If you are a tea drinker like me then you have probably heard of “Ceylon.” Even if you are not an avid tea drinker, you certainly must’ve heard of “Lipton tea.” In fact, the first Lipton tea was packaged and sold in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s history is incredibly wealthy and overwhelmingly old, dating as far back as the Paleolithic era (think: the earliest time when stone tools were used). And yet despite it’s far-reaching, global name brand consumption, this remote tear-drop-shaped island on the southern tip of India (hence, India’s teardrop) remains widely out of international attention. Sri Lanka has something to offer to every type of traveler: it is home to sensational beaches, safari’s, temples, caves, surfing, magnificent train rides, and more – most importantly, at affordable prices. Something I was particularly excited about: two brand new (and very different) Shangri-La properties that boast very attractive prices. Sri Lanka is only a 4 hour flight from Dubai, a very popular stopover hub that is well worth the visit. It is also particularly striking to weave together two polar opposite places into one trip, and I strongly recommend it.
My stay begins in the southern district of Sri Lanka called Hambantota. Comfortably perched on the Indian Ocean and among tall, boney palm trees is Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa, Sri Lanka. It’s hard to imagine that in its adolescent stage (it opened in the Summer of 2016), the resort has already had weeks of nearly full occupancy and excellent guest reviews. The property is massive; spanning over 145 acres of tropical gardens alone, even at full occupancy you are sure to have plenty of space … and privacy.
The Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa, as the name suggests, is actually home to the first and only golf course in Sri Lanka. Golf, I recently learned, is a make or break reason for booking a hotel to many business travelers. However, there are a multitude of activities available on site besides golf. 3 swimming pools including one with an outdoor waterpark for kids, a trapeze, a spa and my personal favorite: a unique artisan village.
If anything portrays local culture it’s the Artisan Village, which is designed to depict what local villages in Sri Lanka used to look like. The village is not just a depiction of an authentic Sri Lankan village, it actually serves as a place where local artists and craftsmen sell their goods, and where many traditional performances take place.
The young man below is one of the local craftsmen with a shop at Shangri-La’s Artisan Village. He is not your average shopkeeper. He is one of only 14 families that make handmade goods, such as jewelry boxes, by using this exclusive traditional technique. In a country with a population of over 20 million, the odds are quite impressive. The businesswoman in me felt a sense of despair: him and I both knew that these items could be made in minutes by a machine (it can take him up to 2 days depending on size). His biggest concern is that his only three children, all daughters, will lead to the demise of the rare family business as this practice is not customary for women to pursue. This was the single most important part of the trip for me and a newfound appreciation for handmade crafts, which I value at way more than the $10 he was selling them for.
The next stop on my cultural journey within the resorts 58 hectares is the CHI Ayurveda Spa. This was no ordinary spa appointment, allow me to elaborate. The welcome was quite common: I was escorted to a charming emerald garden where a shallow pool of lilies and Koi fish was accessorized with colorful flowers. A warm cup of ginger tea and soon the scent of mint from the moist refreshing towel made its way through my nostrils. So far so good. My therapist lead me to an office which looked like nothing more than my primary care physicians office, minus the scented oils on the table. This was not an ordinary massage, it was Ayurvedic therapy.
Ayurvedic massages are considered to be India’s best-kept-secret and with over 5,000 years in existence – it is bound to be something special. According to Ayurveda-Retreat.co, during an Ayurvedic massage a subtle transfer of electromagnetic energy takes place between the therapist and the client so it is important to trust and feel ‘good vibes’ with your chosen therapist. One must feel receptive and safe in order to allow the energy of the therapist. In turn, a wave of unconditional love and compassion flows through the therapist as they respect the faith you have placed in them, an honor not taken lightly. The massage resembles more of a therapy as a qualified Ayurveda specialist will first take your vital signs and discuss your health concerns prior to deciding which scents and oils will be most beneficial to you. The aftermath for me was an incredibly lightweight, relaxed and joyous day. Indeed, all of the tension in my mind and body was gone.
There are thousands of resorts in various pockets of the world which also have a lot to offer … so why Sri Lanka? Why travel for nearly a day to visit a resort?
The Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa is attractive for many reasons and arguably the best one is it’s proximity to the countries greatest wildlife reserves and safari’s, such as Yala and Bundala National Park. Yala National Park is home to various animals and over 200 bird species! There you can see the world’s largest concentration of leopards, majestic elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles. The property offers its guests tours to the National Parks and river safaris. The river safari cruise was led by a local tour guide, another admirable move by the property to support local business. In a tuk-tuk (a small three wheeled taxi), we drove to to the nearby village where the guide is from and we embarked on a 2 hour long boat ride through some of the most beautiful and picturesque scenes that mother nature has to offer.
We saw over two dozen different birds, a crocodile and even pigs on a beach. I also learned that peacocks do, in fact, fly!
Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa undeniably has a lot to offer for all travel tastes. It’s location is remote enough to make you feel like you are on a private island, but also central enough to appeal to your adventurous taste buds. Sri Lanka remains a highly underrated destination and I encourage you to visit early enough as it is surely going to become a mainstream tourist hub … and rightfully so.