This Valentine’s Day, we bring you a love story of a different sort. Meet the boy that broke my heart!
And no, I’m not speaking out about some idiot high school boyfriend. And I’m not referring to a hopeless college romance. I’m talking about a boy named Silmatra. This is not a heartwarming tale; it’s a true story about the different sides of life.
I BREATHE IN MY COURAGE, AND EXHALE MY FEAR. – UNKNOWN
Love don’t cost a thing!
Incense. He was trying to sell incense. As he pulled it out of his torn plastic bag and asked me to buy some, I couldn’t help but notice his big, bright eyes. I politely declined. Then he said, “Please, madam,” as he motioned to his mouth for food.
This scene had become all too familiar. From tales of women using their babies as bait for tourists, to falling victim to buying overpriced items at the market. It seemed like everyone was down on their luck and everybody wanted something. Not knowing who was legit and who was just a professional scammer, unfortunately, my heart had began to grow cold towards it.
But for whatever reason, this little boy in particular pulled at my heart strings more than most. I thought about it and told the boy that I still wasn’t interested in what he was selling but if he was hungry, I’d be happy to buy him a meal.
Before this chance encounter, we were on our way to eat at our favourite lunch buffet in town.
He agreed and began to walk along side us; me asking questions, him responding with basic answers. I asked him where his mother was. He put his hand to his leg and depicted a cutting motion. From walking the streets of Sri Lanka for nearly two-weeks by this point, I knew what this meant. This boy’s mother was an amputee. “And your father?” I asked. As he shrugged his shoulders, my heart broke.
Game over indeed!
It was Friday. He wasn’t in school. He was 8 years old. And it was evident he was the main wage earner of his family. He was on the streets working hard to try and earn a few rupees to provide for him and his mother. He wasn’t wearing any shoes. He had an innocence about him. An innocence that had seen so little, but had experienced so much.
As we approached the restaurant, recognising us from days before, the staff welcomed us with open arms . But, they almost shunned the boy.
I advised the manager he was our guest and asked them to prepare our friend a meal. As they went to prepare it in the kitchen, Silmatra sat and patiently waited for his food to arrive. When it finally did, I swear, he looked like a little boy that had just seen Santa Claus!
Though I doubt Silmatra actually knows who Santa is, he was no doubt extremely appreciative. As he smiled and gave us a wave “bye,” I sat there thinking about just how incredibly lucky we are. Tears filled my eyes before streaming down my face, as I thought about the ugly sides of life. Even though I didn’t give him much, I was glad I could at least give Silmatra something. Because in the short time I knew him, he gave me way more than I could have ever asked for.
There’s no such thing as ordinary love!
I can’t bring myself to think about what the boys’ life will look like. While I tell myself he’s likely to grow up and be the next Sri Lankan Prime Minister, my heart sinks as I think about the harsh, more probable realities available to people with limited education and opportunities…
An important reminder to us all to live every moment!
Love conquers all!
Everyone loves a good festival, steeped in history and culture, the Esala Perahera festival is not to be missed if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Sri Lanka at the right time.
WHAT: Esala Perahera is a festival held to honor the sacred relic of Buddha’s tooth
WHERE: Kandy, Sri Lanka (3-hours North of Colombo)
WHEN: 10-days annually, between July & August (Dates vary so check online ahead of time to confirm)
Welcome to the wonderful world of Esala Perahera!
TIPS FOR VISITING KANDY DURING THIS TIME
- People come from all over for this celebration, so expect the area to be packed!
- Anticipate that the trains will be extremely busy; buses are sometimes sold out for days at a time.
- Book your accommodation well in advance to avoid disappointment .
Kandy is hectic!
TIPS FOR VISITING THE TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH
- You may see signs for the temple of the tooth as Sri Dalada Maligawa
- The temple is open every day from 5:30am-7:45pm, but closes at 6pm during Esala Perahera.
- 1,000 rupees/$7 admits you to view the home of the sacred tooth relic. It has been moved from place to place for centuries to ensure it is protected, but now resides in Kandy. It is extremely important to the Buddhist religion.
- Store your shoes outside of the temple for a small donation.
- Visit the temple prior to the parade. Ensure your knees and shoulders are fully covered or you may be denied entry (this applies to men and women).
- You can see the elephants being bathed and prepared for their part in the nightly parade (though it is a bit sad as they are forced to wear heavy chains).
Temple of the Tooth!
TIPS FOR VISITING THE FESTIVAL ITSELF
- It starts around 7:30pm and runs for approximately 3-hours.
- Be sure to arrive early to reserve your spot.
- You don’t have to buy a seat but it’s more comfortable than standing (Negotiate! As we paid 2,500 rupees for two people whilst the guys next to us paid 5,000 rupees).
- No alcohol is served in Kandy during the 10-day festival.
- Pizza Hut & Dominos do the rounds taking orders for delivery before and during the parade.
- The entertainment is phenomenal – whip crackers, fire twirlers, music & dancing, costumes, and elephants.
The elephants are beautiful!
- It gets a bit repetitive (we only stayed for 2 hours, but didn’t feel as if we had missed anything).
- The festival gets larger as it progresses from day 1 to day 10.
- Security is tight. There are a plethora of officers on duty. You will also be required to pass through a screening before you can partake in the festivities.
- Portaloos are available, though expect a queue and bring your own toilet paper.
- It is smoky – more from fire dancers than cigarettes, though smoking is not prohibited.
Read on below to get all the Sri Lanka info to have an awesome adventure! Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake we did. Allow yourself more than two weeks in this beautiful country! You’ll love every minute regardless of how long your stay is.
If a 2-week adventure is all the time you can afford, don’t let that stop you from visiting. But, if you can extend your stay, I’d highly suggest spending at least 3-weeks in Sri Lanka.
THE MORE YOU READ, THE MORE THINGS YOU WILL KNOW. THE MORE THAT YOU LEARN, THE MORE PLACES YOU WILL GO. – DR. SEUSS
Stunning Sri Lanka!
Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka became the country’s formal name in 1972. Ceylon is still important as it’s synonymous with the tea the region is so well known for. But, that’s just the beginning. Here’s some helpful Sri Lanka info to help you make the most of your trip. Enjoy!
SRI LANKA VISA
Getting a visa for Sri Lanka is relatively easy and can be arranged online ahead of time.
The following users are exempt from obtaining a visa:
- Nationals of Maldives, Singapore & Seychelles
- Flight/ship crew members
- Children under 12 years old
- Transit visitors (maximum of 48-hours)
Find a full list of visa fees here
Sri Lankan Airlines, here we come!
SRI LANKA WEATHER
As with many Asian countries, Sri Lanka’s weather patterns are heavily influenced by monsoon seasons.
- Northeast Monsoon: December – February
- First Inner Monsoon: March – April
- Peak season
- December – April is beach season on the south coast (also the best time for whale watching)
- Southwest Monsoon: May – September
- Low season
- May – July is beach season on the east coast
- Inner Monsoon: October – November
Sweet beachview from Galle!
SEE SRI LANKA
- Colombo: A capital city full of traffic.
- Dalhousie: Climb to the top of Adam’s Peak if you dare.
- Nuwara Eliya: Explore the stunning tea plantations & waterfalls.
- Unawatuna Beach: Relax on the beach under an umbrella with a refreshing beverage.
- Galle: Explore the historical fort and surrounding areas.
- Kandy: Enjoy the beautiful hill country.
Be sure to check out our Sri Lanka info for the above towns including getting there, where to stay, what to do and what to eat.
The people are just as beautiful as the landscape!
EATING & DRINKING IN SRI LANKA
Traditional Sri Lankan food is delicious (and a bit spicy!)
- Rice and curry is the staple of any Sri Lankan diet and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Coconut sambol often accompanies your dish and gives a bit of extra flavour to toast
- Roti (a Sri Lankan flat bread) or rice.
- Dhal (lentils) is amongst the most common curry served on the island.
- Hoppers dishes vary from sweet to savoury, but almost always include a base of rice flour, coconut milk and spices.
- Kottu is a popular meal, served with your choice of ingredients and sliced roti doused in a spicy curry sauce.
- Tea commonly accompanies dishes or can be enjoyed during a leisurely afternoon.
- Lion is the country’s national beer.
- Arak (distilled coconut spirit) is an option for those looking for something a bit stronger.
It’s easy to make new friends in Sri Lanka
SRI LANKA BUDGET
We budgeted for $55.37 USD/day (for 2 people). Actual was $63.19/day x 15 days = $935 total.
- Accommodation – $331
- Beverages – $54
- Food – $224
- Transport – $116 *
- Entertainment – $121
- Miscellaneous – $93 **
*excludes flight from Chengdu, China to Colombo, Sri Lanka & flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Male, Maldives
**includes visas, laundry, medicine & ATM fees
The beautiful Japanese Peace Pagoda!
OUR SRI LANKA HIGHLIGHTS
- Reaching the top of Adam’s Peak – 5,861 steps later!
- Visiting the tea plantations in the Nuwara Eliya region
- Relaxing at Unawatuna Beach at sunset
- Cruising around the Galle Fort area on foot & motorbike
- Enjoying a Shirodhara & steam bath treatment
- Witnessing the excitement of Esala Perahera in Kandy
- Touring the Temple of the Tooth
- Eating rice & curry almost daily (yummy)
- Ahhhh, the train rides! And that beautiful scenery along the way
- Shopping at Embark, whose mission is to save the street dogs of Sri Lanka
- Having happy hour drinks on a rooftop bar in Colombo
Adam’s Peak is well worth the effort!
The train rides are spectacular!
SRI LANKA TIPS
- Train – Arrive early or prepare to be standing for several hours in second/third class carriages. If a seat is your main priority, pre-book your tickets in first class.
- Tuk-tuks – Always agree on a price with the driver before getting in. Negotiate! Colombo tuk-tuks are metered.
- Get outside! With so much natural beauty in this country, make sure to get out amongst it.
- Wifi is unreliable throughout the country. Luckily, you can get a Dialog SIM card with ample data on the cheap (and a tourist plan is not required, nor do we recommend it).
- If you’re heading to India afterwards and need to get a visa, check out this handy guide.
Hard to beat this landscape!
In visiting a foreign country, it’s common to wonder if you need to arrange a tour, or if independent travel will suffice. This question often depends on several factors, including your age, gender, budget, travel experience, and expectations. While a tour can be more comfortable for some, I definitely don’t think you require or should pay for a SriLanka tour package.
In visiting this beautiful country, we heard accounts from many women, ranging from 20 to 60 that were travelling solo. When asked why they chose Sri Lanka, they told us they were advised it was a safe country for single female travellers. And this couldn’t be more true!
TO MOVE, TO BREATHE, TO FLY, TO FLOAT, TO ROAM THE ROADS OF LANDS REMOTE, TO TRAVEL IS TO LIVE. – HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN
We absolutely fell in love with Sri Lanka!
Ok, ok, so if I’m not going to arrange a SriLanka tour package, where should I go?
Being the only international airport in Sri Lanka, you’ll definitely fly in and out of Colombo. As the capital city, it’s big and congested. Many people opt to head straight out of town. If you decide to check it out (it definitely does have some charm), here are some helpful tips.
Welcome to Colombo!
- From the airport, arrange a taxi to take you into the city.
- Negotiate, but plan on paying between 2-3,000 rupees/$14-20.
- Drift BnB – You can’t go wrong with a stay here! The open-aired showers are great and allowed us a great chance to have a sneak peek of the nearby ocean. The dorms were spacious and comfortable. Breakfast each morning was delicious! Expect to pay 1,900 rupees/$13 (optional breakfast extra 580 rupees/$4) for a bed in an 8-person dorm.
- Clock Inn – Great location (just across from Drift)! The common area was great, with plenty of seating options. The dorms were comfortable with individual lockers and large shared bathrooms. They organised us a taxi the next morning for 4am to go to the airport which was a seamless process. Anticipate paying 2,000 rupees/$14 for a bed in an 8-person dorm.
- Colombo Courtyard – Pop into this cool rooftop bar. Enjoy their 1/2 priced happy hour drinks from 5:30-7:30pm daily.
- Check out a cricket match – This legendary sport is famous in Sri Lanka, so brush up on your knowledge and head to a match to cheer them on.
Take the train to explore outside of the capital!
- Queens Cafe – Affordable Sri Lankan lunch buffet (300 rupees/$2) served daily. A wonderful dinner menu is also available.
- Barefoot – This is so much more than a simple restaurant! Yes, the food is delicious and fresh, but it is connected to a beautiful shop. Full of souvenirs and handmade items, you could easily spend a fortune here!
- Nuga Gama at Cinnamon Grand – While a bit on the pricey side for Sri Lanka, you can’t go wrong with the all you can eat buffet that highlights the food of local villages.
- Colombo offers metered tuk-tuks for 50 rupees ($0.35)/km day & 57 ($0.39) at night.
- If the driver claims their meter is broken, simply find a new tuk-tuk.
- Trains are a great way to travel around the country; find the railway schedule for updated information.
- Be sure to check out bus planning website for bus schedules.
The main attraction here is the infamous Adam’s Peak. It’s said to be the place where you can view the sacred footprint of Buddha. Thousands of people make the pilgrimage each year, though it is a strenuous hike. If you are not keen on making the trek to the top, I’d suggest skipping Dalhousie altogether. Whilst a beautiful place, unfortunately, there’s not much else to see.
The early start is worth it!
- From Colombo, take a train to Hatton.
- Then, make your way to Dalhousie.
- In peak season, take a direct bus.
- In off-peak season, buses do not run direct from Hatton to Dalhousie. You can take a combination of 2 buses, that will take about 3 hours. Of course, this is the least expensive option, but unless you are on an extremely tight budget, save yourself the hassle and take a tuk-tuk direct (1.5 hours – 1,500 rupees/$10).
- Wathsala Inn – 2,500 rupees/$17 gets you a comfortable private room with ensuite and balcony views over the river. While the place is a bit dated, the helpful staff going above and beyond to make you feel at home more than makes up for it.
It was freezing but I wasn’t leaving until I rang the bell!
- Wathsala Inn serves beautiful rice and curries. They have a wide variety of food and drinks for breakfast, lunch & dinner. Bon appetit!
- Most facilities only accept cash.
- There are no ATM’s in Dalhousie, so stop at one in Hatton if you need to get cash out.
- A few tips for climbing Adam’s Peak:
- Although the hotel may advise leaving at 2am, we’d suggest 2:45am is a much better time (we took a slow to moderate pace, and arrived at 5:45am). As the gates don’t open until 6am, there is no rush to get to the top & wait.
- Get the hotel to make up some sandwiches for the road.
- It is a holy place, so prepare to take your shoes off at the top to walk around the peak.
Nuwara Eliya is well known for its tea plantations & stunning waterfalls. The town centre is not much to look at but the landscape is beautiful once you get out of the city.
Hard to deny the neutral beauty of this one!
- If coming via train, get off at the Nanuoya stop.
- Then, take a tuk-tuk to Nuwara Eliya (500 rupees/$3.50).
- Malani Home – Stay with the most kind-hearted couple in the world (2,200 rupees/$15). They will gladly help you organise tours, tuk-tuks to town (only 200 rupees/$1.50), laundry and breakfast (580 rupees/$4) as required.
- Take a tuk-tuk tour to the local tea factories (we recommend Macwoods & Blue Field) and stunning waterfalls.
Working hard in the tea plantations!
- Milano – They serve typical Sri Lankan rice & curry by day & Sri Lankan Chinese by night.
- It can be very cold in this region (even in summer months), so be sure to check the weather and pack accordingly.
UNAWATUNA BEACH & GALLE
After exploring the mountains, make sure you head south to the beach! The coast is lined with plenty of beautiful beaches, so choose your favourite(s). We really loved the Unawatuna area (which is only 20-minutes from Galle).
Unawatuna Beach is well worth the visit!
- From Colombo, take the train direct to Galle.
- From here, it’s a short 20-minute tuk-tuk ride down the road to Unawatuna Beach.
- If coming from the East, you’ll be travelling via bus. You’ll reach Unawatuna first, so can get off there or continue onto Galle.
- Sunny Mood Guest House – 3,800 rupees/$26 gets you a spacious private room and bathroom and a free breakfast. It’s hard to believe Sunny Mood is only a 2-star facility. Only minutes from the beach, with large, bright rooms, we absolutely loved it! The couple running it were so lovely & they were full of local recommendations. Close to neighbouring beaches and Galle, it’s in the perfect location. Would definitely recommend a stay here!
- Galle Fort – This Dutch Fort is listed as a World Heritage site. It’s a great place to walk around the city on top of the fort wall.
- Jungle Beach – Unawatuna. Journey through the bumpy road and down the steps, to discover the natural beauty of Jungle Beach. The raw coastline invites you to take a seat and watch the waves crash on the shore.
- Peace Pagoda – Unawatuna. Built with help from Japanese monks, this stupa represents peace. Its aim is to unite all people, regardless of background or creed.
- Take a stroll or just sit and relax on the beach and take it all in.
Explore the Galle fort!
- Bong Spice Chilli Cafe – As you may have guessed from the name, this is a super chill venue on the beach. Eat, drink, relax and enjoy!
- Black & White Restaurant – Sit back and enjoy a refreshing drink or a beautiful meal. Take in the sounds of the ocean, and enjoy the reggae tunes in the background.
- Yellow Restaurant – When you spot the yellow tables on the beach, grab a seat and make yourself at home. Food and drinks are both delicious, with an extensive menu available.
- Rent a scooter for the day (800 rupees/$5.50) and take a ride along the coast. With a single main road, it’s hard to get lost (and even if you do, that’s half the fun of it).
3-hours North of Colombo, you’ll find yourself in Sri Lanka’s hill country. Take in some of the most stunning scenery whilst travelling to this beautiful part of Sri Lanka. The city is big enough to get some shopping done, enjoy some delicious local food and take in some breath taking walks through nature.
Enjoy the stroll around the lake!
- From Colombo, catch a train (prices differ depending on time & class), but we paid 190 rupees/$1.30 for 2nd class.
- Monarch Villa Hanthana – 4,000 rupees/$28 affords you a private room, shared bathroom, wifi and breakfast in the beautiful hills of Kandy. Breakfast each morning was beautiful; the best we had in Sri Lanka and the staff were so warm and welcoming.
- Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) – 5:30am-7:45pm. 1,000 rupees/$7 admits you to view the home of the sacred tooth relic. Protected for centuries, this is said to be the relic of Buddha’s tooth. Needless to say, it holds a high importance to the Buddhist religion.
- Esala Perahera – An annual 10-day festival, held between July & August each year, where a grand procession is held to honour the sacred tooth relic.
- Take a stroll around the lake.
People are always enjoying time at the temple!
- White House – We enjoyed it so much here, we didn’t actually venture out to any other restaurants. It had a beautiful selection of food. We tried several dishes including the Butter Chicken, Vegetable Korma & Lacha Paracha. All were great and we loved it so much we returned every day during our 4-day visit to Kandy.
- Make sure both your knees and shoulders are fully covered when visiting the temple or you may be denied entry (this applies to men and women).
- A few tips if visiting during Esala Perahera:
- People come from all over for this celebration, so expect the area, accommodation, trains & buses to be packed!
- The festival starts nightly around 7:30pm and runs for approx 3 hours, but get there early to reserve your place (seating packages are optional).
- No alcohol is served in Kandy during the festival.
Sri Lanka is such a diverse country with so much to offer, whether you decide to go with an independent travel option or a SriLanka tour package you will not regret visiting this beautiful country. We have already decided to visit again sometime in the near future.
Always being a coffee drinker myself, it was great to visit Sri Lanka and learn more about tea. After ordering my first cup of “coffee” on the island (yuck!), I instantly knew I was converted to a tea drinker for the duration of my trip! Tea trails Sri Lanka, here I come…after all, it does have a reputation of being the finest in the world!
FILL YOUR LIFE WITH ADVENTURES, NOT THINGS. HAVE STORIES TO TELL NOT STUFF TO SHOW.” -UNKNOWN
Long days working on the plantation
In visiting the hills of Sri Lanka, taking a tour of the tea factories is a must. Newara Eliya is amongst the best-known tea growing regions in Sri Lanka, so we headed there. This region boasts the high grown teas. Our visit to Mackwoods & Blue Field tea factories was a definite highlight. The fresh aroma was just as inviting as the workers themselves.
Mackwoods Tea Plantation
It was simply amazing to get a look at how tea is made and discover the tea trails Sri Lanka has on offer. For those of you that have no idea yourself, here is a quick look at the process:
- Plucking: As our guide showed us, they want to pick the young, light green leaves. Due to the sensitivity, leaves are transported from the fields to the factories multiples times a day.
The perfect tea leaf
- Withering: Air is circulated through the tea. This stage dries the tea about 50% over a minimum of 12-hour period using large fans.
The withering process
- Rolling: A relatively short process (20-30 minutes), tea leaves are crushed using wooden blades. The leaves are twisted and cells broke down to bring the tea juices to the surface.
Check out the rolling machine
- Fermenting: Tea leaves are exposed to air to undergo the oxidation process. The degree of fermentation is based on smell and colour.
Preparing the tea for the fermentation process
- Drying: Tea undergoes the final drying stage. The leaves are left with only about 3% moisture.
Hard at work
- Grading: The tea is sorted according to size.
Where all the magic happens
- Packing: Afterwards, the product is dispatched and sent to Colombo. Here, it’s fate is determined at auctions.
20% is sold locally; 80% is exported
In this region of Sri Lanka they grow black, green & white tea. Though each tea starts from the same plant, the end result varies based on the process used.
Beautiful tea plantations
Black tea undergoes all the steps of the aforementioned process.
Green tea is made via the same exact process, though without fermentation.
Though green tea is considered healthiest amongst many western cultures, it is actually white tea that contains the most health benefits.
White tea is produced without using any machines. It is plucked and then left to dry in the sun. It also does not undergo the fermentation process.
During the grading process, the tea is sorted according to its size. The smaller the leaf, the weaker the taste; the larger the leaf, the stronger the taste. While grading terminology differs from region to region, here are a few of the common Ceylon tea grading categories.
- BOPF (Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings): Used in tea bags
- BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe): Commonly found in blended teas
- Pekoe: Standard English breakfast tea, often served with sugar & milk
- OP (Orange Pekoe): Fine & rich flavour with strong health benefits
So, the next time you sit down to enjoy a cup of tea, have a quick think about all the love and hard work that has gone into it. Reminisce about tea trails Sri Lanka and enjoy!