TRAVEL: NEGOMBO

Sri Lanka is a fas­ci­nat­ing and var­ied place to visit, with end­less ad­ven­ture wait­ing around ev­ery twist of the rails. Yet, you can also have a great time within min­utes of the air­port. We head to Negombo to get the low­down

Men's Health (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Go be­yond Sri Lanka’s usual tourist des­ti­na­tions to dis­cover the beach hol­i­day of your dreams.

SRI LANKA, IT’S A PLACE THAT means so much to so many peo­ple; and more of­ten than not, that mean­ing and un­der­stand­ing of this emer­ald of the In­dian Ocean comes in a dif­fer­ent form.

It re­ally isn’t easy to sum up Sri Lanka, as the coun­try is so deeply var­ied in al­most ev­ery pos­si­ble way.

For many, it’s the dreamy and se­cluded beaches that draw them back time and again to these tran­quil shores. For oth­ers, those same beaches of­fer up some of the best surf in the world, while many head a lit­tle fur­ther off­shore for a glimpse of the fa­mous blue whales that in­habit the wa­ters around the south­ern coast.

Head in­land along its clas­sic, old colo­nial rail­ways, and you sweep through moun­tains and tea plan­ta­tions that pos­i­tively dwarf those of Cameron High­lands. Be­tween these lush, green plan­ta­tions are pris­tine na­tional parks jammed full of wildlife.

The cen­tral part of the is­land is flat and hot, and ex­tremely rich in an­cient re­li­gious ar­chi­tec­ture – es­pe­cially Bud­dhist. For cul­ture vul­tures, the cen­tral “Cul­tural Tri­an­gle” is truly paved with heart­stop­ping in­ner beauty.

Need­less to say, the cap­i­tal city of Colombo is a hot and bustling place, which can of­ten come as some­thing of a mild cul­ture shock to un­sus­pect­ing vis­i­tors, even if it is on the tame side when com­pared to neigh­bour­ing In­dia.

For those in the know, the first (and last) stop on any visit to Sri Lanka should be the sea­side town of Negombo, a com­par­a­tive oa­sis of tran­quil­lity. Negombo makes for a per­fect base for a short visit to the coun­try, or a great start­ing point for longer ad­ven­tures around the is­land.

Be­ing less than 10km from the in­ter­na­tional air­port makes Negombo an even more ap­peal­ing cur­tain opener to Sri Lanka; but, as many find out, it’s a whole lot more than that, and it’s well worth kick­ing your heels up here for a few days of mild-man­nered ad­ven­ture and re­lax­ation.

WA­TERY WEL­COME

The main Negombo beach is long and al­lur­ing. Over­all, it’s a

great place to sim­ply walk and ac­cli­ma­tise. It’s a fairly quiet place, though you might well get has­sled by trin­ket ven­dors and boat own­ers, but not in an usu­ally ag­gres­sive way.

There are sev­eral beach cafés and restau­rants along the way, and if you head to­wards the old-town end of the beach, you pass through coves and even­tu­ally reach the old fish mar­ket, which is a must-visit place.

Along this strip, there will be sev­eral tra­di­tional cata­ma­rans, and a trip out on one of these is a great lo­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, but be sure to ne­go­ti­ate well be­fore set­ting out.

The surf and the snorkelling here are rea­son­able too, though they do not com­pare to that of Negombo’s south­ern beaches, and the water is not quite as clean.

STAN­DARD RIDERS

The flat coastal fringes around the is­land make for great cy­cling, though it def­i­nitely pays to steer clear of the busy main roads.

There are some re­ally nice vil­lage roads lead­ing in from the beach, which could pro­vide you with a sweet and in­ter­est­ing in­tro­duc­tion to lo­cal cul­ture. The coastal road north is rel­a­tively quiet too, and also makes for a hot and of­ten blus­tery ride with an ocean back­drop.

If you head out very early, you will most likely come across one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing cy­cling sub­cul­tures in the world: that of the “Sri Lankan stan­dard rac­ers”.

Each morn­ing, the flat roads of the is­land are thrashed out by hun­dreds of cy­clists, most on stan­dard is­sue sin­gle-speed road­sters left over from the Bri­tish Colo­nial era.

On bikes rid­den out of ne­ces­sity, these riders are pas­sion­ate be­yond be­lief, and there is a thriv­ing rac­ing scene based around these old steeds. Hop­ping a ride out with them is a cy­cling ex­pe­ri­ence not to be passed up.

Most ride the busy roads be­tween the air­port and Negombo, us­ing the morn­ing traf­fic as mo­tor pac­ing. If you find it all a lit­tle hairy, then take the coastal road from the old town south­wards; it fol­lows a spit of land, is very scenic, and has al­most zero traf­fic.

STEP­PING IT UP

If the slow pace of Negombo has you yearn­ing for more ad­ven­ture, then it’s an ideal place to ar­range trans­port or trips to the rest of Sri Lanka.

There are lo­cal agents all over town, and you’re just an hour or so away from the cen­tre of Colombo, which gives ac­cess to the rail net­work and long-dis­tance buses.

GET­TING THERE AND AROUND

It takes just over three-hours of di­rect flight time from KL-Colombo, with Malaysia Air­lines, SriLankan Air­lines and Ai­rA­sia all op­er­at­ing di­rect daily flights.

Trans­fers can eas­ily be ar­ranged when book­ing your ac­com­mo­da­tion. It might cost slightly more, but at least the driver will know where to go. It only takes about 20-30 min­utes to town, and rates are cheap.

Lo­cal tuk-tuks linger ev­ery­where; be sure to ne­go­ti­ate prices be­fore set­ting off. For longer trips, trains and buses are a good op­tion.

You can also rent cars with driv­ers, but be sure to check the de­tails be­fore do­ing so. (You can’t rent a car with­out a lo­cal li­cence.)

WHEN TO GO

Sri Lanka has a fickle and var­ied cli­mate, mean­ing that it’s al­ways good to go some­where, but not ev­ery­where.

Jan­uary, Fe­bru­ary and early March are the dri­est months in Negombo, with July- Septem­ber also be­ing pleas­ant.

EAT­ING AND SLEEP­ING

There are nu­mer­ous guest­houses, dorms and ho­tels of ev­ery pos­si­ble stan­dard to be found in Negombo, with rates be­ing slightly less than in Malaysia – and with bet­ter stan­dards at the lower end.

Check on­line in ad­vance and book at least your first night. Try to make sure that you are within walk­ing dis­tance of the main tourist and beach area, as that’s where the best eater­ies are found.

There are many great restau­rants along the coastal road, with freshly caught seafood be­ing es­pe­cially good, and very cheap.

Curry and rice is a daily rit­ual here, and for a set fee, you will be served with co­pi­ous amounts of var­i­ous mildly spiced cur­ries. Be sure to try dev­illed dishes for some­thing spicier, and kutu roti (chopped, mixed roti) for a snack.

VISAS

Visas are best ap­plied on­line. It’s a sim­ple and swift process. Check out www.eta.gov.lk

A tra­di­tional cata­ma­ran waits to take tourists out for a ride

Fresh fish on sale by the beach

Street food on the beach af­ter dark

Colour­ful treats down­town

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.