After promoting special birthday experiences for others, I wanted one of my own.
Julian suggested Sri Lanka, and he was right. It created memories for me, my children and partner that will never fade: a magical country, warm and engaging people, amazing food, absorbing experiences and an itinerary with unique things every day.
The kids insisted on creating a journal for the occasion. Here are the highlights…
Matty (aged 10): I had no idea where we were going. Great anticipation.
Jet (aged 12): The cat was finally out of the bag when we were allowed 20 questions in the car. We had worked out neither Dad or Jo had been there before, it was in Asia and they played cricket.
J: Heathrow was gigantic compared to any airport I had seen before. We checked in at Terminal 4 and grabbed dinner at Carluccios – a fine seafood linguini, what a start. We were flying overnight via Oman in the Middle East. The plane was huge and I was excited by the chance to watch a choice of movies so much so that I couldn’t sleep at all, I did try honestly.
M: Flight to Colombo – 4 hours – no TV or movies. Arrive 6pm – REALLY x 1 million tired.
J: After Dad changed up some money we found our brilliant driver, Rayen, who directed us through the noisy crowds and told us to wait. I watched with fascination as we drove through the bustling city to Mount Lavinia. There is a lot of beeping of horns here.
M: Woke up – 830am – still SOOOOOOOOO tired. Breakfast – pastries, doughnuts, fruit juice and more! King Coconut juice – sooo tasty. However, Beli fruit is not. Some fun facts I learned: Mount Lavinia has been a hotel for over 200 years, previously it was a palace for governors; Countries get darker quicker the nearer they are to the equator; There is good bacteria in your gut; Symbiosis is when two or more things work together – eg – humans and trees; My question of the day: can you tranquilise a slug?
The Rainforest Ecolodge, Deniyaya
M: We met Rayen, (our driver) for the journey to The Rainforest Ecolodge – wow!
J: We headed way up into the rainforest, but fortunately our van was air conditioned and really comfortable. The last part of the drive was the hardest, the roads were basic and bumpy and often at the edge of the mountain – I didn’t want to look down. After the small town of Deniyaya it got really steep towards the end and the wheels had a bit of trouble gripping, Rayen asked me to move to the back with the others to try and balance us out.
M: Arrived at Lodge – greeted with ice tea – made with tree plants from outside – delicious but extremely sweet.
J: We were staying in cabin number 1, and after we made it like our home, me and Matty caught a glimpse of a moving figure, the size of a 6-year-old. It then stopped on a roof and it turned out to be a purple-faced leaf monkey.
M: Also spotted a giant ant – massive. Awake next day in rainforest. Cool. Sri Lankan curry or continental for breakfast? Bit of both for me. Morning adventure walk, we had to wear leech socks. Saw some very camouflaged kangaroo lizards, some cool Venus Flytrap plants.
J: When we got back the storm started. It was the biggest storm I have seen, lightning every minute and the roar of thunder was deafening, it lasted four hours and we had no power until we went to bed.
M: A 6am start [next day] for our bird watching walk. We saw lots of brightly coloured and exotic ones. There were several leeches – eeeeuuugggghhh.
J: The man didn't give us leech socks this time. When we got back to the hotel, Jo took off her shoe to find a big leech had been munching on her blood. We got it cleaned up and went for breakfast where I had egg and sausages.
Grand Udawalawe Safari Resort
J: This hotel was very nice, it was made to look like a safari lodge. We were welcomed with juice and cold towels. Our room was so nice.
M: Out again quickly though as Rayen was taking us to an elephant orphanage for feeding time! They were so adorable. These are all elephants that have been injured or have a problem and are cared for and nursed until they are ready to rejoin those in the wild.
J: They were right in front us eating leaves and drinking milk.
M: Early pick up for our first safari experience. Onto a cool jeep and had some early morning biscuits for energy. This was awesome. We saw elephants, crocodiles, monkeys, mongoose, buffalo and all kinds of birds including pelicans and eagles and my personal favourite was a green bee-eater, he was very beautiful. Another safari in the afternoon! The driver of our jeep had a weirdly really long thumbnail.
J: Jo saw a leopard run in the road but no one else saw it except the driver.
M: We met Rayen at 7 after an early breakfast and checked out of this lovely hotel. We were headed to Bundala for safari number three, this time more of a bird wildlife one.
J: We went in a jeep but had a guide in it with us this time. We saw the green bee-eaters and even saw a rare chestnut headed bee-eater.
M: We then headed to Yala a couple of hours away. The hotel looked lovely and we were greeted with a refreshing pineapple juice. The pool here was MASSIVE – the longest I have ever seen. We couldn’t wait to get in and we made some new friends called Elliott and Eva the same age as Jet and I also here from England.
J: Up at 5am for an early morning safari. It wasn't as good as some of the other ones, we saw some birds and buffalo also one elephant. After we went in the pool with our friends again. We then got ready for our evening safari, which was spectacular. We saw 3 elephants that walked straight in front of us and were extremely close. Then we saw a leopard on a big rock. We were very lucky. We then heard some leopards roaring, our driver said they were mating. It went to hide in a bush but we could still see it, it was only 8ft away.
M: After a refreshing swim, it was “live cooking” which meant everything was cooked in front of us and Dad let us have a “South Frog” mocktail –made out of lime, passion fruit, ginger and soda water. Finally a lie in – up at 8am, scrummy breakfast and back on the road. Bye Bye Yala, here we come Mirissa via a bakery stop for some fish buns.
Casa Collection, Mirissa
J: Today we travelled to a new destination, Mirissa. The hotel was very nice with only six rooms, a small pool on the beach and lots of sofas.
M: Casa Collection – speechless. What a place – cosy and right on the beach – we can see the ocean from the balcony. Nice to have some time by the pool to just hang out and play games. They had a lovely restaurant where we could eat outside and they had the BEST cheesecake IN THE WORLD! Ginger and pineapple. Our next surprise: WHALE WATCHING. We were in a group of about 20 and were given a sea-sickness tablet before leaving as the sun came up. I hadn't been out on the ocean that deep before and it was a bit scary and turbulent. We saw loads of dolphins and then a huge blue whale who even flicked his tail up especially for us.
M: We headed for Galle which is a big city and was ruled by the Dutch in the past and we stopped at the old fort for a mooch around. It was sweltering and was a public holiday called Poya. Every full moon (usually one a month) is a public holiday in Sri Lanka to commemorate key events in Buddhism.
J: I found it very hot and hard to walk around in the humid busy city. We saw Galle cricket ground. After our shop we went to Kosgoda for our final surprise.
M: It was the turtle hatchery. We had a brilliant guide we called the Turtle Man – he was very knowledgeable and caring. There were injured ones and some deformed ones being cared for that would stand no chance of surviving in the wild and we also saw some albino ones. I picked up a giant hawksbill type who was so heavy I was worried I would drop him – fortunately Turtle Man was on hand to help. We then bumped into Elliott and Eva, our friends from Yala who we had previously said goodbye to.
J: Our last hotel was Villa Bentota, where we said goodbye to Rayen. The hotel was very nice with a big pool. In the evening, we went into town in our first ever tuk tuk experience.
M: It was a small and old-fashioned type of hotel and you had to cross the train tracks to get to an awesome beach.
We went to a place for dinner called Pradha that we had found good reviews for. It was a bit gross looking but the food was totally delish – one of our best meals of the trip.
J: Our last day we got a tuk tuk again for some early morning shopping for presents to take home. We returned to an enormous breakfast at the hotel – just the first course was enough to fill me up. Then a chance to relax for the rest of our trip at the pool and then sunset at the beach where Matty and I played in the sea, which was really fun. We went to bed early because we had to get up at 3:30am.
M: We all slept on the way to Colombo airport and were there four hours before our first flight back to Oman. It was a very long journey home but I had a chance to think about what had been a magical experience. Thanks to Julian for organising it, Rayen for putting up with us, and the High School Musical soundtracks for their assistance in helping me through the long journeys.
J: Overall the trip was incredible. Our first time out of Europe, our longest flight, how nice everyone was, the culture, the amazing food and the spectacular wildlife. It was such an amazing experience and we did it for our amazing Dad's birthday.
Best Beach: Villa Bentota
Best Food: Rainforest Ecolodge
Best View: Casa Collection, Mirissa
Best Pool: Grand Udawalawe
Best Wildlife: Yala
Best Welcome Drink: Iced Tea, Rainforest Ecolodge
Nicest Staff: Rainforest Ecolodge
Best Meal: Rainforest Ecolodge
Best Pool: Yala
Best Bed: The Grand Udawalawe
Best Safari: Yala evening
Best Beach: Villa Bentota
Coolest Animals: Leopard, crocodile and elephant
Most Peaceful: Mirissa Casa Collection