Back story: Why Sri Lanka
Ceylon sounded mysterious, intriguing, so we read and read. I liked the idea of one small island (without the hassle of third world airports and planes) offering such a diversity of experiences. Where else could we visit 2000 year old ruins, go on a game safari in a national park, enjoy a fortified city and relax at a fine beach? Sri Lanka weather is at its most pleasant during December as well. I am attracted to Buddhism and in the predominantly Buddhist countries I’ve visited I’ve found the locals to be exceptionally friendly and hospitable and exuding an inner contentment. I plead poetic license for this (over)generalization. Craig, Dogster, Kathie and others who have shared their experiences of and enthusiasm for SL had stimulated my interest and greatly helped me with planning. Finally, our Sri Lankan neighbors have been encouraging us for some time to visit their native land.
By way of introduction to some of you, my husband and I are mature (chronologically that is) travelers who have traveled widely in Europe, Africa and North and South America. Five or six years ago we went to Southern India over the Christmas holidays and have since adopted the rewarding habit of going somewhere in Asia during Christmas season. And work wise, its the easiest (and financially best) time for us to take three weeks off.
So we knew in advance that Christmas time was high, high season which meant we had to book nine months in advance and expect to pay a 20% premium (beyond the high season rate) in several places. By the time I had learned from Kathie that I had sought quotes incorrectly with Boutique SL and SL in Style, I had committed to transportation arrangements with Journeys Lanka.
I did most of the bookings directly with the hotels since I like to block specific rooms and sometimes tour operators don’t attend to these requests in my experience. In one case I booked through I-Escape, who provided great efficiency and follow through via internet. Journeys Lanka booked Villa Araliya and Vil Uyana, the former because I was unable to contact them directly and the latter because JL got us a much better than rack rate.
Getting to Sri Lanka
LAX was deserted on the cold (38 degrees) and rainy night we departed in mid December. I was amazed that from arrival at the international building to arrival in the Cathay Pacific Lounge took less than 30 minutes, unheard of in my LAX experiences. In a double decker plane I prefer the upper deck so that's where we were seated. The plane was a 777-300 with flat beds and angled rows. The ergonomics of the seat/bed were wonderful: an attached soft silky pillow, a shelf by the foot of the bed that became an extension of the flat bed when the bed was fully prone so tall people could stretch out. The tv screen swiveled so I could watch whiling lying flat; plenty of entertainment choices. I can't comment on the dinner, it was served after 1 AM and I went out like a cheap watch. Breakfast was adequate. Service was very good.
Due to very heavy head winds we had to make a 45 minutes stop in Taipei. The captain and crew couldn't apologize enough. The passengers who were missing connections due to this delay seemed less impressed with the polite apologies. This wasn't the first time we've had to make an unscheduled stop. Last year in flying to Bangkok, the airline switched to a smaller plane necessitating refueling en route. So give yourself plenty of flex time between flights.
My first time in Hong Kong Airport; very sleek , very big. I checked out some shops and then took a shower in the lounge. Because of the delay we had only a five hour layover, not quite enough time to get outside the airport and see any of HK. Then we flew on to Singapore with a 2 hours layover in Singapore and finally, finally Singapore to Colombo; some thirty hours in all. But then free business class seats on Cathay Pacific (using American ff miles) was a great financial boon and no small feat at holiday time.
Our arrival at the airport was smooth and easy. Luggage arrived quickly and in tact; no visas necessary, plenty of luggage trolleys available. Our Journeys Lanka rep greeted us at the airport and in about a half hour we were settling in at Villa Araliya in the beach town of Negembo. The hotel is about 2-3 blocks from the beach.
It was a fine place for crashing overnight, clean spacious room, firm bed. Our superior, upstairs room with balcony and breakfast was about $68. Too bad I couldn’t sleep a wink. My body clock would not cooperate, no matter what sleeping concoction I took. The air conditioning in the room was on very high and I was freezing. I couldn’t find the controls and didn’t want to disturb DH’s much needed sleep. So i put on my upcountry flannels and wool socks and spent the night thinking pleasant, warm thoughts.
Next morning we had breakfast outside on the restaurant’s patio, a sweet setting by the gardens. The staff was very friendly and welcoming. If I’d had any energy, I would have wanted an hour in the morning to walk around town and by the water’s edge before we decamped.
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Back story: Why Sri Lanka