Sri Lanka is renowned for its beaches and there are so many good beaches, that it is tough to narrow it down to see just a few. In the end, I chose 4, which is actually a bit excessive, but I really wanted a good selection. Bentota almost didn’t make the cut because I’d read that 5-star resorts line the beachfront, but I’m pretty glad the description of being a quiet beach still convinced me to go.
It was an adventure getting there though. Taking the train in India has been relatively painless, so I think I got a false sense of security. First of all, English isn’t quite as well spread as in India. Secondly, you cannot pre-book all train tickets in Sri Lanka, mine was such train. Thankfully you can see the schedule online, so once I purchased my ticket and went to the platform, I assumed the train that arrived at 8:35am would be mine. Being a busy station, there were tons of trains coming and going – none were labeled and the announcements were in Sinhala. When a train arrived at 8:10, I didn’t think it could be mine, so I just sat. There were other westerners sitting there too. When the train was still sitting there at 8:28, we started to rally but no one we asked spoke English. I finally found out that it was our train and the group of us dashed into the 2nd class carriage with moments to spare. There were no seats, so I sat/stood in the doorway, which actually was the best seat in the house!
My room wasn’t ready when I arrived, so I dropped my bag and went straight to the beach. It was perfect. A long, expansive stretch of golden sand that eased you into the sea. Other than one big visible resort, the rest were tucked back behind a row of palm trees- there were maybe 10 beach chairs total on the beach. The beach was clean (probably thanks to the resorts) and surprisingly empty, which I discovered later is because each resort has a swimming pool and all the guests happily stayed on their loungers by the pool. There were no shops, no restaurants, and hardly any touts – I spent hours on the beach without harassment.
I didn’t want to spend an exorbitant amount on lunch at one of the resorts, so my guesthouse sent me to a little local place on the main road where I enjoyed my first Sri Lankan curry for $2. It was amazing.
My guesthouse was small and away from the beach and it was also only $30/night. The host was super sweet and made breakfast (included in the room rate) and dinner each day. Breakfast was my fave, fresh tropical fruit, coffee, and toast, and dinner was whatever he made, which is why I caved the first night and had the ‘OMG yummy’ seafood platter (prawns, cuttlefish, and tuna caught that day). The next day, on my way to the temple, I was approached about taking a tour. I knew I didn’t want to lay on the beach all day, so I agreed to a river cruise. With the boat all to myself other than the guide and driver, we spotted water monitors, iguanas, crocodiles, a chameleon, tree snake, herons, kingfishers, parrots and cormorants. I even got to hold a baby crocodile – It was $25 well spent.
After lunch, I spent more time on the beach and then made my way to the ‘secret’ Buddhist temple on an island at the far end of the beach. I love that this country is Buddhist. There are temples everywhere and you can meditate if you want, which I did at the smaller cave at the temple. It was lovely and I wish I’d discovered it earlier.
Another fantastic, this time vegetarian dinner and that was all for Bentota. The next morning I caught the train down to Unawatuna. Thankfully there was only one platform and the train was easy to figure out. Because 2nd class wasn’t much different than 3rd class, I opted for 3rd for a whopping 50 cents. I sat across a very old man with missing and black teeth. He hung his head out the window and laughed like a small child. I watched him, smiling and wishing I had the guts to ask him to take his photo. He noticed me and we exchanged namaste gestures. A lovely train ride with more kind Sri Lankans. In fact all the people I have met along this entire journey have been kind. I feel incredibly lucky.