Livin’ La Vida Lanka: Dambulla 1/3

If the Philippines is known as the Pearl of the Orient Seas, our next travel feature is about a country known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Let’s do this… *music please* upside inside out… livin la vida lanka! (When did I ever become this corny? Haha!)
Having just traveled last August during the Eid vacation to the very beautiful Maldives, I didn’t think this trip to its neighboring country will push through. What can ever top Maldives this year?! I was still short on travel money and the airfare was getting more expensive as our target travel dates were looming near. As usual, I was also having problems in getting an exit/re-entry visa (when did pre-traveling from KSA ever become smooth for me?!). But as fate would have it, Sri Lanka happened. 

From Saudi Arabia to Sri Lanka
Oh my Sri Lanka!
The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon (why did they have to make names so complicated and long?), is an island country in the Indian Ocean. It is one of the most diverse countries: home to many religions, ethnicities, and languages. However, most of the Sri Lankans are Buddhists and most of their heritage sites are shrines to Buddha. Sri Lanka has recently opened to major changes and modernity after a 30-year civil war that just ended in a military victory in 2009. This is the perfect time to visit Sri Lanka!
Who wouldn’t be enticed to go to Sri Lanka?
And see these presentations of unique culture and tradition?
And try cuisines and spices different from our own?
Photos above are from HERE.

Sri Lanka, known for its natural beauty (thus the pearl nickname), is one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. The teardrop-shaped island country has unbelievably many flora and fauna species considering its size. Apart from having tropical forests and national parks, the island country has eight UNSECO World Heritage Sites. And it’s also known for its beaches. Because of this, a 5-day trip to Sri Lanka is not enough to cover every thing.

So how did we pick which to visit? We considered our interests and they became our priority. My friend for this trip and I are culture vultures so definitely, the heritage sites are a must visit. We cannot go to all though so we picked two which are near each other. Then we also wanted to visit the famed tea plantations so that’s definitely in. And then the beach. At first, it was an impossible itinerary but, we made a way.

Our itinerary. We only covered a tiny part of the country. All land travel.
As Filipinos, we need a tourist visa to go to Sri Lanka but this is easy to get from the Sri Lankan Immigration website for $30. If you wish to get a visa-on-arrival, you can also do so at the airport before you go through immigration. The visa will cost $35. We got ours online to avoid the hassle and had it printed.
My friend J and I flew via Srilankan Airways and landed at the Bandaranaike International Airport outside Colombo, the first capital of Sri Lanka up to the recent times, at midnight. If you remember, I’ve flown Srilankan when I went to Thailand earlier this year. We have arranged all our itinerary, driver, and hotels online. As usual, I DIYed every thing. Our driver for this trip is Anton from Srilankan Tours and he was patiently waiting at the airport arrival hall. Our first mission was to get a Srilankan sim card so we can still communicate with out families and friends (in my case, also The Pink Tarha Facebook page). We bought sim cards from Dialog, just in case you’re wondering what’s the network we got. We admit, we can no longer go offline for days. #internetslaves
Our first destination is not Colombo. Anton drove us to the Dambulla, a site 3-4 hours away from the airport. Truth be told, I am a worry wart when it comes to land travel. I don’t like sleeping on the car while we’re traveling so I had my eyes open the whole time. Because it’s still dark, Anton kept his speed at a minimum, especially on the roads flanked by forests. He said an elephant might suddenly cross the road! Whoah! Thankfully, we reached our resort hotel without encountering a wild elephant, or other animals, on the road.
The Thilanka Resort and Spa is a very ideal place to relax and rest in Dambulla. It’s indeed the perfect holiday resort and spiritual retreat. If I somehow forgot that I am in Sri Lanka, I would assume I am in the Philippines when I saw Thilanka in the morning. Lush hilltops in the distance, mango orchard right outside the window, rice and corn fields beside the swimming pool. What a tropical getaway! The accommodation in Thilanka is divided into several buildings but the highlight is the clubhouse where they serve the best grilled pork ever!

Mango orchard… Philippines much?!
The blues and greens you can’t find in the desert.
Our room is in the second floor.

The staff and manager of Thilanka were also very accommodating. We arrived around 5 in the morning and the resort was quiet. We had to wake up the receptionist who must have forgotten that I noted in my booking that we were arriving at the odd hours of the morning. He was very warm and friendly though. (Sri Lankans are known for their warmth and hospitality, like us Filipinos! Yey!)

An inviting escape from the urban world.
I can chill in this place all day!

On our first morning, we roamed around the 25-acre property and also got ourselves an ayurvedic foot massage. Ahhh bliss! That was some massage! Sri Lanka is known for their ayurveda, an old system of traditional medicine and practice. You should not leave Sri Lanka without getting an ayurvedic massage!

I automatically think of a spa when I see this ensemble.
And then it was time to head off to one of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage site… the Golden Temple of Dambulla.
Statues of monks welcome you to the temple complex.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla
The Dambulla temple complex is a vast isolated rock mass where King Valagam Bahu took refuge in the first century BC. He turned the caves into rock temples in honor of Buddha. A friend warned me that going up the Dambulla Cave is not an easy peat and indeed, it wasn’t. Yes, you might say it was just a series of stairs but for someone like me who hasn’t exercised like ever, it was a series of torture. Haha!

Stairs? Pffft! I can do this!
Overlooking the flatlands

I was heaving and puffing like crazy much to the chagrin of our driver/tourist guide. I needed to stop once in a while in the pretense of taking photos. Hahaha! However, looking at the colossal figure of Buddha carved out of a living rock and painted with gold has kept me busy during the climb. That was huuuuuge!

Stairs again?!? Insert series of cursing here. Joke!

Upon reaching the top few many minutes after, I already wanted to sing Miley Cyrus’ The Climb. I thought my lungs and legs would give up halfway. Haha! But I was too embarrassed not to continue with the climb because little kids and students were running up to reach the summit. Quitting would have made me look like a total wuss.

Hey kids, how’d you do it that easily?!?!

We had to leave our shoes before going in the complex.  From the courtyard, we have a nice panoramic view of the flatlands surrounding Dambulla.

A captivating view! Hello, Sri Lanka!!!
Can you see the monkeys on those branches?
There are more Sri Lankans than foreigner tourists. 🙂
Finally, we reached you.
Each small cave is a shrine of Buddha.
The temple complex have five caves and I’m not exactly sure which is which already. I did enjoy my time looking at the statues and frescoes inside. Some of them were more than 2,000 years old!

A jar that never fills up.

There’s an interesting jar sealed inside a wall of mesh wire in the middle of one of the caves. Our guide said that water is dropping from the ceiling in constant intervals but the jar never overflows. It’s just full but the water remains at the same exact volume even if there was no way the water inside it decreased. Amazing indeed!

Me in my mandatory photo at the entrance to the largest cave.
Bodhi, Buddha’s tree.
It was starting to rain when we went down and the sun has already set but we were meeting Sri Lankans who were still on their way up.Looking back at the Golden Temple, the view was breathtaking:

Goodbye for now, Dambulla!

Along the way to our resort, we saw a few fruit stands and we got curious on the red bananas and orange coconuts. Yes. Apparently, these fruits have different colors in Sri Lanka.

I went bananas over these colored fruits.

The King Coconut (aka Thambili) is widely-cultivated in Sri Lanka. Like the usual coconut we have in the Philippines, it’s known for its many uses. However, this orange coconut is said to be sweeter than the usual. Indeed! The juice which we drank straight from the coconut was sweet and refreshing! The red banana is also like the ordinary banana; it’s just that the skin is red. It’s also packed with lots of carotene and Vitamin C. Other interesting finds on a Sri Lankan fruit stand:

Cute mangoes!
Forest tamarind (yes, these are sampalok!!!)

When we reached our hotel that night, we were so tired we started doubting our ability to climb the next site in our itinerary. But you know what, Dambulla proved to be a very nice prelude for what’s about to come the following day.

Home sweet home at Thilanka
Do you believe in the saying “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”? You should because I do and I’ll tell you why on my next Sri Lanka entry.

Most of the pictures on our Sri Lanka entries are from my travel buddy, Jou. You can find her work at www.500px.com/unjour or www.flickr.com/jou_issance.

Expenses so far:
Srilankan Airlines Roundtrip Airfare: SR 2,200
Insurance via World Nomads (optional): approx. SR 105 ($27) 
Car and driver for 5 days (includes gas, driver’s accom, food, and tips) via Srilankan Tours: approx. SR 1,300 ($340)
3 days/2 nights stay in Thilanka Resort&Spa via Booking.com (includes deluxe twin room and breakfast): SR 750

TIPS on DIY-ing your Trip:
– Book as early as possible. Apart from Srilankan, Fly Dubai also flies to Colombo at an affordable rate.
– Book your accommodations via Booking.com because even if it needs a credit card to reserve the booking, most hotels don’t require you to pay the fee immediately. You can pay at the hotel. This is a good option, just in case your plan gets derailed.
– Hire drivers and cars from reputable companies/websites. If your driver can’t speak English, or if you have a hard time understanding him, ask for a replacement because he’ll be with you every step of the way so it’s a must that you understand each other.
– Listen to your driver’s suggestions when it comes to scheduling and places to visit, esp. when you did not do your research.

Outside KSA Sri Lanka Travel

About Author

Janelle
Janelle

The Editor-in-Chief speaks 7 languages: Filipino, English, Wit, Sarcasm, Truth, Creativity, and The Pink Tarha.

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