Swimming with blacktip reef sharks. Learning how to cook crab curry. Drinking toddy fresh from the palm tree. Pristine beaches and beautiful temples and friendly people. Yes, these are just some of the things to see and do in Trincomalee, one of my favorite cities in all of Sri Lanka.
Located in the northeast corner of Sri Lanka, Trincomalee is far removed from the typical southern tourist trail. After the #TBCAsia travel blogging conference in Colombo wrapped up, I went up to Trincomalee and spent four jam-packed days exploring all there was to do in and around the city.
But first a quick gift for all you Pinners out there 😉
Drink Toddy, The Best Alcoholic Drink You Have Never Heard Of
Toddy is a type of wine that comes from the sap of various types of palm trees. A tapper climbs up the tree to cut the flower and place a bucket underneath to catch all of the white liquid as it drips out. When it is first released the toddy is sweet and non-alcoholic. As the liquid is exposed to the air it quickly begins to ferment and within a couple hours contains about 5% alcohol. At this point it is perfect for drinking, although it can also be left fermenting longer to increase the alcohol content and decrease the sweetness.
Unfortunately collecting toddy is not as easy as it seems. You need to have a license to do it, one that must be renewed annually. Not only is this costly but it is also a bureaucratic burden for locals. Fewer and fewer people are producing toddy so if you get the opportunity, make sure to check it out firsthand and support the locals!
Visit The Many Nearby Temples
Trincomalee has no shortage of temples but two in particular stand out: Girihandu Seya, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the world, and Gokana Temple. Girihandu Seya, which translates as “the stupa on top of the rocks,” was built while Lord Buddha was still alive. As the story goes, two brothers encountered the newly enlightened Buddha and after offering him some food were bestowed with some of his hair. They took this hair to Sri Lanka and built this impressive stupa atop one of the tallest hills.
See More Girihandu Seya Photo Gallery
Gokana Temple was built on the site of the old Portuguese Frederick Fort. Although this is a Hindu Temple there is a stone carving atop the highest point of the hill that mentions a Buddhist temple. It is believed that hundreds of years ago the Buddhist temple was torn down and replaced by this Hindu temple. As such the site is apparently a little controversial to some, with both Hindu and Buddhist making pilgrimages here to pray and claiming the grounds are rightfully theirs.
Go Swimming With Sharks And Octopuses At Pigeon Island
Pigeon Island National Park is only a thirty minute boat ride from Trincomalee and completely uninhabited. Along with Daya, the naturalist from Chaaya Blu Resort, Marysia and I cruised out there and spent three hours snorkeling through the coral reefs with tons of fish and several blacktip reef sharks. Our guide actually got amazingly close to an octopus and documented the whole thing with his GoPro. I, unfortunately, was not able to get as close as he did but still had a blast.
While we were out there a group of three other foreigners arrived on their own, without a guide. I highly advise against this as they had no idea what they were doing, or which areas were safe to swim and which were not. Make sure to come with a guide — preferably my new friend Daya, the naturalist at Chaaya Blu Trincomalee and a very knowledgeable man.
Cook Your Own Crab Dinner
Along with the chef at Chaaya we took a trip to meet some of the local fishermen just returning with fresh crabs. After selecting our choice crabs we returned to the resort, joined the expert in the kitchen and donned chef uniforms.
We learned the recipe for the resort’s special crab curry and had a blast preparing our dinner. However as fun as that was, the best part by far was actually getting to sit down and indulge in the meal we had just made. Simply amazing!
Night Fishing With Locals From A Nearby Village
Just down the coast from my room was a traditional village that we went to visit one evening. As we arrived the local men were gathering to bring their boats down to the waters edge and prepare for their nightly fishing trip. Always eager to take part in local life, I hopped in a boat with two of the guys at sunset, with most of the other men from the village in dozens of boats around us. After a quick prayer and blessing for our boat in front of a Hindu temple on the beach we all sailed off into the darkness while Marysia hung around the village and had fun with the local kids.
Unfortunately the currents were particularly rough that night and we only caught a few kilos of fish — and eight monstrous jellyfish that of course were tossed right back into the water. However the experience was a blast and I can now say that I have now been fishing with locals in four different countries (Philippines, Costa Rica, Indonesia and Sri Lanka).
What little time not spent exploring Trinco was spent relaxing at the magnificent Chaaya Blu Resort, located right on the water’s edge. My beachfront suite came with a back door that made it possible to be in the sand in with one step and in the water after only a few more.
Wondering where to stay in Trincomalee? I stayed at Chaaya Blu, the #1 rated hotel in all of Trincomalee, and I highly recommend it. Delicious food, beachfront views and the amazing Daya as a tour guide — what more could you want?