• Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Sri Lanka – Colony Style
January 11, 2012

A step back into colonial times, Sri Lanka brings out your inner explorer. Sri Lanka will change your life, or at a minimum have you searching for the deeper meaning of it.  While most of the world has developed skylines of soaring skyscrapers, nature’s taken charge in Sri Lanka, with lush green fields further than the eye can see. The typography ranges from mountains and wild jungles to tea trails and white-sand beaches.

As beautiful as the landscape are the people, both inside and out. Life here is proof that happiness doesn’t cost a thing. Ponder this revelation on a plantation sipping a spot of tea, where you’ll inevitably find yourself taking inventory of what’s important in your life.

Off the Grid

The remote and unspoiled geography of Sri Lanka makes it both the reason to visit, and the reason it’s a challenge to get there and to travel within the country. To put it into perspective: Beyond the southern tip of Sri Lanka lies Antarctica. From the US, you can fly from New York or LA to Bangkok or Singapore. Optimally you’ll want to plan this as a two-week trip, with one week in Sri Lanka and the other days split between Thailand and Singapore. If you’re one of the fortunate banking professionals required to take a two-week break each year, this trip is perfect for you. 

From the Middle East, it’s a four-hour flight from Dubai, and from Europe, an 11-hour-plus flight from major cities like London. No matter where you come from, you’ll land in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. That’s all you should do here – maximize your time and bypass the capital for the cities of Galle, Tangalle, and the Bogawantalawa Valley. Technically there is no low season in Sri Lanka, though you might want to avoid January when it’s chilly and rainy. And, in southwest Sri Lanka, May to October is monsoon season. 

Temple of the Tooth

Sri Lanka has minimal infrastructure, which means that even mere mortals will explore the country with a private driver. There are exceptions, but it’s generally advised to avoid taking a “luxury” bus or train to explore the countryside. Each destination is 2–6 hours away, so a private ride is the way to go. Guests with limited time or limitless means can travel like real hitters via helicopter and seaplane with Sri Lankan Air Taxi. If you’re planning to close a major deal while on vacay, forget about it. While the luxury resorts have WiFi and mobile phone signals, during the long drives between cities, expect to disconnect from the world and smell those flowers. And for many, that’s the biggest draw of Sri Lanka.

The Trail to Tea

The famed tea plantations in Bogawantalawa Valley lie about four hours by private car from Colombo. Sri Lanka is the world's largest tea exporter, and this lush valley is at the heart of the industry. Leave your Louboutins at home. The Bogawantalawa Valley is best experienced by hiking and biking along the trails, which take you through the famed Ceylon tea plantations. And a tea plantation is exactly where you should stay. The Tea Trail Resorts is a Relais & Chateau property that is as close to staying in someone’s Sri Lankan home as you can get. That is, of course, someone’s luxury home. And, just like a home, there are no room keys, and no reception – just a warm welcome of the staff. 

Tea Picker's Basket

The Tea Trail Resort is 4000 feet above sea level, and comprised of four bungalows spread out across the plantation. Book early to ensure your place. You’re in the middle of nowhere, so gourmet food comes with the deal. Once former residences of the plantation managers, each bungalow has its own personality and charm. As you’re stretched out on the chaise lounge at the private pool of your bungalow, don’t be surprised if you’re inspired to start writing the great American novel. 

Life in the Big Tea City

The “Hill Capital” of the tea trails is Kandy, which is as delicious as it sounds. Kandy is a UNESCO Heritage site, so you know you’re in for something spectacular. You can day-trip the two-hour distance from Tea Trail Resorts, or just move over to the appropriately named Kandy House, a luxury restored villa. While Sri Lanka is all about the simple things, here it means simply luxurious. Don’t be surprised if you hear the J. Peterman catalog in your head as you stroll through their gardens. At night, you’ll fall into the deepest of deep sleeps in their four-poster colonial beds. 

Kandy is a Mecca – literally. Many make a pilgrimage to the Buddhist and Hindu temples in the area. The most famous is the Sacred Toot Relic, built in the late 16th century. Other standouts are the Degaldoruwa Temple for its paintings and Vishnu Devale, where the coronations of Sri Lankan royalty were once held. Plan on spending a day or two taking in all the culture of this quaint colonial town. 

Where Your Closest Neighbor is Antarctica

From the tea trails it’s another five hours by car through ancient forests and jungle to the beach town of Tangalle, the southernmost point of Sri Lanka. If there weren’t unspoiled beaches, stunning views, and utter relaxation, then the Aman resort of Amanwella alone would be a reason to visit. Vacation is all about recharging those batteries, and this may be one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world to do so. Each suite has its own plunge pool and terrace overlooking the ocean on an idyllic private strip of white sandy beach. Blue whales – the largest known mammal – can be seen off the coast from November through April.

Modern Time Travel

The meaning of life wasn’t found in a day, which is why you’ll need to further Aman-ify yourself in the port of Galle. Set in an old colonial house, the Amangalla will inspire you to don your cricket whites and do some exploring of your own. From Amanwella, it’s about two hours up the coast to the ancient seaport and picturesque fort city. Galle has a rich history: As early as 1400 BC, it was a key site for the exportation of cinnamon, which is Sri Lanka's main export besides tea. Galle was later visited by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Chinese traders. The colonial Galle Fort was built by the Portuguese in the early 1500's, and then finished by the Dutch and English. Amangalla enjoys a prime location, in a historic colonial building in the heart of the walled city, that once housed the city’s governor. You can embark on walks around the fort, where Dutch and English churches are still open for visitors. The hotel is well designed with colonial charm combined with modern amenities and well-appointed rooms. And just like colonial times, the gents can get a traditional shave.  It’s modern-day time travel, but even better. 

One of the highlights will be interacting with the local school children, who’ll gather around you joyfully as if you were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Being in this environment, you’ll be inspired to do the same kind of good. A trip to Sri Lanka is a game changer – if you let it be. Sri Lanka will set the stage, but achieving inner peace? That’s all up to you.