When the haze was around, my family and I decided it was the right time to escape the unhealthy air by going on a short break to Sri Lanka.
Upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport, we were met by our hired driver, and we headed straight to Dambulla, a journey that took four hours by car. We first visited the Golden Temple of Dambulla, a Unesco World Heritage site. The Golden Buddha statue sits majestically downhill from the Cave temple. We particularly enjoyed the serenity and tranquillity of the temple which was filled with locals and tourists who were praying or in deep meditation.
Located deep in the middle of Sri Lanka is a massive column of rock that juts out from the green tropical forest. The rock is known as Sigiriya Rock or "Lion Rock of Sri Lanka". It was established as the stronghold of a rogue king over 1,500 years ago.
After huffing and puffing up 1,270 steps, we reached the summit at 180m which offers a panoramic jungle view from all sides. We walked through Cobra Hood Cave, admiring beautiful paintings of Sinhalese maidens performing various tasks. The "maidens" have escaped exposure to the elements for more than a millennium, in the rock's natural cavity.
Polonnaruwa, the ancient capital city.
Photo: The Star/ Sophia Lim
Next, we paid a visit to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, which was the second capital of Sri Lanka in 993 CE. The ruins of Polonnaruwa are scattered over an extensive area of gently undulating slopes. They were originally enclosed by three concentric walls and filled with parks and gardens. At the heart of the city lies the royal palace complex, while immediately to the north are the city's most important cluster of religious buildings, the so-called Quadrangle.
We were excited with our next journey to Minneriya National Park. We boarded a 4WD jeep and experienced a bumpy ride! After being tossed around for 30 minutes, we arrived at the deeper site of the park where we came across a few herds of over 20 elephants feeding. It was fascinating to witness baby elephants trailing close to their mothers.
Despite the noise from the jeeps of other groups, the elephants were not perturbed in any way. They were happy to carry on with feeding and playing with one another. Across the river bank, we witnessed over 150 water buffaloes bathing. The sunset views in the park were a perfect ending to an enriching day.
After this exciting adventure, we headed to southwards to Kandy, the second largest city in the country after Colombo. After a restful evening, we spent some time sight-seeing in the city. Kandy is home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, and is one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world. With its surrounding hills and higher altitude, Kandy offers a cooler climate, with a calm lake right in the city centre.
Picturesque Devon Falls at Nuwara Eliya.
Photo: The Star/ Sophia Lim
Later at Nuwara Eliya, affectionately known as "Little England", we saw that the city founded by a British explorer had many of the buildings in colonial style. Nuwara Eliya is famed for its endless rolling hills of tea plantations and majestic waterfalls. The cool climate and fresh air was an excellent change to the hot and humid temperature of the lowlands we were at earlier.
We headed uphill to visit some tea plantations and savour the freshness of Ceylon tea. Tea is one of the major natural products of Sri Lanka, with the tea leaves hand-plucked from the rolling hills. I left feeling that I had visited Paradise!
From the highlands, we drove down to Colombo, the commercial capital and largest city of Sri Lanka. Colombo is a busy and vibrant place. We spent the night at one of the seafront hotels and awoke to panoramic sea views. We started the day with a city tour and was charmed by the colonial architecture of some of its historical buildings and it shady boulevards.
After a 90-minute drive, we arrived in Negombo, which offers one of the best beaches on the west coast of Sri Lanka. Negombo is home to the country's second-largest fish market that has daily fish auctions. We arrived in time to catch the spectacular sunset views by the beach front. We enjoyed a sumptuous seafood dinner, then went shopping for local handicrafts and souvenirs along the shops by the beach.
Soon, it was time to bid farewell to Sri Lanka, the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean", with everlasting memories of a country that is charming and beautiful, beckoning us to return for more.