TOP

The Incredible Southern Province of Sri Lanka You’ve Never Heard Of

Long in history, rich in beauty – each part of Sri Lanka
has unique experiences to captivate. One of the top picks is
definitely the Southern Province, indeed the Southern paradise,
with infinite elixirs to shower holidaymakers with bliss.

All journeys in Sri Lanka, doubtlessly, start in Colombo. The Sri Lankan capital is observably a “growing” city, with modern skyscrapers infiltrating antiquated colonial buildings, and other new constructions on the way. It is more a business hub than a destination for recreation; however, spending a night in Colombo is a good idea to really get to know modern Sri Lanka, especially in culinary and architectural scenes.

I spend my first night at Fairway Colombo, and I hold dear how I can explore remarkable parts of the city on foot from here. My first meal in Sri Lanka occurs at the food arcade of the hotel, being eager to try the Sri Lankan tastes as soon as possible. After going out exploring, I am back to Fairway Colombo again for the rooftop dining. Botanik Bar & Bistro comes with both an indoor bistro and jazzy outdoor area, with live music playing. The atmosphere alone is pleasant, and as soon as the food is served, my mouth is completely pleased. Specialising in contemporary bistro-style fares, the Botanik kitchen crew does it right. I learn later that the menu is co-created by Sri Lanka’s first Michelin Star chef, Rishi Naleendra, using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. This is how dishes here are undoubtedly delectable.

Actually, Colombo has a lot to offer to tourists as well – if only you know where to go. If you wish to delve into sacred architecture, then Colo mbo is the place, as beautiful Buddhist monasteries, Islamic mosques, Hindu temples, and Christian churches, all of them live together peacefully in the capital. You can also pay a visit to the “Number 11”, a residence in Colombo belonged to Geoffrey Bawa, the world famous architect, to witness his legacy. Please note that advance booking is required for visiting the house and an entrance fee applies.


THE SOUTHERN PROVINCE’S MUSTS


Unawatuna

With in two hours from Colombo, I reach Cantaloupe Levels, my nigh t’s safe haven. Being a huge seafood fan, I unhesitantly order Parisian Jaffna Kool, a bowl of baby calamari, prawns, and baby crabs inside the broth filled with seafood bisque, followed by Prawn Linguine with pumpkin sauce. I am amazed by the tastiness of the soup, creaminess of the pumpkin, and the surprisingly huge prawn topped on the pasta. I later get a chance to learn the Sri Lankan culinary scene
better, thanks to the hotel’s cooking class and special Ekamutu Platter (Sinhalese, Muslim, and Tamil cuisine in a nutshell!).

Happily satiated, I look away from the table, only to see how cushy this place is. Unlike other hotels I’ve been to, the hotel is not vast and has no elevator, yet remains easefully fashionable. The lounging beds by the pool, overlooking the sun-dappled sea, are my favourite, as well as its being cosily mid-sized and the panoramic skyline can be seen right from my bed, thanks to the hotel’s privileged location of nestling up on the hill.

After getting refreshed, I walk down to the touristy Jungle Beach to get on a gleaming white boat for a private sunset cruise attentively catered by Sail Lanka. Suddenly, here come dark clouds, bringing rain along with them. Being pampered with exhilarating drinks and fruits away from shore, then, the rain, it’s not so bad anyway. Later on, the weather compensates us with a mesmerising sunset, where the sky is painted in pink and gold.

At the Dalawella Beach is the Instagram-famous seaside swing. I am there for the sunrise and no one else is around. The sun shyly shows up, revealing its true colours, little by little, behind the fabled ridged rocks. Walking along the beach in the morning never felt so good. Beautiful isolation.

Another night around Unawatuna is spent at Cantaloupe Aqua. I have never fallen asleep this close to the sea, in a way that I can safely sleep to the sound of the waves. The hotel also comes with a small infinity pool with a priceless view. Who needs extravagance when everything I need is compactly granted? I do cherish little things here like savouring a healthy breakfast (it’s a bowl of buffalo curd with fresh fruits and muesli) by the sea. I couldn’t ask for more.

Galle

For a complete Southern Province experience, don’t miss visiting Galle Fort. Not only is this UNESCO World Heritage Site remarkable historically, but the harmonious diversity of the district is more than compelling. It is the first time I see churches, mosques, and temples stand in the same fortified area, implying cordial open-mindedness of the land.

Led by Shanjei, my Galle Fort guide, exploring the fortified area is filled with wonders. Even though he takes us only around the fort area, he indeed elaborates Sri Lanka’s story, using the fort as a blackboard.

In 1505, the Portuguese made the first embarkment on the island at Galle, marking a new era for Sri Lanka thanks to subsequent massive transformations. The fort was built when both parties were still on friendly terms. Cinnamon became gold in the Portuguese’s eyes, leading to conflicts and then to the war where the Portuguese defeated the land’s proprietor. The crack never ceased to escalate. Decades later, the cities of Kotte, Sitawaka, and Jaffna were annexed by the Portuguese.

Attempting to protect the homeland, King Rajasingha of Kandy turned to another seaway sage, the Dutch, for help, in the late 1630s. The Dutch did lend helping hands, and they successfully overthrew the Portuguese annexation. The reconstruction of the fort is one of the tokens of gratitude. However, the Dutch never returned the captured ports to Sri Lankan natives, insisting this was the price to pay, unless an unfeasibly gigantic amount of money was handed to them. The confiscation by the Dutch continued until 1796, when the British Colonialism arrived.

Aforementioned is a brief story of how this fort built by the Portuguese is called the Dutch Fort, and why this site is noteworthy to the history of the country.

In Galle, at the brand new Fairway Sunset hotel, the rooftop bar and bistro turns out to be one of the best sunset spots in town, as well as an impressionable place to dine, especially when you are quite weary of traditional foods. I am in awe with how the grills taste so delectable here. Besides, the impeccable location allows me to enjoy the horizon right from my room.

Ahangama

On one fine morning, I step onto the soft sand in creamy white, feeling the gust of wind gently patting my face. For some reasons, the beach is hushed despite many people learning how to surf. It’s been a peaceful start of the day, and I’m so ready to take the leap.

Surfing in Ahangama is suitable for first-timers, as the waves are not too wild. I have a hard time communicating with my surfing instructor (language barriers ), but his technique is brilliant. It is so entertaining that I can’t wait for the next surfing time.

After being all soaked up by seawater, sunshine, and delight, I crave some cooling rest. Upon entering Cantaloupe House, the homey lull of this place is second to none. What is better than going out for surfing under the frisky morning sun, and returning ‘home’, then spending the afternoon reading on the poolside lounge? I love how it feels so much like home, with only six rooms, and the quaint refinement of this house, which was built a century ago.

One-of-a-kind stilt fishing is one of the most iconic shots to make in Sri Lanka, and it can be observed along the way in Ahangama. Frankly and sadly, as the fishermen demand money for photographing them, I find such uniqueness loses its charm.

Mirissa

During the night in Ahagama, I ask a tuk-tuk driver to take me to somewhere to experience the nightlife. Fifteen minutes later, I find myself in Mirissa, where the night is still lively. The spot is famous for scintillating beach bars.

The next day, I ask the driver, again, to take me to the iconic viewpoint with lots of palm trees. I soon find myself in Mirissa again, and it is so dazzling in the daylight. The palm tree hill is just a small hill with tall palm trees standing artistically, with a backdrop of glittering ocean of turquoise and azure, so crystalline that I could notice its clarity even from afar. I just want to sit there, peering at the paradisical swash and backwash, wishing to witness a mesmerising sunset from up here.

If only I had more days in the Southern Province, I would have done the famous whale watching in Mirissa, diving down into the deep ocean, or even more surfing. I still wish I had done a lot of things in this wonderful tropical province.

Text by Pakvipa Rimdusit
Photos by Chanon Toliang