Travel // Sri Lanka Part Two, Shangri La's Hambantota & a Safari

March 28, 2018

Part Two of our trip to Sri Lanka. Don't let the journey time to Shangri La Hambantota {around 4 to 4.5 hours} put you off, it's an incredible journey & feels almost like a mini tour of Sri Lanka because there is SO much to see en route. Our journey started on the highway looking out over rice paddies and tropical palms. But then we got into the heart of the real Sri Lanka. The roadside fruit stalls, the fish sellers, cows wandering down the road, glimpses of paradise beaches, fishermen perched on stilts. The car is luxurious and there's even free Wifi! By January though a new highway will have been built, reducing the journey time down to around 2 hours. Or you can fly direct into Hambantota airport with FlyDubai.

On arrival, instantly we felt our shoulders drop with palm trees everywhere you looked and a spectacular golf course set in front of the hotel. The golf resort, which is the largest in Sri Lanka, is built on a former coconut plantation. We pulled up to the impressive open air lobby, with views out to the sea. We had arrived! And the journey was so worth it.

We were shown to our room, and I couldn’t stop staring at the views on the walk. It felt like the tropics met luxury. And in fact the whole thing felt like the perfect mix. You always knew you were in Sri Lanka, from the lush green views, the nod to traditional food options, the artisan village within the resort and fishing boats out at sea. Yet it’s also Sri Lanka done with honeymoon luxury in mind. I think I took a photo of this same view every single day. It got me every time, the shutters, the framed palms, golf course and huts.

Dress is online here

Our room was perfect - light & airy and you could hear the waves crashing at night. Probably the best sound ever to fall asleep to? Plus, how do hotels get the softest, almost like silk sheets and pillows like clouds? This was a particularly comfy bed and we left the curtains open a little each night to wake up to the sunshine streaming in.

It looked out over the coconut palms. Best view ever.

There were so many beautiful areas of the hotel. This bar was our favourite spot to watch the sunset. And as it got dark they'd light the lanterns and fire beacons. Also, cushion goals!

We're big fans of Shangri La's Chi Spa now from our previous visits to other properties. This spa is surrounded by greenery and treatments are carried out in huts on the water. This particular Chi Spa has partnered with a local Ayurvedic doctor and I was so eager to try as it’s becoming really popular now, the ancient Indian holistic doctors focusing on the balance of your body. I was seen first by a doctor who read my pulse and from that told me what Ayurvedic type I am {and the changes to my lifestyle I should make to feel the healthiest I can be}. Everything from taking turmeric, which I already do, to only drinking hot water not cold, and the dreaded ‘sugar isn’t good for you’ chat. You can talk about specific health problems if you want, and from this he will prescribe a massage using special oil for your being. I was then given a traditional Ayurvedic massage. It wasn’t as relaxing as your typical spa treatment, Ben decided to stick with a western style massage & said it was perfect. 

There were so many activities within the resort grounds you could take part in if you wished. After our safaris & all the excitement, we were more than happy for a couple of blissful days spent by the pool, going for a little wander along the beach or around the golf course or pretty artisan village if we wanted to stretch our legs. But had we wanted more activities, the flying trapeze school looked like a lot of fun. There’s also a mini water park for children {or over excited adults ha} and a full children’s program {with an impressive crèche and trained staff} if they get too hot or you want some time alone. The resort is incredibly child & family friendly yet there’s also plenty of adult only space including a full adults only quiet pool area.

We spent most of our spare time by the quiet pool, with loungers in between the infinity pool and the beach.

But the main pool was a pretty perfect spot too.

This South Coast of Sri Lanka is particularly dry, you don't have to worry about the rainy seasons like you do for the rest of the country, and as such you'll find cactus lining the beach! We joked that it felt like we could have been in Mexico or Cali at times. The beach did feel quite Californian with the huge width of sand and big rolling waves.

The waves are too rough to swim in, with a red flag up the whole time we were there. It's a surfy coast, but we preferred the pool anyway {and the beach was incredibly hot}.

Sri Lankan food has now completely won me over. There are three restaurants to choose from here as well as options for private destination dining where you can choose your menu in advance with the dining team. Our favourite restaurant ended up being Bojunhala, the all day dining international restaurant which served a huge buffet breakfast and a range of buffets for dinner with a huge mix of international options as well as a Sri Lankan corner. I know some people turn their nose up at the sound of a buffet? But these were all spectacularly done with lots of stations of fresh food being cooked in front of you. We loved the choice & range too, having sushi to start then a bit of Sri Lankan {you have to try their seafood curries} followed by something from the bbq. My husband loved the naan’s made to order. Desserts every night were so beautifully presented with mini meringues, mirror glazes {did they learn that from bake off?} and sweet edible flowers , that tasted as good as they looked. The service was very good, with friendly, incredibly attentive staff throughout. I mean, in reality who doesn't love a buffet?!

We ate outside most evenings, under the lanterns after a stop at the open air bar to watch the sunset. I think my only real criticism of the resort would be the design/setting of Bojunhala dining room. It feels a bit soul less and canteeny? The food, and rest of the resort, reflects so much more than the slightly weird dining area. But it’s easily overcome if you eat outside.
If you prefer a la carte choices, Sera is a clever concept with hawker style street food choices like you’d find around Asia. There’s Indo Chinese alongside Vietnamese with a beautiful interior - think tiled floors, industrial chic lighting and hanging plants.

Tile porn.

We were treated to a private dining experience one night & a table had been set up by the beach. We'd chosen our menu in advance and the food was SO good. This fish reminded me of something you'd pay a lot for back home in a top London restaurant, seer fish with cauliflower puree & roasted almonds.

There's an artisan village on site to buy from local artists/sculptors. We decided not to bring anything back, as our house feels so full of artwork already. But the village itself was beautiful to walk around and this lotus pond felt so Sri Lankan.

The resort is set on a golf course - for me a really beautiful feature, there’s something so relaxing about looking at a perfectly kept green course against a blue sky littered with palm trees. Or is that just me? Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up with a golf mad, and I mean completely obsessed, Dad so it always makes me happy, nostalgic I guess, to see a beautiful course. This one is Sri Lanka’s only one of two 18 hole golf courses and was designed by Rodney Wright. We don't play golf but enjoyed walking around it most mornings and evenings, spotting peacocks and white storks crossing the greens. On one side, it's situated next to a lake, and the other has the ocean! I was obsessed with these palms too.

We'll miss these sunny evening walks without having to wear a million layers, here's hoping our usual fields aren't too muddy when we get home.

The biggest highlight of the trip was a sunrise safari at Udawalawe National Park, organised through the hotel’s trip centre. The beauty of Hambantota is the central location to three of Sri Lanka’s safari parks about an hours drive away from each. We chose Udawalawe because of its high density of elephants which have always been a favourite animal of mine. But if you fancy spotting leopards then Yala is your best bet {although we’ve heard it’s a lot busier and you’re often battling up to 40 other trucks!}

We woke up really early and the hotel had packed a breakfast picnic for us to take. We jumped into the safari truck and drove through the darkness, watching the sky turn a spectacular shade of pink as we got closer to the National Park. Just the journey there was magical, the scenery at either side of the road, lakes with huge lily pads, banana plantations and then that bright orange ball of sun.

Excited Safari Face hoping for elephants!

Once we got into the park within literally two minutes we were right next to a majestic elephant. We watched in awe as he crossed the road in front of us. Then a few minutes longer and we’d spotted a crocodile basking on the side of a watering hole. We were really grateful to have a guide in the back with us as part of our package {I think this comes as standard for the Shangri la booked trips but most other trucks we saw only had a driver} who told us about the animals & Park land as well as spotting things for us in advance and taking photos through his binoculars {a genius trick he taught us!}.

Hello Mr Elly!!

I was so, so in awe.

Throughout the morning we saw lots more elephants, water buffalo, monkeys and a plethora of interesting birds.

I love this photo that the guide took for us. I think it's my very favourite of the trip and will always remind me of that amazing morning.

Elephant selfie...

On the way back we stopped at an elephant transit house, a temporary sanctuary for orphaned/sick elephants where they’re kept semi wild but come in to a large pen for feeding where you can view lots of babies. I’m always a little skeptical about places like that, I want animals to be as wild as possible but we were reassured from the hotel - who take conservation very seriously - that it’s saved hundreds of elephants over the years and release them back once they’re old enough to go it alone. So it was lovely to see them.

One evening we were taken on a river safari, just a 15 minute tuk tuk ride away, which was beautiful and so peaceful in the evening. Other than a local fishing boat it was just us floating down the river looking out for special birds and crafty crocodiles. I loved spotting the monkeys in the trees. I can’t believe just how much wildlife Sri Lanka holds. One afternoon we cycled to a local village {and oldest temple in Sri Lanka} just outside the hotel and there were even monkeys just sat by the side of the path then.

Palm dress online here.

Happy coconut filled days with this guy.

There was a crocodile in the water just behind me! Eeeek.

Cycling through the local village. Pretty pink decorative houses.

All in all, what an incredible resort and trip. That perfect mix of wildlife, Sri Lankan culture and adventure meets pure chill out luxury. The local people are so friendly and by far the nicest I’ve come across on my travels of Asia. Sri Lanka as a whole now for me tops our previous trips to Bali and South East Asia as it’s still relatively undiscovered. It hasn’t had a real tourism boom yet and I hope it manages to remain unpolluted and as unspoilt.

You can find more on Shangri La's Hambantota resort here


{We were guests of Shangri La Hambantota but as always would never promote anywhere that we didn't truly love}

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