Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Sri Lanka Travel Pt 2: My Shinagawa Beach Experience.

Shinagawa Beach is one of the best available resorts in Balapitiya, a small town in the south west coast of Sri Lanka. This is the resort I stayed in for seven nights. Even though it is only 127 km from Bandaranaike International Airport, it took more than 3 hours  to get there by taxi . Sri Lanka is still not well connected by highways and a portion of our journey was  still on trunk roads that were congested with heavy traffic at many stretches. Taxi fares are not inexpensive either. After scouting around all the budget taxi companies at the airport and doing lots of bargaining, we still have to come up with 6500Rs + 650Rs (highway toll charges) which totals to about RM214.50 for the transfer.
Shinagawa Beach is thus named as the owner, Shigenori Shinagawa is a Japanese. There are only 26 rooms (24 deluxe and 2 suites) and all are designed to face the beach and the Indian Ocean. It is a 4 star semi-luxury resort located on the secluded beach of Balapitiya.
Shinagawa Beach is located about 100 metres off the trunk road (Galle Road) in the midst of modest village houses. It is however exclusive to its patrons and the gate to the resort is kept locked all the time.
It was hardly a grand entrance. The front yard could have been better landscaped to give guests a warmer welcome. Instead what we saw was just a gravel-filled unstylish space and a see-through entrance door.

The Reception
The front block houses the reception building. The setting is kept simple and the style, contemporary but one that incorporates traditional items from the local fishing culture.
The reception counter for instance is an old oruwa made of solid dumba wood. The oruwa is a traditional fishing sailing vessel used by the Singhalese fisherman from this part of Sri Lanka.
The wall decor at the lobby lounge are pieces and parts of a wooden boat. The plants in the centre are sprouts of  beach nuts found in the vicinity and the ceiling lights is a creative piece which is practical yet trendy.
Another smaller oruwa is turned into a bench. The lobby lacks coziness  but it certainly portrays creativity and uniqueness.
Some other decors seen at the hallways.

The Room
We asked for a room on the 3rd floor but the resort was full house when we arrived. We were given Room 120 on the first floor. The door and lightings in the room are all electronically operated.
There are two elevators serving the 26 rooms.
Our deluxe room measuring 48 sq metres is pretty spacious. Air-conditioned, a comfortable bed with ample pillows, good facilities and a great view of the Indian Ocean. It can be considered a choice resort.
Some of the features I like about the room include the broad sink, the see-through bathroom wall that can be covered using a blind, and the balcony where we could sit for a cup of coffee and enjoy the great views. I also like the twice a day housekeeping service and the free Wifi available in the room.
However the semi-partitioned shower cubicle is a feature that is not too nice as the washroom gets really wet when you shower.
Bath amenities are basic and are replenished everyday. Moisturizer, shampoo and bath gel come in big bottles.
Complimentary mineral water, coffee and different types of tea are replenished daily. This coffee making area is on one of the shelves in a sliding cabinet. If you are busy doing something here, the other two columns of shelves have to be closed and are out of bound. I find this setting rather troublesome. 
Pay items include an assortment of whisky and wine and all items in the mini-bar.
Our room commands a fantastic view of the the hotel lawn, the beach and the Indian Ocean beyond.
There is an island rock in the midst of the ocean nearby. These men have swum there probably to enjoy some moments of solitude.
The housekeeper comes in twice: before lunch time and around dinner time to clean the room. 

The Facilities
There is a semi covered swimming pool on the ground floor of the resort.
The water is a little chilly as most part of the pool is covered.
There is a mini gym with only 3 machines on the first floor.
There is a relaxation lounge with a long table and high stools on the first floor. This is a great hangout to enjoy sea breeze, good sea view and stronger Wifi. This lounge is just beside my room.
The resort offers a range of massage, pedicure and manicure services for interested patrons. 

Dining Option 
The one and only restaurant called 'Salt' is located on the ground floor adjacent to the pool. It serves a selection of Sri Lankan, Western and Japanese Cuisine. In-room dining service is also provided. All meals are subject to 4 types of taxes and service charges (SC-10%, VAT-12.45%, NBT-2.27% and TDL-1%) which totals 25.72% of the food price quoted in the menu. In other words it is quite costly to dine in the resort.
 Inside Salt Restaurant
Here is a glimpse of items on the menu. The price quoted is not inclusive of the 25.72% taxes I mentioned earlier. Buffet breakfast priced at 2500Rs ++++ (totalling about RM94 pp) is even more costly than the ones offered by 5 star luxury resorts in Malaysia. Buffet dinner is only available on Saturday evenings. Every other day, dining is a la carte.
We had a few meals here. I am quite impressed with the food presentation but taste wise it was mostly average for us. Guess we have been pampered by the great tasting, vast variety, and cheaper food back home.
Traditional Sri Lankan Rice meal with assorted accompaniment.
Tandoori Chicken Kebab
Curry Flavored Ceylon Mixed Seafood
Al fresco dining is available.
A request to dine at the beach boat table needs advanced booking.
Crimson Bar which is just opposite Salt sells a selection of alcoholic drinks.
Outside Crimson Bar

The Lawn
Sandwiched between the resort and the beach is the beautiful resort private lawn. There are 22 sun beds with umbrellas, 2 sets of wooden tables and cone shaped chairs, beach shrubs  and of course the romantic sway of coconut trees.
Many (the Whites) could never get enough of the sun and basked till their skin turned brown.
The coned shaped chairs and tables

The Beach
The resort offers a long stretch of pristine beach with fine golden sand that sinks easily when you walk on it. This stretch of Balapitiya Beach is a public beach.  Other than the villagers, there are few other users so there's much privacy and never a moment of overcrowding.
Good for swimming and surfing but the water is not crystal clear so this is not a good place for snorkelling.
Catamarans parked by the beach
A fisherman's oruwa parked by the beach
A stream near the resort that flows into the ocean.
Sunset In Indian Ocean

Come evening, a group of youth would gather to play beach volleyball near the resort.
A new game was created. It is called virtual volleyball.
Sri Lankans are generally friendly. A stranger can become an instant friend.
Some moments to remember.
The lifeguard tower beside the resort is a charming little building.

The Resort After Sunset

Public Transport And Day Tours
The resort offers airport transfers and day tours but the charges are rather exhorbitant. I did not prebook any tours prior to my coming here as I believed I could get a better deal by dealing with the locals directly. The rates of tour agents available through the net were unbelievably high too.
A few villagers are tuk-tuk owners and they can bring you around at bargained prices.
The tuk-tuks are frequently parked by the lifeguard tower. Asela is a tuk-tuk driver who stays 1 door away from the resort. His uncle, Mial who stays nearby is also a tuk-tuk owner. If not available, a short 100 metres walk to the trunk road (Galle Road) will enable you to hail any other passing tuk-tuk. 
There's Piyal the fisherman, who stays a few doors away from the resort who helped me get a car and driver at a very cheap rate (bargaining is still required here). For distances that exceed 30km it is advisable to utilise air-conditioned cars. I also booked a whole safari tour boat from his friend for only 3000Rs for the Madu Ganga Safari Tour. 
(Shinagawa Beach provides free accommodation for outstation drivers but there are only four beds in the drivers' quarter).

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