Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Our Sri Lankan Adventure: Highlands, Tea and Elephants

We just returned from, dare I say, our best Asian vacation yet!  We spent an amazing ten days in Sri Lanka and I am still riding the vacation wave and planning our next trip back.  I've been waiting to come down from our vacation high to write this post because I don't want to build up Lanka (as Adi calls it) too much, but ten days back in Penang and I'm still dreaming of uncrowded beaches, cool mountain air, generous people and a land that is so dramatic and beautiful that my heart is already aching to go back.  Honestly, it was that good.  So, if you are wondering if you should go to Sri Lanka, my answer is an astounding YES!! Go, NOW, before tourism and development takes over and this magical island transforms to meet the demands of the global market.

After a very short 3.5 hour flight from KL and a 4 hour van ride from Colombo, we began our trip in Kandy, the cultural center of the Lanka.  We hired a driver, Upul, for our trip which made getting around a breeze.  We explored the beautiful and expansive botanical gardens which we all enjoyed, particularly Adi, who made quite a few friends along the way.

We visited the Temple of the Tooth, one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in the country, and saw many Sinhalese on their pilgrimage here.

We also attended a traditional cultural dance show, which Eric and I had very low expectations for, but was surprisingly well done and truly authentic.  Adi loved the dancing and music and we were all truly pleased by the performances.

We also took a day trip to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a government run sanctuary that is met with a mixed bag of praise and criticism by other travelers.  In our prebaby days, this would have not been on our agenda, but alas, times have changed, and seeing elephants in Sri Lanka was tops on my list and we weren't convinced that Adi would be able to enjoy a 2-3 hour safari for the real wild deal, so we settled on the guaranteed experience.  And let me say, it did not disappoint.  We were up close and personal with elephants, feeding, touching, taking pictures and watching them bathe.  We weren't too invasive but we were able to have some interaction, which was similar to other places we have visited in Laos and Thailand.  The elephants were well looked after and I would highly recommend a trip here to families with small children.
Adi with our driver Upul...they were best buddies by the end of our trip

After three nights in Kandy, we drove up to tea country, making stops at tea plantations and marveling at the majestic rolling hills and cooler temperatures.  We stayed at a lovely villa in Nuwara Eliya with great views, where we were treated like royalty.  Nuwara Eliya is a quaint highland town that makes you feel like you are somewhere in Europe.  We truly loved our time here and could have stayed tucked away in our villa for a few more days.
Ceylon Tea is hand picked and delicious
 A short stroll to a gorgeous waterfall after a few hours in the van.
Villa Acacia in Nuwara Eliya.  A lovely place to stay!

 We continued on from Nuwara Eliya to Ella via train.  Train travel is one of the best ways to see Sri Lanka and this particular stretch of rail is one of the best in the world.  Unfortunately, the train was late due to rain and darkness fell soon after we departed, but the train was Adi's favorite part of the trip.  She loved waving at each of the stations and saying "Choo choo".  We were even lucky enough to score the entire first class car to ourselves.

Adi, blowing kisses and waving bye bye
No joke, we had the place to ourselves
We arrived late in Ella and Upul met us at the train station.  A quick trip from the train and we were at our hotel.  It was pitch black when we arrived and we were lucky enough to see a few stars.  The real show was in the early morning as the sun rose.  This was the view from our room.  Absolutely amazing.

The view was the sole reason we stayed in Ella and after the phenomenal sunrise we bid farewell to the highlands and made our way down toward the coast.  Along the way we saw waterfalls, rice paddies, elephants and ate road corn.  We were lucky enough to see a heard of elephants in Uda Walawe National park as we drove through, ticking a bucket list item for me.

Loving her road corn
Uda Walawe National Park
Just a roadside WILD elephant!! 
And a CLOSE encounter.  I was so happy!
The heard of wild elephants off in the distance
After a long six hour drive, we arrived at our villa, Six Degrees North and settled in for the next four days.  That blog will be up soon!  I hope you enjoyed the first half of our Sri Lanka adventure.  It seriously was amazing!! Stay tuned.

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