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Personal Travel

What it was like to travel to Sri Lanka with a six-month old

My husband and I always said that having a baby wouldn’t change the way we travelled. We love to go on trips where we’d travel around, exploring, discovering, adventuring, eating local food, drinking local drinks…you get the picture. Right, we thought when we found out we were pregnant, we’ll just keep on doing all that, but with the baby in tow, she’ll love it because we love it!

And so she was born, and the time came to find somewhere amazing to go. Holiday research being one of my major life loves, I set to work, discovering where in the world is particularly good to go with a six month old. Thailand? Easy to travel around, great beaches, bit of culture. Canada? We have family there, also easy and convenient. Mexico? A place neither of us had been there before, great food, relaxed.

But then I thought, the baby isn’t going to care where we holiday, so why should I choose a destination for her? Why not go to a place that I really want to go! And so we booked Sri Lanka.

In preparation we ploughed through web pages full of tips for travelling with a baby, bought a load of things that would either be extremely useful or absolutely pointless and planned an itinerary that would both satiate our appetite for exploring and stay in places long enough that the baby wouldn’t feel like all of her time was spent in a car seat.

And this is how it all worked out…

Our itinerary

We decided on a two week trip for baby’s first trip. I’d like to point out the fact that we had a fully planned itinerary with a car and driver, which is not the way I would usually do things, so a major concession to Little Miss straight off, but with the amount of time we were visiting for, the distances involved and the amount of stuff we had, it was the right choice for us. Sri Lanka has so much to see and do, you need a lot of time to do it justice but two weeks was about all the time we had and could afford. Lucky to, as this was February 2020 and Corona was just on the brink of really kicking off in the UK.

Colombo, the capital, is home of the international airport and where we arrived. We spent one night here before blazing a trail across to Habarana, where we spent four nights. Habarana is located at the heart of what is known as Sri Lanka’s ‘Cultural Triangle’; from here you can explore the timeless ruins of two of Sri Lanka’s ancient seats of power Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, the cave temples of Dambulla and, one of the island’s most recognisable sites, Sigiriya or ‘Lion Rock’. All of these spectacular places were on our itinerary, and we managed all of them except Dambulla, which I think was pretty good going.

Our next destination was Nuwara Eliya, up in Sri Lanka’s central highlands, where we spent two nights. We travelled by road to Kandy before taking the popular train up through the tea plantations which was a glorious way to travel, and extra good for Baby as she didn’t have to be strapped into a seat…not that she appreciated the views. Here, we visited a tea plantation in the sunshine and generally admired the beauty of the place.

Finally we spent six nights by the sea in Beruwala. This wouldn’t have been my first choice to be honest, there are far lovely seaside places we could have stayed – Galle, Marissa, Hikkaduwa, to name just a few. But as the trip down from the highlands was pretty epic, it was a case of as soon as we hit the coast, we stop and stay! In terms of sun, sea, sand and palm trees, it ticked all the boxes. There was also a lovely pool and a little restaurant selling fresh fish about 200 metres along the beach. Whilst we were there, we also took a day trip to Galle, a place I desperately wanted to visit, which ended up being a bit of a disaster with us only getting about an hour to spend there.

Did it work?

I think if Sri Lanka hadn’t been so beautiful, I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself much. I sorely missed the freedom to explore, especially at places like Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. Wandering willy nilly through ancient sites is one of my favs. The days that we were sightseeing felt quite rushed, and therefore stressful, and I didn’t feel I paid enough attention to what I was seeing. I did get to climb Sigiriya sans baby, who stayed at the base with her dad, and it gave me a taste of the old days and is one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Having said all that, on the other days it was nice to slow down, enjoy the sun and relax around a pool with our new little one – just being somewhere else after nearly six month mostly sat on the sofa feeding a newborn was pretty special.

I also suffered major mum guilt because the car seat that was provided was for a toddler, not a baby; we had debated many a time whether to take our own, but the tour company had sent a picture of an infant car seat that they had so we decided to leave it. We spent a lot of time holding Baby’s head when she fell asleep so it didn’t flop forward. It also didn’t help that in my sleep deprived state, I’d managed to leave the baby carrier on the plane, never to be seen again, so just having a pushchair was a bit restrictive in some places.

Our driver was lovely and loved Baby. In fact, she got so much attention! We had Sri Lankan grannies cooing over her and local kids peering at her through her pushchair shade as she napped, which was really lovely. I also found it amusing that the driver called the pushchair her ‘go cart’ as most people in Sri Lanka don’t use one, and carry their children everywhere instead, so some of the attention could have been on her method of transport rather than her!

Our flights

We flew from Heathrow to Colombo with SriLankan Airlines. Heathrow was pretty easy – there’s actually a family room that I never knew existed, with a place for kids to play and a private room to feed. We had bulkhead seats and were able to board first, getting ourselves set up with the bassinet and everything we needed before everyone was onboard. While it was great to have the bassinet, Baby wasn’t a fan, so we ended up having to hold her for most of the flight. The airline does have a flight attendant dedicated to looking after the kids onboard, and the one we met was lovely and helpful. We even got a little pack with a changing mat and wipes in it.

The flight on the way home…I can’t remember it at all! I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve repressed it for some reason, but I do remember that we were allowed to the front of the check-in queue at Colombo airport because of Baby, and that there was also a dedicated family area and bathroom in departures for feeding.

The gear

We had had a few trips planned for 2020 – we also had two abroad weddings we were going to as well as Sri Lanka, so we bought stuff that would work for all three…thanks Corona! The major things were a new lightweight pushchair – a Joie Tourist – which folds up quite small. Not carry-on small but small enough. My one complaint about it is that the hood didn’t, and still doesn’t, keep the sun off, but from my research that seems to be quite a common complaint. We supplemented with a Snooze Shade, which Baby wasn’t happy about, as it meant she couldn’t see. She’d poke her head out of the side to see what was going on instead!

We got a pop up tent to have by the pool and on the beach as a place for her to kick about and nap out of the sun and protected from insects, which was probably unnecessary, and an inflatable pool ring for her to float about in, which she enjoyed very much. A white noise machine for nighttime and naps, and a few pouches of purees as she was ready to wean while we were away. We ended up just giving her some of the beautiful tropical fruit to try, which is probably why she only wants to eat sweet things still! 

Would I do it again?

I don’t know. As much as I wanted our travels to be the same as they were before baby, it was pretty naive of me to expect that everything would be the same. Perhaps I’m just not flexible and relaxed enough to be one of those people who can just travel with their baby – but maybe the amount of time we had was an element, perhaps the fact that my maternity leave was ending a week after we got home also played a part.

Now that she’s a bit older, and sleeps better, I would be more willing to try that sort of holiday again, but if I was to travel with a baby in future, it would be a holiday based in one place with a few, nice chilled trips out to lovely sights. None of this is down to the baby herself, she was pretty chilled out, and loved looking at all the birds and animals, and going in the pool and all the attention she got wherever she was, so whatever I was feeling was probably self sabotage!

As for Sri Lanka, I didn’t appreciate you as much as I should have done, and I will come back one day and really take the time to soak up all the wonders that you have to offer, and love you as you should be loved.

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Personal Travel

I love Cambodia’s Angkor, and you should too.

I adored the Indiana Jones films as a child and always harboured a (still unrealised) desire to be an archaeologist when I grew up – even after I found out that it isn’t all priceless relics and dodging rolling boulder booby traps. I think that’s why I love Angkor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so much, because it is one of those places that, if you let it, will do all that it can to bring out your inner Indiana Jones. The jungle that swallowed this once great city conspires to draw you in, offering tantalising glimpses of grey stone through thick green foliage. The light, dappled and hazy, creates intriguing silhouettes, luring you for a closer look, the oppressive heat pushing you into the shady interior – there really isn’t any choice but to succumb and embrace the adventure wholeheartedly.

My first glimpse of the most significant and magnificent of the temples, Angkor Wat. Though it happened 15 years ago it still plays in my head like a film, it was that memorable for me.

A long, hot ride on a rickety and seriously uncomfortable bike lead to a rather tempting looking moat. The ride continues, a little faster now as anticipation takes over, my eye finally coming to rest on a stone walkway bridging the water. My eyes travel along it and there, rearing up out of the jungle, is Angkor Wat, stark and magnificent against the blue sky.

It took my breath away. Every inch of the old grey stone screamed ‘explore me’, and so I did, extensively. And a few more times since.

No matter how many people you share the Angkor Wat experience with the sense of tranquillity it still manages to exude is quite extraordinary. This could be people respecting the fact that it’s of huge religious significance, the facts it’s so large, or the fact that visitors are awed into speechlessness. A hush descends as you wander the cool stone corridors and admire the intricately carved bas reliefs, the surrounding jungle blocking out the outside world. Here day to day troubles melt away leaving you to admire the heart and soul that went into creating such a masterpiece and all you have to worry about is dodging that pack of book-selling kids who you stupidly said ‘”I’ll think about it” to.

But Angkor isn’t just about Angkor Wat. There are a great many buildings, temples and constructions on the complex to discover (we are talking thousands), some in reasonable nick, some merely piles of rock and others spectacularly reclaimed by nature, riddled with roots, trees thrusting out of roofs, walls and windows. One of these is Ta Prohm, which you may recognise if you’ve watched Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. It would take a lifetime to fully appreciate what a great city Angkor must have been and to see all that this place has to offer. That is where the bike comes in. The beauty of exploring this way is being able to come, go and discover as you please. That’s how you can truly get into explorer mode and to the few still off-the-beaten-track places.

There are huge gateways marking the four ‘compass point’ entrances to Angkor’s main walled city ‘Angkor Thom’. Each entrance is flanked by guards, wonderfully intricate in their creation right down to their toes. Passing through them, the exhilaration mounts and a sense of adventure begins to buzz (or could have been the mosquitos) right through your body. Gentling cycling these old thoroughfares, silent, admiring, maybe dodging the occasional monkey, the occasional cry may go up as someone, glancing into the foliage, catches a flash of a hidden temple held hostage by the jungle. On closer inspection, you might find that you have this particular temple completely to yourself, whilst you can hear buses and tuk tuks of tourists humming in the distance. That is the ultimate beauty of Angkor. It is a place that is timeless; it is so easy to believe that you are the first person to have set foot there for hundreds of years, to run your hands over the warm grey stone, to shelter from the sun in a shady corridor.

While you won’t have such moments in the most popular temples, they are so eerily beautiful, so shrouded in mystery, that you can’t really blame the masses for flocking to them.

The Temples of Angkor are located close to the town of Siem Reap in central Cambodia. The area was once a grand city of the Khmer Empire, the complex of temples boasting thousands of ruins and relics from between the 9th to 15th centuries.

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Just For Fun Personal Travel

Meeting Charlie: an awkward encounter in South Africa

Do not run, do not run; the words echo around my head, words spoken a few moments earlier in a rushed hiss by our ranger. Easier said than done when a fully-grown bull elephant with pointy looking tusks is, for lack of a better term, starting on you. Honeymooning amongst South Africa’s glorious nature, we had arrived at our spectacular safari lodge in a haze; partially excitement, partially the welcome glass of wine. This moment was supposed to be the crowning glory of my first ever safari: sundowner drinks as Charlie, said bull elephant, meandered past at a comfortable distance. I now see that I was a little too eager, perhaps another side-effect of that welcome glass of wine, to step away from the safety of the jeep, as nature, in her wily way, gave things an unpredictable twist. So here I am, huddled penguin-esque with four other people, three of them new acquaintances and one a new husband, marooned 30 metres from any form of shelter. Heart pounding, my panicked litany screams through my head. Do not run, do not run! Five tonnes of Charlie advances slowly, pausing often to glare at us. It turns out that most animals can sense your fear, and elephants are particularly sensitive, so you have to do your best to appear confident and fearless…fat chance of that, Charlie is big and unimpressed by our, somewhat quaking, presence. Our ranger, cool, calm and collected takes charge, stamping a foot towards the bewildered elephant and opening his arms wide. “Back away slowly” he commands, almost dancing in his intimidation tactics. Inch by inch, step by step, as one we claw our way back to the jeep, heave ourselves in and release a collective breath that’s been held for who knows how long. Held at bay, Charlie watches warily, only starting forward after our ranger has swung himself back into the driver’s seat. Cautiously, curiously Charlie saunters around us, trunk reaching and waving as he inhales unfamiliar scents, investigating what he finds before him. Satisfied, or unimpressed, he loses interest, turns his back and plods back into the grasslands. Over our much-needed sundowners, we could only assume that he was having a bad day.

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