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SRI LANKA’s COUNTRYSIDE

I’ve been asked a dozen times how I chose Sri Lanka as my summer destination. Sri Lanka is a haven for many European tourists but it’s still quite undiscovered amongst Americans. Thanks to the power of Instagram and all the amazing full-time travelers on it, I uncovered the beauty of Sri Lanka from feeds like @partimetravelers and @saltinourhair. Most of our time there was spent in the blissful countryside, enjoying the serenity of mountaintop living, visiting an elephant orphanage (!!!), spending afternoons chilling in infinity pools, visiting gorgeous tea plantations and taking the iconic Kandy to Ella train.

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Theva Residency in Kandy: Literally couldn’t stop ooing and ahhing at the mountaintop views. Also not going to lie, 100% booked Theva for this infinity pool photo.

PSA: Sri Lankans make THE best scrambled eggs. Pretty sure they must use half a stick of butter to get them so fluffy and delicate but hey everyday is a cheat day when you’re on vacation.

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One of the most incredible experience was spending half a day at Elephant Freedom Project. This sanctuary rescues elephants who have been chained in captivity and provides them with the ability to roam freely. We started the day by cleaning out the elephant bed (see Dan throwing a grapefruit-sized clump of poop above). Thankfully elephant dung has no odor and local factories in fact use it to make paper. Afterwards, we were able to feed fresh cucumber and apples to our beautiful elephant, Sakira, as she took her routine walk in an isolated forest. We ended the day by bathing our princess in a local pond and exfoliating her with the husk of a coconut (her motto should be ‘started from the bottom, now we here’). I would highly recommend a stop at Elephant Freedom Project if you have time. It’s only $17 per person and you get to learn so much about these adorable creatures. They also provide an enormous family-style lunch at the end of the trip and we were able to chat with tourists from all over the world.

Another PSA: NEVER EVER ride an elephant and never visit any zoo that allows visitors to do so. It’s extremely pain for the elephants whose unique back structures cannot support the weight of a human.

The Kandy to Ella train trip is one of the world’s most beautiful train rides. We didn’t take the entire journey and instead had our driver meet us about halfway through due to our limited amount of time, but if I ever return, I would definitely spend an entire day on this train just enjoying the never-ending tea plantation views and fresh mountaintop air.

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Almost got hit in the face with a tree or bush about 10x to get these shots.

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Along its journey, the train passes through the Nine Arches bridge, an iconic Sri Lankan site. We weren’t able to make it in time to see the 5pm train go by but it was still worth the hike and gazillion mosquito bites to get there.

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Sri Lanka, formerly named Ceylon under British rule, is the world’s largest exporter of tea. Dan had a lot of fun teasing me when I finally put two and two together and realized the Ceylon tea I’ve been drinking all these years is from Sri Lanka.

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This whole outfit is Zara and I’m still waiting for my sponsorship…

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Delicious traditional Sri Lankan buffet with yet another gorgeous mountainside view

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Living Heritage Koslanda is tucked away atop a mountain in Central Sri Lanka, and when I mean tucked away, I’m saying our driver literally passed by the place 3 times before he could find it. It was incredible to stay in an open air bungalow for 3 days. We literally woke up to the sight of monkeys our first morning there, which then elicited another two days of me making crazy animal noises in an attempt to lure them out again.

Infinity pools became a second home to us during this trip.

Got a great copy of the $495 Eugenia Kim ‘Do Not Disturb’ hat from Amazon! They really are the marketplace for literally everything.

Dan used a lifebuoy to try to get cool shoots from the edge of the pool and I crack up everytime I see the above photo because it looks like he’s just a naked body floating in water.

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Zara beach cover-up - seriously Zara, if you need someone to be the face of your company, I think I could find some time in my schedule to squeeze that in.

Some other things these photos don’t capture from our time in Sri Lanka’s countryside:

  1. I tripped in the middle of the night when walking out of the bathroom in pitch blackness and my head hit full force into a concrete wall which scared the living shit out of me and Dan because we weren’t sure if I had suffered internal bleeding. I was almost certainly concussed and ended up seeing a local doctor who prescribed an anti-inflammatory and vitamins, but refused to give me any painkillers, which made me realize just how overprescribed America is (hence our devastating opioid crisis).

  2. There’s definitely an air of subtle sexism in this country, which is something I had previously experienced in Budapest. Don’t get me wrong, Sri Lankans are extremely polite and friendly, but Dan was definitely seen as the voice of our “household.” It was always, “how are you doing, sir?” and “do you need a tuk tuk ride, sir?” or “sir, what would you like for breakfast?” I honestly felt like they were thrown off their game when they realized all the hotels were booked in my name (since I’m the planner in our relationship) and confused whenever I spoke for Dan and myself. I was only ever asked a question if Dan turned the conversation towards me and sometimes I wasn’t addressed at all. It got to the point where once I had landed stateside and I was hesitant to speak once our Uber driver started talking to us.

  3. Though Sri Lanka is roughly the same size as Maine, it can often take 2 hours just to drive 10 miles because the country is made up of two lane roads instead of highways. We spent likely a cumulative 24 hours in a car with our amazing driver from Sri Lanka Personal Drivers. He was so easygoing and there’s no way we could have made it to so many different places in Sri Lanka without him.

Coming soon: Sri Lanka’s Beaches and Capital City

Stephanie Zhang