Theravada Buddhism is widely practiced in most parts of Sri Lanka. We had the privilege to visit some temples and observe the religion and culture in our short 20 day stay. And so I say this with some caution and from an outsiders' perspective: I felt people here were some of the kindest and most generous people I have met in my travels. And I attribute that to their religion.
I've had a few conversations with some locals and they have told me their beliefs about giving alms, kindness to strangers and the inherent goodness of people. I just felt very much at peace here and saw how most people are just so nice.
I knew there were a lot of high end brands that were "Made in Sri Lanka" and was out to get them for cheap. I was definitely rewarded in Kandy. I got a white cotton shirt which I travel with all the time. Got my little niece a colorful handmade stuffed elephant souvenir and my sisters some pretty trinkets. Hutch found a handful of shirts and dresses for loved ones as well.
If you're not willing to splurge on shopping, go to the market where a lot of export overruns are. And if you dare, there are some "ukay ukay" (second hand) stalls in most towns. I bought a lot of tank tops and beach cover ups this way.
#3 World Heritage Sites
We knew we were gonna have to pay some hefty fees for the World Heritage Sites that we planned to explore in Sri Lanka. We just thought of it as similar to paying door fees castles in Europe or National Museums America. And we were not disappointed.
We biked through the ruins of Polonaruwa, Sri Lanka's splendid medieval capital that was established as the first city of the land in the 11th Century, A.D. We had rented our bikes the day before, woke up early that morning to get our $25 worth. Some of the spots were hilly and we had to go through dirt roads. But we enjoyed going around temples, palaces, dry "ponds" and ancient sculpture.
Make sure you pace yourself- you don't need to see everything. Just grab a map and mark the spots that interest you. Grab some fresh squeezed lime juice and snacks on the roadside stopovers.
After Polonaruwa, we took a bus to Sirigaya or Lion's Rock. This massive solitary rock plateau rises 1,000 foot from the surrounding plains and was the 5th century seat of power of King Kassapa. I was pretty sweaty in the blazing Sri Lankan sun as I climbed staircase after staircase. But the pain in my thighs almost disappeared as soon we reached the Lion's Paws- each was the size of a bus! The view from the top gave us a heady feeling (as well as the exhaustion). But this was definitely a highlight in our trip! Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes, put on sunblock and bring a lot of water with you.
The Sacred City of Kandy with its cool Baguio-like weather and ambiance was a wonderful last stop- almost luxurious even. We spent an indulgent 5 days here just strolling by the lake, sampling the food, shopping, visiting temples and watching some cultural shows. We even skipped the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic just because it didn't really interest us. I would recommend you visit Kandy and stay at a place with a lakeside view and preferably with local family. It would absolutely enrich your experience.
Sadly, we only had enough time to visit 3 World Heritage Sites. Not only were they pricey, they were also spread out across the island. But I'm glad we only picked Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, Ancient City of Sigiriya and Sacred City of Kandy. I would much rather take my time and see a few interesting sights rather then do an "Amazing Race" across cities and just have a headache and a blur of memories- mostly of sitting in a night bus.