Because I really cannot top our stay (and odd massage experience) at the Signature Amaya Kandalama, I’m condensing (ha!) the rest of our hotel accommodations in Sri Lanka into this one little (ok, NOT little) post. Most of them were one-nighters anyway, with the exception of the beach house in Unwatana. But they each had their own odd charms.
Langdale by Amaya in Nuwara Eliya – This is another Amaya Spa and Resort and a hotel listed among the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The description on the SLH website says Langdale is “a picture of old-world elegance in Sri Lanka’s tea-growing heartland,” and that is certainly true.
It’s got a very old school, British colonial feel to it, which is always something that makes me slightly uncomfortable, especially in a country as colorful Sri Lanka where the culture is just so vibrant. And that tea country setting is just spectacular.
Instead, the Langdale feels like a stuffy British outpost/country with impeccably manicured grounds (the grass looks like a carpet), squeaky floors, a preponderance of chintz and even a dusty reading nook at the top landing. If I were to compare it to something in the U.S., I definitely would not put it in the luxury category. Maybe, more like an inn or a bed-and-breakfast.
The Langdale has 13 rooms and there might have been, maybe six other people staying there while we were there, including a French or Spanish family of four and a British couple, and we could all hear each other coming and going. The hotel service and staff was fine, if a bit stiff.
To be fair, all the hotels we looked at in the Nuwara Eliya area were similar—all of them were former homes for British aristocracy or businessmen who had molded that whole area into a “Little England.” We were only there one night, so no big deal.
Another odd thing we ran into a few times in Sri Lanka (including at the Langdale and again at The Secret Ella and Tranquil Negombo below): They want to know your dinner order when you check in. No time to unwind or relax, and no explanation as to why they need to know (maybe they call out for the food?), but yeah. They immediately want to know what you’ll feel like eating at some point later in the evening before you’ve even settled in the room or looked at a menu. We weren’t really used to that.
The Secret Ella in Ella—This former tea estate has only five rooms and ours (room 102 – the Southerland Suite, I think) was massive. Like, really, really large. The website says 408 square feet, which seems about right. Aka: bigger than my first (and maybe second) apartment. The bathroom was ginormous. Which, oddly, had also been the case at Signature Amaya Kandalama. What’s with the giant bathrooms, Sri Lanka?? What are we supposed to be doing in there?
Our room or suite or whatever was located right at the front of the estate, right off the entrance. You literally opened your door and there was the guy sitting at the check-in desk area. And our bed was in this bay window alcove where the windows led directly out to the front of the hotel, so we could hear staff walking by and working in the morning.
It was very well decorated, sort of a rustic yet chic minimalist whitewash vibe with splashes of Sri Lanka color/design, including some very cool old black and white photos showing some of the history of the area.
Again, we felt like we had the entire place to ourselves. We never saw another guest but we occasionally heard other doors opening and closing. Towards the back of the estate was a small restaurant where we had breakfast (full English, of course. No hoppers here, unfortunately.) We sat and enjoyed the lovely scenery, including the mountains and valleys, and the famous Nine Arches Bridge. Very peaceful place.
Skinny Beach House in Unwatana – One of (many) odd things we discovered in planning our trip to Sri Lanka was just how expensive hotels were. For a country with a struggling economy located Southeast Asia where one might reasonably expect a dollar to go a lot further, hotels in Sri Lanka were actually pretty pricey.
There are, certainly, budget accommodations—guesthouses, for example, are a very popular option—but when it came to traditional hotels with traditional amenities, it was a bit of sticker shock.
This place was our first foray into AirBnB territory and it was definitely a win all the way around. We rented this two-bedroom house (with a private pool and allotted beach area) for three nights and were kicking ourselves for not staying longer. It was fantastic.
It was located on a busy road, just five kilometers away from the very cute colonial town of Galle, which has lots of restaurants, shopping and bars. There were also plenty of dining options just a beach walk away from the house, including a pizza place we hit pretty hard a couple of meals, but the very, very best part was that the rental of the Skinny Beach House included house manager, Sashi–who would come and cook for us (with an assist from her husband.)
There was a menu and in the morning we’d figure out what we wanted Sashi to cook, we’d give her money and she’d go shop and come back and make us some amazing crab curry and another night a whole red snapper with avocado and mango salsa. Plus, every morning, she’d make us a huge breakfast, complete with hoppers and curry. I cannot say enough good things about the place.
Tranquil Negombo in Negombo – Alas, the same can’t be said about the last place we stayed in Sri Lanka, the Tranquil Negombo. It was about 30 minutes from the airport in Colombo, which was perfect in terms of catching our flight, but it was a very, very odd place from start to finish.
I don’t want to be too rough on the place or the guy running it, because he’s eager and trying and he’s really doing his best. But it just has a long way to go. It was in a very residential neighborhood and is clearly a house that’s been converted into a “boutique hotel.” Complete with rowdy children playing in the yard outside our sliding glass windows.
Here, let me sum it up this way: we had dinner in the dining room (we were, of course, the only ones) and wanting something light, I ordered papaya salad with grilled shrimp. And was informed that they did not have papaya. I can’t remember what they used instead, and it’s really not that big of a deal, and I’m certainly the one in the relationship to just shrug things off and carry on.
Except, there’s this little caveat: in all of these instances, this is, at the end of the day, a financial/business transaction. We are giving you money, and yes, maybe we have certain expectations for that exchange. Maybe I’m being unfair to Tranquil Negombo because it had the bad luck to be at the end of the trip, a trip where I often felt that we were in the position of having to let lots of little things slide, so maybe that’s it.
Listen, in any case, I’m not mad about it some damn papaya or kids running around playing (because that is what kids do) or listening to the lobby phone ringing all night (again, we were in a room RIGHT off the lobby). I’m really not mad. But would I do it again? Nope. Definitely not. But best of luck, Tranquil Negombo.