Top travel tips for Sri Lanka

Although I did lots of research before traveling to Sri Lanka there is still a lot that I learned along the way and I wanted to share as much as I can that could make your trip that much easier or more enjoyable. The tips below are not in any ranking system, they are just numbered for differentiating purposes. I just wanted to point it out so that you don’t think #1 is more important than #7 and so on and so forth. I want to share the main tips from my trip that I didn’t find information on prior to my trip. Let’s get straight into it.

Tip #1 Take Plenty of Cash!

When we first got to the airport, there are several companies that are trying to get your business, either to exchange your money, to get a taxi, to buy a sim card for your phone or to book tours. The first thing we did as exchange some money. I highly suggest bringing enough cash as it’s hard to find atms that will work for you. I called my bank in advance to put a travel advisory on both my credit card and my debit card. When we ran out of cash and tried to use the atm, it kept giving me a message that it wasn’t valid or something. It was really scary because that was the only means of getting cash. It’s not like there was a bank branch that I could go in to withdraw money from my bank account. Luckily there was an HSBC bank branch in Kandy and one near the airport. This was a life saver! We would have been stuck out had it not been for HSBC bank. So that’s why I suggest bringing enough cash so you can exchange it when you get there as a lot of places only take cash besides the hotels and more established/nicer restaurants. Even the cab company we went with only took cash.

Tip #2 Buy MOSQUITO REPELLENT!!!

I highly suggest buying mosquito repellent because the mosquitos literally swarm you almost immediately leaving the airport. Buy the repellent not only to keep you from getting a mosquito bite and end scratching yourself for the rest of the trip, but also to prevent you from getting yellow fever or Meningitis through a mosquito bite. I bought my mosquito repellent when I got to Kandy and let me tell you it really worked. My theory is the mosquito repellent they sell in Sri Lanka is stronger than the kind you get in the states or anywhere else because it is formulated to really keep the mosquitos off of you. The mosquitos were everywhere and they WILL get you if you don’t protect yourself. I was bit only one time on my hand and it was a small bite. I was so worried the rest of the trip that I got yellow fever from that one mosquito. I had the sniffles the next morning and I was so stressed out. Luckily I turned out to be fine, but you don’t want to chance it.

Tip #3 Bring a rain coat or poncho

The weather forecast said that it was going to rain all five days, 100% of the time. I was a little bummed but I was like “oh well, we’ll get through it”. We got lucky because it only rained in the evenings and by that time we were at the hotel already having dinner and didn’t plan on leaving the property until the next morning. However it did rain on one day in the afternoon and it rained pretty hard. So I suggest bringing ponchos and small umbrellas just in case.

Tip #4 Bring a pair of loose pants or buy a sarong.

When you go to the temples, you are not allowed to go in with shorts or skirts. You must have your legs covered either with pants or a long sarong. I happened to be wearing yoga pants that day so I didn’t need to buy a sarong, however looking back I probably should have had one just out of respect since my yoga pants were a little form fitting.

Tip #5 Drink lots of water!

This sounds so basic but trust me, you will need to keep yourself super hydrated because it is so hot and humid there. We went on short walks and were huffing and puffing because of how tired we were. I drank water like I had been in the desert in the hot sun all day. I was so thankful that I had the water too because I avoided being sick from dehydration and ruining the rest of my trip.

Tip #6 Take a small backpack with you.

This is self explanatory but I still find it essential to mention. You will need to carry water, sunscreen, mosquito repellent tissues, and maybe a small towel in case you sweat a lot and snacks. You will want to take this with you for your long hikes, so it’s best to have a small backpack to carry all your items.

Tip #7 Almost everything is negotiable.

Pretty much everything is negotiable, even when you shop at the gem stores, you can talk down the price. I found myself negotiating everything, even my hotel stay. I was so happy for this and definitely wanted to mention this as a tip. Negotiate even if you think you can’t get anything from it, try it anyway. You never know.

Tip #8 Be Aware of your surroundings/Read the Signs

Be aware of your surroundings, not only for your safety but I want to emphasize reading the signs posted. Let me note that in my trip/experience there was not a time that I felt unsafe at all. I just want to still make the point as a reminder and a tip. Sometimes the signs are in another language, but they almost always have a picture of what you are to be aware of. They are extremely strict on their rules of “no pictures” by the Department of Archaeology in Sri Lanka and they are protective of their historical sites. You will be detained and your camera confiscated if you take a picture of something you were not supposed to. You can also be imprisoned. This is not a joke people. For example, there are areas of Lion Rock that have been preserved but are dying due to so many pictures being taken of it in the past, so you are not allowed to photograph even without flash. There are government officials there at all times to actually detain you on-site and take you to jail if you break this rule. They will take your camera and you’ll probably never see it again. So to avoid all this, just don’t take pictures in the areas where it says you should not.

Tip #9 Wear comfortable Sneakers

Do not wear flip flops because there is so much walking involved. You can really injure your foot /feet from tripping over rocks, or if something falls on your feet.  Also, the amount of walking can cause blisters or cause a lot of pain to your ankles. I really recommend leaving the cute flip flops at home or just to use in your hotel room and only wear sneakers or hiking shoes.

Tip #10 Be prepared to sit in a car for hours

If you are planning to go to other cities while in Sri Lanka and not just stay on one resort, be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car as it takes several hours to get to the next city. When you are in the city, be prepared to sit in traffic jams. This is where the small backpack comes in handy. Always keep a bottle of water for each person traveling and snacks whether it be apple, bananas, a small bag of chips, granola bars, etc. You will get very hungry while on the road.

Tip #11 Pack toilet paper or a small pack of tissue

You will pretty much only get toilet paper in the comfort of your hotel. Otherwise, if you have to use the bathroom outside of the hotel, you won’t usually have toilet paper. You will need to bring some from the hotel or pack a small pack of tissues for your bathroom needs. I also recommend bringing a small travel pack of wet wipes, just in case. Hand sanitizer is also a must as there were plenty of times there wasn’t any soap in the bathrooms while traveling.

Tip #12 Visas for Sri Lanka

I was able to get my visa on arrival. I believe for US citizens, as of October 2017 it was $40 usd per person and I was able to pay with a credit card which made it easier because I didn’t have to use my cash I brought.

Tip #13 Vaccinations for Sri Lanka

I did not have to get vaccinated for travel to Sri Lanka as a traveler from the United States. You can, and it is advised that you get it done at least a month prior to your trip to make sure you don’t have any reactions. I am not advising where you should or shouldn’t. I am simply stating that I did not, and I was fine. I just used mosquito repellent to try to prevent a mosquito from biting me. I also drank lots of water and made sure to get plenty of rest so that my immune system was at it’s strongest while I was there.

Tip #14 Traveling to Sri Lanka

I flew from Muscat, Oman on Oman Air. They offer direct flights to Colombo, Sri Lanka, which is where their main airport is. Expect to fly in to Colombo no matter where you want to go in Sri Lanka. This basically means to factor in a driver/taxi cost in to your trip because none of the cities are nearby.

Tip #15 Driving in Sri Lanka vs. Taxi

DO NOT RENT A CAR IN SRI LANKA. I repeat, Do. Not. Rent. A. Car. My main reason why I suggest to not rent a car and go the route of hiring a driver is because driving is so dangerous in Sri Lanka if you are not experienced in chaotic traffic situations. What I mean by that is cars, tuk tuks, motor bikes, big trucks are all weaving in and out of lanes, there is no method to the madness. It can actually be really scary in the passenger seat, let alone driving. You will legit have a car coming head on and you have to just know when to move out of the way to avoid a collision. The drivers are so much more experienced and quite frankly more calm because they are used to the driving conditions. They are also used to driving in this sort of traffic in the rainy weather conditions. To be on the safe side, just hire a driver and save yourself the incredible stress, anxiety and potential accident. Hiring a driver to stay with you the whole time will run you just about the same amount of money if you were to rent a car. It will not be money wasted, trust me! When you arrive to Colombo airport, there are several car/taxi companies. Go to each company if you want, try to negotiate the lowest price for the route you want to take. For example, I told tell the taxi companies I wanted to go from airport, to Kandy for two days, to Dambulla/Sigiriya for two days then back to the airport. Don’t forget to factor in going back to the airport. They will quote you a price. Remember everything is negotiable. Talk them down. Also ask for someone who speaks good English. My guy was great and he knew a lot about Sri Lanka. I literally didn’t pay for any tours because my taxi driver knew so much. Here is the number to Sunil, the driver I had in Sri Lanka +94 77 524 9981. Tell him Marcella sent you.

That’s about all I can think of and I will definitely update this post if I think of anything else. I hope this is helpful and I hope you have an amazing trip in Sri Lanka. It’s an incredible experience.

Love, Marcella

5 days in Sri Lanka Part 2

 

As promised, here are the places I ate, the nightlife I experienced and the places I shopped

Where to Eat

Sasha Food Court

As soon as we landed we were starving so we asking our taxi driver to take us somewhere with really good food. We didn’t care where, just good food. So he took us to Sasha Food Court which was about 15 minutes away from Colombo airport. The food was SO GOOD, and so cheap! We had 2 Sasha special noodles (which were huge plates of food), a soda and a cappuccino all for about $13 USD or 5 OMR.

Devon Tea Room

The first day we opted out of the hotel breakfast and instead went to a restaurant that has the best authentic Sri Lankan breakfast. We had the breakfast hopper and curry at Devon Tea Room. We also tried the potato curry which was amazing. If you are looking for a breakfast more along the lines of eggs, with baked beans, toast, potatoes, coffee, etc….this is not the place.  We pretty much had what I would consider lunch-type food with fish, soups, noodles, etc. Nonetheless it was still a fantastic meal and I was happy to experience the authentic breakfast at least once while in Sri Lanka. I honestly didn’t care for the coffee, but still tried it anyway. They use powdered milk as the creamer, which is definitely not my thing, but I took a few sips just to try it and to be polite since they were staring at us obvious “out-of-towners” the entire meal.

Ozo Hotel Restaurant

Our first night in Kandy we ate at the hotel restaurant and it was surprisingly very good food with really good wine. The tuna steaks were not over-done and the steamed veggies were made just right. The portion size was perfect if you’re really hungry.

Royal Bar & Hotel

We ate dinner here on our second night and the atmosphere was amazing. We decided to sit outside on the balcony and it was really lovely at night. They were also playing soft romantic music which really set the mood for a calm, enjoyable evening. The drinks were decent, but don’t expect to find top shelf here. They will have the bare minimum in each type of alcohol (vodka, whisky, tequila, etc). I have to say that the food was really good. Again, it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was good enough that my pallet was satisfied and I didn’t leave hungry.

Gamagedara Village Food Restaurant

We went to Gamagedara immediately after our hike at the Lion’s Feet and our stomachs were so ready for a big meal and something ice cold to drink. When we arrived, we weren’t sure we were at the right place because we were essentially at someones house and it was really quiet. We walked up and they welcomed us in, the woman was already preparing the food, instructed us to go up the stairs and to sit. The menu is set, so you have to just dive in and try everything. This is not a place to be picky. I had an ice cold Coke and that was about all I cared about. The food was absolutely amazing and her little one was super cute hiding around the corner and smiled at me when she passed by. The family was so lovely and always checked to make sure we were taken care of and that we were enjoying ourselves. I highly recommend having a meal here to visit with the people who live there, to experience their kindness and hospitality and enjoy the delicious meal.

Nightlife in Kandy and Sigiriya

Royal Bar & Hotel

The nightlife wasn’t really there. You don’t go to Kandy or Sigiriya to party or if you’re looking for a night out on the town dancing and what not. However if you want to have a nice evening out, I really liked Royal Bar & Hotel. Again, it’s not a party spot at all, really quite dull, but it was a nice date night evening.

The Pub

I really really wanted to go the The Pub to just check it out and at least have a glass of wine and relax for a bit, but our driver was very tired from the day and I completely understood. We decided

Where I shopped

To be honest, there wasn’t a central place in particular that I went shopping, however I did shop whenever I could to try and find some things to take back home. I shopped at the Tea factory and brought back tons of tea. The is actually one of the more favorite items we brought back because it is such amazing tea. I went shopping at the spice garden and brought back a few beauty products that I can’t wait to use. I also shopped at Premadasas gem store in Sigiriya. Sri Lanka is known for their gem mining and you can find beautiful stones in so many different shapes and clarities at an amazing price. I found my birthstone and I got a 1 carat and they put it in a gold setting for me the same day! I already had a gold chain at home that I could put it on and they went perfectly together! I was so impressed by the service and the price I got it for.

 

I hope this help you on your journey to Sri Lanka. Stay tuned for my experiences with the beauty products I got from the spice garden.

Love, Marcella

5 days in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was an experience to remember. I loved experiencing a new culture, a different people and just a completely different vibe than what I’m used to when I travel. I usually travel to tropical destinations, and stay on a nice resort, and sip my drink while sleeping on the beach or reading a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love relaxing and napping, but this time I wanted a more immersed cultural experience. I wanted to really learn about the region and meet the locals. If you are looking to travel to Sri Lanka, I highly recommend the places I’m about to tell you about. There is so much to see so I definitely want to go back and explore more of this amazing island country.

Things to do

First we went to temple of the scared tooth, which is one of the most sought after buddhist temples because it houses an actual tooth of Buddha! It was really beautiful inside but it was super crowded, which was a little much for me. I quickly walked in and walked right out. I tried to take pictures as quickly a possible so I can look at them after. After the temple, I toured the Geragama Tea Factory. It was on the side of a mountain, and honestly I thought to myself ‘there is no way a tea factory is in this small space’; but when we went all the way to the top, there were tons of tea plants and lots of equipment to do the entire tea making process. You start the tour from the top and then work your way down through the different rooms of equipment, each with a specific purpose in the team making process.  We saw where the leaves are humidified, where they are processed, and every step from start to finish. At the end there is a shop where you could buy the teas produced there, and I bought the BOP tea = English Breakfast and a few packs of Green Tea. I have to say it is probably the best and freshest tea I’ve ever had.

After the tea factory, we told our taxi driver we wanted to go to a spice garden. He found one for us and it wasn’t what I thought. I had my heart set on going to a spice garden where you can learn about and buy different spices to cook with. But he took us to a spice garden where they make things out of plants for medicinal purposes. You can also cook with it, but this location specialized in research and development of healing spices. We did a tour and as we went along I learned more and more about everything in nature that can help you health-wise. I was amazed at how many benefits these things had, and all along I relied on Advil or Tylenol to help with headaches, but I could have been using natural products. They even had stuff to help with hair growth and thickening. Needless to say I bought a bunch of their products and I cannot wait to try them to see if they work. I’ll keep you posted on the natural beauty products I bought and liked.

We then headed out the next day leaving Kandy to head to Dambulla, and stopped off at the center of Sri Lanka. It was like an ancient house or temple made of rocks with etchings of people and lions. I learned that the lake next to it was where the temple was originally located, but back in the 90’s they uplifted all the rock to just a little ways over so that the temple would not be submerged in water and they wouldn’t lose that piece of ancient history. They had to mark every single piece of rock so that it would be put back exactly the way it was before. I can’t imagine having to do that in the heat and humidity.

The forecast said it would rain every day, 100% of the time, but we got lucky and it only rained at night, with the exception of one day which we ended up going to Dambulla temple rather than our planned hike for the day. Before you enter the temple, you have to remove your shoes. I was a little hesitant because the ground is straight up cobble stone, but luckily the stone is so old and worn that it wasn’t uncomfortable on my feet. The temple was very beautiful and there were very old paintings on the walls of Buddhist figures. There were lots of people there to give flower offerings to the Buddha. Afterwards, was a great photo opp because you end up being at the top of a big hill essentially and you can see the lush green land for as far as you can see.

I went on a hike in Sigiriya to the Lion’s Paws of Sri Lanka and we went all the way to the top. It was the most breathtaking and amazing experience I have had in a long time. It is an ancient fortress where a King’s palace later occupied. After the King died, the fortress was turned into a Buddhist temple until the 14th century. I couldn’t believe that something that old still exists. And the views and how high you were made you feel like you could touch the clouds.

Our last day I did a spa day after the Sigiriya hike. The spa at Jetwing lake was probably my favorite part of the trip after being sore and my feet hurt from all the hiking. My massage was 90 minutes and I swear the massage therapist had magic hands. The pressure of the Swedish massage was perfect! I also really liked that there is a shower in-room so you can take a quick shower afterwards if you prefer not to keep the oil on you, or before if you are coming from a sweaty hike. I was so relaxed that I asked the therapist if I could stay for another 15 minutes to finish my nap.

How I got around

We hired a taxi when we got to the airport, and the price to have a driver with the car for the whole time you are there is the same price you would pay for a rental car. Beware of renting a car as the driving is extremely dangerous in Sri Lanka if you’ve never done it before. I highly advise to go the driver route so that you are with an experienced driver and they know how to navigate the roads. Our driver’s name was Sunil and he was very sweet. His English was good enough that he understood what we wanted. Sometimes things got lost in translation, but if you are patient with each other, you will get the message across. Also, he has experience with tourists so he generally knows what you want without having to fully explain it. Just say Sirigirya, and he knows you most likely want to hike the Lion’s feet or Pidrangula as an example.

Where I stayed

I stayed at Ozo hotel in Kandy the first 2 nights and it was a decent hotel. It was quite simple and had a small balcony where you can enjoy the sunrise in the mornings. I had a peaceful sleep and the bed was super comfortable. I didn’t like their shampoo and body wash that was included. It just seemed of very cheap quality. I also didn’t like the hair dryer that came in-room. Luckily I brought my own, so I just ended up using that. These are minor grievances, and I overall liked the hotel. The restaurant was actually really great for dinner and they had good wine selections. And I also loved the breakfast buffet. I was happy with the fact that they had great customer service. We accidentally booked Ozo in a different city, and they switched the booking for us with no penalty. Win!

We switched to Jetwing Lake in Dambulla, which is only 15 minutes away from Sigiriya. The hotel was so unique. It’s a brand-new build, only 9 months old and the concept is super cool. It’s all about modern minimalism mixed with woodey furniture and a little grit. The lobby was fully open-air concept as well as the hallways. When I say open air, there are no walls. You walk up to a platform and there is the lobby desk. I absolutely loved our room. I love simple and chic. The shower was open concept, you just walk in and turn on the water. I loved that there was a separate tub that you could take a bubble bath in. I didn’t use it, but I should have. The towels were plush and soft. The hair dryer came in handy when I needed to wash my hair that evening from all the sweat build up. The bar was stocked with soda and snacks and the room comes with 2 complementary bottles of water.

 

There is so much to cover on this amazing place, so I will be doing another update on where we ate, nightlife in Sri Lanka and where I shopped. I had an overall amazing experience and like I said before, I will be going back!

Love, Marcella

Beauty around the world

 

As I find myself traveling around the world more and more, I have decided to share beauty finds from each place I visit. I recently went to Sri Lanka and I went to a spice garden. I thought a spice garden had spices for cooking. But the main focus of the one I went to was for medicinal purposes. I didn’t know this prior to going, but I was so glad I went.

I learned about all sorts of different plants and trees that have many different benefits for your body. I was amazed that it was all found in nature. I couldn’t believe how many natural remedies are made from the different combinations of plants, tree saps, roots, etc. One in particular that sparked my interest is the Sandalwood tree. At the spice garden, they made a cream made of sandalwood that can help with the worst acne. It helps with acne from small pimples to cystic acne. Over time it’ll clear it up, but it’s not for sure it’ll rid it for good. I have struggled so much with adult acne these past few years and I am willing to try anything, apart from internal medicine, to clear it up. So I’ll let you know how that goes. I can’t wait to share what other beauty products I found in Sri Lanka. I also am going to share a skin update after I try the Sandalwood a few times. Lately my skin has been fluctuating and I’m nervous it’ll break out but I won’t know until I try!

What are some of your favorite beauty products you’ve found while traveling?

 

Exotic Beauty Treatment Of The Moment

photo credit Taste of Life

My experience with Turkish baths, or Hamams, was an interesting one to stay the least. I’ve experienced an Arabic bath when I was in Spain. I figured this would be pretty much the same, but I was so wrong. In a good way. I went to the Ayasofoya Hamam which was originally constructed in 1556. Here’s a little background:

“The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam in Istanbul was designed and built by Mimar Sinan, the chief Ottoman architect. It was built at the request of Hurrem Sultan (Roxelana), the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century (1556-1557 AD). It was built where the ancient public baths of Zeuxippus (100-200 AD) used to stand, between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The area is also particularly significant as the site where the Temple of Zeus once stood.”

The men and women entrances are completely separate and on opposite ends of the building. I started the experience by entering the Hamam on the far end closest to the Blue Mosque.

I went in and was greeted by the manager. She led me in to the very quiet and dim room with relaxing, soft Turkish music playing and I filled out the standard “do you have any injuries” paperwork. Once I was done with that, I went to the changing area where you remove everything. When I say everything, I mean EV-ER-Y-THING. They do provide you with disposable underwear that feel more like a loose peace of cotton than underwear. And I got a purple peshtamal (turkish hand woven towel) to wrap around myself. I then met the attendant who would be performing the bath on me. She took my hand, and while holding hands, she led me to the next room. That was different for me. Usually they say something like “come with me” and you follow behind them. But she took my hand, and led me to the next destination. It’s subtle, but was very noticeable for me. I thought it was nice and immediately indicated to me that this would be a very different experience. We went into the all-white marble room and she instructed me to sit next to the fountain with the gold spout. I sat down, she ran the water and made sure it was a nice temperature. She handed me a gold bowl and told me to sit back against the wall and relax. I sat against the wall, to attention, and she said, “no relax”. I still didn’t understand what she meant, so she sat next to me and sat down against the wall and completely let herself relax. Every single muscle, down to her posture was almost limp. Then I had the “oooooh” moment, and understood what I needed to do. The whole point is to completely let go, and cleanse your body and mind. So I did just that, and used the gold bowl to pour water over myself as I waited for her to return.

When she returned, she also changed into just the towel and some flip flops so she doesn’t get her clothes wet while she baths me. She took the special exfoliating mit and scrubbed my whole body from my face down to my feet. She did everything. My butt, my legs, my boobs, feet, everything. I remember thinking “this must be what it feels like to a baby when they get a bath”! Once she was done exfoliating, she walked me over the the center of the room and then unwrapped my peshtamal and laid it on top of the heated marble. I laid down on top of it, face up, wondering “what the heck is she about to do?!”. She then took a bucket and dipped a cloth inside, flipped it around and then rung it out. When she rung it out, a huge blanket of foam soap covered my body. She did this 3 times and my whole body was covered in the soapy foam. Then she washed and massaged my whole body, I turned over and she did the same. Then we went back to the fountain and she rinsed my body and she washed my hair for me. It was literally the most relaxing thing ever. I thought we were done, and apparently we weren’t! We went up 2 flights of stairs and in to a small room with a massage bed. She then gave me a nice medium-pressure massage for about 30 minutes.

When I was done I went back downstairs, put on a robe and relaxed with my choice of Turkish coffee or Turkish tea. The experience was seriously unforgettable. I have never had anything like this happen to me before and it’s something I would love to do again. I felt like Royalty!

You guys, this is a must-do activity when traveling to Istanbul. Why is this the best-kept beauty secret? Because it is a full body exfoliation and moisturizing event! For days my skin felt incredibly soft and glowing. Have you ever been to a Turkish Hamam? Have you ever been to Turkey? xoxo

Love,

Marcella