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Armchair Travel to Sri Lanka and the benefits of getting your Visa in Order.
Do you have one place that stands out from your travels? Somewhere that you really want to revisit? For me, that place is Sri Lanka. About a quarter of the size of the UK, it’s a charming island, just off the coast of Southern India. I combined my trip there with one to Tamil Nadu and it’s perhaps from the contrast of culture that my love for Sri Lanka was born. Much as I enjoyed visiting Chennai and the temples and villages of Tamil Nadu, it was an intense experience. I remember vividly arriving at Colombo International Airport and really hoping for a change in pace. But the first thing I had to do was to sort out my Sri Lanka visa.
When I arrived, I hadn’t got an entry visa. In fact, travelling from India I had struggled to work out what I needed to do and had taken a chance by relying on a visa on entry system – which sounds rather better than the reality. The journey from Chennai to Colombo is quick – but the departure process had been chaotic, the plane was packed and I was totally exhausted from my few days in India. The last thing I wanted to do when I arrived at Colombo was to sort out my visa. Had I known about e-visa, my life would have been a lot easier. A busy airport isn’t a great place to fill in visa forms – I’d definitely have prefered to arrive with my visa in my hand. Everyone who goes to Sri Lanka needs a visa, but you can get yours in advance so that it is sent to you by email before you travel. So long as you are not staying for more than 30 days, you just need an e-visa which you can organise from the UK or for that matter from anywhere else in the world. It takes around 72 hours to process – although there’s also an ‘urgent’ option which usually takes less than 23 minutes. So, it makes sense to get your visa in order before you travel
Once I’d sorted out my visa and negotiated the airport, everything fell into place. My overriding memory of Sri Lanka was of calmness and tranquillity. Some of that came from the geography of the country – it seemed impossible to travel anywhere quickly. Some came from my hosts – from my driver through to the hotel and resort staff, to the children in their pristine uniforms, everyone smiled. I was in Sri Lanka as a guest of Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts and nothing seemed too much trouble.
On my trip, I stayed at two of the Cinnamon Hotel resorts, the first, Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana which is in the North Central region, in the heart of what is known as Sri Lanka’s Golden Triangle because of the ancient sites in the area and the second in the south of the island on the coast at Cinnamon Bey Beruwala. That meant I was able to tick off a few of the places you really shouldn’t miss if you are visiting Sri Lanka. And I got time to spend on the beach too. But, I’d like a little more time to see some of the places I visited. And, I definitely missed out on others. Don’t you think the best trips are often to places where you know you want to return, to see a few things again and to explore further? The standard tourist visa for Sri Lanka lets you stay for up to 30 days – and in my case, if I went again I’d definitely book a two or three week trip.
I’d go back to the three heritage sites of Sri Lanka that I visited last time; Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and the Golden Temple of Dambulla. I stayed at Habarana for 5 nights and covered all three of these over a two day period. One thing I think everyone who visits Sri Lanka will realise is that it’s a place to take your time. I could easily have spent a whole day at any one of them learning more about the history of Sri Lanka.
I loved watching the monkeys at Polonnaruwa and could have happily spent more time exploring. I walked around on foot – while much the best way to explore is by hiring a bike. It was once the royal capital of both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms and dates back to the late 10th century when the South Indian Chola dynasty conquered Sri Lanka. But, in 1070, the Sinhalese conquered the region and King Vijaybahu I decided to keep Polonnaruwa as the capital. It became a thriving commercial and religious centre and what you see today is an excellent showcase for the culture, lifestyle and architecture of Sri Lanka at that time. There’s even a swimming pool!
And, I missed out on seeing Kandy and the wonderfully named Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic’ (the tooth itself is supposed to be one of Buddha’s). Kandy, in the country’s central highlands, was the last capital of the ancient kings of Sri Lanka and is a charming, traditional town. The best time to visit is arguably during the Esala Perahera annual procession which this year runs from Fri, 26 Jun 2020 – Mon, 6 Jul 2020.
I did visit a tea plantation but would have liked more time to learn about this essential crop for the people of Sri Lanka.
I saw very little of the wildlife – although we spotted some elephants in the distance, I certainly missed out on visiting Yala National Park, where you can see leopards, elephants and crocodiles in their natural habitat as well as hundreds of different types of birds.
On the south coast, I made a brief visit to Galle, a beautiful Dutch colonial city with quirky boutiques, cafes and restaurant and some stunning churches and mosques. And I stopped off at the house of Geoffrey Bawa, a widely travelled Asian architect whose work has been the inspiration for much of the ‘tropical modernism’ architecture of Sri Lanka today.
I spent time visiting Cinnamon Island, an inland island in the southern part of Sri Lanka and learning about cinnamon.
But I didn’t visit Dondra Head where you can blue whales en-route from the Bay of Bengal to the western Indian Ocean. Nor did I make it to Koggala to see the famous stilt fisherman.
Then, of course, there’s Colombo. I didn’t get a chance to see the city myself – though one of the London-Unattached team did go exploring Colombo by jeep, which seems like a great idea to me.
There’s nothing else for it, I need to get my visa in order and get back to Sri Lanka.
Disclosure: This post has been written in conjuction with e-visa. All content is editorially given