Our first stop in Sri Lanka was the city of Kandy, a beautiful train ride away from Colombo. We’d heard that there wasn’t a huge amount to do in Kandy, so we didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty by checking in to a 4* hotel and spending two days just laying by the pool, drinking cocktails.
One thing we’ve realised whilst backpacking is that sometimes you need to just stop… stop sightseeing, stop planning, stop researching your next adventure. Just spend some time doing what you would on a summer holiday – chilling out. So that’s what we did. We even managed to get the hotel for £30 a night, so we didn’t even feel guilty about spending too much money.
Feeling very refreshed, and ready to get back to backpacking and hostel life, we headed up to Sigiriya and, after a few hours dodging death on Sri Lanka’s roads, made it to Roy’s.
Roy’s Villa near Sigiriya is a hostel, but not like any we’d ever stayed at before. We’ve recently been having a tough time at hostels, so staying at Roy’s was a breath of fresh air. There’s only two dorms, with four beds in each, and private bathrooms. The dorms are light and airy, the beds large and comfy. It is more like a family room in a hotel than the hostel dorm experiences we’ve had recently.
The best indication of a good hostel is the welcome you get. When we turned up, all the guests were chilling in hammocks or sitting around the table in the open air common area. Every single one of them looked up, smiled, and said hello. Straight away we knew we were in a good place.
What makes Roy’s Villa so good isn’t the comfy dorms or even the food (which was amazing), but the care and attention the owner, Roy, puts in to making such every single one of the backpackers staying there is happy.
Whether you want to go on safari, or climb Sigiriya rock at sunrise, Roy will sort it out for you and check what the other guests are doing too so you all get the best price by going on activities together.
One afternoon we were in the hammocks not doing a lot and Roy said he’d take us all to the lake for a swim. We all piled in the tuktuk or borrowed his scooters and away we went. That night, he hosted a cooking class to show us the traditional ways of making Sri Lankan curries and coconut roti. After dinner, he showed us how to play some new card games and a traditional board game. He did all of this in his own time, for free.
On our last night, we had a bonfire and Roy cracked open a bottle of Arrack (a Sri Lankan coconut spirit), which was a nice touch. By the end of the night, we were sad to say goodbye to everyone, as we’d had so much fun making new travel friends and just hanging out. It felt like we’d finally had a proper hostel experience – something we’ve not found since the Frendz hostel in Boracay.
Roy’s hostel is fully booked 100% of the time, but if people turn up unexpectedly then he always has a plan. He actually got an award for being the best hostel in Sri Lanka, but he doesn’t advertise that award anywhere, as he says he wants people to come to the hostel because of word of mouth, not because of some award. Go Roy.
Sunrise at Sigiriya
The main reason people go to Sigiriya is to climb the rock. The best time to do this is sunrise, for the amazing views and the comfortable temperatures. The big rock is the one with the ancient ruined city up on the top, but costs £30 to climb. There’s another rock called Pidurangala, not so far from the big one, which costs £5 and lets you see the sunrise hitting the other one. It also takes much less time and effort to climb. Guess which one we chose.
Along with three other backpackers, we got up horrendously early at 4am and waited for the jeep to come and pick us up. On the journey to Pidurangala rock, I remembered why we have so many sunset photos from our travels and none of the sunrise. Waking up before dawn is the worst. Poor Blakey had to do it two days in a row, as I was ill the first morning, so he went with other people, then came with me the next day too.
The climb to the top isn’t particularly challenging – there’s plenty of rough, uneven steps and scrambling over rocks in the dark, but it only takes about half an hour, making it reasonable.
By the time we got to the top, the sky was beginning to brighten in the east and we could begin to see the jungle plains stretching out for miles around us. There were probably around thirty other people up there, all sitting quietly, waiting for the sun to come up.
We sat in our little group of five, talking softly and taking it all in. It was really peaceful. Definitely worth the early start, although I very much doubt we’ll be making a habit of it.
We didn’t regret not going up the main rock – a few other backpackers we met at Roy’s had done it and thought the £30 charge was way too much. I guess if you’re into ancient ruins and history, it would be worth it.
Looking for Elephants
We were an hour or so away from Kaudulla National Park, so one of the activities a lot of the backpackers do up at Sigiriya is head out on safari. The five of us who climbed the rock decided we’d all go on safari that afternoon… after a nap.
We didn’t know what to expect from safari in Sri Lanka… we’ve both been on safari in South Africa before, which was amazing experience. ‘Safari’ in Sri Lanka though… not so much. You’re basically just going out to look at elephants, which is wonderful, I love elephants – but just don’t expect the same kind of variety of animal life like you’d see in Africa.
We got really close to a breeding herd of around 50 elephants and spent ages watching them eating and walking about, which was so lovely. However, soon there were another 20 or 30 jeeps crammed in next to each other, all trying to get in the best spot for photos. We could see how much this was pissing the elephants off – some would trumpet and charge at the nearest jeeps, making all the jeeps reverse madly out the way, only to creep slowly back again.
In South Africa they have strict rules in the parks that a maximum of three safari vehicles can be at an animal sighting, and only for a certain length of time. Then they move on, and another three can take their turn. They also usually give the animals plenty of space and leave if they become agitated.
Our Sri Lankan safari driver was really good to be honest, he stayed further away from the elephants and didn’t crowd them. However, when there’s 20-30 other vehicles all behaving badly, that didn’t really help much at all.
Maybe we like hostels now?
We’ve definitely been leaning more towards disliking hostels recently, but I think after staying at Roy’s, we’ll give them another go. I think we just need to mix it up a bit… switch between hostels, guesthouses and hotels. That way we can keep the accommodation costs low, but still get a few more luxurious stays every now and then!