Kuchchaveli, Sri Lanka

Photo: Uga Escapes

Do you prefer to stay ahead of the crowd as you beach hop through Asia? You started visiting Phú Quốc when it was still a sleepy Vietnamese island. You now prefer the Gili Islands to Bali or even Lombok. Plus you gave up on Phuket—make that most of the islands off of Thailand’s west coast—a long time ago. So where to next?

Sri Lanka has been on your mind for a while now. It’s been years since your last—in truth, your only—visit to the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean.” But the much-disputed historic sites, the powdery beaches, and the peaceful tea plantations stayed in your thoughts. So did the other side of the country. That trip was based solely on the west coast, the Sinhalese side of the island. You vowed to eventually see the Tamil side.

So you planned a trip to Trincomalee, whose prized harbor was fortified by the Portuguese, after their conquest of the Jaffna kingdom. The Danish, the Dutch, and the French followed, before the island became part of Britain’s Ceylon in 1815. Eventual independence led to the Sri Lankan Civil War, which lasted for 26 years. It may have ended in 2009, but you always assumed that the east coast would still feel like a different country.

Photo: Uga Escapes

The differences weren’t as stark as you expected. Temples, including Koneswaram, are sacred places that attract pilgrims. Forts, like Fort Frederick, were once signs of Europeans taking over; they’ve now been adopted by the Sri Lanka Army. While legends live on in places like the Kanniya Hot Springs and Lover’s Leap. But, most importantly, the Tamil people, at least those who didn’t flee during the civil war, are kind, gentle, and eager to share their culture, especially their spicy curries.

As usual, after a few days in the city, you’re more than ready for the second part of your trip: the beach. Though only 30 minutes north of Trincomalee, Kuchchaveli feels worlds away from its built-up harbor. Its golden-sand beach borders the Indian Ocean on one side and thick mangroves on the other. Wild peacocks and parakeets, elephants and crocodiles live around quiet lagoons. While Jungle Beach, an upscale though still eco-friendly resort, is built around the trees, the smaller lagoons, and a four-kilometer stretch of the beach.

Your beach cabin, which looks like a treehouse with an iluk-thatched roof, is completely modern inside. It features a polished concrete floor, indoor and outdoor rain showers, and even an iPod dock. The rest of the resort, including the rustic restaurant, the floating bar, and the small spa are even more open. Don’t be surprised to find trees growing through the open-air buildings and bridges crossing lotus ponds. Giant squirrels and a lone Indian pond heron are your neighbors. Plus informal classes, including cooking and kite making, connect you to the local culture here.

But the best part of both Jungle Beach—and Sri Lanka’s east coast as a whole really—is the fact that it’s still undiscovered. The entire time, whether you’ve been at the temples or on the beaches, it’s been quiet. You’ve experienced the warmth and the kindness of people who aren’t used to visitors, much less crowds. At least not yet.


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