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Kate – A Journey through Sri Lanka

Kate Traynor

I just got back from a wonderful 11 nights in Sri Lanka. This country really exceeded all of my expectations.

I loved it and can’t wait to return!!

I was a bit nervous on recommending Sri Lanka before,  but now I know it really is a country for everyone!

Its so untouched which blew me away.

Its clean! The people of Sri Lanka thrive on having nice homes and having jobs so very little homeless people. 95% are educated, and it felt very safe for travelling.

Sri Lankan Airlines 

  • Easy check in
  • 2-4-2 configuration
  • Bright blue interior, a bit old looking
  • Seats the seat pitch is a bit off so your neck sits forward. Uncomfortable if you were sitting the whole time, so good to get up and stretch during the flight.
  • Staff friendly and attentive
  • I had a row to myself at the back of the aircraft as it was an empty flight
  • New plane A330 started in October, so these things may improve
  • Drink service came about half an hour after take-off. 
  • They walked up the aisles to offer and then came back down and offered a second round to everyone which was good
  • Food service was efficient. 
  • The chicken vegetable curry was delish.

Negombo- little Rome

  • 35 minutes from Colombo
  • A lot of tourists leave Colombo straight away and stay in this area
  • Portugal Dutch and Italian background
  • Many churches around

Anuradhapura

  • Visited local fish, fruits and veg markets
  • The Home of the Ancient Kingdom- temples
  • TIP when you know you are going to be visiting temples
  • Wear thongs as you have to enter temples in bare foot
  • Take a light scarf and wear something that covers your knees

Ulagalla resort, Uga – Beautiful resort

  • 5 star luxury resort- private standing villas with private plunge pool
  • I would recommend a minimum of 3 nights stay here – from this area in Sri Lanka you can go and visit Sigiriya Rock.
  • Activities include bike riding, horseback riding, archery, safaris, spa treatments, Helipad on land
  • Restaurant with Aussie Sri Lankan chef – This hotel restaurant by far had the best Sri Lankan food I had all trip
  • Al la carte style breakfast which was also 10/10

Dambulla – We stayed at 2 different hotels in this area.

The Amaya Resort

  • 4 star hotel on the lake
  • Beautiful open space with lots of greenery.
  • Large rooms – basic Sri Lankan style rooms but great for families
  • Big pool and good bar/restaurant area
  • Good buffet breakfast with lots of variety

Fresco Water Villas

  • This was the only 3 star hotel we stayed at in Sri Lanka and you can definitely tell the difference between a 3 star and a basic 4 star. 
  • I wouldn’t be comfortable putting my clients in a 3 star property in Sri Lanka. 
  • The staff were all really nice but the rooms were smelly, water pressure wasn’t great, insects in rooms etc. 
  • This hotel is often used for groups. When 2 x 50 seated buses arrived at 5pm there was no chance of getting on the Wi-Fi. T
  • The rooms are very close to the lobby, pool and restaurant so very noisy.

Sigiriya Rock – Highlight of my trip

Make sure this is done first thing, this is because of heat and crowds. You will need your passport on this day for valid identification. Surreal moment climbing the rock. Magical views and so much history. It’s so much more than a rock which I was unaware of.

Takes about 1.5 hours to do the whole climb and back again.

Village Tour

A fun tour that I would recommend. Consists of catamaran tour on the lake, meet the village people and do a cooking lesson- eat a local cuisine.

Santani Wellness Resort – Kandy area

  • This hotel is my everything.
  • I love the whole concept of this Wellness Resort.
  • Min 7 nights stay (there was a lady here who was on her 14th night when we arrived. She was practically floating she looked so relaxed and calm)
  • Meet a Doctor on arrival to chat about what you want to get out of your stay
  • Based on what you want to achieve- detox, caffeine, alcohol, weight loss etc
  • Chef & Doctor prepare a meal plan for you
  • Includes yoga and meditation twice a day, nature walks between 4-24km long, thermal pools, 3 course breakfast, 3 course lunch, 4 course dinner.
  • Amazing Day Spa. Treatments can be included based on your package.
  • Client view rooms from $650USD per night
  • 1.5 hours to Kandy
Welcome to Santani Wellness Resort

Kandy – Cool city to visit once

  • Busy loud city surrounded by the lake
  • Cute houses and guest houses
  • Famous for the Tooth Temple
  • I would recommend 2 nights max here
  • You can also base yourself and do the rock from Kandy

OZO Hotel- 4 star

  • Clean, Large hotel. Many groups stayed there
  • 5 min drive in a tuk tuk to town
  • Rooms overlooking lake
  • Pool, bar, gym
  • Bunnik and Gate 1 Travel Groups were all staying here

Driving

On our drive to Nuwara Eliya we stopped at a Tea Planation.  It had amazing views of the tea plantations but I would do research into what Tea Plantation you visit. Tea Bush is where we visited and was very basic. 

There are tea plantations throughout Sri Lanka where you can help the women in the factories with their tea making process etc.

Tea was so yum- spent $100 on tea to take home! Also on this drive, we stopped at a herbs and spice market. I would also recommend this. I bought so much Chilli!

Nuwara Eliya 

I would say 2 nights here, depending on what time you arrive. This is where you do the Horton Plains Trek. It’s a 1.5 hour drive, trek for 2 hours and 1.5 hour back. Meant to be one of the best view points in Sri Lanka. We didn’t get to do it but I will go back to do this.

Train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella -3 hours

This is a must do! Everyone needs to experience this in their itinerary.

It’s only 80c for this ride.  You can just rock up at the station and hope you get a seat. For people who want a seat this needs to be booked about 2 months prior. You are amongst the locals, windows open. One side view is of the tea plantation fields and the other side is a rain forest.

Yala National Park

Home of the Leopards. Best time for Safari is between March-July. Do not visit in other months as you will see nothing on Safari!! Word from our Safari Guide!

Chena Huts

I stayed at Chena Huts…seriously check this place out. This is part of the Uga properties.

  • Defiantly need min 2 nights here
  • You would do one morning and then maybe an evening safari.
  • This property is located on the beach
  • 15 individual huts with private pools
  • Huge space but only allows max 2 people. 
  • For a family, they will allow another bed if child is under 14.
  • This property starts at like $1600USD per night.

Cheaper option in Yala which I was recommended is the Cinnamon Wild property. This is a 4 star on the beach and has its own Crocodiles. Pricing is from $250USD

Galle

Galle is a really cool town. I would stay here for 2-3 nights. Inside the Galle Forte there a restaurants, cafes, homeware shops. The beach is okay here but it is quite rough with lots of rocks.

You can either choose to stay in the Fort or outside. Staying inside the Fort I can imagine the properties being tiny. We stayed at a property called at the Amari which was about 5 minutes from town.

Beach front resort, 3 large pools. Rooms facing the beach. Large Balconies

Tips for Sri Lanka

  • Always have small cash on you- tipping is essential
  • Snacks for long car rides – some days we drove for 5.5 hours
  • Keep light pair pants in carryon luggage for visiting temples
  • Make sure you know that some guides will want to them to a Sari Shop, Gem Stone Factories etc along their way in the car. Just need to be firm with guide and say NO.
  • Sri Lanka requires a visa, online easy process 35USD

Kate Traynor

I started my career in travel in 2013, after studying Events and Tourism at University. I enjoy all aspects of the travel industry; from the amazing travel experiences and the beautiful people you meet along the way to the holidays you book and plan for your clients. I have travelled to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, USA & Europe. My favourites would have to be Mexico and the Caribbean as I am such a beach lover, and would follow Summer around the world if I could. I also went on an African safari this year and it was incredible!

kate@destinationhq.com.au

Sophie & Janelle – Anantara Maldives & Niyama Private Island Maldives

Our experience in the Maldives really lived up to our expectations. The water is next level amazing! All we can say is WOW! And if you haven’t been, you need to get there!!

Janelle & Sophie

ANANTARA MALDIVES

A 35 min speedboat from Male Airport will take you to Anantara Dhigu.  It is then also connected to both Anatara Veli (Adults only) & Naladhu Private Villas.

Anantara Dhigu is a small intimate island.

Beach villa: The beach villas have recently been refurbished, they are lovely!! They all have direct access to the beach. The beach is stunning and perfect for swimming in. You could easily spend an entire day on the beach and in the water! Some of the beach villas have private pools. If you are happy to pay the extra then you should go the plunge pool option.

Overwater bungalow: Wow! Just wow!! These are incredible. Perfect for a first time traveller to the Maldives. 

Anantara Dhigu is a great family option for younger families (a kids club is also available). We think families with teenagers would run out of things to do on a longer stay.

We loved the breakfast and had dinner at their signature restaurant Salt, Fire Grill which was delicious!!

  • Dolphin cruise (1hr) –  ($80USD per person). Certainly worth it! We saw so many dolphins!
  • The day spa on Dhigu is also incredible!!!!

Anantara Veli (adults only)

  • Connected to Dhigu by a small boat.
  • Veli is a great alternative if you want to get away from children. Veli guests can still enjoy Dhigu and adult guests from Dhigu can still go across to Veli.
  • Veli also has the overwater bungalows and beach bungalows, however we preferred the bungalows at Dhigu.
  • You can eat on both islands, which is good as the islands are small so you can mix it up. Veli had a really lovely feel and good ambiance.

Naddhu Private Island Villas (connected by to Veli by a private bridge)

  • These are huge! The villas are amazing, very very private. These are for the families or couples who literally do not want to see ANYONE. All villas have their own plunge pools and direct access to the beach, they also come with their own butler. No over water villas on this Island. Naddhu guests can go to Veli & Dhigu at any time, however Veli & Dhigu guests cannot go to Naddhu Villas.

It is a good option if you are wanting a very private stay – you literally do not need to leave the villa if you don’t want!

Anantara Dhigu in general was small and felt like a true island resort experience. Beaches are beautiful and the resort had a relaxed, homely atmosphere.

NIYAMA PRIVATE ISLAND

  • 35 min sea plane from Male.
  • There is also a domestic airport 5 minutes away by speedboat. Great option if you are uneasy on a seaplane.
  • 2 connected islands (CHILL & PLAY)

Deluxe Overwater villa:

  • Private pool, stunning bathroom! The toilet and shower are open to the elements and not ideal when it’s raining and windy
  • Rooms are spacious and certainly have the wow factor. All Villas come with their own butler and each person gets a bike to get around
  • Butlers take around in buggies if you don’t want ride your bike. They top up your fridge with free homemade ice-cream daily

Beach Bungalows:

  • Direct access to the beach and some with private pools.
  • Amazing outdoor bathrooms! I imagine it would be like showering in the jungle. Beach is great and swimmable.

Family villa:

  • Family villa has a separate family room attached – FITS A  FAMILY OF 5!!

Kids Club

  • Niyama is really catering towards the families. 
  • Kids club up to 11 yo. They also have a program for 12mth- 2years aprox 20usd per hour, capped at $100usd per day.
  • Teenagers have a ‘chill’ area with xbox, pool table, darts, movies.

Activities

  • Free snorkelling, paddle-boards & Kayaks. 
  • Surf break! There is a surf break off the island. You can go to ‘Surf Shack’ and have a drink while watching people surf. This part of the island feels more like Sorrento back beach than the Maldives. Which is pretty cool. Not what you expect when you go to the Maldives.
  • Resort is large, it was at 90% capacity and didn’t feel it.

Dining

  • Food was AMAZING!!
  • Tribal – African Cuisine, with a full Africa theme (even served by Africans) Best ribs I’ve ever had!!
  • Nest – Asian Cuisine. Nest is built into the trees. It is one of the most amazing restaurants I’ve been to. You are literally eating in the jungle, unfortunately pictures wouldn’t work as it was too dark. The food was delish too!!
  • Edge – Fine dining. Built on a pontoon. Also has an underwater restaurant and night club. We liked the other two better.
  • Breakfast – was good (but we preferred Anantara Dhigu)

Would highly recommend a ½ board option. If we were paying for our dinners they would have exceed $300usd per dinner (not including wine). We really stress the importance of a ½ board option.

RECAP Anantara Dhigu & Niyama

Dighu has a lovely relaxed feel. Small but didn’t feel too small. Good food & service. Overwater bungalows were amazing. Perfect for couples or young families. Perfect for a 5-7 night stay.

Niyama is a completely different concept. Bigger with more activities and restaurant options. Would be perfect for a 7 night stay. Catering to teenagers aswell as young families.

Beach villa Vs Overwater villa

Overwater villa is perfect for a first timer who really want that full experience. However in my opinion I think a beach villa is just as good. Its so nice to be able to walk out of your villa onto the stunning beach. So if your budget doesn’t stretch to  an overwater option, I would book a beach villa experience with confidence.

Sri Lankan Airlines

  • On way over we had the old A330. Like other reviews from my colleagues, the seats are uncomfortable.
  • On the way home we had the new A330. Seats were MUCH better! The plane also has WIFI and allows international roaming on your phone.
  • Entertainment was lacking and food was ok
  • Service was great

Maldives seasons:

Best time to travel:

  • December-March

Monsoon:

  • May – October

We had one day of rain ALL DAY, although we were happy to hangout in our villa, I can imagine if you had a week of rain it might ruin your experience.

Click to read more on when to go to the Maldives

Our experience in the Maldives really lived up to our expectations. The water is next level amazing! All I can say is WOW! And if you haven’t been, you need to get there!!!

Sophie Anderson

I began my career at 2010 after discovering my passion for travel while living and working in Canada for 2 years. Since then I have travelled to the USA, Mexico, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Fiji, Croatia, Italy and New Zealand. I love to experience new things, learn about different cultures and, of course, taste food from around the world. Africa is also one of my favourite destinations I‘ve been to. I’m a Ski Expert and have travelled to Club Med Ski resorts in both France and Japan.

sophie@destinationhq.com.au


Janelle King


My love for travel developed from growing up in Hong Kong and Singapore – my Dad was based there as a pilot. I started working as a travel agent in the 1990’s and travelled extensively through Europe, and more recently through Asia with my young family. A family highlight was 4 weeks in America including Disneyworld and New York. My favourite cities are New York, Prague & Paris. My most amazing trips have been on safari in Kenya and visiting the amazing palaces in Russia. I travelled to Myanmar this year on a luxury cruise and tour which was amazing. My bucket list would be The Kimberley & Patagonia in Chile.

janelle@destinationhq.com.au

Niyama Overwater Villa

Kate – France River Cruise with Scenic Gem

I really couldn’t fault Scenic on my luxury France River Cruise. The staff were so friendly and always available for guests needs. The ship is modern, stylish, with lots of blues and blacks throughout the main areas. 

Kate Traynor

The itinerary really gets you to see the heart of France. From the beautiful old cities, to the little towns with the cutest patisseries in places you didn’t even know existed!

Hotel Scribe by Sofitel

  • 1 night pre-cruise
  • 9th arrondissement on the Right Bank

This is the hotel that Scenic use if you stay before or after your France River Cruise. It’s a fabulous, very grand, hotel.  Great for shopping as Galeries Lafayette and the big designer stores are all close by the hotel. It’s a 7 minute walk to the Metro (Madeline area). There is a Hop on Hop off bus tour stop about a 3 minute walk away which was really convenient.

I was upgraded to the Luxury Club Room which had a gorgeous interior with beautiful views of the street, and noise wasn’t a problem at all. One of the other agents I was travelling with was lucky enough to get a view of the Eiffel Tower from his room.  I saw the standard room which was still nice just smaller and had a different outlook. The Luxury Club Room had a Separate Shower and bath, spacious hall and comfy king bed. Breakfast was delicious with lots of variety.

48 Hours in Paris

For my 2 days in Paris before the Cruise I did the Hop on Hop off bus tour which I always recommend to see a city when you first arrive. I also did the ‘Popular Sites of Paris’ Segway tour which, was so much fun! You have to have a sense of adventure for this one, as it did get scary when crossing the roads and intersections of the crazy roads in the city. I would highly recommend this though as it was a great day out!

Scenic Gem

Our itinerary was 5 nights (6 days) with 80 agents and 20 media staff onboard. It was a sample cruise of the Normandy & Gems of the Seine River which is 10 nights (11 days) cruise.

  • Built in 2014
  • 127 Guests
  • This ship was specifically built to fit through the locks in Honfluer France
  • It is currently the only River Ship that can go into this area of France

I really can’t fault Scenic on my River Cruise. Staff we so friendly and always available for all needs. Modern, stylish, with lots of blues and blacks throughout the main areas in the ship

Food was delish with so many options. Breakfast was buffet or a la carte. The buffet had so many options with a chef there to cook anything you want. Lunch, you could either eat at the buffet in the main dining room or a light lunch in the River Café. The river Café was my favourite as the buffet food had heavier food (for me) for lunch. Dinner in main dining room each night, with different sized tables. Dinner is a 4 course A La Carte meal with different menu options.

Scenic Gem has 2 speciality dining options. We got to experience the Chefs table which is 8 courses all matched with wines. This was a really fun night and would recommend booking this when you get on board.

Cabins on Scenic Gem

I was so lucky to have my own balcony cabin. I was on the Diamond deck which is a great deck to be on. Diamond Deck has extra inclusions like breakfast delivered in your cabin and complimentary laundry service. The 2 below decks don’t get these inclusions.  All room types have their own butler.

Standard Suite ~ It was really spacious as they have the extra space due to no balcony. This has a small window at water level

Private Balcony Suite ~ My cabin. I would recommend this with confidence. Great décor, big balcony with so much light, can open up the balcony sliding doors which instantly feels like you have much more space. The wardrobes are a good size and has lots of room under the bed for suitcases

Royal Suite ~ Same as the Balcony Suite except has a separate living area.

Royal Balcony Suite ~ There are two on board the Gem. At the rear of the ship. So much space! The suite has floor to ceiling windows with bed facing the window. They get all the same inclusions except they can host a cocktail event in their suite complimentary.

Itinerary

We got to visit some gorgeous French towns along the Seine. Scenic Free Choice options included walking tours of each town, bike rides where we got to visit Monet’s Garden and Monet’s House.  We also go to see a lot of castles. These are all half day morning tours, which gives you the option to come back to the boat for lunch and then have the afternoon at your leisure.

The main day tour of the cruise is the D Day Battle field sites at Normandy Beach. Some guests choose this cruise itinerary purely to do this day tour. It is a full day which starts at 8am and finishes at 6:30pm. Its a very emotional day but so worth it.

Disembarkment from ship at the end of the sailing is very easy for guests. Scenic arrange private transfers taking them either to the airport or hotels (conditions apply) to continue their holiday.

Getting There

I flew with Singapore Airlines in economy class, and had no problems with them. We checked in online prior and chose our seats which was great as I got to select an aisle seat (my preferance). The A380 from Singapore is an older aircraft which looks a bit tired, but the food & Entertainment was good!

Kate’s Travel Tips

  • My most memorable thing that I loved was Monet’s Garden and riding our bikes along the river.
  • My packing tip at that time of the year as it was cooler (October) was my Kathmandu Jacket, it kept me so warm. It was light and can easily be folded up in my suitcase so takes up little room.
  • I would recommend this itineary to someone who has done the Amsterdam – Budapest River Cruise and wants something different. This itinerary you really get to see all of France. To the beautiful old cities, to the little towns with the cutest patiseries in places you didn’t even know existed.

Contact:  kate@destinationhq.com.au

 

 

 

Kate & Sophie on Safari in Kenya

Sophie & Kate

We were able to experience a once in a lifetime Safari to Kenya with Wildlife Safari. We were amazed the whole way through at the incredible landscape, African hospitality and of course the chance to see the wildlife up close in their natural habitat. It was a luxury Safari from start to finish!

Our flight from Melbourne to Doha was upgraded to Business Class, and it certainly has the WOW factor!  We enjoyed all of the ammenities and the 14hr+ flight was made much more enjoyable by having a flat bed to sleep on.  If you get the chance, treat yourself to Business Class!

Wildlife Safari

We were met by a Wildlife Safari representative, making the entire arrival process easy and relaxed. He escorted us directly to our hotel. Our guide Anthony made our trip! He has worked in the industry for 38 years and still showed passion for the job, especially for the animals and explaining everything to us. He was wonderful.

  • 10/10 knowledge
  • Insider knowledge when and where the movements were happening
  • Anthony made our trip as we were able to get the most out of our experience

East Africa:

  • The best time to travel is May to October
  • Visa on arrival for Kenya for 50USD – very easy process
  • Currency – USD to Kenyan shillings

Sweetwaters Serena camp

Located on Ol Pejeta conservatory, Sweetwaters Camp has its own watering hole which encourages animals to come right up to the camp. Guaranteed sightings of some sort all day long.

  • Luxury tented accomodation
  • Pool
  • Full board package, food only
  • Good for families as double stories family tents are available
  • Game drives, morning and evening

httpss://youtu.be/FeXiUIZJ8SY

 

Lake Elementaita Serena Camp,  Soysambu Conservatory

Located on lake Elementatita, it is great for those especially interested in bird watching including flamingos and pelicans.

  • 20 tents, all the same and 1 suite, 2 guests per room
  • Rooms/tents were very spacious
  • Many activities, such as horse back riding, cooking classes, yoga, nature walks. These are at an extra cost.
  • Alacarte dining, 4 courses. Food was still basic
  • Service excellent
  • Wouldn’t recommend for families
  • Lots of beautiful greenery

&Beyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp – Rift Valley, Masai Mara

This luxury camp has the WOW factor. Spend at least 3 nights here to get the full experience of the camp and facilities with enough time for the game drives.

  • Luxury tents set amongst the Masai Mara and over looking the Game Reserve
  • Service, they know you by first name. You have the one person look after you from start to finish
  • High and low tents available
  • Stunning pool looking over the game park
  • All tents are modern, scandi deco

Nairobi, Raddison blue 

  • 20 mins from airport
  • Modern, 5 star
  • 2 restaurants
  • Greta pool/bar area
  • Can organise taxi service if you want to go out for a day

Wildlife Viewing

  • Masai Mara is where it is at!
  • Great migration happens Between may and October, this when to come
  • We saw 4 of the big 5 both viewing days, and we are out of season
  • November it rains every arvo for about 2 hours

Masa Mara Village

  • We went to a village, its cost 25USD pp. Unfortunately it’s was cut short due to poor weather
  • It’s good to mix up game drives with different activities as it is long days in the vehicle

Kate & Sophie’s Travel Tips

  1. Little notes for tipping. Everyone expects to be tipped. USD is fine
  2. Take snacks!! There are big days in the car between locations, plus game drives. So it’s vital to have snacks
  3. Pack layers
  4. Take your own binoculars
  5. Big SD card

Contact: sophie@destinationhq.com.au / kate@destinationhq.com.au