It had been at least 2 or 3 weeks since I had laid on a beach doing absolutely nothing and, given the end of my trip was approaching and wintry England doesn’t lend itself to beach bumming, I decided to make the most of Sri Lanka’s gorgeous weather and headed to the east coast. From Jaffna, it was a pretty easy (but uncomfortable) bus ride (bus 89 I think) to the eastern city of Trincomalee, taking around 6-7 hours on a cramped, sweaty bus with Bollywood films blaring out and costing about LKR 260. Buses left for Trincomalee regularly and there’s a timetable up at the central bus station in Jaffna. The staff were very helpful.
My beach destination wasn’t Trincomalee itself. I was instead heading slightly north from there to the idyllic Nilaveli which involves getting a separate bus from Trincomalee bus station, or a tuk tuk (which should cost LKR 400-600 depending how well you haggle). The bus costed around LKR 40. The bus’ last stop isn’t Nilaveli but I can’t for the life of me remember where it was bound. Again, people at the bus station were more than happy to point out the correct bus. Even rejected tuk tuk drivers pointed out which bus to get on, which is not something I’m used to!
If you do head to Nilaveli, there’s only one place to stay: the Residence. Surely in the running for one of the best guesthouses I’ve ever stayed in, owners Liza and Ruwan made me feel perfectly at home and the other guests staying there made it a fantastic experience. Put this way: I intended to stay a couple of days and ended up staying for a week! Not only is the Residence just a 15 minute walk from Nilaveli’s beautiful beach, but they’ve also got an agreement with a hotel on the beach to let guests use their sun loungers and pool free of charge.
And what a beach it is! I’ve never seen a beach so big and so beautiful with so few people on it. The sand was soft, the water absolutely perfect and yet you didn’t have to fight to get a spot. If you saw more than half a dozen people at any one time, the beach was busy! As I was there in September, the season was changing as the eastern monsoon built up, but in the 7 days I was there, only 1 was overcast. Every other day was really beautiful. Just behind the Residence was a huge lagoon with breathtaking sunsets. It’s odd but parts of Sri Lanka have a real African feel to them. Looking out into the vast landscape as the sun came down certainly felt very African. We played Lion King songs to get into the zone.
There’s nothing else in Nilaveli – if you’re here, you’re here for the stunning beach. There are a couple of restaurants dotted about. Cafe Nilaveli is raved about but our group found it pretty ‘meh’. Just around the corner from the Residence is a tiny shack called ‘Taste of Asia’ which churns out the cheapest food with the reliable huge Sri Lankan portions. It was here that I tried my first ever kottu, where is shredded roti bread substitutes noodles in a stir fry type dish. It’s a big, stodgy, filling meal and more than filled me up each time. The devil chicken was another safe bet here.
When we weren’t sprawled on the beach, we were drinking and chatting. There was a really good crowd at the Residence – all the English seemed to congregate there at the same time. Liza and Ruwan were all too happy to pick up beers and other drinks for us and, every so often, brought out the BIG speakers so you knew it was going to be a heavy night. Ruwan very kindly kept plying me with his own supply of arrack (a rice wine type drink) the night before my early train, for which I’ll probably never forgive him.
Towards the end of my stay, Liza and Ruwan took a group of us (and one of their adorable dogs) to a secret beach just north of Nilaveli. It was deserted and absolutely stunning. We had a fantastic evening trying (and failing) to catch crabs and playing in the sea before watching the dazzling sunset. I had been in two minds whether to stay at the beach or head down to Kandy but this really cemented that staying had been by far the right decision. Good company, good beaches and good weather – what more could I ask for?
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and I had to head back to Colombo to catch my flight. Having still not been on a Sri Lankan train, which had been a real wish of mine, I decided to catch the indirect train from Trincomalee to Colombo. This was a bad idea. The first leg was OK, but the second part of the 9 hour daytime journey was cramped and uncomfortable from start to finish. It wasn’t particularly scenic and it definitely wasn’t enjoyable. Some journeys are made to be taken by bus and this is one of them. It’s a shame as train travel is my favourite kind, but there are much better ones to had.
Bad train experiences aside, I was really gutted to be leaving Sri Lanka. In the short time I’d been here, I’d met the most amazing people and experienced a real mix of stuff. There’s a tendency to look at Sri Lanka as just a more laid-back India, and whilst this is true to an extent, it also has so much more to it. I met people who had ended up staying for 3 months because they just couldn’t bear to leave. From archaeological wonders to gorgeous beaches to vast green landscapes, Sri Lanka packs a hell of a lot into a small island, and every experience you have will be topped off with a friendly Sri Lankan smile. It’s a wonderful country and I can’t wait to return.