I’m married, but never went on honeymoon. We had a three-month old son when my wife and got hitched, and since then haven’t been able to squeeze in said event. What I’m eternally grateful for, however, is that we visited Sri Lanka once upon a merry time.
We did so in September 2011. Having just come off a solo odyssey to western China, I needed a break, so she and I caught an Air Asia flight from Taipei to its capital city, Colombo.
Bandaranaike International Airport was relatively hassle-free, and once spat out to deal with humidity and smiley humans, we caught a bus to Colombo Fort Railway Station. I’d traveled the subcontinent before, so the enthusiastic bus driver’s speeding didn’t scare me. My wife (who was my girlfriend then), however, undoubtedly turned a paler shade over that half-hour trip.
A classic example of Victorian-style architecture, Colombo Fort Railway Station was a veritable hive of activity. Its interior reminded me of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in Mumbai, albeit smaller in scope. English was widely spoken, and we used it to organize our travel arrangements. Between all the people and accordant noise, the thing that really caught my eye was the beautiful Sinhalese signage around us, its words reading like the dreamy declarations of poetic doves.
We entrained to Mount Lavinia, a southern suburb of Colombo. I’m a Third-World traveler, which means I usually go for the cheapest, most culturally-authentic accommodation, but my girlfriend insisted we get a comfortable room for our first night. From the moment we arrived at its quaint, end-of-the-world railway station, I fell in love with the area, it blessed with a lushness (and accordant sleepiness) that had time melt away as we navigated its streets towards our hotel.
After enjoying twin welcoming Gin-and-Tonics, we put on our bathing suits and left the hotel for the beach. Crossing over the train tracks towards a bed of golden sand, Sri Lanka suddenly sprang to life, the lively beachside scene punctuated by smiley families, balloon-and-kite vendors, as well as pockets of locals playing cricket. Along with smatterings of sunglassed tourists, everyone seemed enthralled, and as the afternoon waves cooled my skin and the Colombo skyline glistened in the distance, I knew we were in for a good ten days ahead.
I suffered that first night, though. Caught up in my enthusiasm of the new, I ordered a spicy curry for dinner that was way beyond my digestive range. If anything, it was a good reminder to always be mindful of one’s culinary choices when traveling abroad. Healed up the next day, we returned to Colombo Fort Railway Station and bought tickets to Kandy, the revered Sri Lankan holy city set in the middle of the island.
Sri Lanka’s second-largest city was warm, but its heat was offset by a lively vibe as well as the location’s natural beauty. Passing by the splendid Bogambara Lake, our Tuk-Tuk driver delivered us to the Pink House, which was to be our home while in Kandy. A traveler’s institution, this centuries-old guesthouse was materially threadbare yet heavy on charm, it as ‘authentic’ a Sri Lankan home as I could envisage.
Following wine with other Pink House guests, we walked back to central Kandy. That evening passed by as a blur, its highlights including baked dinner treats, aggressive touts jostling for dime, Lion Beer, Paan, and a swarming mix of people. The next day, we trekked up to the Bahirawakanda Temple, a hill-set complex home to giant white Buddha statue easily visible from the valley-set city below. Our adventure was fascinating if not exhausting, the views on display bought at the price of sweat-drenched clothing. Back down in the valley later, we chose not to pay to see The Temple of the Tooth, we of the belief that the ‘foreigner price’ to see a tooth relic of the Lord Buddha wasn’t worth it. This proved fortuitous, as I later saved a Tuk-Tuk driver from choking on Paan, and also helped some college-age students buy alcohol from a bottle-store owner who’d otherwise rat them out to their parents.
The next morning we bused to Dambulla, and then on to Sigiriya. Home to a rock-set citadel lording over a paradisiacal rainforest-like setting, this Sri Lankan Uluru-equivalent proved to be a major trip highlight. We paid our entrance dues, and ensconced by heat trekked up to its peak, catching sight of ancient wall frescoes and troops of playful monkeys along the way. The sight from its two hundred meter high summit was sublime, it as if I were simultaneously gazing over two-and-a-half Earths at once. I’ve never seen anything like it on my travels, that view imbued with a supernatural otherness I found scarcely believable.
Next up was Nuwara Eliya. Following two bus transfers from Sigiriya, the road twisted up misty tea-laden hills towards the region’s busy commercial belly. The world was spookily-colored then, and this foreshadowed subsequent accommodation options, the first two of which resembled horror movie sets. An hour of walking later, we found a grand (yet cheap) place just outside of town, and in the chilly, high-altitude weather sipped Ceylon tea out on the balcony while breathing in fresh air and contemplating the tea-growing region’s secrets.
We did Nuwara Eliya by foot over the next couple days. Cricket, horses, and palatial accommodations were ubiquitous, as were smiley locals who consistently wanted to know why we’d come here. While this hill-station area didn’t touch my heart the same way other Sri Lankan travel spots did, I must say that it’s memorable, its topography and personality quite unlike anywhere we experienced while traveling the island country.
Next up were the famous southern beaches. We took an early-morning bus to Colombo, and immediately transferred to a Galle-bound ride. Sri Lankan ‘highways’ are misnomers, and although we only traveled a couple hundred kilometers that day, we were in transit for nearly seven hours. When we did finally reach Galle, we hopped onto a motorcycle taxi and went to Unawatuna, a small, verdant coastal town home to one of Asia’s finest beaches. It was too late to lay eyes on her golden sands then, but the seafood pizza I ate at a nearby restaurant that evening was one of the finest culinary treats of my life.
We woke up early the next day and strolled across the gorgeous beach. We needed something to lighten our moods, as we’d been kept awake by mosquitoes most of the night. Later, we changed accommodations to a beach-set elevated cabin, it double the price of anywhere we’d stayed at previously. Its view and amenities were top-class, but there were simply too many people around to enjoy the location’s undoubted beauty.
But due to this, we found Mirissa. Ah, beautiful Mirissa. We rented a scooter in Unawatuna and drove east along the coast. Every few meters our eyes fell upon glorious water-fronted views, and by the time we arrived at hole-in-the-wall Mirissa, I was more relaxed than I’d felt in months. My significant other used her bargaining skills to organize a discounted rate on a room adjacent to the beach, and we subsequently indulged in paradise for a few days. Think a quiet palm-fringed beach, gentle waves, sweet breezes, and all the time in the world. We loved Mirissa’s seafood, reveling in its simple charms, and becoming lost in her world-ending sunsets. Really, if there’s one place on Earth I’d be happy to return to year-in and year-out, Mirissa would be it.
Alas, we had to return home. On the morning of our fourth Mirissa day, we traveled back to Galle and then Colombo, only to catch another bus to Negombo, a city adjacent to the airport. We got a room at the creaky Star Beach Hotel, and strolled along its adjoining beach for hours, enthusing over how lucky we’d been to have experienced this magical isle.
On the flight back to Taipei, I knew I’d marry the woman sat beside me. I knew this because we’d lived Sri Lanka together: had navigated its idiosyncrasies, gazed upon its wonders, and had breathed in its sweetly perfumed air… together. Yes, while our honeymoon still hasn’t materialized, we did Sri Lanka together, and that alone is an affirmation of love more honest than a poet’s dying words.