The Agony in the Ecstasy of Sri Lanka’s East Coast

It’s no secret that I consider our decision to start 20YH one of the best choices we made before leaving on our Big Trip. The site hasn’t always been easy to maintain and has lent itself to frustration and become a source of stress on more than one occasion, but on the whole, it’s been...

It’s no secret that I consider our decision to start 20YH one of the best choices we made before leaving on our Big Trip. The site hasn’t always been easy to maintain and has lent itself to frustration and become a source of stress on more than one occasion, but on the whole, it’s been a really rewarding and fulfilling creative endeavor. We decided pretty early on that we would forgo trinkets and tchotchkes in favor of journal entries and copious photographs, most of which we ultimately package as stories here. As much as we were motivated to share our adventures with our readers, we also had selfish incentives: we knew that once our trip was over we would want something tangible to look back on, to remind us of all that we have accomplished, all of the cool experiences we have had along the way, all of the fantastic places we have had the good fortune to visit. Like a virtual pinch, the site reminds us the last two years DID happen and weren’t just the best dream ever.

More often than not, it has been an intense joy to revisit destinations through our photos and reflect back on our time there so that we can share them with you. But with Sri Lanka it’s all been rather bittersweet and the blog has felt a bit like a double-edged sword. As much as I have loved revisiting our beautiful adventures weaving our way through the island, it has also been really hard to look back on our halcyon days there simply because the country is painfully pretty, and each post we write is a reminder of what we are missing.

A little shack at the end of a path in a beautiful rice paddy near Baticaloa, Sri Lanka

I think it’s fairly safe to say that, over the course of our 24 days in Sri Lanka, we fell in love with the place. It wasn’t the only country that stole our hearts during our trip around the world—far from it!—but it’s probably the one I look back on with the most acute sense of longing. Honestly, we’ve left plenty of places wishing our visit had been longer, but with Sri Lanka, we weren’t able to extend our time, and I felt our premature departure like a sledgehammer to the heart.

At no point have I felt it more than now, as I remember our journey up the east coast of the country to the beach town of Kalkudah. I know in my first post about our epic road trip, I joked about how normally the traveling portion of every journey is really just a means to an end, but in Sri Lanka, the journey was a joy. I lived for the hours when we’d go rambling through the countryside in our red sardine can on wheels.

I mean, with countryside like this rolling out in all directions, as far as the eye can see can you blame me?

Before we visited Sri Lanka, I had gawked at and ogled the photos of the beaches that had popped up on a few other travel blogs, thinking that they looked like paradise, but secretly believing that they had all found a way to Photoshop them. There was just no way somewhere so gorgeous could possibly be real. You may be thinking the same about our photos, but I assure you, as lovely as these are, the shocking thing about Sri Lanka is actually how much better it is in real life. And not just the beaches, but the verdant, fertile countryside carpeted in rice paddies and the misty mountainous hill country too. The food is amazing, and the people are a delight, quick to offer a smile and only too happy to chat. The soundtrack of our road trip was long exhalations of “Woooooow!” and “Look at how GORGEOUS that is!” and a laugher that rang with equal parts joy and disbelief. Often times, we’d hear the sound echo back, as locals cheered on the crazy foreigners touring their country by tuk tuk.

Coutryside near Baticaloa, Sri Lanka

When I rave to people about how beautiful Sri Lanka is, they always look at me with unveiled skepticism, like the truth is really that it is nothing but a dirty warzone. Certainly it is a country whose history features its fair share of sorrows, from civil wars to natural disasters, yet you’d be hard pressed to believe it when you’re there on the ground. We always felt safe and welcome, even as we ventured up to parts of the country where Tamils and Sinhalese fought bloody battles that ended only five years ago and places that were felled by the 2004 tsunami. It’s incredible to think that this could ever be a country at war; these days, it looks an awful lot like paradise and the happiness we felt there seemed an awful lot like peace.

It astounds me that more people don’t know about Sri Lanka or care to visit it. It’s affordable, it’s friendly, it’s heaven on earth. I hope that the intrepid amongst you will be inspired by our coverage on it and one day make your ways there so that you can revel in this South Asian secret.

Just know that Sri Lanka slips under your skin and once you’re caught, it might never let you go. It’s been months now, and still I’m pining, I’m wistful, and—whenever I think of the pearl of the Indian Ocean—my heart clenches like a dejected lover who wants what she can’t have. I am swept up in a tidal wave of yearning. I think that if Homesickness had a scrapbook, it would be filled with these pictures.

Steph and Tony among the rice paddys near Baticaloa, Sri Lanka

Who can say when Sri Lanka snared my heart? 24 days or 24 hours? All I know is that the island haunts me, and I suspect it always will. I look at our photos and I feel a tug I can’t ignore. One day, I know we’ll return.

Tell Us: Is there a country you’re pining to return to? Have you ever been anywhere so pretty you feel it like a punch to the gut?

Popular in: Sri Lanka

35 comments Leave a comment

  1. Hmmm. I now consider myself official “warm” to the idea of visiting Sri Lanka. And I am now also inspired to blog more than once a month. Sigh.

    Aug. 15 2014 @ 11:14 pm
    1. James author

      Woo hoo! We’ll take it, since we know you started off with 0% interest in visiting Sri Lanka. It really is pretty; I’m pretty sure you would love it!

      Aug. 18 2014 @ 7:47 pm
  2. I really understand that sense of longing… there’s something about the subcontinent that can really get under your skin. I’ve met many people who have said the same thing – they’ve fallen in love with many countries, but none tug at their hearts more than those in South Asia. No prizes for guessing where my heart is drawn to :p

    Aug. 16 2014 @ 1:22 am
    1. Tim | UrbanDuniya author

      Yeah, it’s interesting because while we liked Nepal, we didn’t love it the way we did Sri Lanka. Maybe it’s because we spent 3 months there so felt we had our fill, or maybe it just wasn’t exactly right for us the way Sri Lanka seemed to be. I guess we really do have to go to India and see how it hooks us now!

      Aug. 18 2014 @ 7:48 pm
  3. You have firmly planted Sri Lanka on our ‘must-see’ list! Thank you!

    Aug. 16 2014 @ 1:42 am
    1. Gillian author

      Yes, you absolutely MUST go! I know you had a rough go of it in India, but my understanding that Sri Lanka really is a world apart (it’s certainly much cleaner!).

      Aug. 18 2014 @ 7:50 pm
  4. I’m now convinced by your beautiful photos! Sri Lanka sounds incredible and you’re right, it never would have been a place that I would have considering visiting. Thanks for sharing your heart for this country and showing its beauty despite its turbulent past. And as much as you miss it, sometimes I think it’s nice to have a feeling of leaving a visit “unfinished” so it gives you something to come back to see and experience. Sounds like Sri Lanka has not been “checked off” the list completely for you 🙂

    Aug. 16 2014 @ 6:07 am
    1. Sara @ Simply Sara Travel author

      I agree that I have begun to feel good about leaving certain places unfinished as it means I’ll have motivation and a reason to return… the really good places aren’t ones you can cover in a single trip anyway, right?

      Aug. 18 2014 @ 7:53 pm
  5. I understand what you mean saying it’s hard to look back on such a good trip knowing it’s over! I even feel that in India because becoming an expat is so different than backpacking. Your photos of Sri Lanka make it so inviting. I don’t have the time & cash now but I think on my next visa run I will go!

    Aug. 16 2014 @ 6:17 am
    1. Rachel of Hippie in Heels author

      I’m so envious that you’re so close to Sri Lanka (I think India is one of the cheapest places to get there from!), so I really do hope you make it there one day soon. It’s honestly incredible and I look forward to whenever it is I’m able to return!

      Aug. 18 2014 @ 7:55 pm
  6. Your love for the country is obvious. It was probably the first country you visited where you couldn’t just decide to stay longer on a whim. That must hard after all that freedom. Well, another place to go back to. We have a rather long list already, but I guess we need to add Sri Lanka!

    Aug. 16 2014 @ 9:45 am
    1. Carmel author

      The only other country that we couldn’t stay longer in was Taiwan because we already had an exit flight booked when we landed… and it was another place that we gave 3 weeks and wished we could have quadrupled it! There were tons of places we would have loved to have stayed longer, but this and Taiwan were probably the hardest to leave when we did and probably wouldn’t have if not for the onward travel already being booked. I hope you make it to both of them some day!

      Aug. 18 2014 @ 7:58 pm
  7. Spoken like somebody truly in love. You MUST go back.

    Also, why do some of the most beautiful places in the world become warzones? So sad. 🙁

    Aug. 17 2014 @ 8:59 am
    1. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling author

      Yes, I MUST go back some day!

      Also, I have no idea why the pretty places always seem to have a heavier share of burdens than other places, but it does seem to be an unfortunate trend.

      Aug. 18 2014 @ 7:59 pm
  8. That is how I feel about Canada – specifically British Columbia. Also, Hawaii, UK, New Zealand, Mexico, Iceland, Greece and France. So many beautiful places in the world but these places were the most special to me and I will definitely return there (I have already visited France on 8 different occasions and Canada on 4)

    Aug. 17 2014 @ 10:11 pm
    1. Katie @ The World on my Necklace author

      One day I would love to do a “greatest hits” trip where I just revisit all of my favourite countries and places… until then, I think I have an awful lot of traveling to do—I’ve still only hit up 3 of the 7 available continents and I just know there are plenty more beautiful places for me to discover!

      Aug. 18 2014 @ 8:00 pm
  9. Love that you’ve showcased Sri Lanka your love for Sri Lanka with images that replicate all of the great words that you had to say about your tuk tuk journey around the country when we saw you last.

    I’m now just dying to do the same journey, and after a recommendation of Jazza of, are keen to do the same around India too 🙂

    Aug. 18 2014 @ 2:57 am
    1. Dale author

      I really really think you guys would love Sri Lanka, so I have my fingers crossed you will make it there one day. It is such a haven for vegetarians, and though I know you aren’t the biggest people, the entire country is just stunning. And seeing it by tuk tuk is a blast… but you’d better get your license first! 😉

      Aug. 18 2014 @ 8:02 pm
  10. You’ve sold Sri Lanka to me Steph! Of course, I’ve been to India (I’m British. It’s a given for us LOL!), but I’ve always considered the little island country to be a poor cousin of India and more of the same. Both good and bad.
    I probably wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to visit India a second time, but I guarantee that I will give Sri Lanka more than a passing thought. Your posts and photographs have shown me that Sri Lanka is a hidden secret right now, but won’t be for long!

    Re-your question: the country (if you can call it that, and some do), that I’m pining to return to is that of Hong Kong! I went there 15 years ago, and just 2 years after “The Handover” of this ex-British Protectorate, back to the Chinese Republic. I spent a week there and haven’t been back since!
    When I went there, there were literally loads of Chinese people everywhere you looked, but somehow, it still felt and looked somewhat British! I instantly recognised it as home, and let me tell you, if I hadn’t decided to settle as an expat in Berlin, I would have done so in Hong Kong!

    Re-pretty. Definitely, Prague: for it’s Medieval Old Europe charm. I used to live there too!

    Aug. 19 2014 @ 3:10 am
    1. Victoria@ The British Berliner author

      I think a lot of people have the same misconception that you do: that Sri Lanka is simply “India Lite” or some poor-man’s version of the country to the North. I haven’t been to India (yet!), but my understanding is that Sri Lanka really is its own wonderful country with its own culture and certainly its own food. And really, most of the pitfalls I’ve heard about traveling to India weren’t ones we experienced here. It’s hard to understand why more people don’t come, because it really is that great!

      Oh, and Hong Kong is the bomb! We spent 9 days there at the start of our Big Trip and absolutely ADORED the country. We spent most of our time/budget on food, so that probably has something to do with it… 😉

      Aug. 25 2014 @ 8:40 am
  11. I think the Philippines and New Zealand are the most beautiful places we’ve visited; they’re also the countries we most long to return to partly because of their beauty. Saying that, we’ve just got back from Scotland and the scenery there was pretty epic too, reminiscent of NZ; I didn’t realise how many beautiful places there were in the world until we started travelling! You’ll be pleased to hear that we have firmly added Sri Lanka to our list of places to visit in 2015, I’m sure you’ll be back there one day too 🙂

    Aug. 19 2014 @ 10:55 am
    1. Amy author

      I’m so glad to hear you’ll be visiting Sri Lanka at some point during your return to Asia! I’ll be so curious to hear how you think it compares to the Philippines. I agree that the Philippines is absolutely gorgeous, but I think Sri Lanka might just edge them out ever so slightly! (It is certainly a much easier place to travel around and soak in, given that it is just one big island rather than 17,000 of them!)

      Aug. 25 2014 @ 8:41 am
  12. I’ve been known to cry on the plane home after an especially good trip, so I completely understand what you’re saying. In my recent travel history, I was saddest to leave Budapest and Hong Kong though I can’t pinpoint exactly why. I just loved everything about those cities and could easily see myself living in either one. The heart wants what the heart wants 🙂

    Aug. 20 2014 @ 3:02 pm
    1. Heather author

      Oh, my heart breaks at the thought of you crying on the plane following a great trip! I have found that as sad as I am to leave places I love, I am SO glad to know that they exist and that I can always go back. I’ve not yet made it to Budapest, but as I mentioned to Victoria, we really loved Hong Kong too. I’m pretty sure that when we left, we did so with the intention of stopping back in again at some point on our Big Trip before we left Asia. That didn’t happen, but I know we’ll certainly go back and spend some more time one day! It’s far too great a place to only visit once in a lifetime!

      Aug. 25 2014 @ 8:44 am
  13. I’ve so loved your posts. In 19 days we will be landing in Colombo to commence our own love affair with beautiful Sri Lanka!

    Aug. 25 2014 @ 12:02 pm
    1. Emily author

      I’m so excited to hear this! You will LOVE Sri Lanka! I just know it! So happy more people are getting to enter into a torrid affair with this beautiful place!

      Aug. 26 2014 @ 8:09 am
  14. Wonderfully written article, Stephenie 🙂 I’ve always wondered why so many people knock Sri Lanka—I’ve actually heard nothing but good things about it from travellers who’ve been there. The landscapes look inescapably beautiful. I haven’t had much urge lately to visit the subcontinent because of the intense crowding, but Sri Lanka seems so peaceful from your experiences. Maybe I should give it a closer look the next time I’m in Asia 🙂

    Aug. 27 2014 @ 8:37 am
    1. Ryan author

      I haven’t necessarily gotten the sense that people were knocking Sri Lanka so much as they just don’t consider it all, which I guess amounts to the same thing as it seems like so few people bother to visit it. And although I know that India is crowds overload, Sri Lanka really isn’t like that at all. I mean, Colombo is a mad house, so maybe steer clear of that, but otherwise it was really chill, especially on the beaches where there is generally NO ONE!

      Aug. 27 2014 @ 10:28 am
  15. I’m probably going to end up saying this every time I visit your site, but WOW, I love the photography. I’m interested to hear what made you go to Sri Lanka. It’s known as a dangerous country to visit and many people tend to shy away from those types of countries.

    Sep. 1 2014 @ 10:04 am
    1. Daisy author

      Aw, thank you so much for your kind words about the photos, Daisy!

      As for why we visited Sri Lanka, I can honestly say it is simply because we had read just enough rave reviews from other travel bloggers to convince us that it was a beautiful, safe place to visit. Although the country is definitely associated with negative things in most people’s minds, the reality couldn’t be farther from the war-torn & tsunami afflicted image that the media has portrayed over the years. We have had enough experience during our travels visiting purportedly unsafe places (like the Philippines) that we’ve gotten a good sense for which places are ones we might be better avoiding vs those that have been unfairly represented and maligned. The truth is that most of Sri Lanka’s issues were laid to rest 5 years ago… while we were there, there was definitely more upheaval happening in Thailand than in Sri Lanka, and yet few travelers would consider Thailand to be a dangerous destination. I hope that our posts on this wonderful country help dispel some of the false attributions it has gained—we never once felt at risk during our travels, and never once witnessed any acts of violence either. For a country that has known so much pain, it is remarkably peaceful and unbelievably beautiful today and well worth a visit!

      Sep. 2 2014 @ 7:53 am
  16. Dalma

    Hi, nice article, but why isn’t there even one woman in any of the pictures? That would make me nervous traveling.

    Nov. 2 2014 @ 11:03 am
    1. Dalma author

      There were certainly women around in Sri Lanka (and they certainly feature in some of our other posts), but they don’t tend to simply hang around as much the way the men do. Also, the women we encountered generally tended to be a bit more shy than their male counterparts so we didn’t take nearly so many photos of them out of respect. That said, the men we met in Sri Lanka were all very friendly and welcoming and I never once felt uncomfortable during our time there. True, I was traveling with my husband, but we still never got the sense that anyone’s intentions were anything but honorable.

      Nov. 2 2014 @ 12:19 pm
  17. Sri Lanka has this mysterious power to make you yearn and pine for it and return to it as soon as the opportunity arrives. I went there three times in one year, and each time I was completely enthralled by the country’s warmth and gentleness, not to mention the countless things the island offers to travellers.
    My last trip took me to Jaffna, the only part I hadn’t visited, and I knew I needed to go there to complete my half-formed understanding of the country (and what an experience it was!).

    Nov. 9 2014 @ 3:44 am
    1. Paper Boat Sailor author

      We were hoping to visit Jaffna, but 3 weeks on our first visit just didn’t allow us enough time. I can only imagine what an incredible journey you had up there—it’s so nice to hear from a fellow traveler who understands the beauty and allure of this wonderful country!

      Nov. 10 2014 @ 3:04 pm
  18. Eileen

    While driving the country in your tuk-tuk, where did you leave your backpacks/luggage while you went out to eat or sightsee? It doesn’t look like there’s any doors on it… so how did you secure your backpacks from getting stolen?

    Nov. 23 2017 @ 7:34 am

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