I’m not entirely sure why we decided to go to Arugam Bay in the first place. Sri Lanka’s east coast is not nearly as well traveled as its west, but Arugam Bay is the exception: known for its phenomenal breakers, it is a world-class surf destination and attracts surfers from all over the globe.

However, we are not surfers. Not even a little bit. My balance is notoriously poor on dry land, and Tony is sufficiently ambivalent about open water when he’s not wearing a BCD and an oxygen tank, that Arugam wasn’t an obvious fit or love-at-first-sight match for either of us.

Arugam Bay's beach

Given that Arugam Bay is one of the premiere surf destinations, we did toy with the idea of taking lessons. However, when we weighed the potential cost of surf lessons against simply lounging on the beach, we realized that neither of us really felt a burning desire to catch some waves, and so sloth won out.

Before we set off on our trip, I had gotten it into my mind that this adventure would be the perfect time to try every activity; from scuba diving to cooking classes, I wanted to do it all. But the longer we have traveled, the more I have come to embrace the fact that I can’t do it all; moreover, I don’t want to. Not every pursuit needs to be my passion, and although I fully believe its important to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and try new things, with a dwindling budget, we have to prioritize and channel our energy and travel funds into the things that excite, inspire, or interest us the most. Just because an activity does exist, doesn’t mean it needs to be my next hobby, and I don’t need to audition each and every one of them to know that. We don’t have to zipline or zorb, just because it’s available to us and is a popular tourist diversion if neither of us has any inherent interest in it to begin with. One day we may change our minds and decide we’re genuinely curious about chasing waves and hanging ten, but I’m glad that at this point in our travels we’re able to separate our actual interests from feelings of what we should want to do. In a weird way, by not heading out to surf, we learned to ride a different kind of waves—those of our own desires and moods—while at Arugam Bay.

Flowers in Arguam Bay

Arugam is not an excessively large place, but the main strip is populated with so many lodging and restaurant options that, from the road, you can barely see the beach for the shops; I immediately felt strange to be surrounded by so many dread-locked foreigners after feeling we had the country to ourselves for so long. The number of guesthouses and bungalows on offer is, quite honestly, a bit overwhelming, and although they cover the entire spectrum of budgets, the truly low budget options are often little more than surfer flop houses with sandy floors and a lone salt water pipe in the wall in lieu of a proper shower. Perfectly fine if you’re in town to surf, surf, and surf some more, I’m sure, but… we weren’t. Thankfully, we were able to find a new hotel set just off the beach that had some basic (but clean… barring the occasional frog in the toilet or crab in the shower!) bungalows we were able to haggle down to a reasonable price.

Our hotel in Arugam Bay
Our hotel in Arugam Bay
Our shower crab in Arugam Bay
Our shower crab in Arugam Bay

Even with surfing off the table, we figured we could still enjoy some quality beach time during our stay. I guess there’s a reason that this part of the country is famous for its waves and not its beaches. Arugam’s beachfront certainly wasn’t ugly, but after the gorgeous white gold beaches of the southern coast, we felt a tiny bit let down by what was on offer. It was still pretty and refreshingly free from trash and detritus, but the tumultuous surf with devilish undertow meant that frolicking in the waves was a no-go. We enjoyed a few casual strolls down the salt-and-pepper sands, but ultimately found we were just as happy to lounge on the patio of the little beach-front cabana we rented, with books and drinks in hand, enjoying the soothing crash of the waves from there.

Despite Arugam’s main attraction being of no interest to us and the beach being somewhat lackluster, I’m still really glad we made our way there because there were plenty of things about the area that charmed and delighted us.

For instance, the surrounding countryside was unrelentingly beautiful, and we enjoyed simply going for rides in King Tuk to places you would never find in a guidebook, whether it was visiting a small Hindu shrine in a neighboring city, exploring an all-but-abandoned Tsunami housing project that looked like the love child of Alice and Wonderland and The Hobbit, or just rattling out into the countryside to take pictures of white dagobas against crazy dramatic skies.

Tea-pot houses near Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
A temple near Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka

A temple near Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
A temple near Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka

Also, although Arugam Bay has more than a whiff of touristification about it, that wasn’t all bad either. The locals still exhibited that easy Sri Lankan warmth and friendliness we had come to know and love, and within an hour of our arrival, essentially the entire town had heard about us, and people would stop us and ask us if we were the foreigners who had driven here in their own tuk tuk. People would wave to us and ask us to take their pictures, and it was refreshing to see that a place that sees its fair share of tourists hadn’t become jaded by our presence. Even the dogs were delighted to see us—one of the guesthouses just up the lane from us had an adorable puppy who, following a few cuddles, followed us all the way back to our room, prancing every step of the way.

An Arugam Bay local An Arugam Bay local

But the real reason we really enjoyed our time at Arugam Bay, to the surprise of no one, was the food. In particular, the food at one restaurant was so good that even if everything else had been a bust, our time in town was absolutely worthwhile. I might go so far as to say that anyone traveling Sri Lanka’s east coast should stop in Arugam Bay for at least one night so that they can eat at this place.

Throughout our time in Asia, we’ve yet to visit a country where there wasn’t a hotel, bar, or restaurant named “Why Not?” We laugh every time we see one of them, so ludicrously named are they, and we always feel like we would be better off giving our patronage to literally any other establishment. But not in Arugam Bay. The Why Not? is not only one of the most reasonably priced restaurants in town, but the food is seriously SO GOOD. In a country where every meal we ate was a winner, I might go so far to say that their seafood platter is the one that I dream about and miss the most.

A sumptuous seafood feast in Arugam Bay
THE Seafood Platter

For just $14US, we would get a plate overflowing with grilled fish, crab, prawns, lobster and squid slathered in the most intoxicating and addictive blend of spices. Think the best tikka masala you’ve ever had, and you’re on the right track; once we had devoured all the protein on the plate, we would swipe it clean with our fingers so that we could sop up every last drop of sauce. The portion of seafood was massive, but Sri Lankans are never ones to let you go hungry, so it also came with a side of fries and a mountain of citrusy slaw. Arugam Bay may not have been my favorite place based on its own merits, but I think this might be my favorite seafood dish I’ve ever had. It was seriously so good that we went back and ordered it every single night we were in town, something I NEVER do. It’s not the only seafood platter we enjoyed in Sri Lanka, but it was far and away the very best.

The seafood platter from Why Not? in Arugam Bay
As if the Seafood Platter weren’t enough, there were generous sides too!

(We saw other people order other things, but I think if there are two of you, for the money, the seafood platter was definitely the best deal. The guys who own and run Why Not? were really friendly and honest, and they only serve fresh seafood—if one of the protein options that normally came with the platter wasn’t available, they would warn us in advance and double up on one of the others (one night we got extra crab because they didn’t have squid). They even let us into the kitchen on our first night to check out what they had available so that we wouldn’t be ripped off with claims of “jumbo shrimp” only to find they were, in fact, “shrimpy shrimp” and could vet the seafood going onto our platter.)

(Also, yes the seafood platter counts as an extreme splurge in Sri Lanka where it wasn’t unusual for us to both eat for less than $3US, but we rightly asked ourselves when we would ever get to enjoy such fresh seafood for so little money again. (Answer: Not any time soon.) Regardless of the answer, it was totally worth it.)

It’s entirely possible that if we could have eaten Why Not?’s seafood platter for every meal, we would have, but there are a fair number of restaurants around town and we tried a few other random ones too and were pleased with what we found. For cheap breakfasts and lunch, it was easy enough to rustle up some short eats, kothu roti, and even some desserts: not all of the Sri Lankan sweets were tried were a success, but the soft crepes wrapped around bananas and shredded coconut soaked in palm syrup were just as good as they sound.

As a whole, I’m not sure that Arugam Bay was our perfect place or even the best place we visited in Sri Lanka. But so many of the little things, the ones you’d never find in a guidebook or consider making a specific detour explicitly for—friendly people, adorable puppies, an amazing seafood (though I would argue this should be reason enough to pencil in a visit!)—were all done so well, so right, that the so-called big ticket items wound up feeling incidental in the end.

Why not Arugam Bay? Why not, indeed!

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (25)

  1. August 14, 2014 at 12:27 am
    Aug. 14, '14

    Looks like a great place to spend a couple of days filled with down time… There’s something for being close enough to the ocean just to hear the soothing sounds of the surf. And the seafood platter? Yes, please!
    James recently posted..Castaway on Phu Quoc’s North Shore

    • August 14, 2014 at 8:34 am
      Aug. 14, '14

      Knowing you as I do, I think you would be disappointed with the beaches at Arugam Bay. But then again, knowing you as I do, I know you would love that seafood platter, so you’d probably (rightly) think the visit was worth it for that!

      And you’re right: even if the beach itself wasn’t the best one in Sri Lanka, there is something so soothing about being within earshot of the ocean. We didn’t realize how much we had missed it until we came to Sri Lanka.

  2. August 14, 2014 at 3:49 am
    Aug. 14, '14

    omg those little huts are unreal! I want one in my backyard! and pink too… perfect.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..My 5 Favorite Cities in the World

    • August 14, 2014 at 8:37 am
      Aug. 14, '14

      Yes! I loved the little huts too! It was a bit eerie because they were so surreal and yet the complex seemed to essentially be abandoned, and that confused me: who wouldn’t want to live in one of these adorable teapot houses? I really think that if locals don’t want to live in them that they should turn them into guesthouses!

      • I am Srilankan:)
        May 10, 2016 at 12:57 pm
        May. 10, '16

        People do live in those little huts.It was built for the people who lost their homes in the Srilankan tsunami which happened on Boxing Day 2004.People that live there often go to work nearby early in the morning and their children go and play with friends,during the rest of the day till their parents return.That is why the place was abandoned for the day.
        If you ask me how I know:)…its in my name and I have obviously been there as I went on a whole tour around Srilanka.

  3. August 14, 2014 at 6:32 am
    Aug. 14, '14

    Why not indeed?!?! The food looks lovely, and yeah, you can really fill up for cheap in Sri Lanka (and the whole subcontinent actually). Those tsunami village pictures are kind of haunting.
    Tim | UrbanDuniya recently posted..پاکستان کے لئے ایک محبت خط

    • August 14, 2014 at 8:39 am
      Aug. 14, '14

      It’s kind of crazy how cheap food in SL can be and it’s SO GOOD. It’s funny that, at the time, we were like, “Oh! The seafood platter is so expensive!” Now I would die if I could get that much delicious seafood for $14! I saw one on the menu here in Toronto the other night that was $40Cdn, and I bet it wasn’t nearly as good!

  4. August 14, 2014 at 7:42 am
    Aug. 14, '14

    I struggle with the “just because there is an activity doesn’t mean I have to participate” thing all the time. I force myself to do way too much that I don’t want to do. I’m getting better though. I just wrote about it, actually.

    I love those little houses. I want one for myself. Also, that seafood platter looks amazing!

    • August 14, 2014 at 8:42 am
      Aug. 14, '14

      It can be SO hard to realize that just because you don’t want to surf or visit Disney World or whatever, you’re not a bad person. We all know that interests aren’t universal and intensely personal, and yet we always seem to feel that on vacation, we need to be different people who suddenly enjoy all these activities we would never seek out in our real lives. It was a hard head space to get out of, but we were so much happier when we made our peace with the fact that we just couldn’t do everything. I really do think it’s important for us to still push ourselves to try new things, but it’s ok to sometimes pass.

  5. August 14, 2014 at 9:40 am
    Aug. 14, '14

    Arugam Bay looks amazing… to me! I know it wasn’t your favourite, but without this post I probably never would have heard of it 🙂 Thanks a lot for sharing!
    Sabina @GirlVsGlobe recently posted..The Perils of Being A Pretty Girl

    • August 15, 2014 at 9:14 am
      Aug. 15, '14

      You’re right that it wasn’t our favourite stop in Sri Lanka (although with that seafood platter, I feel like it should have been!), but we still enjoyed our time there and I do think a lot of other people would really enjoy it too. So, I’m really glad to hear that it’s piqued your interest. Certainly a worthwhile stop and we’re always happy when people let us know that we’ve turned them onto a spot they didn’t otherwise know existed!

  6. August 15, 2014 at 2:41 am
    Aug. 15, '14

    Arugam Bay looks like a great place to just relax and wander around. I think it’s great that you guys were able to seek out things to do besides surfing and that you didn’t skip out on Arugam Bay because you’re not surfers. That housing project is awesome! It would be so cool to turn those adorable little huts into little guesthouses!! I wonder why they were abandoned…
    Justine recently posted..One Year in Jakarta: Pros and Cons of Living Abroad

    • August 15, 2014 at 9:17 am
      Aug. 15, '14

      I feel like everywhere in Sri Lanka was great for being chill and just enjoying the natural beauty of the country and life in general, but I think because there wasn’t anything that we really were on fire to do at AB, it was even easier to just give ourselves a break. We actually kept a pretty fast-paced/demanding travel schedule in Sri Lanka, because we didn’t want to miss out on anything, so it was definitely nice to be like, “We’re here, but we’re not going to do anything!”

      I think the same thing about those teapot houses! They totally need to get turned into guesthouses if locals don’t want/need to live in them any longer!

  7. August 15, 2014 at 4:48 am
    Aug. 15, '14

    That abandoned housing project was a neat find. I was thinking Hobbit as well, without being built into a hill. The food looks absolutely delicious as well! Bummer about the beach though.
    Greg | Travel Blue Book recently posted..Saltwater Grill: A Seafood Lover’s Delight

    • August 15, 2014 at 9:18 am
      Aug. 15, '14

      The beach wasn’t a disaster or anything, it just paled in comparison to the many other beautiful beaches we had seen in Sri Lanka. I suppose it was bound to happen eventually, but I can’t really complain since I’d say that, on the whole, Sri Lanka’s beaches are some of the best in the world!

  8. August 15, 2014 at 2:09 pm
    Aug. 15, '14

    Arugam Bay looks stunning! I love all your pictures, from that flower to the adorable puppy shots! It must have been nice to have a furry friend to play with – you must have missed your own dogs along the way. Looks like a beautiful place. I’m with you – I can’t imagine myself having half as much balance as is required to surf, but that delicious-looking seafood platter would get me to Arugam Bay!
    Sara @ Simply Sara Travel recently posted..Gold and Glitz: The Restored “From Louis XIV to Louis XVI” rooms in the Louvre

    • August 17, 2014 at 2:06 pm
      Aug. 17, '14

      We have been so lucky to encounter so many sweet puppies during our travels! It’s not quite the same as having our own dogs, but they have been very good substitutes and we’ll never turn down puppy cuddles!

      And really, who needs to surf when you could just eat seafood platters instead? 😀

  9. August 16, 2014 at 11:02 am
    Aug. 16, '14

    I feel the same way about Xi’an, China. It was one of my least favorite places in that country, but also home to one of my favorite restaurants. We discovered First Noodle Under the Sun on our first visit, and ate there for every dinner on the second. A bowl of scrumptious noodles is probably the only thing that would get me back there for a third time!
    Heather recently posted..Touring Karosta Prison and Liepaja’s Secret Soviet Port

    • August 17, 2014 at 2:09 pm
      Aug. 17, '14

      We actually really liked Xi’an—it was the first city in China we liked—but I’ll admit, part of that was definitely due to the food! I wish we had visited First Noodle Under the Sun… if we ever make it back there for whatever reason, we certainly will!

  10. August 16, 2014 at 2:45 pm
    Aug. 16, '14

    Why not Arugam Bay indeed! I like the fact that the locals were super friendly and the dogs too, I think I would have kept that puppy with me, it’s so gorgeous 🙂
    Franca recently posted..Weekend Photo Theme – Tokyo

    • August 17, 2014 at 2:10 pm
      Aug. 17, '14

      It was so hard to take that puppy back to its proper guesthouse! It was sooooo cute, and although it was initially a bit shy of us, he wound up being so cuddly. Definitely one of our highlights of AB!

  11. August 17, 2014 at 8:44 am
    Aug. 17, '14

    What you said about not doing things if you don’t really want to do them resonated with me! I’m having a similiar experience regarding my recent dietary changes. I always promised myself I needed to do certain things otherwise I wasn’t truly “living” – for eg. eating a pepperoni pizza in New York. But now, that experience really wouldn’t be pleasurable for me. So, should I eat the pizza, even though I won’t enjoy it, just to say I did it? Of course not, that’s silly. Much better to do something that DOES bring me pleasure. Seems like you had exactly the same thing happen here – that dinner clearly gave you much more pleasure than surfing would have, and you still have great memories attached to Arugam Bay because of it.
    Karyn @ Not Done Travelling recently posted..Be In Alignment With Your True Self

    • August 17, 2014 at 2:16 pm
      Aug. 17, '14

      Part of what traveling has given us is deeper insight into our own interests and passions, and I really appreciate that. For instance, in my case, it took me a while to acknowledge and respect the fact that I am a food traveler—for me it really is enough to travel to places to try the food and explore the local cuisine. But I also recognize that my passions aren’t going to be shared by everyone and I recognize that different people travel for different reasons. While experiencing the local food scene IS really important to me, it may be less so for you, and you should honor that. There have definitely been a few places where there was a local food that was really popular but I wasn’t confident it was something I would enjoy (e.g., tarantulas in Cambodia) and decided not to try it; I have no regrets about that at all. If you don’t want to eat peperoni pizza in NY, don’t! I’ve had much better slices in other cities/countries, anyway! 😉

  12. August 19, 2014 at 2:36 am
    Aug. 19, '14

    Why not indeed!
    Your photos are magnificent and that platter of seafood looks yum! You’re doing a fantastic job and service writing about, and promoting, a small under-developed country such as Sri Lanka.
    Well done!
    Victoria@ The British Berliner recently posted..Go North my son to Glasgow n’all that : 10 things you didn’t know!

    • August 25, 2014 at 8:37 am
      Aug. 25, '14

      Thanks, Victoria! This seafood platter was just way too good not to share! And I do hope these posts pique others’ interest in Sri Lanka because it’s really a wonderful country and well worth a visit!

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