Luxury Stays: Pullman Kuala Lumpur City Centre

Aren’t five star hotels the best? The squishy pillows, the cozy duvets. Room service, rain water shower heads, bath tubs. Turn down service, concierges, valet parking. Pool terraces, rooftop bars, fine dining restaurants.

I found all this and more at my recent stay at the Pullman Kuala Lumpur City Centre.

Located conveniently between Bukit Bintang and KLCC, the Pullman KL City Centre is impressive from your first step into the lobby. Check in was swift and efficient, something I appreciated after flying through the night from Colombo to be here. I was introduced to my Executive floor manager, who escorted me and my over stuffed backpack to my room. And when I stepped through the door, I realised why the location was unsurpassed.

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Yes friends, this was the view from my bedroom window. I could say good morning and good night to those two beautiful towers without leaving my bed. I have never stayed in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur with such a clear view.

Now, obviously I couldn’t give you a good understanding of what it’s like to stay in this hotel without exploring a little. As itching as I was to get out to the streets and get some noodles, I went instead to the pool terrance to eat at the restaurant there. The only disappointment in this menu, was the lack of local choices. I saw satay, but other than that it was a wide choice of Western food. Which is fine, if you’ve been in town for a while and you’re sick of noodles… but who could ever be sick of noodles?

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The few days I spent in KL meant that I had plenty to revisit in the city, as well as some new sights to check out. But the Pullman gave me a truly wonderful welcome back at the end of each days explorations, and a super comfy bed to rest my weary head at night. The location meant I was close to major transport links, including the new free bus system. Only a hop and a skip away from Chinatown meant that I was never far away from a bowl of noodles, and being located so close to Bukit Bintang I could get myself an overpriced cocktail every evening if I wanted.

I highly recommend this one. In fact, I’ll definitely be heading back. Pullman, you have my heart.

This post was sponsored by Pullman Hotels.

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International Women’s Day: A Celebration?

I am fucking depressed.

And I think rightly so. Next week is March 8th. You know what March 8th is? International Women’s Day. Yes, the day the entire world stops and declares that women are entitled to equal rights. Which of course, we are.

But all I can see around me is fucking hypocrisy.

It’s March. This year is only two months old, and already seven women in Australia have been killed in horrendous acts of violence. In 2016, the death tolls ran to 71 women. Destroy The Joint estimate that around 80% of these deaths were a direct result of spousal abuse.  We live in a world where actual rapists are walking free. A world where women are being raped and killed by men who have previously spent time in prison for sexual and physical violence against women. A world where my choices to travel to countries that some men are intimidated by are judged as poor choices. A world where I am told I am “unrapeable” on the daily. A world where a woman who survives strangulation by her partner is 8 times more likely to die by his hand than another attacker. A world where the President of the USA doesn’t even try to cover up his previous assaults of women. Where Australian political commentors are allowed to publish pieces of crap like this and this. A world where ex-leaders of major political parties excuse domestic violence as a “coping mechanism“. A world where we are still missing 219 school girls in Nigeria. A world where funding cuts to women’s refuge has the Australian Prime Minister claiming that he started the conversation about violence against women. A world where I can’t even sit in a pop-up bar in my city without some dickhead telling my lesbian friend he would like her to blow him just to check she really is a lesbian. A world where women are still protesting their right to choose what happens to their own bodies. A world where we are still fighting to be recognised for equal work by equal pay. A world where I have to see these piece of shit camper vans all over my city. A world in which I can’t state my choice not to procreate without judgement – and a vast majority of it from other women. A world where I’m writing posts like this and this and this.

I am tired. I am so tired of fighting, of cajoling, of pointing out subtle misogyny. Of dating guys who don’t realise how sexist they are. How homophobic they are. Of reprimanding the uneducated and the misinformed on Twitter. Of waking up anxious about what I’m going to find in my Facebook messages or Twitter feed from overnight. I am t i r e d.

Just once, I want someone to stand up for me.

For my rights.

Be my voice.

Slay my dragons.

Just. One. Fucking. Time.

Top 10 FREE Things To Do In Western Australia

My home state has some of the best undiscovered and undeveloped land in the country. I’m a little biased, sure – but I think you can all appreciate the following FREE things to check out over here in the West.

BIBBULMAN TRACK: The Bibb (as it’s known) is one of the world’s great long distance walks, stretching over 1000kms from the suburbs of Kalamunda in Perth’s hills all the way to historic Albany in the great south of the state. The track takes you through towering karri and tingle forest, over giant granite boulders and across breathtaking coastal scenes. There are a wide range of experiences on offer, from an eight week epic adventure staying in 49 campsites along the way, to day walks staying in comfort in quaint country towns. The track passes through beautiful spots, like Dwellingup, coal mining Collie, Walpole and Denmark. The campsites are well appointed, with sleeping shelters, pit toilets and rainwater tanks. The track is well marked with yellow triangular markers symbolising the rainbow serpent of the Aboriginal Dreamtime.

humpback-whale-breachingWHALE WATCHING: To get this for free, you’ll need to do it from land. You can go on the charter services out on the water, but these are expensive – although the view is much better! The fact remains that good ol’ WA has the world’s longest whale watching season, and lands in the path of the annual migration of humpback, southern right and the rare blue whales. The season begins in May and ends in December, and the whales will travel up the coast of WA hugging the continental shelf. In some areas, whales play close to the shore, and you can clearly see them from set vantage points. The best time to view is at midday, when the sun is directly overhead. Best places to spot whales are Flinders Bay, Augusta, and King George Sound (Albany), where they ironically get spotted just meters from the old whaling station. In the north of the state, best spots are Exmouth and Kalbarri. During September and December, humpbacks take a rest in the coastal waters off the capital – Perth.

DIAMOND TREE LOOKOUT: Not for the faint hearted, the gruelling 51 meter climb to the top of the world’s only wooden tree top tower rewards you with panoramic views of the beautiful Karri forests of the state’s south near Manjimup. Explore the forest and the surrounding area, perhaps have a picnic at one of the many spots dotted through the area. There are plenty of easy walk trails in the area, and if you manage to time your visit for the wildflower display (September – November), you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic display of colour.

Cottesloe Beach sunsets, Perth

Cottesloe Beach sunsets, Perth

HIT THE BEACH: I’ve said it before, but WA really has the most beautiful beaches in the country – maybe even the world. Suburban beaches are vast expanses of white sand, protrolled and protected by the Surf Lifesavers in their yellow and red outfits. Lucky Bay is officially Australia’s whitest beach, the sand is so clean it squeaks when you walk on it. World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef  lies at the shoreline of the Coral Coast, surrounded by qwhite beaches. My favourite – Turquoise Bay. Suburban Perth surfer seekers should head to Scarborough Beach and Trigg, in the northern suburbs of the city. The gnarliest waves in the south can be found at Surfers Point, near Margaret River. If you’re chasing wind, head north of the city by about an hour and a half to Lancelin, where you will find Windsurfers Beach. Remember though – the Aussie sun is HOT, so slip, slop, slap.

WANDER THE WILDFLOWERS: Certain parts of the state are renowned all over the world for the display of wildflowers, and come spring the roads are chock full of people escaping the city to go see them. From Perth, get in the car and head north for a picnic with the white, pink and yellow everlastings. Seek the Wreath Flower  on the Coral Coast, or go hunting for orchids in the south west. If time is not on your side though, you can take a wander through Perth’s King’s Park Botanic Gardens, and see the entire state on display in one place.

Margaret River wineries, Western Australia

Margaret River wineries, Western Australia

WINE TASTING: WA wine is renowned all over the world for its distinctive notes, and premium quality. There are nine sensational regions to discover, including internationally acclaimed Margaret River and the Great Southern. Venture off the well known trails and you’ll discover there are many more bottled treasures to taste. The majority of the regions can be found in the state’s south west – with it’s Mediterranean climate and rich fertile soils it has the perfect environment for growing premium grape vines. Margaret River produces outstanding chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and semillon white varieties, and wonderfully full bodied cabernet sauvignon reds. Located approximately three hours south of Perth, it’s a pretty wonderful weekend getaway. The cooler climate Great Southern region produces light rieslings and rich cabernets. The oldest wine region in WA is located just a short 45 min drive from the city of Perth, in the pretty Swan Valley. On the banks of the Swan River, you can indulge all your senses, with family run fresh produce and cheesemakers sitting between various vineyards and cellar doors. The Swan Valley is also home to award winning restaurants, boutique breweries and chocolate makers. If wine is your thing (and it’s definitely mine!) I suggest you check out the Wines of Western Australia.

Kangaroo_1786273cWILDLIFE SPOTTING: Our cousins from England get inexplicable joy in the sighting of kangaroo. I’ll never understand it. They’re literally everywhere, except in densely built up areas. Best spots for wildlife spotting are Whiteman Park, Apex Park, Avon Valley and Prevally Park in the south. Alternatively, Perth Zoo has a wonderful Australian animal set up, complete with koala, echidna, wombat and of course – the kangaroo.

LOCAL GALLERIES: WA’s art scene is far from emerging – it’s emerged. So much so that there is actually a coastal art trail, if you’re keen you can wind your way down south toward Margaret River, and stop in at Busselton, Bunbury, Dunsborough and Yallingup. Between the breweries and wineries there are some truly spectacular local artists showcasing their work in small local galleries. Keep your eyes out for the signs.

To those who pity me for travelling alone

Dear every person in the world,

Please stop looking at me with those pitying glances in restaurants when you see me eating by myself. Please stop giving me furtive worried looks from behind your menu. If you’re a man, no I do not need or want your company for the evening. Seriously, you don’t even know me – please don’t judge. Instead, reflect on how much more awesome my life is compared to yours.

I choose to travel solo. I choose to live my life as a free woman, in a world where women are too frequently questioned for exploring and wanting to learn. I know, it’s very strange of me. Maybe I’ll buy five cats and be the crazy cat lady.

I am not lonely; I am alone. By choice. And I love it.

This morning, I woke up and stayed in bed for an hour. Then I made myself a cup of tea, the way I like it – and didn’t risk it being the worst tea ever, because I MADE IT. No one makes my tea the way I like it.

Last month I spent two weeks in Sri Lanka, alone but not lonely. In years gone by I have travelled through more than 50 different countries; sometimes with a friend but mostly alone. I havemade spur of the moment travel choices, because I don’t have to check in with another person. My money is MY money, and I can and will spend it on what I choose. I don’t have to wait for someone to ok my choices, I just make them and go. I have never lacked for an experience, never missed an opportunity, never felt as though I was missing out on something simply because I had to wait for someone else to give the final clearance on a decision that should have been mine solely to make in the first place.

So please, spare me your pity. I neither need nor want it. Keep it. You’ll most likely need it before I do.

Love,

A totally fulfilled 30-something woman.

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8 things I wish I had known before I went to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful, exotic island full of ancient culture, breathtaking scenery, wildlife, and smiling faces. For a country with such a recently violent history, the island is actually home to some of the friendliest people out there. Located in the Indian Ocean, just off the southern coast of India, Sri Lanka is neither quite like India nor Asia, leaving it in somewhat of a curious middle ground as far as geography, features, culture, landscape, and customs. You might already assume that some places here don’t serve beef (12 percent of the island’s population is Hindu), but here are some not so obvious things I wish I had known before I arrived in Colombo.

  1. DON’T SKIP COLOMBO:

It would be easy to take advantage of all the information out there that tells you to skip over Colombo, but there is actually a lot to this multi-layered city. Like all capital cities, Colombo is a bustling town with a lot of traffic; on the surface it seems to be all there is to it. But if you slow down, open your eyes and look beyond the cars and tuk-tuks, you’ll see something beautiful. A city of contrast, Colombo is a product of Sri Lanka’s colonial history. Around Pettah and Galle Face Green the architecture is a nod to the colonial past with Buddist and Hindu temples rubbing shoulders with Christian churches. For some peace among the frenetic pace, head to Galle Face Green and play some cricket with locals; or to Beira Lake and take in the tranquility.

2. ALWAYS BE RESPECTFUL OF THE POLITICAL PAST

The civil war may be over, but it only ended a few years ago. While things are safe now, you should definitely be aware of the past and show respect when talking to locals. While it’s totally cool to ask locals generic questions about their lives and families, I probably wouldn’t bring up or get involved in any type of political conversation. It’s still a delicate subject and, unless you’re a scholar on Sri Lankan politics and policy, it’s best to stick to the simple stuff. More than 70,000 people lost their lives in the civil war, so chances are pretty high that the locals you’ll meet either lost family or know someone who did.

3. IT IS SAFE TO TRAVEL HERE

There is a huge misconception out there about how safe Sri Lanka is, and I get it. Call it civil war or terrorism (your word choice will depend on which side of local politics you sit on), it raged for 26 years, and killed more than 70,000 people. Since the war’s end, the Sri Lankan people have been rebuilding their country and tourism has boomed. The aim is to make tourism their biggest industry by 2020, and with more and more people visiting this little gem it won’t stay like this forever.

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4. TOURISM IS STILL DEVELOPING

Tourism is booming. Sri Lanka has more visitors each year, and the numbers keep growing. While this is actually a great thing, you can get around the country without seeing another tourist for a few days; it also means that outside of the major tourist hubs of Colombo, Kandy and the more popular southern beaches places might not exactly be tourism ready. Don’t expect to order your lunch and have it arrive in the next 20 minutes. Or even be the correct food for that matter. Communication can be difficult, especially if English is not your language. English is fairly widely spoken, but in more rural areas tuk-tuk drivers and back street vendors may not understand what you need. Transport can be difficult away from hotels, and where there might be a hotel does not necessarily guarantee plenty of activities. It’s not super convenient to pick up things you might have forgotten at home, like power converters or even shampoo once you’re outside of Colombo. If you’re a five-star luxury lover, you’ll be disappointed in a lot of hotels on offer, don’t expect the same standard as you would get at home. At the moment, Sri Lanka demands patience. But don’t wait. Go now, while she is still finding her feet. You’ll be richly rewarded.

 

5. IT’S NOT BACKPACKER CHEAP

Sri Lanka isn’t like Thailand or Vietnam, those two have been well established on the backpacker trail for years now and the sheer volume of tourists banging down the door makes for cheap options for backpackers. Add to that the fact that a lot of the island’s goods are imported, taxes hike up the cost of drinks and some foods. That said, you can always find a cheap place to eat if you’re happy to eat curry for three meals a day. ATMs can be hard to find outside major towns like Kandy and Colombo, so make sure you always have plenty of cash on you – hidden of course!

6. YOU HAVE AMAZING WILDLIFE SPOTTING CHANCES

I know, you might not have immediately thought of safari when you think of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s varied landscapes make it a perfect spot to spot some of the world’s biggest and most fascinating animals we usually only connect to Africa. In fact, Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park in the south has the highest concentration of leopards in Asia, while Minneriya National Park, located near Dambulla, is where a yearly elephant gathering takes place. Elephant are literally everywhere; I fell asleep on our bus and woke up stuck in traffic with an elephant staring through the window at me. On the southern coast, Mirissa shows off an annual production of blue whales meandering through. Hiking through Horton Plains you have the potential to spot several species of monkey and colourful birds hanging out of the trees.

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7. THE LANDSCAPES ARE MASSIVELY INSTAGRAMMABLE

I don’t know if you caught it, but if you checked out my Instagram anytime while I was in Sri Lanka you’ll know that the country if beyond stunning. The rolling greens hills of tea plantations, Horton Plains and the end of the world, the sandy stretches of the beaches in the south – I can’t pick one highlight.

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8. YOU’LL NEVER BE MADE TO FEEL MORE WELCOME

My tour guide told me, “You come to Sri Lanka for the first time as a stranger, but you leave as family. And now you always have somewhere to call home.” This is just about the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me while I have been travelling, and the best part was that he truly meant it. I’ve been back at home in Australia now for just about a month, but I’ve already had a few emails from him and the other friends I made while I was away. I thought Africa was a friendly continent, but Sri Lanka takes that cake.

Lavish testaments to love

History tells wonderful love stories. Even through war, behind all the politics and the fighting, there are some truly remarkable stories. Josephine and Napoleon; Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler; Cleopatra and Antony; Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, the world is fascinated by these stories, some of which are so idolized that we actually think them to be fiction.

These stories are survived by some of the world’s most lavish monuments, some more famous than others, and people have been flocking to them for an age. Everyone knows the Taj Mahal, but what of the others? What are the most romantic buildings and monuments in the world? What are the original Valentine’s?

Chester Thorne was a 20th century millionaire, a founder of the Port of Tacoma, and a man known to indulge his wife’s every wish and desire. Architect Kirtland Kelsey Cutter was commissioned to indulge the new Mrs Thorne’s desire for a palace of her own. The result is the 54 room Tudor-Gothic mansion, known as Thornewood Castle, Lakewood, Washington. You can now indulge your own desire for a palace of your own, for a starting price of US $275 per night, plus tax.

In Versailles, Louis XV commissioned Ange-Jacques Gabriel to design a “small” chateau for his ladylove, Madame de Pompadour. Since Madame passed away four years prior to the completion of the building, Petit Trianon was re-gifted to the King’s new squeeze, Madame Du Barry. The building itself is a beautifully designed, elegant, neoclassical manse, that actually received most of it’s notoriety when the lovely King Louis XV regifted it again, this time to the more famous of his loves, Marie Antoinette. She used the manse as an escape from life at court, opening it only to her inner circle, which mostly consisted of her lovers, or so it is said. Visit Petit Trianon as part of a tour to Versailles, there are many that leave from Paris – usually bookable through your hotel concierge.

Love runs rampant in Japan as well. It isn’t limited to English millionaires and French kings. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a 16th century warlord, who made his name reforming class structures, abolishing slavery in Japan, consolidating the political clans of Japan and of course, waging war on neighboring countries, had multiple wives. While out and about pillaging and tormenting others, he would write to his favorite wife, Nene, the daughter of a samurai. The two were so in love, that upon Hideyoshi’s death, it was Nene that had the Kodai-ji Temple in Kyoto built. She honored his love of tea ceremony by installing two teahouses, both of which are still functioning today.

Image via

Image via

In an unmistakably medieval tale, noble-born Scot, Devorgilla of Galloway’s response to her husband’s death was to embalm his heart and have it placed in an ivory casket, to be carried with her at all times. In memory of her late husband, Devorgilla performed many charitable acts, the most noted of which was the founding of the Cistercian monastery – Dulce Cor – in 1273. The complex was originally spread over more than 20 acres, and included a large English-style church, complete with bell tower. When the widowed Devorgilla died in 1289, she was buried in the church’s high alter, with her late husband’s enshrined heart. Abbey grounds are open year round, and you can visit the widower, or at least, a stone effigy of her clutching her beloved’s heart.

What better way to capture the spirit of love than with a kiss? That’s exactly what they have done in the Miraflores district of Lima, with a larger than life sculpture titled “El Beso” or “The Kiss”. It is framed by spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, behind wavy mosaic-tiled walls, this monument to love, which depicts sculptor Victor Delfin and his wife in a lusty embrace, was unveiled during the park’s opening on Valentine’s Day in 1993. According to local tradition, the mayor of the district holds a kissing contest here each year. Couples who hold the pose of the sculpture the longest are proclaimed the winners.

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Image via

Royal romance and loss were the inspiration for the Eleanor Crosses. The glorious gothic crosses were erected by a disconsolate King Edward I following the death of his beloved wife, Queen Eleanor of Castile, in Lincolnshire in 1290. One cross was built to mark the nightly resting places along the route taken by the procession, which carried the Queen to her final resting place at Westminster Abbey. Of the original 12 crosses only three — Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire and Geddington and Hardingstone Crosses, both Northamptonshire — remain today. Outside Charing Cross Station in London is a 19th-century reconstruction.

Finally, possibly the greatest, and definitely the most famous tribute to an undying love, the Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan upon the death of his third wife during the birth of his 14th child. It took thousands of craftsmen from all over India 22 years to build the while marble mausoleum and the surrounding gardens. The structure features touches of Islam, Persian and Hindu cultures. While there are beautifully decorated tombs dedicated to both Shah Jahan and his late wife Mumtaz Mahal, they are actually buried in a plain crypt, beneath the inner chamber, together with their faces turned toward Mecca, in accordance with the Muslim traditions. Though the Shah clearly preferred Mumtaz to his other wives, he did acknowledge them (and Mumtaz’s favorite servant) with several smaller tombs, which sit past the vast garden complex.

What great monuments to love have you visited, and have you been inspired to build your own? Tell me your love stories in the comments below. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sri Lanka, ethical tourism and the elephant issue

Those of you who follow my Instagram and Facebook feeds will be well aware that I have been on the road recently, eating and hiking my way through the lush green of Sri Lanka. What I expected and what I found there were two vastly different things.

Sri Lanka is a tiny drop of an island, lying just off the southern tip of India. The landscape is dominated by mountains and tea plantations, the people are warm and inviting and the food is surprisingly devoid of overpowering chilli. Lanka is a bio hotspot, with an astonishing number of endemic plant and animal species which are under threat as habitats are flattened to make way for urban sprawl and farmland.

Watching locals and tourists alike in wilderness areas, it was easy for me to sit back and pass judgement on the mistakes made and places that could use some improvement in their responsible travel aims. Travel is very much headed in a more ethical and responsible direction, and if Sri Lanka truly wants to make tourism their primary industry by 2020 then they have a ways to go in this department.

From my many trips to Africa, you’ve probably guessed that I like my wildlife to be exactly that – wild. Elephants have occupied a special place in Sri Lankan culture for centuries. In ancient times they were considered Crown property and to kill an elephant was a terrible offence. Elephant iconography is evident in most major temples and ruins, and legend has it that it was elephants that stamped down the foundations of the oldest temples in Sri Lanka; the ruins can be found at Anuradhapura. Today elephant are still held in high regard, even those in captivity; the male tusker that carries the scared tooth relic in Kandy’s Esala Perahera festival is probably the most revered of all.

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Despite being the symbol of Sri Lanka, elephant numbers are dwindling. During the Colonial years, British big-game hunting was ridiculously popular, and the extent of the hunting delivered a huge blow to numbers across the country. Today experts seems to agree that there are approximately 3000-4000 wild elephant, about half of which live in protected national parks. But what of the domesticated numbers?

My research puts the numbers of domesticated or captive elephants at around 300-500. For me, that’s 300-500 too many. We know what happens to captive animals. They don’t usually live as long, especially when forced to carry large loads of visiting white tourists. Fun fact, elephant actually struggle to hold up their own weight. In the wild, you can often see them resting one foot up while balancing on the other three – this isn’t something they do for fun. It’s the elephant equivalent to girls taking off their high heels after a night out on the town. They do it to ease the pain.

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In addition to the dwindling numbers, elephants in Sri Lanka face a similar issues as their brothers in Africa. Farming and elephants don’t mix. Farmers who have set up in elephant country face huge issues with elephant eating or trampling crops, destroying buildings, and even taking farmers’ lives. During the cultivation season, you’ll see farmers keeping round-the-clock watch by rotation on their lands, sitting in tiny tree houses with fire crackers and shooting them at marauding elephant in the middle of the night. For the nation’s poor, losing their yearly crop to elephants is a situation that simply cannot afford.

But how can the issues be solved? 

Don’t ride them to start. Refuse to patronise places where elephants are kept in chains, or poked with mean looking sticks. Trust me, if it looks like it hurts; then it definitely does. No matter what the guy with the stick says. When visiting them in protected national parks, go with an accredited guide, and make sure he doesn’t drive too close to them since this will just cause stress on the animal. Use your visit to the national park to learn about local conservation projects in the area, and give generously. Reward ethical animal treatment by locals when you see it, and speak up against mistreatment when you see that. If joining a group tour, ensure you research your options prior to booking to ensure you travel with a reputable company with a strong responsible tourism background.

Sri Lanka is still a developing tourism industry, and it is up to us as travellers to demand ethical and responsible treatment of animals now, while the country is still growing.