It’s been a while since I last updated, and that’s because I was busy travelling overseas for work. Sri Lanka is famous for its tea (I’m a tea lover), its glorious temples and safaris, so I was somewhat eager to see this country for myself during my short stint there that lasted no longer than a week. I didn’t get to see a lot since I wasn’t there for leisure, so I’ll just highlight the few attractions I got to see.
Brief Gardens – Bentota
Geoffrey Bawa is probably Sri Lanka’s most famous architect who has left his mark in not just his motherland, but also in Malaysia and Singapore. His house, the Lunuganga Estate, is situated in Bentota, a coastal town on the Western coast of Sri Lanka. I didn’t get to visit his home, but I did get to set foot in Brief Gardens, the home of his older brother, Bevis Bawa, who was also an accomplished architect.
Given the brothers’ mixed Asian-European parentage, the architecture of the residence was noticeably Western. The garden in the estate was huge; it had lots of greenery and some water features including a pond, but if you love flowers like me, you might be somewhat disappointed as there aren’t a lot here. It was a nice garden for a stroll and afternoon tea, but I don’t think it’s worth the trip unless you are staying overnight in Bentota.
Kande Viharaya is a Buddhist temple near Bentota, and it’s name literally means “Temple atop a hill”. Its enormous Buddha statue is already visible from the foot of the small hill, which is ascended by a short flight of stairs. Flowers can be purchased from street vendors to be used as offerings. I didn’t offer any since I’m not a Buddhist. There were hardly any foreigners in sight, so be prepared to attract stares from the locals. Shoes have to be taken off since this is a sacred place. Interestingly, there is a Hindu shrine just next door (which you have to walk to barefooted).
Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery
Just south of Bentota is an area called Kosgoda, which is a prime spot for nesting sea turtles. Unfortunately, the sea turtles are at risk because they get injured or killed by predators and humans, and their eggs get poached by locals. You will thus find several turtle hatcheries in the area that seek to conserve the turtles by collecting the eggs and looking after the young until they are ready to be released back into the wild. You can visit the hatchery to see the baby turtles; I tried holding one and the little baby kept trying to break free from my fingers using his/her flippers. A futile attempt of course. Feeling sorry for it, I released the little fellow back into the tank. There are also older turtles there who are blind or have lost their limbs, so they are resigned to spending the rest of their lives in the tank. 😦
This coastal city in southern Sri Lanka is popular among tourists because of its historic old fort built by the Portuguese and the Dutch during colonial times. The fort is small enough for you to spend an afternoon strolling along the streets lined with old churches, museums, bastions and government buildings. I wish I had more time to spend here so I could explore the place in greater detail. Wouldn’t mind coming back here again for a closer look if I have the chance!
Udawalawe National Park
Sri Lanka is a more convenient and cheaper alternative to South Africa for Asians looking to experience a safari. There are several national parks in the country, of which Yala National Park is probably the most visited because of its leopards. Unfortunately, July isn’t the right season for animal sightings in Yala, so I ended up at Udawalawe National Park instead, which is famous for its herds of elephants. This was my first time going on a safari game drive, and I think it’s something worth experience once in your lifetime. Zoos might seem like child’s play after you’ve experienced a safari, because you get to see animals in their natural environment in the wild. I got to see elephants, peacocks and buffaloes within a few arm’s length away, with no barriers between us. Just cross your fingers and don’t do anything silly to make them charge towards you of course.
The animals must’ve gotten used to having humans riding jeeps around them everyday, because the elephants carried on munching on their grass without being bothered by us at all; we were as good as transparent. This is also somewhat ironic, as the wild may not be so “wild” after all if the animals have grown accustomed to humans. Possibly one negative aspect of introducing tourism to the area.
Interestingly, the international airport in Colombo seemed to have more stores selling electrical appliances (especially washing machines) than duty free stores. There are a couple of shops selling souvenirs and tea leaves.
You can’t obtain Sri Lankan rupees outside of Sri Lanka. Tourists usually bring US dollars to change for rupees at Colombo Airport when they arrive. Change back any leftover rupees for US dollars again before leaving the country.
Don’t expect high speed WiFi access when you are here. You’ll probably have to postpone watching any of your favourite dramas till you are back in your country.