2 days in Arugambay don’t quite do it justice. If you’re a real wave-chasing nose-peeling, board-waxing surfer, you’re better off heading there for a couple of weeks, or the whole summer season. Call it the endless summer, Lankan style.
We recently did an extended weekend down in Pottuvil, mostly to see what was new (bars and cafes), what was old (a couple of ancient temples and ruins), and what classics persevered (what up Siam View & Hideaway).
Breakfast Bagels at Bit Bake Bar
The fit new kid on the block, the BBB serves up home-grown coffee along with fresh and healthy active food like blueberry bagels, avocado smash, or good old chocolate cake (gluten free, obv. do you even celiac bro).
Sunday Morning at Hideaway Villa‘s Market
Echoing Colombo & Galle’s Good Market, Hideaway’s Sunday Market works off a lot of the same ethos – sustainability, social enterprise, and local sourcing. We stumbled across heaps of interesting ventures like Rice & Carry, Sari Connection, and Booteek, and much more. All three of these showcase funky, inventive designs, created by socially and financially disadvantaged communities. It’s such a genuinely great initiative.
Yoga & Dope Juice at Bay Vista Hotel
Pretty much every weekday morning, the Bay Vista Hotel offers up a lovely rooftop 2 hour yoga session. It’s a good way to stretch out those morning yawns and kick start the day channeling your core. The Bay Vista also serves up a strong variety of healthy fresh juices, and vegan snacks. We paired the view with plenty of iced thambilis. Bliss.
Windswept Meditation at Muhudu Maha Viharaya
Barely 5 minutes (and around Rs. 200 by tuk if you’ve got haggling skills) away from the main Pottuvil beach strip, this ancient Buddhist site is currently a temple and place of interest. Its location perched on a hillock overlooking the shore is stunning, and oddly spiritual. There are a few Buddha and Bodhisatva statues that are around 2000 odd years old, still in amazing condition.
Tunes & Cocktails at Hide & Chill Bar
Photo credit Hideaway Villas
Sunset spells happy hour at this magical al fresco lounge. From 6-8 PM, it’s two for one on a bunch of quirkily inventive (and often locally-infused) cocktails. There’s some sort of arrack and cinnamon concoction that we enjoyed. Add a bit of libation to the great live tunes, young and chatty eclectic crowd, and an enthusiastic and friendly set of staff, and your evening is set for you.
Noms at Dosa Hut
No, i wouldn’t ordinarily envision myself going to A’bay to have South Indian food either, but Dosa Hut is quiet, clean, cheap, and mad tasty. We tore apart a Cheese Dosa (just around Rs. 300), which came heaped with delicious chutney, chick pea curry, and grins from the waiters.
Self explanatory. Delicious potent mojitos, lovely fresh batter fried prawns with wasabi mayo, with a stunning beachfront view and good tunes. A solid sunset experience.
Slick beats at Siam View
One of the bay’s oldest spots, Siam View has been serving up Thai fare for a few decades now. They also played host to Larry T Hill for a night, voice loop artist extraordinaire and star of The Tuk Tuk Song. Request his Coconut Yogurt (I think) for an aural adventure.
With the upper body strength of boiled spaghetti, I don’t hold much stock in my surfing skills. But we were still keen as ever to get some lessons under our belt. Sadly, life and a tummy bug vanquished all these hopes. We’ve heard really good things about the Safa Surf School though. Let us know which schools you recommend, and we’ll check them out on our next trip.
Dining at Hideaway
We loved Hideaway’s magical sunset drinks vibe, as well as their community-supporting Sunday market, and were seriously looking forward to a Hideaway meal and updating our last stellar review. We attempted a meal here twice, to no avail. The first time we rocked up for dinner at 9 PM and were curtly told the restaurant was closed, and the second time we came for lunch at 12:15 and met cold indifference.
My friend (visiting SL for the first time) was pretty ill (refer above tummy bug), and desperately just wanted some mild scrambled eggs. The head waiter flat out informed us that yes they had eggs and did them scrambled upto 12 noon but it was 12:15 so we could order from the lunch menu or leave. He was inflexible, rude, and unapologetic, so we got up, left and went to Munchies, who were more than happy to accommodate us. Incredibly dissapointing, and frankly confusing, given how brilliant the quality and service of Hideaway was otherwise.
Wild Thornberry Adventure
On previous visits to A’bay we’ve been sure to swing by Kumana National Park, or at the very least Lahugala to explore the famous Elephant Corridor. We’d strongly recommend either (or both!) if you want to really immerse yourself in one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful features – its indigenous wild life.
Photo credits TripAdvisor
An interesting point of confusion, but according to Trip Advisor, Arugam Bay’s best restaurant is…Tandoori Hut. We thought this might be a mistake (why would a North Indian resto take hold or do authentic fare in Sri Lanka’s quiet East Coast surf town?), but we poked around and found out that this restaurant is actually amazing. Who knew!
Not so casual racism at the hotel motel (not Holiday Inn)
We bedded down at the New Tri Star Hotel, which has one of the best locations in the area. It’s right in the middle of the Pottuvil strip, and the hotel is directly on the beach. It’s got a nice little hammocked lawn front, rooms have direct beach access, and all have basic A/C and clean sheets. Problem? The owner, a local man, was super dismissive of me as a (presumably) local woman. He spoke only to my foreign friend, and pretty much refused to acknowledge my existence, despite the fact that I had made the booking, and was making the payment. To be fair, he was very friendly to her, was super eager to help, and told his staff to take her bag to the room etc (they left mine behind, as clearly brown skin = no service).
Arugam Bay isn’t the safe haven it once was. When it was a little less developed (barely 3-4 years ago), it was very safe, and as long as you were respectful of the local Muslim population (don’t walk down the road in just your swimmers, don’t carry open bottles of beer etc), it was fine. Now it’s a proper tourist beach town, and tourists and bikinis are commonplace. However, there’s also a burgeoning population of “”beach boys”” in the guise of tuk tuk drivers, surf instructors, or just unemployed hangers-on. While their hollers at foreign women are generally more to attract business (“”hey lady you wanna surf? hey girl nice surf board, you wanna eat? hey want tuk tuk?””), it’s straight up harassment for local or local-looking women.
Many local female friends of mine have reported being followed right into their hotels, into restaurant entrances, have men holler at them constantly on the road or from tuk tuks, and more. On my visit, I had pretty much exactly the same experience, and had tuk tuk men just wait outside restaurants I had entered just to shout “”hey sexy you want tuk tuk? nice hair where you from? sooo hot”” etc. We also were accosted by numerous drunk local men (and fishermen) on the beach who were literally laying in wait behind boats for women to walk by. It was horrible. If you’re an unaccompanied local woman, prepare yourself for a barrage of sexual street harassment. If you’re with a man, you’ll hear none of it.
Arugam Bay is still beautiful, but it’s by no means the untouched surfing paradise it once was. This can be great in terms of the absolutely quality dining options you now have in addition to the usual delish roti stands, and the healthy options like yoga and fresh juice bars (Hideaway, Bay Vista, Break Point). However, there are strong negatives for local women unaccompanied by men, or if frankly, you’re not a tourist. It isn’t just the waves you’ve got to look out for anymore.