Around The World: Sri Lanka Part 1

Sri Lanka: Kandy, Castlereagh Valley & Yala

The flight from Maldives to Sri Lanka is a relatively easy one. Of course nothing is that easy with two little ones but the Dairy Queen at the Male airport certainly helped to make things a bit more sweet for this ice cream loving family. Upon arrival into Colombo we were treated like VIPs and assisted through fast track with luggage assistance. Our driver/guide, Thirandu, met us in the lounge near baggage claim and whisked us to the car. A driver/guide is an must in this country and you will want to make sure you have a great one as they are with you for the duration of your vacation. On our sixteen day journey, our first stop was The Wallawwa hotel for the night. It was celebrations for the New Year during our stay and the sale of alcohol was prohibited, even at hotels. This is relatively common throughout the year which is important to take note of if you are one to want to stock the mini fridge before hand. The food throughout the country and at the Wallawwa was delicious. They have an on site garden for the freshest of produce. I imagine their cooking classes would be worth trying.
The Wallawwa
The next day our driver Thirandu met us and took us to the Millennium elephant foundation. The kids experienced walking with an elephant and even bathing her in the river. We spent time learning about how elephants eat, sleep and live. Our guide was passionate and attempted to provide us with vast information though we could only absorb so much given the distractions of our toddler. We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the river where elephants bathed below. We would definitely recommend this experience for all families as it was special to have this time up close with these beautiful creatures.

We drove a few hours to our next stop near Kandy which was The Mountbatten Bungalow. The scenery was beautiful but it was probably best for older children or couples. As can happen with travel and in staying at boutique properties, a large factor in the experience comes from who is staying at the hotel at the same time. Though most everyone we met along the way was friendly and laid back, there were certain times and places which seemed meant for solitude and adults.

While in Kandy we were able to see a traditional Kandyan dance and visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. We also spent a morning at the Royal Botanical Gardens. The gardens were fantastic for the kids and they loved the monkeys. We also received a lot of attention from the locals who asked to take photos with the kids and try to touch their cheeks. The people we have encountered have been incredibly friendly with our kids which has made it easy for us in that it is so very family friendly.
Mountbatten Bungalow
Watching a Kandyan Dance
From Kandy we took a very windy drive to Taylors Hill. Although Google maps or a GPS may say it is only an hours drive, you need to know that the road is bumpy, windy, and long. It can take double the estimated time with traffic and it is not an easy journey. That said, Taylors Hill was one of our favorite accommodations with their gorgeous grounds, delicious food, friendly other guests and a kids toy room (with Legos!). With only five rooms to the place, it truly did feel like a home to us. It would be advised to stay here as a retreat and not with the intention to spend lots of time in Kandy or out sight seeing, especially if you have young kids. The journey is just too tough and you miss out on the tranquility that this special place has to offer. Of course hiking or bike riding is possible for those who are active.
 Taylor Hill, a special place

Our favorite accommodation set up was at Camellia Hills
After two nights at Taylors Hill, we experienced another long and difficult drive to the Tea Hills and to our accommodation, Camellia Hills. By the time we reached Camellia Hills it was pouring rain. The road to reach the hotel was like nothing I had experienced before. In fact, am not sure I would call it a road. It was more a dirt path that we slowly ventured on passing the women picking tea leaves along the way in a manner to close for comfort to me. The hotel staff offered to send a jeep to pick us up but our trusty driver braved the road on his own as he knew we wanted to get there quickly. When we finally reached our lovely boutique hotel, we were blown away by the scenery. Again, with only five rooms, it was another fabulous property. Our room set up was perfect and being set apart from the other rooms, it gave us peace of mind that our early riser wouldn't disturb the peace. Though we were the only family, the other travelers we met were fantastic and we soon became friends. They even played with our kids! We had dinner brought to the room for the kids and after we put them to sleep, we turned on the Baby Monitor App (cannot recommend enough!) and joined the others for dinner. It was divine. The all inclusive aspect made it easy. Most of the time was spent by the pool and taking in the spectacular views. We did go on the tea factory tour which is complimentary and highly recommended. As primarily coffee drinkers, it was interesting to learn about the tea process. We also arranged for our first tuk tuk ride (called three wheelers by the locals) to visit a nearby hotel. Being in travel, I often take advantage of viewing other properties so I can offer the best for my clients. We visited Ceylon Tea Trails which was beautiful, but best for couples or those wanting peace and quiet. We had made the right choice with where we stayed.
From Camellia Hills we were driven to Hatton and took the famous vintage blue train to Ella. Apparently trains in Sri Lanka are commonly late, or even early, and so you have to arrive with time to spare and of course flexibility. Flexibility is key for success in travel and in this country. We had first class tickets but the seats in second were basically the same. In fact, in a lot of ways they were better as there was no air conditioning in second class which allowed for open windows and therefore better pictures. If you do travel in first, make sure to pack a scarf or wear layers as I found it to be very cold. The journey time was about three hours and it was easy to see why it is recommended. The scenery is breathtaking and the experience of sitting on the edge in between compartments is rather fun. Make sure to pack some snacks. We purchased a samosa while on board from a man passing through the aisles selling them and it was good, though spicy. Our driver was able to drop us off in Hatton and meet us in Ella which was fabulous as we then didn't have to worry about taking luggage. Upon arrival in Ella we found a nice little place to have coffee and lunch for the kids while taking notice that the town seemed to be full of backpackers in their 20s with a bit of a hippy vibe. It reminded me of parts of Bali and we were told it was good for hiking and spa.

From Ella we drove to Yala which again, was not short. A good tip is to stop at convenience stores on the way (we almost always stopped at Food City) to fill up a cooler with waters, ice and whatever else you may need. One of my favorite things to experience in other countries is visiting the super markets or food stores. I love wandering the aisles to see what is common and what they like to eat.
Our Cocoon 
In Yala we stayed at the stunning Wild Coast Tented Lodge. I had heard about this place for some time and was rather excited to try it. Our cocoon (what they call the rooms) was very well appointed and designed. It had a sexy feel to it which was completely lost on us as we had to share the space with our two kids. James loved his special air mattress sleeping bag and though Julia had one to begin with, we ended up putting her in a crib which fit in the room but without much space to spare. Though the property was unique and beautiful, it is best suited for couples or if a family, one with older kids. One safari per day is included in the rate but we only went on one as it proved to be too much for the age of our kids. I really wouldn't recommend it until at least six years old.

So far Sri Lanka has secured a place in our hearts and we look forward to experiencing more.

Let's go see some animals!
First Safari!


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