Emma and family discover Sri Lanka
Posted on 04th Oct 2017
Thinking about taking my young children to Sri Lanka raised all sorts of questions; mostly about safety. Travelling with kids is no easy feat at the best of times, but here I was, strongly considering taking my 4 to a land of cultural opposites.
All the anxieties I had beforehand seem laughable now. I wasted an extraordinary amount of precious luggage allowance on carting all sorts of medicines out with me; such was the fear of taking them to exotic climbs. It is fair to say we did pair down the amount of travelling we did and ensured we offset that with a week at the end of total pool time, but we still managed to do an incredible amount, and still felt as though we had experienced our fair share of adventure. Kids are so much more resilient than we think. Early starts and late nights, pounding the streets and exploring markets in very hot weather, dragging them round temples and forcing them to eat the local street food didn’t seem to phase them at all (though there was a little bit of bribery involved; namely offering iPad time as a reward)
Sri Lanka is now well-trodden, compared with little over 10 years ago when the civil war made it an unsafe destination. There are new motorways and roads opening the routes between East coast and West Coast and making the journeys far easier and shorter. Yet in the popular month of August, we often felt as though we were the only tourists. I am not sure if people are put off by August being in the “rainy” season (we barely saw a drop of rain in 2.5 weeks) but it felt quiet in many places. Where there were crowds, it was often mostly locals looking to entertain their kids in the school holidays.
There is so much choice of where to stay. For my family; I really wanted the balance between boutique guesthouse and well-equipped hotel with a pool. Yes, we wanted something small and personal, but needed rooms next to each other and a decent pool. We hit the jackpot with every place we stayed, each one just different enough for us to enjoy a totally different experience (and of course the pools all passed the test with the girls.)
Our route was meticulously planned out and it was important for me to know that we had our own driver throughout the trip. Gone are the days of donning a rucksack and hopping on the nearest available form of public transport – though a big part of me still yearns for that. Second requirement was ensuring that entrance fees were paid in advance so we knew how much to budget for. Our experts at the company we partner with in Sri Lanka were amazing and had all my requests covered; even those I hadn’t even voiced.
The one thing that stood out the most wherever we went, was the friendliness of the locals. Never once did we encounter any form of unhelpfulness or hostility, at no time did I feel that the safety of my family or possessions was in question and we didn’t get hassled at all when out walking the streets and visiting markets. The only thing the kids found a bit uncomfortable was the fascination the locals had with them. They often smiled and wanted to touch their heads (yes, I know a little strange) but it was just the curiosity of us being Western travellers, it was not done with any ill intent and once they were assured they weren’t being laughed at, they got used to it.
Let’s talk about the food. Being the ardent foodie that I am; what, where and how I eat forms a very important part of my trip. I had explained with great gusto to our travel partners that I wanted to eat at LOCAL establishments where possible, and I wanted to cook with a local family, in their home. I did a lot of research about the food and how child friendly it was. My kids might have fairly adventurous palates, but they share the same “foreign food” protests that many others of a similar age would. Yes they might try the daal and rice one day, but the next they would demand plain chicken and chips, our regular default. Everywhere we went, there were options (and chips) which made life so much easier. And the Hoppers! wow we loved the hoppers, a real Sri Lankan speciality. So many of the dishes are prepared using fresh coconut milk and oil, perfect for vegetarians and vegans and although we didn’t experience a huge variety of choice on local menus, we could have happily lived on “curry and rice” for every meal, every day it was that good. I could publish a “where to eat guide in Sri Lanka” I am that versed on the best places to feast.
There was a lot of sightseeing on my original itinerary but we ended up pairing it back and doing only the places we felt we had to see. I love temples but the kids were less enthusiastic after the third one so we became more selective, tapping into the knowledge of our driver to hone in on the best ones to see. I am glad I did some of the pointless touristy things in the name of research though as I now know what to advise our clients not to do. Gem factories, spice gardens, elephant orphanages…..really don’t bother!
Colombo – a gorgeous welcome at the Maniamputhy Hotel, a lovely little boutique oasis in a great part of the city and then off for our Tuk Tuk food safari which gave us an exhilarating tour of the city and its incredible food scene.
Check in at Amaya Lake Resort with its almighty swimming pool where we had the afternoon at leisure before tackling the (less arduous than I thought) climb of Sigiriya Rock.
Off to Kandy taking in the wonderful Royal Botanical Gardens, Temple of the Tooth, Dambulla Caves, markets, cookery lesson and scenic tuk tuk rides. We stayed at the prestigious Earl’s Regency Hotel (where the Sri Lankan cricket team happened to be staying!)
Day 6 – 7
Off to Nuwara Eliya via a tea plantation and a great lunch stop where we checked in to Koslanda Heritage, the most unique and relaxing eco retreat in the middle of the jungle with its own private waterfall. Total R&R and a very personal experience.
Off to Yala to see the animals – something the kids had been desperately excited about since we landed in Sri Lanka. Afternoon safari with highly knowledgeable driver where we saw a whole herd of elephants splashing around in the water near a few hungry crocs! First glimpse of rain at 4am when getting up for our early morning safari which for a monsoon season was slightly bizarre. We were fortunate to spot a leopard but sightings are rare so we felt very privileged indeed.
After a 2.5 hour drive, we arrived at Why House in Galle for our final destination and boy did we save the best hotel for last. Everything from the pool, to the incredible team of friendly staff, to the comfortable interconnecting room options ticked every possible box we could have wished for. It was the first time I had unpacked and totally relaxed knowing we were staying put. We explored Galle by car, tuk tuk and bike and spent most of our days lazing around the enormous pool and eating fish and chips (Sri Lankan style) and playing with the resident dogs Jelly and Tigger.
Precious memories pocketed, we headed off to Colombo for our final full day and night in this incredible country. We spent the day walking round the streets, visiting the local market, shopping at the Famous Paradise Road and finishing with a delicious dinner with local friends who have so much passion to share for their incredible country. We opted for a rustic family backpacker style retreat near the airport for our final night where we shared stories with another family who had done what we hope to go back and do when the kids are older; travel the country by trains and buses. But for now; we did Sri Lanka in style and I am so glad we did. Just next time I will leave the slightly neurotically over-packed medicinal suitcase behind!
Your Tots Too experts for Sri Lanka is Emma
Prices are based on a family of 2 adults and 2 children, sharing, flights and all private ground transportation and guides
From £2,500 per person
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