Trincomalee: Travels to Sri Lanka with Will Meyrick
The challenge to find a holiday destination in July to August is actually more difficult than you’d think, especially when you live on paradise island like Bali, and everything is at your doorstep. We have the school holidays to consider and I do like to get away with the kids, taking them somewhere different each year and giving them an opportunity to extend their knowledge and break out of their comfort zones. I call it backpacking with the kids, they call it travelling rough with dad.
Everywhere in South East Asia at this time is in deluge, it is wet season during Bali’s dry so the decisions have to be made with one eye on the weather news. Sri Lanka though has two seasons at the same time, and while it rains it is also guaranteed sunshine, and given some research I discover that the north-east coast is best to visit between June to October. Also I discover that this area of the country had been torn by civil unrest, escalating to civil war and then rebellious uprisings since the year of my birth and peace is new but thankfully not fragile.
One of the things we learn very quickly, and not, I might add, from anything taught in schools, is that war torn countries have been saved from the ravages of tourism. Not that I am advocating war as a method of preservation, it is just a fact, there has been little development in Sri Lanka and the tourism infrastructure is in early days.
I selected to start our journey at the ancient city of Anduraphura and travel to Trincomalee by private minibus. It seems to be the best way to get around as the roads are quite winding and the views promised to be sensational. Anduraphura is worth a visit, the impressive Buddhist stupas and the ruins mark the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, you will find a lot of Buddhist landmarks across the country and they mark a history of how far and when Buddhism travelled across the south-eastern lands.
Fortunately most journeys in Sri Lanka rarely take more than four hours, so the mini bus is perfect. The public bus drivers are positively hair raising, I dread to think the process to gain a licence, and the train takes three times as long so with a couple of motion sickness tablets for the kids we are on our way through lush hillsides, elephant hazard signs, crocodile signs, random cows on the road and crazy bus drivers bearing down on us. Our journey took around two and half hours, but I would say do it in three and use a few stops to catch your breath.
Trincomalee is a sleepy backwater fishing town in the middle of the east coast of the island, ten kilometres to the north is Neveli which has beautiful beaches but only very low key accommodation with one exception – it’s higher end. If you are looking for solitude and quietness this is the place to be, though you could try south of Trincomalee at Upevili which is similar, however we stayed in neither place, opting instead for Trinco Blue, a resort run by the well regarded Cinnamon Group who manage and run properties across Sri Lanka.
Trinco Blue is forty years old and while charming as is there are plans for a big renovation to keep apace with the expanding demand from the world of selective tourism that is beating a path to Sri Lanka before mass tourism floods the market. Trinco Blue was already fully booked with visitors from all over the globe sending a strong message that Sri Lanka is the next frontier for people who like to discover the new rather than find home comforts in far away places.
While the town is small, the shoreline stretches an impressive ten kilometres and is dotted with attractions from scuba diving to whale and dolphin watching. Behind the beaches there are bustling markets selling fish and fresh vegetables, and the impressively girthed old Fort Frederick that now houses a Buddhist Temple and Military base, illustrating for some, the curious conundrum that is Sri Lanka’s past, present and possible future.
The fort was completed by the Portuguese in 1624 who pretty much managed to place forts across the East from Goa to Timor L’Este. The fort was then possessed by the Dutch 1639 who lost it to first the French, who handed it back to the Dutch momentarily in 1784 until in 1795 it came to the British with whom it remained until 1948. Interestingly, although Sri Lanka was independent of Great Britain it was not until 1972 that it became a republic, with the civil war breaking out in 1983. It’s quite a fascinating place to visit with history so fresh that you can see the divisions and effects of it clearly.
It was during the Portuguese occupation that the port of Trincomalee suffered, as the occupiers, determined to rid the country of it’s ‘evils’, swept the temples and sacred statues into the sea from the cliffs. Now in their watery grave they have become an attraction for divers. While not exactly diving for the Lost Ark or being a Tomb Raider, the statues look more like garden ornaments – the dive is worth taking. I selected the hotel’s dive company as they had a Western guide, and after my experience with the safari guide’s English I was erring on the side of caution. Though, we had a good time, although the effects of the Boxing Day Tsunami are apparent below the surface as the coral reef is still recovering.
Given all there is to do during the day, the Trincomalee night is something of a contrast, which is why a good hotel with a nice bar to hang out in is important after the government imposed a curfew of 10pm.
About Author :
As a chef and lover of beautiful cuisine, Will Meyrick has always been intoxicated by the spices, flavours and textures of South East Asian food. Will enjoys travelling throughout the region, finding and meeting real people in the ‘warungs’, who produce food that really expresses the heart of their cultures. These experiences have been the influence of his 5 highly successful restaurants in Bali: Sarong, Mama San, Hujan LocaleTiger Palm and Som Chai. He recently opened Canggu Cooking Retreat, where he has brought the rural elegance of an urban farm to Bali for an authentic and enriching culinary experience.