Sri Lanka

Travelling Sri Lanka as a Solo Muslim Female + 12 Day Itinerary

Two years ago, one of my friends promised to come to Asia with me specifically Sri Lanka, so I bought the Sri Lanka Lonely Planet travel guide. I read it right away and it just fired my desire to visit even more. My friend pulled out and I was too inexperienced or confident to go alone. Fast forward to June 2016, I felt that it was the right time to do it solo, especially that I was in Saudi, which is kind of close. Five hours on the plane. The direct flights were expensive, so I opted for the 1 stop flight on Emirates airlines: Dammam > Dubai and Dubai > Colombo. The ticket was not too bad GBP 245 return. The accommodations seemed affordable too ( a full break down below). 

As an Arab, my family is always involved in my life, which as you grow older you realise it's actually a good thing. They were slightly worried, but thankfully my mother was very supportive. She knew I needed to go solo to a new adventurous destination. My relatives were split into two groups: half were as excited as me and were planning it with me and the other half tried to change my mind because they were concerned for my safety. 

I was slightly concerned myself, but I tried to push the fear as far away as possible and focus on the tropical images I have seen of Sri Lanka. After all, I lived for the last decade on my own in the US and Europe. It's not like I am new to this. 

It was actually a better experience than I expected. The country was clean and very beautiful with a change of weather and scenery in different parts of the Island. Everyone spoke English and was really helpful. With a local sim card and 3G I was constantly connected to the world wide web, which meant 24/7 access to reviews on Trip Advisor and Google Maps. I got the odd annoying tuk tuk drivers and sales people who tried to over sell me things, but that's unescapable in most places. The majority of people I interacted with were beautiful inside out.  

Rice fields around Kandy

12 Day Itinerary to Sri Lanka + Prices

Colombo (1 night) > Galle (half day) > Weligama (2 nights) Mirrisa (half day) > Udawalawe National Park (half day) on the way to Ella (1 night) > Nuwara Eliya (1 night) > Kandy (4 nights) > Dambulla (1 night) > Negombo (2 nights)

two week Sri Lanka Itinerary

I started with Colombo. It was an hour from the airport to a location near the train station. A friend of mine introduced me to a lady who lives there, so I stayed with her. I spent a day and a half plus a night in Colombo. It was enough to see the highlights. There is a lot of hustle and bustle there. The Tuk Tuk drivers will stop and try to convince you to take you for a tour, but it's usually a rip off.  

Beach in Colombo

The next day, I took the train to Galle. I would advise you to go for the second class because the first class's windows are closed and you won't enjoy the beautiful scenery as much. I only stayed half of the day in Galle. I started with breakfast at one of the touristy cafes near the fort. They were so kind to let me leave my little carry on bag there as I go explore the city's highlights. I really liked it there. It was a day well spent.

Galle fort in Sri Lanka
Muslim Solo traveller

I took the bus from Galle to Wilegama. Wilegama is a lovely quiet fishing village. I stayed in Raja's Guest House for 1000 RS per night, which was almost 5GBP!! That's the same price as a green juice in London! They weren't doing catering in the guest house, which was a little sad and I had to go to town for food, which wasn't that great, but it was very cheap. The kids on the beach were interested in chatting, but people just ignored the tourists and I loved that peace. The next day I went to a Mirrisa for a half day to watch the whales. I only saw half one from a far, but it was cool to ride the waves in the boat.

Wiligama Beach

The hostel arranged a driver to take me from Wilegama to Ella by Tuk Tuk. I could have done it with a car or buses, but I thought a tuk tuk would be more fun. I also wanted to stop by Udawalawe National Park to see the elephants in their natural habitat. It was a complete rip off to go to the park on my own because they charge per Jeep not person. Seeing animals in their natural element was so worth it though. They were so beautiful.

Elephants in Sri Lanka
Lake in Udawalawe National Park

The Tuk Tuk dropped me to the closest point to Ella Eco Lodge. It's a Treehouse I booked from AirBnB. It was 25 GB/ night. That's like a fancy brunch or a dinner in London and it was worth every penny. It was a beautiful retreat. I stayed there half the day and the night. I didn't even leave and the ladies were very kind to make me dinner and breakfast, which was the best thing I ate in Sri Lanka. 

Ella Eco Lodge

Ella Eco Lodge

I got the train from Ella to Nuwara Eliya then a bus and a tuk tuk to get to the gorgeous Heritance Tea Factory (all details are in the linked post). 

Taking the train in Sri Lanka

I took the bus from train from Nuwara Eliya to Nanu Oya. Then the train from Nanu Oya to Kandy. It was a bit LONG! I stayed in the Sleep Cheap Hostel for three nights and the Earl's Regency for a night. I am not really sure why I stayed so long in Kandy. Two nights are completely enough, but I stayed FOUR. I got really bored and I felt it was too busy for my taste. I still did plenty and enjoyed it. Read the 10 things I did in Kandy. The first place was a very budget friendly hostel and the second was a high end gorgeous hotel. 

handmade jewelry vendor in Sri Lanka

I got a tuk tuk from Kandy to Dambulla because I wanted to stop at the Cave temple and Sigiriya/ Sinhagiri the ancient rock fortress. Sadly that plan failed. The temple denied me entry because of the headscarf and it was super hot when I arrived to Sigiriya to climb. I was sad until I got to the stunning  Heritance Kandalama (full details and photos in the linked post). It was all perfect until the monkeys stole my passportThankfully, the workers retrieved it for me and I was on my way.

Heritance Kandalama

I got two buses from Dambulla to  Negombo. That was my last stop. I though it will be a nice beach break before I left the country, but I really didn't enjoy it. The hostel I stayed in was 20GBP a night and it was SO warm inside and the mosquitos feasted on my blood. Plus the beach was very rocky and not fun for a walk. It was too dangerous to swim and everything was over priced. The beach vendors were very presenting as well. They were polite, but the ladies wouldn't leave me alone. I would skip this city all together if I go back. 

Solo trip to Sri Lanka

I went to Sri Lanka in the off season (June 2016). The weather was mostly great. Only two days of my 12 were rainy. The beaches in the West and the South of the island were not safe for a swim, so I didn't do that. I really loved Sri Lanka. It was muslim and female friendly and I would totally recommend it. Watch my Sri Lanka videos here

Beautiful People of Sri Lanka

Here are some of the beautiful people I met during my solo trip to Sri Lanka. Each person on here made my stay in Sri Lanka special. 

It was such a pleasure meeting the locals and speaking to them. I wish I spoke to them more and asked for their stories. They all showed me kindness and added to the experience.

What was one of the memorable conversations you had with a local on a trip? 

Secret Paradise in Sri Lanka

From Kandy, I got a tuk tuk and headed to Dambulla for the magnificent cave temples I have heard of and for the UNISCO site: Sigiriya. Unfortunately, they both didn't happen. The temple didn't let me in because of my headscarf and then I ran out of time to visit the rock, but all of that was forgotten the moment I entered Heritance Kandalama, which was just like paradise. I wish I stayed there longer, but one night was good to treat me and relax me. 

The hotel is very eco friendly and it's built within the forest just by the lake. It is really breathtaking and could be an amazing honeymoon hotel. They have three pools and I went to the natural floor pool. It was the most relaxing thing I have done ever. 

The craziest thing that happened was me forgetting to lock my balcony door! It enabled the monkeys to get in and steel my passport! It was very surreal, but thankfully the wonderful staff looked for it all over and brought it back. So, if you stay there -or anywhere in the nature in Sri Lanka- make sure your balcony and windows are locked. You can see all of that in the video below the photos.  

By the way, you can go to Heritance Kandalama directly from the airport. It's only three hours drive and you can even make that the starting point of your trip! 

It was a place to remember and the crazy monkeys just made it more memorable. It's absolutely gorgeous and I would highly recommend it.

Thank you so much to Heritance Kandalama
for inviting me and giving me this fabulous experience. 

Book your stay at Heritance Kandalama 

Ten Things to do in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka, which makes it a very busy and loud city. I didn't expect it to be that crazy, but it was! I stayed there for four days and I thought that was slightly too long because after the first two days you run out of things to do. There are many possibilities around the city that are an hour or two away.  I got to do a number of things while I was there that I really enjoyed and thought you might find helpful. 

One. Have a breakfast with a view

The beautiful thing about Kandy is the location. It's in the hill country and if you stay in a hostel that's further from town centre in the hills around you could get a beautiful view. 

Breakfast with a view in Kandy

Two. Watch them move it move it

The dance show is mainly for tourists, but it's fun to watch especially if you are not in a festival season. It went on for an hour and it was very entertaining. It's located next to the temple of the tooth. You can see some of the dances in the video below. 

Three. Treat your taste buds to some tropical fruits

Sri Lanka is a tropical island with an abundance of delicious fruit. It was a joy eating all of them in every stop I had. They were full of flavour. You can see me trying some in the video above!

Four. Drink a fresh cuppa straight from the source   

There are a number of tea related things in Kandy such as the tea museum, tea plantations and the tea factory. It's worth trying at least one because tea is a major thing in Sri Lanka and the hill country is where it is produced. You can read about this in details in my previous post: Sri Lankan Tea: from the tea leaf to the cup. You can also watch it all in the video below. 

Five. Get to know the herbs and spices

There is an herbs garden very close to Kandy and I think it was the only one according to the tuk tuk driver. The entry and the tour are free, but they try their best to convince you that you need one of their natural products in your life. It's a mini trap to buy, but I still found it fascinating looking at all those spices in plants form. 

Six. Walk around the rice fields

I haven't seen rice fields before and during the drive outside of Kandy I saw some from the tuk tuk and I stopped for a little wander. 

Seven. Listen to the prayer chants by the Kandy Lake before sunset

Before going to Sri Lanka, I didn't really know much about Buddhism, but something I found really beautiful was the sound of prayer chants from the temple that you can hear by the Kandy lake. I was there around sunset so that plus the water and the orange sky was magical. Although there are main roads around the lake so the street noise could get annoying. 

Kandy Lake

Eight. Visit the temple if you are allowed in

One of Kandy's biggest attractions is the temple of the tooth. It's really close to the lake and the fancy touristy restaurants. People are asked to cover their legs and arms and take their head covering. In my case, I wasn't allowed in, but that's their religious rule and I respect that. It was a shame that I was so close yet so far away. 

Temple of the Tooth Sri Lanka

Nine. Shop haggle free

I picked a strange area to stay in in Kandy, so I was far from most touristy things, but I found myself very close to the Kandy Handcraft Centre. Everything has a price written down and you don't haggle, you just pick and pay. I find these places much more relaxed than shopping in markets and getting weird prices. They had everything there and I got few presents for myself. 

Shopping in Sri Lanka

Ten. Escape to a beautiful resort

You can even find a peaceful escape in the city such as the Earl's Regency I stayed in. It was so nice going there for some well deserved relaxation. 

Beautiful Resort in Kandy Sri Lanka

I hope you enjoyed these suggestions and please feel free to share some of the things you enjoy doing in Kandy! 

A Peaceful Escape in Crazy Kandy

I spent my first week in Sri Lanka in small towns and villages as you might have seen in the previous two youtube videos: Whales and Mangos in Sri Lanka and Elephants & Treehouses in Sri Lanka. It was very peaceful. I felt like I was in a world of my own, but when I arrived to Kandy I was welcomed with a wave of loud noises and insane traffic. It is the second largest city in Sri Lanka after all. After two days of being in super busy Kandy, I was invited to try a complimentary night in Earl's Regency by the Aitken Spence Hotels. The only thing I was sad about was not going there sooner! It was a true escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It's also not too far from the main attractions. The rooms were very comfortable and the views were stunning.   

Kandy has a number of restaurants around town and there are nice ones around the lake, but I was very happy I had dinner and breakfast at Earl's Regency. There was a plenty of choice and it was all delicious. There was a live music performance during dinner as well, which added to the atmosphere. 

Overall, I had a very pleasant stay there and enjoyed the food and the views. It is a really peaceful escape from the very busy city. 

Book Your Stay at theEarl's Regency

Up High in Sri Lanka

After a few hours on the train from Ella to Noneya and two fun bus rides with the locals, I finally got to Kandapola, a small village in Nuwara Eliya. The breeze was slightly colder in that part of Sri Lanka. The higher up the hill I went, the colder it got. It turns out that Kandapola is the coldest spot in the whole of the island. It is where Heritance Tea Factory is located on its own hill surrounded by endless fields of tea. I was very excited to be staying there. It is a tea factory that was converted into a classy boutique hotel. The tea factory within it is still functioning, but it was reduced in size. All the tea that is made in Heritance Tea Factory is only served and sold there. There is big machinery in the basement that works for half an hour around dinner time. It is fun to watch. 

My room was comfortable and I had the prettiest view of fields upon fields of tea, but it was very cold. It was like British cold like 8-10 C and I was not prepared. There was a heater in the room, but the corner rooms get even colder. I wish I had a cardigan with me, but all my clothes were super summery. 

The tea experiences at the hotel were my absolute favourite. You can read about them in details in the previous post: Sri Lankan Tea: from the tea leaf to the cup and even watch me participate in the youtube video: Perfect Cuppa: The story of Sri Lanka Tea. 

The hotel is on it's own little hill and far away from town, so it's a good idea to just eat at the hotel otherwise it will be very tricky. I also didn't see any food options on the way. The breakfast was really yummy. The staff were really friendly and suggested some authentic Sri Lankan dishes for me to try. For dinner, I had the set menu and it was so delicious with a good number of options from international to Sri Lankan food. PS. The chicken is halal. 

Along side the activities and the nature,  Heritance Tea Factory have a spa and gym. I haven't tried them, but they seem nice. 

Overall, I really enjoyed my stay and the staff were exceptional. I think it's nice to go there for a day or two to relax and get some tea and lovely cold breeze. 

Thank you so much to Heritance Tea Factory 
for inviting me and giving this fabulous experience. 

Book your stay at the Heritance Tea Factory

Sri Lankan Tea: from the tea leaf to the cup

When I moved to England, few years ago, I couldn’t help but fall into the English tea tradition. My tea collection slowly expanded and I was introduced to a range of healthy organic teas as well. When I relocated to London, my tea addiction took a turn to the best. I was invited by sofa.com for a tea tasting of the good and proper tea brand. I think that was the moment when I tasted real tea. It was indeed good and proper. From that point on my love for tea increased ten folds and I became accustomed to good quality tea. Going to Costa after that or any of the high street cafes became a torturous experience of drinking something that resembled tea, but not quiet. It tasted more like tea dust.

My love for tea was actually one of the reasons that drove me to visit Sri Lanka. I really wanted to get lost in their endless tea fields and just taste the realest, freshest cuppa. When I finally made it to the land of tea, I tried various tea experiences. I still feel like I should have done more, but that’s just my greed talking. I started with the experiences at the gorgeous Heritance Tea Factory then followed it with a visit to the Ceylon Tea Museum in Kandy and ended it with a visit to the Geragama Tea Factory, which lead me to a tea shopping spree!

Despite the long journey I had, I was so ecstatic to be at the Heritance Tea Factory, that I was very energetic and ready to indulge in the tea experiences they have on offer. I started with the tea plucking experience. It was so much fun! First order of business was getting dressed in a traditional Sari and a fitted head basket for the pickings. The expert lady who accompanied the group and I was so knowledgeable in everything tea. She explained how the right black tea leaf is identified and showed us the difference between the ones used for green tea and white tea. Even after she showed me twice, it was still hard to pick the right leaves. It is a seriously tough job. Having three cameras did not help either. I wanted to photograph and film everything.

The tea plucking experience at the gorgeous  Heritance Tea Factory

The tea plucking experience at the gorgeous Heritance Tea Factory

Tea flower. The tea plucking experience at the gorgeous  Heritance Tea Factory

Tea flower. The tea plucking experience at the gorgeous Heritance Tea Factory

The most challenging part was dropping the leaves in the head fitted basket with the wind blowing. I bet half of my leaves danced away in the wind instead of actually making it in the basket. After the plucking that lasted for roughly twenty minutes, we headed back to the micro tea factory that hosted the original machinery of the factory before it was refurbished and we talked about the process of making black tea. Since Sri Lanka is one of the main producers of black tea that was the main focus. It was the end of the day, so the machines were not in operation sadly, but I got to see other tea machines in action when I went to the Geragama Tea Factory and I enjoyed watching the process. It felt so different with people operating it and doing it live. I included it in the youtube video where you can watch here: 

After my awesome tea experience in Heritance Tea Factory, I headed to the hotel lobby with the expert for a tea tasting. I have done a tea tasting before, but this one was the real deal. It was done exactly like how their professional taster does it every morning. I was presented with four types of tea: strong black BOPF -Broken Orange Pekoe Fanning-, lighter black BOP -Broken Orange Pekoe-, medium black Pekoe and green tea. They were made to be strong so the flavour is at its fullest. It was like the wine tasting you see in the movies, where the taster takes a mouth full, swishes the liquid in the mouth and then spit. I was sad about the spiting part. It is hard to get the full taste without swallowing it. It is really an art. My favourite was the medium Pekoe, which slightly reminded me of the oolong tea I enjoy a lot. I had to purchase some of that because the tea made in that estate is only sold in the hotel and used there. 

Tea Tasting at the  Heritance Tea Factory .

Tea Tasting at the Heritance Tea Factory.

When I headed to Kandy, my tuk tuk driver was adamant to take me to the tea factory he knows. The Geragama Tea Factory. I am glad he convinced me because as I mentioned above was amazing to see. Before heading there, I insited to stop at the Ceylon Tea Museum  of Kandy. The driver tried to change my mind and told me how boring and an uninteresting, but I told him it was a top choice on the Lonely Planet Sri Lanka guide so it had to be done. He was right. It was not as fun as the real thing. The tour was very informative and you get a “free” cup of tea that you pay for in your entrance ticket. The Geragama Tea Factory was the driver’s plan and a complete coinsdiance. It is free to enter and to be taken around, but everyone is so nice and the tea shop is like a dream, I had to do all my tea shopping there. I came back about three kilos heavier with tea, but to my defence this will be my annual tea supply! If I mention buying any more, please stop me!

Geragama Tea Shop

Geragama Tea Shop

PS. The Heritance Tea Factory experiences were complementary from the hotel. 

Packing for my Sri Lanka Trip

Packing could be stressful and boring, so, I put together a checklist based on my recent trip to Sri Lanka to ease up the process for you. I hope it gives you some useful ideas! Look book is coming at some point this month as well! :D

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Packing Checklist for Sri Lanka

My Biggest packing tip is to plan your outfits before you go based on the activities you are possibly doing. Knowing exactly what you will wear will help you pack more efficiently. 

Clothes: (These are Hijab friendly options for a summer destination)

2 Jumpsuits + 2 Maxi dresses ( to be matched with 2 light cardigans if they are sleeveless)  + 3 t-shirts + 1 light trousers + 1 long sleeve under shirt  + 5 headscarves + the outfit you are wearing to the airport + sock + underwear + rain jacket + Islamic Swim Suit   

Items for hygiene: 

Deodorant + lotion + shampoo + conditioner + shower gel (all 80ml)

Makeup: ( only essentials)

Sunscreen, BB cream, foundation, powder, eyeliner + mascara + eyebrow pencil + blusher + lipstick 

Electronics: 

Cameras + headphones + chargers + memory cards (check my full Travel Tech Kit here) 

Meds: 

Mosquito Spray (if it's a tropical spot) + after bite gel + Panadol / Paracetamol  + diarrhoea tablets + allergy tablets.