If India is a step too far, then consider Sri Lanka. I travelled with 4 girlfriends and had an amazing time full of adventure. We transited through Singapore.
You will require a visa for Sri Lanka which is an on-line process – very easy.
The Sri Lankan people are friendly and smiley, English is good. Food is amazing – you can’t beat a good vegetable curry. They love their vegetables.
We flew into Colombo and stayed 2 nights at the Tintagel Colombo (1 is enough if you arrive during the day). The hotel is a unique and private hotel in a historic building in one of Colombo’s most elite neighbourhoods. It is shabby chic and we loved it – the swimming pool was fabulous for an early morning swim. Colombo is a bustling city and no better way of seeing it and taking you outside your comfort zone was a mid afternoon/early evening food/sunset tour with Tuk Tuk Safaris. Make sure you try the hoppers! What fun, we ended up being the attraction and ended up in a muslim area eating our dinner. Highly recommended. We also spent a night in Colombo on the way back to meet flights and booked dinner at the Ministry of Crab – at the old Dutch Hospital What a fabulous dinner – bookings recommended.
We caught a Tuk Tuk everywhere we went for a few dollars – quick and easy.
We then picked up our tour guide and driver (5 of us) for our trip to Dambulla, Kandy, Hatton (The Tea Trails), Yala National Park and then Galle. You wouldn’t consider going to Sri Lanka without a guide/driver – they were invaluable and good fun.
Dambulla Caves – make sure you have shoes that you can slip on and off easily and make sure your shoulders are covered. These are a UNESCO World Heritage site and are fascinating. A small climb to get up there and make sure you have your water bottle in your backpack. The monkeys are cheeky and stole the water from our hands. You pay 100 klr for a hindu blessing.
Sigiriya – also a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the main reasons why I chose to visit Sri Lanka in the first place. An imposing, dramatic and beautiful historical location, which is worthy of being called the “8th wonder of the world”. The climb to the top is not for the faint hearted or if you have problems with your knees – the last part of the climb does make your heart pound as you climb the exterior metal structure screwed into the rock. But it is thrilling and you have a huge sense of achievement once you have climbed it and wonderful views from the top. Take plenty of water, wear active wear which is comfortable and make sure you go early to avoid the heat. The park opens at 6.30am and also has less people.
Kandy – the hill country capital on the Mahaweli River is also a lovely little town which we stayed 1 night – we had pre-organised a wonderful curry dinner prior to arrival at the hotel which was fabulous.
We took the train from Kandy up to the Castlereagh Bungalow (Part of the Tea Trails) – what a wonderful experience – we were in third class and it was wonderful – full of students singing. A man came around selling hot peanuts with curry leaves and spicy salt which were fabulous (100 rupees) and wrapped in makeshift paper pockets made out of old exam papers. Delicious! Don’t be afraid to try all the food. Don’t take first class – the train is only 3 hours long. Make sure you sit on the right hand side facing the engine – better views.
We loved the Ceylon tea trails – elegant, beautiful food and wonderful walks. We took a small boat to arrive at Castlereagh – (they have 5 bungalows). One day we walked to Somerville for lunch and got the boat back. The C2 walk from Castlereagh was also good with wonderful views and we got up close to the ladies picking the tea. This was our luxury piece of the holiday and was well worth it – all inclusive. There’s something special about being served a wonderful cup of tea in bed by your butler. We were given a tea factory tour and bought some tea.
We then drove to the Yala national park (if you have been to Africa) then nothing will compare to that but we did get to see elephants, etc. I do have to say that it is a bit of a bun fight with all the jeeps jostling for the best position (half the fun) – there are hundreds of jeeps etc. We did see the elusive leopard but at some distance. My advice – go to Africa.
Galle (UNESCO world heritage site) was a fabulous fort town and we had some fun doing some shopping – Poonies Kitchen for lunch and the Church Street social for dinner. We walked around the forte which was fun.
We undertook a cooking demonstration at our hotel which was fun for US$35 per person.
We loved Sri Lanka, it provides a wide of variety and we embraced it all.
Take a bottle of mineral water to spray your face when you are a bit hot and bothered.
Hand sanitizer is recommended
We sent out our clothes for washing which all came back beautifully laundered and folded.
It is ok to buy spices and bring them home – they have the sweetest cinnamon and their turmeric is good also.
We travelled with Singapore Airlines, Sri Lankan Airlines and a self-designed itinerary put together by World Journeys.