When it comes to holidays, I can be very demanding in terms of including all the experiences I want into one trip. When I started planning my last trip I was looking for a big city, a lush rural area, some culture, beautiful beaches and some great wildlife spotting opportunities – not much to ask then! After scouring the globe for the best place to achieve this I decided on a Sri Lanka multi-centre holiday with some beach time in Thailand at the end. This is my 3-week itinerary, to give you an idea of what’s possible.
If you arrive in Colombo but drive straight up to Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa, there are some great temples and the famous Lion Rock. I really loved it up here; the ruins were so different to those I’d seen before in other parts of Asia and the huge lakes and reserves in the area are beautiful places to watch the sun go down. After a couple of days exploring we drove south along the canal towards Ella, encountering loads of different birds on the journey including woolly necked storks, pied hornbills and white-throated kingfishers.
The drive through the hills to Ella is one of the most scenic I’ve ever experienced; winding through the tea plantations and banana trees was beautiful and really piqued my expectations about the pretty town of Ella we were headed towards.
On arrival, we realised our hotel, The Mountain Heavens, was perfect – pretty and small with unbelievable views of Ella Gap right from our private balcony. If you’re exploring around Ella you can walk along the train line to a thundering waterfall, with views over the green valley below. Ella is also a great base to trek to Little Adam’s Peak to watch the sun rise over the gap.
Yala National Park is the most famous area to spot wildlife in the country, mainly thanks to its healthy population of leopards. Although we didn’t spot any of these elusive animals we saw plenty of other amazing creatures, from mongooses scampering amongst the grass to elephants quietly bathing in the early morning darkness. A crocodile lazing in the morning sun was a great spot, as well as the little green bee-eaters that flit and flutter through the air throughout the park. While you’re visiting Yala you can also do a game drive through Bundala National Park which is very close by and has a huge array of bird life, from spoonbills to flamingos, as well a lovely herd of elephants.
The gorgeous beaches of Mirissa are the perfect excuse to spend a couple of nights here but what really attracted us to this area was the blue whales that can be spotted offshore.
I recommend booking your whale watching trip before you depart (we can arrange this). When the time came we saw 4 or 5 tails teasing us as they flicked and splashed amongst the waves. Although we didn’t see a whale breach, the experience was still amazing and as one of the best places in the world to see blue whales (here are some other whale-watching locations I love), I’d definitely recommend it on any visit to Sri Lanka. Even if you’re not keen on boats, you can easily relax on the golden beach while the rest of your party goes out on the water. In the Mirissa beach area, I’d recommend the Paradise Beach Club for your accommodation; while the rooms where fine, the awesome pool right by the beach is definitely a reason to stay here.
After the Sri Lanka multi-centre exploration, I decided to fly over to Thailand, which remains a destination very close to my heart after living and working here a few years ago.
I lived in Bangkok for a year when I was 18 so I was excited to show my boyfriend this amazing city! We visited Wat Pho, where the giant Reclining Buddha lies in state surrounded by golden mosaic buildings and took the boat along the river to Chinatown, wandering through San Peng Lane before finishing each night at a different rooftop bar, from the famous SkyBar to the low key Zoom at the Anantara. Two nights here is perfect before jumping on the overnight train to Chiang Mai, an adventure in itself! For some more advice, you can see my Insider’s guide to Bangkok.
The night train is such a fun experience, not only giving you great views of the suburbs of Bangkok but also a fun alternative to simply flying. The beds are comfy and private and it’s always a highlight of any trip to Thailand.
In Chiang Mai, we visited Baan Chang Elephant Park, where you can do a Mahout Training Course Day. Riding elephants in Thailand is very controversial but Baan Chang is a beautiful organisation that treats its elephants with the respect they deserve – you can see by its outstanding reviews that all the visitors love how well the animals are treated. It’s a fantastic day out; washing the elephants is the best part as they love when you scrub the mud off their skin and splash them with buckets of water!
Whilst you’re in Chiang Mai you can visit the temple at Doi Suthep, which sits at the top of the mountain with great views over the city. We explored the golden temple and admired the huge durian tree before heading to the night market for dinner where we feasted on plate after plate of garlicky chicken, noodles, spicy pork and banana rice. If you’re interested – here are some more ideas for enjoying Thailand away from the beaches.
After a busy couple of weeks, we flew from Chiang Mai in the north down south to Krabi and caught the boat over to Koh Lanta.
With 3 nights to relax here we didn’t do a whole lot but strolling along the beach in the sun and playing in the pool by our swim up room was a great way to chill out. If you want to get some activities under your belt, Koh Lanta has lots of day tours like snorkelling and sailing amongst the islands along the coast and enjoy some uninhabited small islands.
After Koh Lanta, we headed north to another island - Koh Yao Yai - for the luxury end to our trip. We stayed at the Santhiyia Koh Yao Yai, where the private pool villa with views over the ocean is definitely the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed.
Having a private pool was a great way to end our trip, just relaxing in our room and going down to the main resort for dinner and drinks each night. I’d recommend it for families and honeymooners, mainly because the privacy we enjoyed was great as well as several different restaurants on site with delicious Thai Food – especially the beef curry!
After our 3-week Thailand and Sri Lanka multi-centre holiday, we headed home, with every single thing ticked off my list! The bright lights of Bangkok, lush hills of Ella, wildlife in Chiang Mai, Mirissa and Yala really made up an amazing two weeks of travelling, followed by a week on the white beaches of Thailand.
Whether you want to travel by train, fly from place to place or have a private car and driver, there are plenty of options to consider and we can talk you through these – see our tailor-made Sri Lanka multi-centre holidays for more ideas.
If you’d like to plan a trip, contact us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.