Wendy Wu Tours VIP Wendy Harriss recently returned from an epic adventure to Sri Lanka where she delved into the history, soaked up the culture and ticked off one of her bucket list experiences – seeing elephants in the wild. Wendy very kindly sent us her honest thoughts and feelings about her trip in the form of a blog along with some of her wonderful pictures to share with those considering a similar long-haul holiday with us.
Read on to find out all about her Sri Lanka holidays…
On the 4th of March, we set off on our long-awaited adventure to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. It was with great anticipation that we arrived at Heathrow, ready for our Emirates business class flights to Colombo via Dubai. Both legs of the flight were excellent and restful and we arrived ready to start exploring. Our group’s guide, Latif, was at the airport waiting for us.
We spent the first night close to the resort city of Negombo, in a beautiful seaside setting, a wonderful welcome to a magical tropical island, after so long stuck at home unable to travel. We enjoyed a tour of the area with Latif which was very interesting and informative. Just 10 kilometres from the airport it is perfectly located for a recovery night before the tour really got started.
The next morning, we headed inland to our next stop, Dambulla, were we spent three nights. At the heart of Sri Lanka’s ‘Cultural Triangle’, this is an area full of historic and cultural sights, many of which are Unesco World Heritage listed.
That first day, in the afternoon, we ventured to Sigiriya, also called Lion Rock, which rises 180 metres out of the plain. At the very top of the rock are the remains of a 5th century palace, but to reach it, you must climb…oh my! 14 intrepid and determined climbers set out, pausing on the way up to admire the old rock paintings and ever more impressive views. Only seven of us, though, made it to the very top – the final staircase, a steep climb in 32 degrees heat was too much for some. From the spacious balcony we left them our fellow travellers, you can still admire the giant lion paws that mark the palace entrance, and get astounding views over the plains. I am delighted to say that with Latif’s help, I was able to conquer my fears and make it to the top – a sweaty, shaking mess, but I did it. I was rewarded with glorious views and a feeling of real achievement, so really worth the effort.
When we returned to our gorgeous hotel in the jungle later that afternoon, we did all have a well deserved swim and a drink (or two). This Dambulla hotel was our favourite – it was in such a glorious setting, the staff were so kind and helpful, the food was excellent and the rooms were lovely. Being so close to the jungle, we even had some local wildlife popping in to see us!
The next day we went to the old city of Polonnaruwa, the heart of the kingdom of the same name that ruled Sri Lanka from 1070 to 1232. As a Buddhist I found the tour around the old temples and grounds very interesting, they are so full of history! I’m not sure if everyone else was as interested as I was, but there were so many beautiful things to see that it was enjoyed by all.
Later the same day was a real thrill and the absolute highlight of my tour – a jeep safari to see elephants in the wild. We saw so many of these gorgeous creatures, some even came right up to the jeeps, which was so exciting and a dream come true for me. Something to tick off of my bucket list!
On our final day in Dambulla, we explored Anuradhapura in the morning. Anuradhapura is the oldest of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals, a Sinhala kingdom established in the 5th century BCE, and a centre for Theravada Buddhism for centuries. I again found the visit fascinating, especially seeing the ancient Bo tree. Keeping the socks from our flight turned out to be a really good idea as shoes are not allowed in the temple complex and the pavement was really toasty! This afternoon we enjoyed some time at leisure which was a real blessing as by now we were all feeling the effects of the Sigiriya climb and a bit of jet lag.
Departing our hotel, we stopped at Dambulla Rock Temple to visit the ancient caves. As well as being a wonderful sight, it was nice to get out of the sun and enjoy the cool of the caves. With that we began our drive to Kandy, with a stop at a spice garden where we had a welcome neck and shoulder massage, which was a real treat. There was also a cooking demonstration, during which I was bitten by an ant, which caused my foot to swell up! The guys at the spice garden gave me some herbal ointment which helped and stopped it getting any worse.
On our first day in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s cultural capital, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the Botanical Gardens followed by a welcome locally brewed ginger beer before lunch. Here, we were able to meet other tourists, including some from India who made many requests for selfies with us. Due to the fact that my partner John is 6ft 5 and has long, white hair, I think they thought he was an aging rock star!
Our evening visit to the Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka’s most sacred temple, was crowded to say the least. There were so many devotees there and the atmosphere was electric. Although it was very busy, our trusty guide got us through the scrum safely.
Our hotel in Kandy was once again superb. We were able to eat outside both nights and even had an impromptu Beatles singalong with some strolling minstrels – much to the bemusement of the other diners. We also enjoyed a cultural dance show on the second evening here which was loud, colourful and a brilliant showcase for Sri Lankan heritage…the fire walking at the end was a tad scary though!
While in Kandy I was able to make a trip to a textile shop to purchase a sari, and the lovely ladies in the hotel reception helped me put it on for our evening meal. I had tried doing it myself using a YouTube video as a guide but had got in a real mess. They very kindly unwound me and sorted me out. Shame I couldn’t bring those ladies home with me for when I want to wear it again!
Train to Nuwara Eliya
As always with these things, the train to Nuwara Eliya was an hour late, but we enjoyed a tour of the signal box and just chilled at the station. We shared a train carriage with a lovely local family who had bought an amazing lunch onboard; they kindly shared the bananas they had bought from their estate and some coconut ice, a Sri Lankan delicacy, with us. It was the perfect compliment to the spectacular views over the tea plantations as we climbed into the highlands.
Yala National Park
Our journey back down to the coast to Yala was a long and tiring drive but a stop at the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home, a conservation and rehabilitation centre for orphaned juvenile elephants, more than made up for it. We took an amazing and exciting couple of jeep safaris in Yala National Park. Although we didn’t spot on leopards, we did get to see a sloth bear, which is quite rare.
The hotel was top class, with an excellent setting, food, accommodation and staff. It would have been a wonderful place for an extra day at leisure, to allow us to catch up. There was also the extra excitement of having to be escorted to and from our rooms, as wildlife has been known to wander into the hotel grounds – we actually just missed a huge warthog on our way back to our room one evening!
While the drive to Galle from Yala takes about three hours, with all the stops that we made en route to see temples and blow holes, it was a full day of touring.
Galle itself is a seaside city with an old 17th-century Dutch Fort at its heart. The fort, the lighthouse and a church are all Unesco World Heritage sites, and the streets of the fort are full of lovely small shops and cafes – it was charming to explore. Our hotel for two nights wasn’t far from the old fort and sat right on the seafront. As with the other hotels, it and the staff were great.
The final leg of our trip was from Galle to Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. On arrival we had a lovely lunch with a Wendy Wu Tour representative, who gifted us each with some Sri Lankan tea. What a treat and a lovely surprise.
After exploring the city, we were looking for places to buy our last minute gifts on our final night. As it was a holiday in Sri Lanka, most of the markets and shops were closed, but Latif came to the rescue and found us a couple of places to do some shopping. We then celebrated our trip with a room party at the hotel, it was a bit like being 16 again.
At our final dinner, our superb guide gave us all a gift, which was very kind and thoughtful of him. He was such a lovely man and a real asset to our experience.
With that, the trip was over and we were heading back to the airport, bidding a fond farewell to Latif and boarding our flight back to Heathrow with Emirates via Dubai.
If I could change anything, it would be to add a day off in the middle of each week, as Wendy Wu Tours are so packed with sights and experiences that it would be a wonderful chance to catch your breath. Apart from that, the tour was, as usual, amazing and we loved every minute of it. We can’t wait to travel with you again very soon.
Lastly I just have to add that the people of Sri Lanka were so welcoming and grateful for us being there and we felt safe and welcome wherever we went.
Such a beautiful island full of kind, lovely people.
Thank you Wendy for your wonderful account and fabulous pictures.
Highlights of Sri Lanka
16 days from £3840pp
Fully Inclusive of Tour & Flights
Lion Rock Fortress - Udawale Elephant Orphanage - Ancient Polonnaruwa