By Katrina Griffiths
Despite the trials and tribulations of the last few weeks, right now I fell like I’ve died and gone to heaven. We are in Mirissa on the south coast staying in a stunning hotel, right on the beach called Palm Villas. I don’t think I have ever stayed somewhere quite like this. The vibe is blissed out and utterly serene. The scene is just so perfect that it is surreal; gentle waves lap at the golden shore, the palm trees sway gently in the breeze, the people are all smiling…
Except of course my four scowling children.
“Who wants to go for a swim?” I ask, overcompensating, and brimming with enthusiasm like a grinning idiot.
“I want a baby veiled chameleon!” yells furious twin 1.
“I want to ride my HORSE!” shouts furious twin 2.
I didn’t even know she had a horse, so no wonder she is so mad at me.
So, this is a good time to reflect on some of the great stuff we’ve done. Following are some of the not-to-be-missed experiences if you happen to be up this way with your kids.
The Hill district:
Pinnewala is about 25km out of Kandy and famous for the elephant orphanage. There is some controversy surrounding the orphanage itself, as some people feel it’s more about money and less about the welfare of the animals so we gave it a miss. However, every day at 8am, 10am and 4pm, all of the elephants are brought down the main thoroughfare to the river to bathe. This is an incredible sight, and quite wonderful to be up so close to these amazing animals. I adore elephants, so whilst it was distressing and conflicting to see some of them in chains (captive animals fill me with concern), they appeared to be healthy and well cared for. Don’t bother staying more than a night in Pinnewala as there is nothing else there, apart from some very expensive souvenir shops, which we also avoided.
Ella is just so pretty and there is plenty to do, so it is well worth visiting for a couple of days. What made it even more enjoyable for us was the guesthouse we booked. The Mount View lodge is a small, very basic but very clean, two room homestay run by a wonderful guy called Budi and his mum. The view is outstanding, perched on the side of a hill, looking out over the valley, the waterfall, and the Ella Gap. When we arrived we saw that we may have a problem there; the balcony didn’t have a safety rail that would keep Beelzebub from falling off. Without even blinking Budi and his mum raced off, dismantled their washing line, and 15 minutes later voila! A new rail and safe kids. They provided us with beautiful fruits, omelettes, rice and curry and simply took such great care of us that I will never forget them, and I cannot recommend the place highly enough. Look up Mount View at www.ellagoodneighbours.com
The Ancient Cities:
Sigiriya is probably one of the most visited places in the cultural triangle, and with good reason: it is truly extraordinary. The rock itself is a hardened magma plug of an extinct volcano that juts upwards 200 metres offering a steep and hair raising climb, with incredible views from the top. 1200 years ago a prince built his palace up there, which is an amazing story far too fantastic for me to tell in just a few words. All that remains is the foundations of the palace, but the frescos are well preserved and there is some fabulous ancient graffiti to enjoy. I feel entirely blessed to have the opportunity to be there, but I didn’t take the children. I feel it is just too dangerous for little ones, but older kids a definite yes. We stayed in another great guesthouse, the Lion Lodge. Once again a basic homestay run by a lovely man called Adjith and his beautiful family. They made our stay so memorable, that I can’t thank them enough for their kindness and hospitality. Look them up at www.sigirilionlodge.com
Pidurangala Rock: Although we did not take the children up Sigiriya, we did take them to climb the nearby Buddhist temple. It is quite an easy climb, mainly stairs all the way up to the reclining Buddha in the rock cave that dates back to medieval times. From there it is a relatively easy climb up to the top of the rock, to marvel in the awesome 360-degree view. It is a very adventurous thing to do for a child, and if you are nervous about taking children up there, perhaps consider stopping at the Buddha.
Polonnaruwa: Not far from Sigiriya is Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital city. The children were bored out of their brains here, but I was in complete awe with what still remains there today in ruin. The history is fascinating and there is so much to learn. You’ve got to go, just bribe your kids.
Minneriya National park: Going on safari is seriously fun! There are so many national parks in Sri Lanka and you can go for a whole day or just a few hours in an open jeep in the hope of seeing some of the many animals that call Sri Lanka home. We saw about 100 wild elephants, no kidding, and many other varieties of birds. In other parks it is possible to see leopards, bears, and crocodiles to name a few, so if your children love a bit of adventure and wild animal spotting, this will thrill them to bits.