We arrived in Sri Lanka midday on the 28th of November and headed straight from the airport to the nearby beach of Negombo to find our legs and deal with yet another bout of jetlag. Negombo is an overpriced tourist town and beach community, and while it is probably a better ambassador to Sri Lanka than say, Colombo, it leaves much to be desired in terms of beach quality and general atmosphere. Everything seemed so much more expensive than we were accustomed to traveling around southeast Asia and we were worried that this would be the norm in Sri Lanka. Luckily it isn't the norm and since Negombo we have found many ways to live again on the cheap. So our first couple of days in Sri Lanka was learning what to do, and, more precisely, learning what not to do (like never write “sex tourism” as your purpose of visit on your entry card- just kidding, but that would be a bad idea!).
We then took the public bus to the beachside town of Bentota. Again it was very hard to find a room at a true backpacker's price, but at least for the same price as a budget room, we scored ourselves a bonified apartment complete with a fridge, kitchenette, diningroom, couch, modern bathroom, and a balcony overlooking the Bentota Ganga- a river home to crocodiles and an impressive assortment of birdife. A 15 minute walk and we were on the beach. The main beach was pretty nice but the further south you walked along it the nicer, and more secluded, it became. We found a couple nice cafes on that stretch of sand where the sounds of chill-out and downtempo filled the air and the Lion beer was cold. From there we took-in the views of the beach and ocean, watched the rickety trains go by, and watched in utter confusion as Sinhalese kids played cricket next to the tracks. From Bentota we also took the public bus to check out a couple more towns to the south. First we checked out Ambalangoda- renowned for its intricately carved “devil” masks. We visited a couple mask museums and workshops and then continued to the next town to the south- the ever popular beach community of Hikkaduwa. Hikkaduwa had a pretty good scene and some pretty tasty rotis, but the beach itself is almost nonexistent. Guesthouses, hotels, and restaurants are built so close to the water that when the tide is high you hardly have a stretch of beach to walk along. It was a good thing that we checked out Hikkaduwa as a day trip because we had planned on staying there for a couple of days after Bentota, but after we saw it, we decided it wasn't our style. We did pick up a couple of amazing masks from a master carver that we met there (mom and dad, you will be receiving a parcel with said masks in it in about 3 months time!). We did really enjoy our time in Bentota though, and it was really difficult to leave our apartment that we affectionately dubbed “Casa-Lanka”.
Our next stop was the old Dutch fort town of Galle (pronounced “Gawl”). It is a very nice town full of well-preserved colonial buildings and easily circumnavigated in a couple of hours. Within its streets are nice cafes, old churches, and some interesting shops, but nothing really to hold your interest for too long. The next day we moved on again to the beach area of Unawatuna. Again the beach was a bit of a disappointment. After the 2004 tsunami which left all the seaside businesses in ruins, the locals rebuilt their respective establishments as close to the water as possible. Again, the result is very little beach to wander down- especially at high tide. With that said, it still remains a nice beach, especially at night over some cold ones. We found a really great room there for 1000 Rs a night so we spent the next few nights there. From there we hired a motorbike and explored some of the more secluded beaches nearby. The next day our motorbike failed us and I had to push the thing a few kilometers to the next town to get it serviced. Two days scouting the area on motorbike and one day sleeping off a proper night of drinking on the beach and our time in Unawatuna was done. All-in-all, we really enjoyed the Unawatuna area and met some mighty fine people.