Date of stay:March / April 2011
Where you stayed: Hansa Surf Guesthouse
Tour or pre planned: Pre-planned
Picture a beautiful, almost untouched, pristine, white sandy beach, with half decent waves, surfers, coconut trees overhanging your balcony, warm weather, violent thunderstorms at night and endless sunny weather during the day. Welcome to Sri Lanka’s Hikkaduwa, the perfect beachside town on the south-west coast.
Locals and tourists here generally blend well. There was no tension or animosity that existed when I was there and many tourists match up with locals and vice versa. A common interest which binds the Local and the Gringo is of course, cricket. I just happened to be there during the 2011 Cricket World Cup being staged jointly by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Beach Cricket was played by us almost every day which fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine.
Sri Lankan people are very friendly, have a great sense of humor and make you feel welcome in their country. They are naturally very gifted cricketers and athletes in general and they are also very good with their hands - making jewellry, arts, crafts and ornaments.
The great thing about Hikkaduwa, given its south-west orientation, is that the sun sets on the water, making for a breath taking backdrop as you sip on your favourite drink by the beach. A beautiful site to see each night and no two sunsets are ever the same. One extraordinary night included a “moonset” where the moon revealed itself from underneath the nightly clouds and literally set in the same position as the sun when it goes down, then a few hours later occurred a golden sunrise over the jungle on the east side as I bathed in the warm water of the sea. I will never forget that.
Add to this picture Hikkaduwa’s stray dogs. There was “Calamari Ring”, who was a light brown coloured dog with a tail shaped like a freshly cooked calamari ring. There was “Buckle Boy”, who wore an old buckled belt. He was pretty feisty and liked to start play fights. Then there was “Diggy Marley” a reference to Ziggy Marley because of the reggae music played in the bar at the time and the fact that “Diggy” was digging a hole to park his arse into after a long day prowling the beach for food. They hang around generally and mean no harm.
The great thing about Hikkaduwa is that there is so much to do and it is yet to be completely ruined by tourism like other beachside towns around the world. Cancun and the Gold Coast spring to mind.
There is the obvious activity of surfing. If you are like me and have no idea how to surf, Hikkaduwa might be the ideal place to start. The strength of the waves vary each day but you can get some baby waves to learn depending on the conditions. There are beginner lessons and hiring a board and an instructor varies from $10 USD to $40 USD. Or you can hire a surfboard from the hostel for around 100 rupees (less than 1 GBP). I preferred to watch people surf.
The nearby Lagoon is a must-see. I went on a day trip with some friends for 10,000 Rupees each or just under 10 GBP, although you could probably get it for cheaper than that. The natural beauty of this vast expanse of water really blew me away. You start off at the mouth of the river that leads to the sea and gradually work your way up the river, through the mangroves, then you come out and it completely opens up, this lagoon is so massive it feels like you are out in the ocean or the Amazon at times. We visited 3 different islands. One being a man-made fishing island built on stilts, the other an island dedicated to Buddha with a large statue, and an island where different arts and crafts were made. I was showed how the hair of a dried out coconut husk can be turned into a very strong rope and used to strengthen joins in houses by tying the coconut hair to wooden beams.
There are scuba diving day trips and snorkelling trips out to a range of islands and rocks off the coast. I didn’t actually go scuba diving or snorkelling so I didn’t know what the price was but it is pretty cheap, around 3 GBP to hire snorkelling equipment for an hour or two.
My favourite pastimes on the beach are playing cricket or beach volleyball. I spent a lot of my days doing this or simply hanging out with the friendly locals and tourists, having lunch and a beer or swimming in the beautiful warm water. Hikkaduwa was conducive to meeting other tourists and locals alike. Soon enough, you will find yourself knowing everyone here!
We were playing a game of beach volleyball one day. It was six players per side. Players from all around the world participated. The game was great fun and a good laugh but as the game progressed, one particular black dog, began to take a liking to an Italian female playing on the opposing team. The dog was clearly on heat, sniffing around her bum and occasionally nibbling at her black bikini, and some black loin cloth wrapped around her waist, trying to entice a play fight. Then the dog all of a sudden, like an unpredictable loose cannon, jumped up and bit her on her plump, tanned Italian bottom! It was the funniest thing I had ever seen. This black dog, named Arnie, had the audacity, the cheek and the balls to help himself to a snack. This literally was a dog on heat. She wasn’t Arnie’s only target however. He then accosted other strays in the general vicinity and launched himself upon their backs for a "quickie". Anyone, everyone and everything was fair game.
One thing to be mindful of when walking down the beach are the crabs, one night the tide had come right in and completely engulfed the beach with each wave and exposed each hole on the way back to sea. As the waves rose there was minimal sand to work. So your opportunity to run for cover was limited. A swarm of crabs would emerge from all the holes in the sand and it was a little frightening if you are like me and a bit scared when it comes to insects and creatures.
The nightlife in Hikkaduwa certainly has a pulse about it. Clubs on the beach play a more up tempo kind of music, the beats kick in and the drinks flow. People socialize, play table tennis, dance, chat and hang out. One time at Mambo’s, I witnessed a massive tortoise giving birth right on the dance floor in front of everyone. It was quite an unusual experience seeing this creature lay her eggs in the sand to house music and bright lights. People were crowding around and even taking photos which I felt was really rude given that it gave off a bright flash and would startle this mother in her quest for giving birth.
There is always a bit of mystery and suspense around what “night” it was and “where the party’s at”. For example there are quite a few popular bars and restaurants on the beach in this small town that not all of them can sustain a healthy business every night of the week so they team up and do one night each. Funky da Bar would be on a Sunday for example, Top Secret, my favourite bar, would be on a Monday night and so on. Top Secret was by far the best, the space was huge and you had it all. Open fires, table tennis on a brand new “New York hard court” style table, a dartboard, a restaurant in the sand, bar and that tight rope thing where people try to balance and walk from one coconut tree to another. Funky da Bar had some cool people working there, it took me weeks to figure out that what I thought was one guy, turned out to be a pair of twins. Picture a Sri Lankan version of Prince. They were so friendly, interesting and funny. They had some great stories and had a lot of local knowledge. He told me a story about a famous Sri Lankan cricketer from near Hikkaduwa who still plays today and how he abandoned his close friends, family and his girlfriend at the time and then ran away with an Indian girl and married her.
The only problem with all beachside towns around the world is that you only ever hear two or three different music artists. Bob Marley and Jack Johnson get so thrashed that it really eats away at you. My annoyance with reggae music continued as I got so sick of it that the type of music really dictated which bar you went to. For example you would prefer to have a drink at sunset at your favourite bar on the beach to the same Reggae songs you hear over and over, so instead you decide to go to a not-so-nice place that has a range of different types of good music.
I stayed at a place called Hansa Surf Guesthouse. Not for its luxury, but its character, its location and its people. The restaurant at the back literally was a patio that backed onto the beach. A room at Hansa Surf ranged from 600 Rupees to 1100. At the time of travel, the exchange rate was 1 GBP to 175 Sri Lankan Rupees so you are looking at 3 to 6 GBP per night and they are so trusting that you just pay them whenever suits you, the same goes for your food bill. Each room had a private bathroom, some of the cheaper rooms smelled really bad or didn’t have water but the nicer rooms were on the second level and were generally pretty good. From there you had great views of the ocean from the veranda. For that price what would you expect anyway?
Hansa Surf also had a table tennis table which made for an easy social transition when settling in. We organized some awesome table Tennis tournaments where anyone was invited to enter. There were some epic battles and talented locals and gringos alike.
The two balconies and the restaurant patio made for some great views of the sea, the sunsets and the surfers. It literally felt like paradise and you make friends for life in Hikkaduwa, fact. It was so good that I deliberately missed my flight back to India.
The good thing about this place is the food and there are a lot of options when it comes to dining out. The restaurant at Hansa Surf made a range of western and local dishes. They made cheap cheeseburgers for around 2 GBP served with fries and salad. They also serve nourishing juices, hearty BBQ’d meats, and traditional English breakfasts served with a pot of local tea. But its signature dish consisted of three different dishes – a fish or chicken curry, a potato curry, and a kind of dhal or soup served with rice and a popadom all up for around 3 GBP at the time of travel. Other bars and restaurants served good pizzas, burgers, local food and Chinese. There are some good local beers, served cold. Lion springs to mind.
Points to highlight
Be extremely careful of the motorists in Sri Lanka who drive like absolute maniacs. Trying to overtake other buses on blind corners is not uncommon and it’s a very competitive sport. I could not sleep during one overnight bus journey because I was so freaked out about the bus flipping and rolling down the hill or suffering a head on collision with another bus whilst trying to overtake a third. It was that bad. One night, coming out of a club at 5am with a friend, we witnessed an accident where a tractor smashed into a rickshaw and completely obliterated it and a fight ensued.
I would highly recommend staying at Hansa Surf. Why? The warmth of the staff, the location, the table tennis, the social atmosphere, the vibe, the proximity to the water, the sunsets and the food. The staff are the loveliest people you would ever meet and had a great sense of humor.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your tour: N/A
Would you recommend your hotel: Yes – Hansa Surf Guesthouse, Hikkaduwa
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5