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February 28, 2016, Sri Lanka

Enriching experiences

Sri Lanka may be a small island country, but it is big on possibilities for those with wanderlust, starting with Colombo

Tan Keng Yao

WITH Colombo as the gateway to the wonders of Sri Lanka, it makes sense to plan your itinerary around the capital city. Long drives are needed, so it is best to hire a driver and rent a car for a hassle-free holiday.

Kick off your holiday with a visit to the tea-growing regions, renowned for Sri Lanka’s Ceylon tea.

Nuwara Eliya is possibly the most well-known Sri Lankan tea-growing district, which is about five or six hours’ drive from Colombo. It sits at an altitude of almost 2,000m and, with its cool and windy climate, produces some of the finest tea in the country — and some say the world.

Many tea estates around Nuwara Eliya — in the hill country — are open to visitors. On a tour of a tea estate, you can check out tea processing facilities and plantations, as well as enjoy sampling tea.

Two estates you can visit are Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Centre, about 15km from Nuwara Eliya’s town, and Pedro Tea Estate, 3.5km from town.

Alternatively, take your exploration of tea one step further by staying in a hotel converted from a former tea factory — the Heritance Tea Factory. There, you can also sign up for a tea appreciation class and pluck your own tea leaves from the hotel’s mini plantation.

The tea leaves that you pluck will be processed, packaged and presented to you on your checkout. It makes an ideal souvenir because there is nothing quite like a cup of tea brewed from the leaves you plucked yourself.

Beach fun

Surrounded by the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is also perfect for a beach holiday.

Beruwala, 60km south of Colombo, is a pristine beach nicknamed the “Golden Mile”, and a hit with holidaymakers. The area is also known as Sri Lanka’s resort central where you will find big resort hotels lining its shore.

But if you prefer a more laidback atmosphere, head further south to the beachfront village of Mirissa, near the historic city of Galle and about 150km away from Colombo.

It is where you will find a pretty little crescent-shaped beach, set against a lush backdrop of coconut palms. It is also the place to go whale watching during the whale migration season from November to April. You might even spot blue and sperm whales close to shore.

No time to venture too far? Drop by cheery beach town Negombo instead. Just 10km away from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International airport, the resort area has a buzzing nightlife and is a convenient fi rst, or last, stop on your trip.

Retail therapy

Even if you are not a shopaholic, shopping in Colombo will be well worth your time, especially at a former hospital dating back to the 1600s.

The Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct (www.facebook.com/DutchHospital) has since been lovingly restored and turned into a lavish lifestyle and dining hub filled with chic restaurants, bars and cafés, as well as upmarket shops selling clothes, jewellery, gifts and spa products.

You can also shop in style at Odel (www.odel.lk), a glitzy department store that is a flagship of the city’s shopping scene. Its main store at 5 Alexandra Place spans an area of 33,000 sq ft, and carries international and top local brands, from fashion to homeware to cosmetics.

If you prefer an artisanal touch, there are a number of lifestyle boutiques in Colombo too. One such place is homeware store Barefoot (www.barefootceylon.com), which carries items such as bedspreads, clothes and bags — all made from hand-woven cloth in bright cheerful colours. Its main branch at Galle Road has a charming garden café where you can chill out. Maximise your visit by dropping by on Friday evening or Sunday afternoon when it hosts live jazz performances.

With so many things to see and do just in Colombo and its surrounds, Sri Lanka certainly makes for a perfect all-round holiday destination.

Read about Beijing and Shanghai in the next article in this series on March 6.

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