Thailand. Just saying the word creates a vision of white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, fresh cuisine and culture.
I’ll be the first to say that Thailand is a wonderful place, however with such beauty comes popularity and with popularity comes consequences. Thailand has become an expensive, over-commercialised holiday destination for the masses.
From the multitudes of Tiger T-shirts, to the putrid sewerage smell of Phuket and the monthly pilgrimage of young adults to Ko Pha Ngan for the notorious ‘Full Moon’ parties. I’ve gone off Thailand in a big way.
These days, I’m much more interested in untouched beaches, cheap cocktails and opulent (yet affordable) luxury.
Sound like you? Let me introduce the latest destination on my hit list. Sri Lanka.
This tiny nation often gets overlooked for it’s bigger brother, India. But what makes Sri Lanka so special is that it remains relatively untouched, making for a more localised, unique environment that is rich with culture and personality.
Having checked out Sri Lanka for myself, here is a breakdown of why I believe it’s the next big thing.
1. The scenery
There are very few places left on earth that can claim a combination of untarnished beaches, spectacular countryside, wildlife-packed national parks and one of the world’s largest commodity exports (tea). Sri Lanka is jam-packed full of incredible sites, both historical and natural. What many don’t know, however, is that Sri Lanka functions on two monsoonal seasons, making it a tropical destination all year 'round, (according to which part of the island is in monsoon).
Arugam Bay - Sri Lanka is considered one of the top 10 surfing locations in the world. During the summer months, head to Arugam Bay for some quality breaks (note: Main Point is recommended for intermediate to advanced surfers – in other words, don’t try it if you’re no good). Whiskey Point is where it’s at for first-timers and it’s also a beautiful beach if you like to stay on land.
Ancient city of Sigiriya - Located 200 metres above the surrounding jungle, you’ll find the ancient ruins of Sigiriya - a palace dating back to the 3rd century. The fortress complex at the very top of the rock includes remnants of the ruined palace itself, while the surrounding area showcases an extensive network of fortifications, gardens, ponds and fountains. This is no walk in the park though (sufferers of vertigo, AVOID). To experience the true beauty of this UNESCO site, you’ll have to climb hundreds of extremely steep, narrow and at times dodgy stairs, but trust me, it’s worth the view from the top.
Yala and Uda Walawe National Parks - Unlike the hundreds of thousands of animals held captive in Thailand, Sri Lanka is home to the largest concentration of leopards in the world. It also hosts over 5,800 wild elephants meandering around the country’s largest national parks.
2. The cuisine
You can eat like royalty without even breaking a tenner in Sri Lanka. Like any tropical haven, you can expect $1 coconuts on the beach. But what defines Sri Lankan cuisine doesn’t fall from the tree. Dishes tend to revolve around intricately spiced curries, rice, roti bread and samosas. The dining experience is not what you’ve come to expect in Thailand either, no more streets lined with food stalls or people shouting and throwing morsels at you as you wander past. Things are much more traditional here with the best food usually served out of small kitchens out the back of guesthouses.
When it comes to eating in foreign countries, my motto is always to ‘do as the locals would’ and in Sri Lanka you won’t be disappointed. A ‘Hopper’ is a traditional dish made up of a mixture of coconut milk, spices and a thin, crepe-like batter that is crisped up and formed into a bowl, finished with delicious toppings. Traditionally served at breakfast, Hoppers can be consumed as snacks, hangover cures or an entire meal, so go nuts.
3. The accommodation
Regardless of whether you’re a luxury traveller on the hunt for the next designer hotel or an intrepid backpacker looking for your next place to get some shut-eye, Sri Lanka has the answer. Some of my recommendations are listed below:
Uga Escapes - There are a number of these dotted around the island, each offering a unique, ‘ back to nature’ mantra that combines luxury with culture and history.
Roman Beach Resort - A small, boutique style hotel in the heart of Hikkaduwa, Roman Beach provides all the modern luxuries without the ridiculous price tag. Did I mention every room has an ocean view? Enough said.
The Villa Bentota - Containing 15 individually-designed villas with an urban look and feel, this hotel boasts an excellent restaurant, two swimming pools and an art gallery. If you’re after something more secluded and relaxed, this is the place for you.
Things to keep in mind:
Although infrastructure is improving, getting around this relatively large country can still be time-inefficient. Expect to take buses, local trains or even tuk tuks to get around.
When choosing accommodation, remember that most of the boutiques are owned and run by locals, and may lack modern luxuries such as air conditioning. Do your research.
By western standards and compared to Thailand, Sri Lanka is still cheap, but prices are rising and have doubled in the past year – so get planning ASAP.
Illustration by Twylamae.