really travelled around Europe for the past few years I was anticipating a long and uncomfortable journey but Emirates gave us a good deal. The food was nice, the seats comfy and they had a huge selection of movies to watch. We booked flights through Skyscanner and our first 2 nights accommodation in Colombo through Airbnb. We arrived early morning and the heat and intense humidity hit me as soon as I left the plane and welcomed me to Asia. Half a day before I had been standing in knee-deep snow at Prague airport and now it was 32 degrees Celsius so I had no choice but to adapt quickly. The airport was fairly straightforward to navigate and we were charged 40.00USD for an entry visa. One fairly odd sight was the amount of duty free electronic goods stores in the airport; I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever seen so many new fridges in one place. As we left the airport we were inundated with offers for a taxi ride and I left my girlfriend to get us a good price. She proved formidable at bartering and whittled the unsuspecting driver down to half of his original estimate.
If you’ve ever played a computer game where you drive around like a lunatic with no regard for public safety you can begin to imagine how people drive in Colombo. If you then add a million crazy Tuk-Tuk’s and motorbikes undercutting, overtaking and communicating via horn then you get the complete picture. We joined the new highway which connects the airport to the capital city and the friendly driver tried teaching us a bit of the lingo although it proved a wasted venture as everyone speaks at least a little English and we quickly forgot what he said. He did mention that 20 million people live in Sri Lanka but there happens to be 60 million registered vehicles on the road and I didn’t doubt him. Cars, Tuk-Tuk’s, mopeds motorbikes, busses, vans and lorries in every direction and everywhere smelt of petrol. It was a little disappointing at first.
We booked our accommodation via Airbnb as we have always had good experiences with them in the past. We rented a small, clean apartment at 330 Galle Road above an office. The owner, Div, worked in the office and seemed like a nice guy as he introduced us to the apartment and made sure we were satisfied. I love to explore without itineraries or maps so against my girlfriends advice I took us on a mini adventure around the city. After about an hour we decided that we would not stay in Colombo for very long. The smells and sight were a mile away from what we expected of the island and we found the people to be not as friendly or welcoming as other locations. We searched high and low before we found the Dutch Hospital Complex and enjoyed a nice meal at The Ministry of Crab. The restaurant has a very high standard and is on the list of the 50 best restaurants in Asia. If you don’t like crab then this place is probably not for you but there is other restaurants in the complex. Later that night we listened to some peculiar live music Tap RnR and enjoyed a few beers. The band was actually pretty good but the lead singer would often make up his own words to popular songs and we had to laugh when he sang “I’ll be vouching you” instead of watching.
The questionable lyrics from the entertaining band were not enough to keep us in Colombo for very long. The following day we found the bus station and hopped onto an air conditioned bus not entirely sure of the destination. The ticket cost just a few dollars. We wanted to head south towards Galle and were relieved a few hours later as the bus parked at Galle bus station. We found an apartment about half a kilometre from the beach and our holiday really began. Unawatuna was voted one of the best beaches on the island by Tripadvisor.com and whilst I perhaps would not go that far it was certainly very good. The beach was clean and serviced by a line of restaurants and tourists shops. The Lucky Tuna was perhaps the pick of the bunch and the tuna steak was incredibly fresh tasting. It came to 700 Sri Lankan Rupees which translated to about 5.00USD. Our vacation had been pretty mundane until we arrived here. My girlfriend had expected a romantic seaside retreat but it had failed to materialize. Surprisingly, everything changed when we hired a moped for the remainder of the holiday.
I was initially slightly hesitant as they asked me to leave my passport as a deposit but I handed it over and they gave me keys to a speedy little moped. Most touristy shops along the Unawatuna beach strip had a few mopeds out front and the going rate seemed to be between 6 and 8 dollars per day. Although we were far from the big city, the roads were no less chaotic and it took me some time to get used to the madness. Hiring a moped proved to be the saviour of our holiday. We explored all along the south coast of the country and found treasures off the usual route. Navigation has never been my strong point but we stuck to the coastline and explored as far as moped would take us. We visited gorgeous beaches at Mirissa and Tangalla and found secluded bays to watch breathtakingly beautiful sunsets. We saw stick fishermen in Koggala balancing precariously on sticks with their spears and lighthouses looking out over the amazing Indian ocean. We ate amazing meals at remote restaurants – some that didn’t even seem to have names – but we stuck to the coast and ate amazing fish dishes for a fraction of the price you would pay elsewhere. We travelled into Galle and daw the UNESCO world heritage site of Galle fort although the heat got the better of me after a walk along the edge of the castle. On the final day we paid 100USD and took a guided tour of Yala national park. We left early as we were determined to see some incredible wildlife and as the sun rose we stood under a tree and watched a herd of majestic Sri Lankan elephants grazing.
We were advised before we left to give Colombo a miss but I prefer to make my own mistakes. We were disappointed at first but found paradise after renting mopeds and exploring the south coast. The island has its charms but also its downfalls but if you have a moped and an adventurous spirit you can see some wonderful people and places.