As a travel blogger, the hardest part about visiting beautiful and fascinating countries is almost never the travel part. (I say almost, because sometimes you have days like this one…). No, the difficulty always comes in writing about these places. The more beautiful they are, the harder it seems to be to do justice to them with words alone. How to make these destinations come to life, to vibrate with the same intense loveliness as that which we experienced while in situ? As much as I pride myself on my ability to wield words dexterously, every so often we visit a country or city that leaves me speechless and words fail me.

Sri Lanka as a whole is definitely one of those places; perhaps more than any other country we have been to, it will be the hardest one for me to write about because it was so ridiculously gorgeous. Its beauty smacked me in the face every single day we were there and I spent much of our time there utterly content to just stand and soak in as much of its exquisite magnificence as I possibly could, even if I did it dumbfounded and slack-jawed. It’s a country that scrambles the senses and leaves you reeling.

Thinking back on our time in Sri Lanka, I have no words for most of what we witnessed and experienced… Thank goodness for the all-mighty photo essay!

After so long in Asia, our standards for “charming colonial” towns are pretty high, especially since we’ve visited some of this hemisphere’s very best. So I admit that I was dubious that the port city of Galle would be a cut above (or even all that different) from Melaka or George Town or Kampot or Yogyakarta or Savannakhet, etc.

But as the people in this part of the world love to say, Galle indeed was “same same… but different”.

As we had come to expect, the buildings, many of them dating back to the 1500s when the Portuguese first took shelter in the city’s harbor, are gently decaying edifices painted in cheery pastel hues such as sunny yellow, soothing sage green, blush pink and buttery cream.

Every block is home to a mishmash of architectural styles, with the sweeping curves of the east casually crowding alongside the stalwart straight lines and hard angles of the west. In the center of the old town (formerly a fort) sits a massive Anglican church that takes up most of the block; standing in its shadow, eyes south towards the ocean, the minarets of mosques can be seen.

The laneways are cramped and filled with cafés, hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops, as tangled garlands of electrical wires run high above the street; cashing in on Sri Lanka’s gem trade, it seems as though every second store is a jeweler (and every shop after that seems to be an upscale boutique), the shop keepers ready with a keen eye to pounce should you slow your pace and glance at the baubles displayed in the window. In particular, moonstones are a hot commodity given Galle’s close proximity to one of the country’s top mines for the stone.

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Of course every store features inflated prices (although the vintage poster shop pictured above had awesome postcards, there was no way we were paying $2.50 per card!), but that is ok, because we are not here to shop and are more than content to simply wander and enjoy the atmosphere. In the late afternoon, it’s a sleepy, idyllic one as children make their way home from school and locals gather to catch up on the latest gossip. Although Galle is something of a tourist hub, the streets are somnolent and lazy as we drift from block to block.

What really made Galle special, however, was all the tropical touches that were undeniably Sri Lankan and made Galle feel worthy of a colonial crown.

For instance, I love that even in the cities, Sri Lanka is covered in flowers; they cling and climb up buildings, as if a reminder of the jungle heart that steadily beats at the core of the country.

And what would Sri Lanka be without its tuk tuks? Decked out and painted in garish swirls of shade, the tuk tuks of Galle made King Tuk look like a wilting wallflower!

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As if the city itself weren’t enough of a draw, there remains Galle’s original allure: its coastline. A stroll through town inevitably ends with a walk along the old fort wall, admiring the gleaming lighthouse, the rolling surf, fields where ponies graze, and—on clear days—a view of the peace pagoda across the water.

As day pushes towards dusk, crowds begin to gather along the wall. With the sun due to set, there is no better place to watch it drop… even if clouds blow in and obscure things at the last moment, which is something of a running joke for us in this part of the world.

Maybe it says more about our evolution as travelers than it does about the city itself, but Galle is one of those places where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, and the greatest pleasure for us was simply in being there. There were no specific sights or landmarks we wanted to see, and the only activity we cared to do was wander the streets with cameras in hand and bask in the color, the quiet, and—yes—the charm. I didn’t have words for its beauty then, and I’m afraid I still don’t now, but if pictures really are worth a thousand words, then hopefully this collection has said enough!

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 (29)

  1. July 22, 2014 at 8:19 pm
    Jul. 22, '14

    these photos are so lovely. Annoyingly, we missed Galle as I had a bad case of heat exhaustion from our train ride from Colombo and spent my whole time on the coast in a hotel room recovering. Missed everything. so sad…
    Annie of TravelShus recently posted..Scenes from my Favorite Caribbean Island: St John

    • July 23, 2014 at 8:39 am
      Jul. 23, '14

      I’m so sorry to hear you missed Galle due to illness! It does get incredibly hot in Sri Lanka, so I totally understand how you could get overwhelmed by the heat. If it’s any consolation, although Galle was exceedingly lovely, we actually thought EVERY place we visited in Sri Lanka was just as nice (if in different ways). Plus, now you have a reason to return!

      • July 23, 2014 at 3:16 pm
        Jul. 23, '14

        the heat was unbelievable – we were there right after you. like 95F and 95% humidity every day. I think the train rides (from kandy > colombo, then 3 hours at station, then colombo > galle was enough to suck every drop of water i had right out of me. Good thing the Unawatuna beach was so lovely…

        but Galle does look so charming. Oh well – yes – next time!
        Annie of TravelShus recently posted..First Impressions of Sri Lanka

  2. July 22, 2014 at 8:32 pm
    Jul. 22, '14

    Hmmm. Pretty. But not pretty enough for me, I don’t think. It does remind me a bit of Melaka or even some parts of Kuala Lumpur… I think I’ll stick to Saigon…

    I think I’ll need to see more posts on Sri Lanka for it to move up my wish list… I have NO countries on the horizon (except Bangkok next week), so I’m going due for a big trip. Convince me!
    James recently posted..Castaway on Phu Quoc’s North Shore

    • July 23, 2014 at 8:42 am
      Jul. 23, '14

      Ha! I remember when we were Instagramming our time in Sri Lanka how unimpressed you were because we weren’t showing enough beach photos. I know exactly what you need to tempt you… I think some of our upcoming posts will be more your speed!

      (Regardless, you really should put Sri Lanka on your wish list. It’s seriously SO BEAUTIFUL. I will do my best to convince you, but failing that, I’m just going to command you! :P)

  3. July 22, 2014 at 9:17 pm
    Jul. 22, '14

    Galle looks charming, very much like how I picture Sri Lanka. I can’t remember if I posted this before or not, but my grandparents used to live there for a while when I was a kid, and I was always getting postcards of different places around there. I’m pretty sure I have one from Galle! (Hopefully it wasn’t one of the $2.50 ones!)
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..How to Become a PADI Scuba Diving Instructor

    • July 23, 2014 at 8:45 am
      Jul. 23, '14

      Oh, wow! I didn’t know your grandparents lived here—how cool! Too bad you never got a chance to visit, but at least you got all of those postcards. Somehow I doubt your grandparents would have fallen for the $2.50 postcard trick… although they were very “art deco” cool, we found standard ones in another shop that were 10 for $1… much better!

  4. July 23, 2014 at 2:35 am
    Jul. 23, '14

    What a beautiful place! I particularly love the yellow buildings, they are so striking!
    Karyn @ Not Done Travelling recently posted..Ballarat Part 1 – Ardenlee

    • July 23, 2014 at 8:47 am
      Jul. 23, '14

      Yes, I think when you see buildings in that shade, you can’t help but feel so happy!

  5. July 23, 2014 at 2:50 am
    Jul. 23, '14

    Beautiful pictures and you’re right, charming seems the perfect word to describe Galle. I can see what’s happening here, you’re going to temp us into Sri Lanka the way you tempted us into Taiwan!
    Amy recently posted..The Road from Yangon to Mandalay

    • July 23, 2014 at 8:48 am
      Jul. 23, '14

      If that happens, you will thank me, I’m sure of it! Sri Lanka & Taiwan are very different (although the people in SL are also REALLY friendly), but both wonderful! I would go back to either one in a heartbeat!

  6. July 23, 2014 at 4:30 am
    Jul. 23, '14

    I <3 Galle!! I was so disappointed recently when I went to Sri Lanka and didn't have time to make it there!! You got it in one when you say that "the whole was greater than the sum of its parts" – it's simply a lovely place to be, no?

    • July 23, 2014 at 8:50 am
      Jul. 23, '14

      Yes, it was definitely one of those curious places where no individual element would blow your mind, but taken together, it was pretty spectacular. I’m sorry you missed it on your recent trip, but I’m sure you’ll be back to SL one day and can pop by for some quality time! 🙂

  7. July 23, 2014 at 7:30 am
    Jul. 23, '14

    Galle looks stunning from the pictures! The clouds in the sunset picture are amazing.

    • July 23, 2014 at 8:52 am
      Jul. 23, '14

      Those clouds definitely make for a dramatic (if not colorful) sunset, don’t they?

  8. July 23, 2014 at 11:17 am
    Jul. 23, '14

    I was in Galle over 1 year ago and I can see this city has not changed much. It’s still so beautiful and the local tuk tuks are still so colorful! Great to see that!

    • July 24, 2014 at 4:23 pm
      Jul. 24, '14

      I can’t imagine that Galle is changing any time soon! It seems like it knows what it’s doing and does it exceedingly well!

  9. July 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm
    Jul. 23, '14

    Adding yet another place to my bucket list… The pics are amazing, as usual! You described it really well – especially for feeling like you didn’t. I get it though – there have been a few places that I’ve felt it difficult to describe how great it is. I can say it’s great, but I feel like I need to go a step further and tell everyone: No really, it’s amazing, I don’t think you understand all of its awesomeness! 🙂 I also absolutely love your tiled galleries!
    Katie recently posted..Diving Biowreck – Bali

    • July 24, 2014 at 4:24 pm
      Jul. 24, '14

      With Sri Lanka especially I just kind of want to put up all of our photos and be like, “It’s so pretty! JUST LOOK AT IT!” But I understand that one can only get away with that so many times before it’s no longer considered blogging. I definitely think SL will tax my creativity, but hopefully it will be worth it!

  10. paul kuehn
    July 23, 2014 at 9:28 pm
    Jul. 23, '14

    Oh my god,I want to be there !!!!!!beauty you could roll in,like a cat in catnip!!!!

    • July 24, 2014 at 4:25 pm
      Jul. 24, '14

      I love that analogy about the cat nip! You really could!

  11. July 23, 2014 at 9:53 pm
    Jul. 23, '14

    Stunning photos! I love the presence of flowers everywhere 🙂
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Alice Springs: Not the crap hole I expected

    • July 24, 2014 at 5:22 pm
      Jul. 24, '14

      There were a lot of things to love about Sri Lanka, but the flowers everywhere was one of my favourites too!

  12. July 24, 2014 at 1:23 pm
    Jul. 24, '14

    I love your prowess to ‘wield words dexterously’ – that is such a perfect way to describe how you write (which I love and wish I could even do half as well!).

    Galle looks charming. We saw many colonial towns in Latin America and I think to them there is a bit of flavour or personality that comes through making each indeed ‘same same but different’.
    Emily recently posted..The Art in Paris Isn’t Just in the Museums

    • July 26, 2014 at 11:31 am
      Jul. 26, '14

      Aw, thanks for the kind words backing me up, Emily! It means a lot on days when the right words are harder to find.

      I agree that every colonial city we visited had its own charm and own vibe, but sometimes it is hard to qualify exactly what that is, even if you do appreciate it!

  13. July 31, 2014 at 11:21 am
    Jul. 31, '14

    What gorgeous photographs! It is hard to do a place justice with words when it looks like that, I totally understand. You still did a great job of describing it through your words and photographs. I love the city and the ocean, and the pictures of the flowers are beautiful. I don’t know much about Sri Lanka so thank you for showing me a glimpse!
    Lauren recently posted..The Unusual Passages – Outdoor Art in Quebec City

    • August 1, 2014 at 9:12 am
      Aug. 1, '14

      Pretty much every place in Sri Lanka is going to be a challenge to write about because it’s such a mindblowingly awesome country, no matter where you go. Thank goodness we took a ton of photos! 😀

  14. August 5, 2014 at 2:41 pm
    Aug. 5, '14

    To be honest, I had never even heard of this place! It looks so beautiful though!
    adrienne @adrienne away recently posted..Top Things to do in St. Thomas

    • August 5, 2014 at 4:11 pm
      Aug. 5, '14

      I think those are my favorite kind of places—the ones you didn’t know existed and then are just crazy beautiful! 🙂

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