The first 4 weeks of my 2 months South East Asia adventure will be spent in Sri Lanka with my good friend (and previously weekend trip travel buddy) Linda. I will meet my long time travel buddy Fredrik in the Philippines for the last 4 weeks. It is always a bit scary to travel with someone new, but so far it has been amazing although different. Fredrik and I usually move around a lot, and always have a lot of plans for things to see and do. Linda is teaching me to slow down and relax, which turns out to be pretty great too.
We arrived in Unawatuna, Sri Lanka, after travelling for about 20 hours. Emirates were great, but none of us could sleep much on the flights, so we barely managed to stay awake until 7 pm before crashing for more than 12 hours. Our first impressions of Sri Lanka were that it was very green and that everyone are super friendly. Unawatuna is a small beach town on the west coast, known for its beautiful beaches and corals. Both were badly damaged by the tsunami, but the beach is still beautiful, and the coral reefs are getting better.
Our hotel, Prime Time, was located across the road from the beach. It had Swedish owners, but the manager and the staff were locals. Quite good value for money, but our backs were not too happy with the mattresses. We had peacocks, squirrels, lizards, birds and probably a lot more on the roofs and in the jungle around the hotel. Most if the time we had the shared balcony outside our room to ourselves (except the mosquitoes). We also had some drinks with staff and friends in the common area downstairs.
Most of our time in Unawatuna we spent on the beach
(or in the water actually) and in the many beach restaurants (preferably the ones with shadow and ceiling fans). It was warm and quite humid, and with 30 degrees Celsius in the water it was difficult to cool off. Sun beds were free if you bought some food and drinks, so we had
breakfast or lunch at the beach most days, and lots of fresh pineapple juice. A few people were walking around selling clothes, blankets, coconuts, souvenirs and offering tours, water sports and massages, but they were all very polite and actually took no for an answer. We got very fond of one of them, Auntie Coco, which we had a long talk with one evening.
There is only one street through town, and we walked parts of it several times every day. The tuk tuk drivers and shop owners all said hi, and when we didn’t want to buy anything they still wanted to talk or at least wish us a good day. After a few days it felt like we had friends all over town (even though they kept calling us madam). 😀 I also have to mention the quite annoying bread van (tuk tuk) driving around and playing Für Elise day and night.
We tried several different restaurants, and had so much great food. Even the more western dishes were served with some amazing local sauces, which made all the difference. Our favourite restaurant was without a doubt, Kingfisher. The first time we went there was in the middle of a thunderstorm, and we had water over our ankles on our way there. They had large, solid tents on the beach though, so we had a great time watching the rain and lightning. We even had a scorpion on the beach, trying to escape the water. All the dishes we had there were top notch, and especially their Brandy-zucchini sauce was to die for. The creamy pineapple daiquiri was amazing as a dessert, and the service was really great too.
As many of you know, we are fond of good craft beer. In Unawatuna there was only one beer available, Lion lager. Not a bad beer, but quite boring after a while. Luckily we were able to buy Lion Strong (just ok) and Lion Stout (surprisingly good) at the wine store at the main road. In the evenings we often had a couple of drinks instead of beer. Drinks made from fresh fruit are actually quite delicious, especially while lying in a pillow-filled bed at the beach listening to the waves.
We had a daytrip to nearby Galle fort. Our tuk tuk driver suggested a short stop in a herbal garden on the way there, and it was actually quite interesting. We got to taste, smell and try a lot of the different herbs and plants, and even ended up with a little shopping at the end. Galle fort was built by the Dutch in 1663, and is still a vibrant part of the city. It has lots of historic houses, churches, mosques and temples, but it was too hot for us to walk around, so we only saw a few of them. We also had a walk on the fort walls to the 18 meter high lighthouse. We had lunch in a hammock bar in the recently restored Dutch Hospital, a beautiful colonial building from the 18th century overlooking the small lighthouse beach. On our way back to Unawatuna we stopped at the spice market for some shopping and local recipes.
Another highlight was a deep tissue massage at The Sanctuary Spa. It really lived up to its name. The experience started in a beautiful and serene garden, and from the massage bed I had beautiful views of the surrounding jungle. The massage itself was really good (although a bit painful at times), and afterwards I enjoyed a fresh coconut in the peaceful garden. Lovely!
In between all the relaxation, I also had time for some scuba diving. I decided to go with Unawatuna diving center, which seemed more professional than most of the smaller places. They were very accommodating, drying and storing my gear between dives, offering free transport to and from the hotel, did all the heavy lifting and always had time for questions. They also had small groups (3 divers + guide), which was really nice. Since the water was so warm, I didn’t even need a wetsuit, just a thin rash guard. I did all dives in the morning, when the visibility was best, around 10-15 meters. The dive sites I visited was SS Rangoon wreck, SS Orestes wreck, Galle wreck and Goda Gala Diyamba. Lots of colorful fish, starfish everywhere, lionfish, cuttlefish, a giant moray out swimming and 5-6 large octopuses. Nice!