My City: Kandy, Sri Lanka with Expat, Stephanie
July 17 2015
If over the course of this week you haven't yet been completely enchanted by this tiny Asian island country, then our interview with Washington native and expat, Stephanie, will definitely have you Sri Lanka dreaming.
I recommend you grab a cup of tea, sit back and let your imagination get lost in Stephanie's descriptions as she literally brings her current city of Kandy and the country to life.
Perhaps after reading it we should all plan to meet at "The Pub?" (You will understand the reference in a bit.) :) Enjoy!
Photo by Marissa Maharaj
Name: Stephanie Bulthuis
Occupation: Supervisor, Seattle Pacific University Library
Current Hometown: Kandy, Sri Lanka
What is the thing you love most about Sri Lanka?
Lush padi terraces in mountain valleys. Foggy rolling hills covered in tea bushes. Warm waves crashing down on palm fringed beaches. The clanging, bustling, honking, busy market places that are equal parts dirty and beautiful. Steaming plates of rice and curry. Days that are balmy and sunny, and days where one sits on the verandah and watches the monsoon sweep in with just a touch of awe. People that are warm and welcoming and love nothing more than a good laugh and a cup of strong milk tea. It’s difficult to pin down what I love most about Sri Lanka – perhaps because I so love the incredible diversity this one tiny country holds.
Where is your favorite local hangout in Kandy?
The Pub in Kandy is a fun one – smack bang in the middle of the city, with a big balcony overlooking the main street, it’s the perfect place for a mid-shopping snack break, evening drinks with friends, or just a beer and a reason to be in the A.C. when the heat becomes a little crazy.
What is the one thing first time visitors must-see in the city?
Kandy, nestled up in the hills a decent way above sea level, is known as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. In the middle of town is Kandy Lake, 2 miles around, and built by the last king of Sri Lanka in the early 1800’s. On its north shore lies the famous Temple of the Tooth – believed to house the tooth relic of Lord Buddha, and is one of the holiest sites in Sri Lanka. If someone is visiting the island during July and August, the Esala Perahera is a must. Perahera is a ten day festival devoted to processing the tooth relic through the city. Dancers, acrobats, fire-breathers, musicians, and between 50 and 100 decorated elephants parade through the streets – it is definitely an event to write home about.
What place off the beaten path do you recommend visiting?
Kandy is right in the middle of our wee island (about three Sri Lankas can fit into Washington State) which makes it a wonderful base from which to explore. A three hour drive (or less) from Kandy will take you to ancient ruins in the north, beaches in the west, national parks in the east, and old British tea bungalows and the cooler temperatures of the mountains in the south. The town of Nuwara Eliya is a winding, two hour drive away, up into the hills where most of the nation’s tea is grown. Tea is one of Sri Lanka’s main exports, owing to the British influence brought over during British colonization. Visit the town center which has a unique east-meets-Victorian-west feel to it, take a paddle boat out onto the lake, and stop at Mackwoods Tea Estate on the way back for a tour of a working tea factory, and cup of world famous tea and a slice of chocolate cake. Many visitors enjoy staying a few nights in “tea country”, but it makes for an excellent day trip as well!
Tea at Mackwood Tea Estate
What is a local delicacy that you love?
In Sri Lanka, the term for fast food is “short eats”. And they are oh so delicious. A fish roll is my go-to…salmon or tuna, potatoes, veggies, fragrant spices, all wrapped up in what is kind of like a crepe, rolled in panko, and deep fried to glorious golden goodness. The spiced filling in buttery pastry dough is also not something I would turn my nose up at.
What does your perfect day in the city always include?
A visit to the market, shopping at the local mall, a break for fresh mango smoothies, popping in to visit a friend or two that live in the city center, and lunch at the pub.
Where is the best place to get a culture fix in Kandy?
For a spectacular dose of culture and history, the Cultural Triangle lies just north of Kandy. It starts with the 2000-year-old rock fortress of Sigirya, a UNESCO world heritage site, and continues to cover the ruins of two ancient capitals , Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. The ruins are dotted with temples, monasteries, palaces, monumental dagobas, and what feels like half of the country’s monkey population. For a cultural fix closer to home in the city itself, the temple is a must. Kandyan Dancing, a form of dance that is native to Kandy, is also amazing to watch and many theaters will offer shows that showcase Kandyan Dancers and Kandyan Drummers.
What is the one thing tourists always miss when they visit?
Sri Lanka is beautiful and tourism generates a lot of the country’s income – but lots of times the beauty and culture that tourists are exposed to, veil the other side of Sri Lanka that is less glamorous, that is impoverished, perhaps a little hard to see, and beautiful in a much more simple way. I think tourists should visit an orphanage for a day, or volunteer an afternoon at the street kids center, or have a meal with a family in a village. Besides giving depth to an experience of Sri Lanka, I am convinced that curry is at its finest when it’s cooked over fires in clay pots.
What does the city prides itself on?
Its deep cultural roots, and incredible natural beauty. Temples and art aside, Kandy is surrounded by lush green hills, is built on the banks of the meandering Mahwali River, and is home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna. It is hot enough in the day to enjoy gardens and swimming pools, and just cool enough in the evenings to put on a light sweater and enjoy a cup of tea on the verandah.
What would people be surprised to learn about Kandy?
Kandy is a sport city. It is home to an international cricket stadium that hosted many matches during the Cricket World Cup in 2011. The Victoria golf and country resort offers an 18-hole course that stretches along banks of the Victoria reservoir, and is considered one of the most beautiful courses in the world. Kandyans are also avid rugby fans, and a rugby match is always a hoot and a holler to watch.
Where is your favorite place to eat?
For breakfast, nothing beats an outside table in the gardens of the Earls Regency. This five star hotel has a five star restaurant to go with it, and their breakfast buffet includes everything from pancakes and made-to-order omelets to traditional Sri Lankan breakfast foods like coconut milk rice with curry. The Kandy Garden Café is a favorite dinner spot in my family – mostly for their hoppers: a pancake sort of idea made in tiny woks, giving you a stack of bowl-shaped crepes that are light and crisp on the edges and thick and hearty in the middle. Eat them with sweet and spicy onion sambal, and you will crave nothing else for the rest of your life.