Do-it-yourself bungalow between sea and river

“The waiter opened the bottle and served the wine to my wife without inviting me to taste it first,” said a Sri Lankan friend, describing an experience he had in one of Colombo’s leading five-star hotels. “And they didn’t bring the birthday cake I had ordered in advance as a surprise for her.”

It is because of the bad attention he has received in hotels masquerading as five star in facilities but unable to deliver knowledgeable, five star service, that my friend decided to try self-catering for his own birthday celebration.

He rented the Tourist Promotion Bureau’s bungalow at Bentota for a family holiday weekend. I was his guest; we took our own drinks and food and did everything ourselves so there was no chance of getting infuriated by poor service.

The bungalow, called Sulanka, has been built on the strip of land running between the Bentota River and the beach, next door to the Bentota Beach Hotel. Access is by the beach road reached by driving down the lane between the Bentota Beach and Serendib hotels. With views of the Indian Ocean on one side and the broad sweep of the river on the other, the bungalow is in an enviable location.

While a concrete scaffold intended to be a sunset watching platform blocks the view of the sea, the river vista is unimpeded and impressive. The bungalow has been designed so guests can feast on the view while relaxing on its long, deep verandah beside the well-kept lawn.
A view of the river from the verandah

There are some “artistic” touches, like classical concrete heads in odd places, concrete feet in the bathrooms and giant jars on the lawn to add a frivolous ambience. A pavilion with its own dining table is poised over the river, while the verandah has more tables and chairs than a good restaurant. By the entrance from the beach to the garden is the staff cottage, built in traditional style and painted a lovely, bright ochre.

Although it has only two bedrooms, one at each end, the guest bungalow is huge, and cleverly laid out. Each bedroom is large enough to include a dining table and chairs, a chunky coffee table and chairs, a chest of drawers, cupboards and a double bed. Off each one there is a bathroom partly open to the sky, with a tree growing in it. The bedrooms have French windows that open onto the verandah running the length of the house, parallel to the river. The doors of the bedrooms are the tallest I have seen in a bungalow and seem to reach up to the ceiling.

The bedrooms are linked by the central lounge, with comfortable sofa and chairs at one end, a flat-screen television in the middle, and a long dining table at the other end. There is a guest bathroom there too. The air conditioning units seemed superfluous as it was only natural to throw open the French windows on the beach and river sides, and let the air flow through.

The kitchen is on the seaside, partly open to the breeze, with a separate preparation pantry actually opening on to the beach. There the caretaker/cook rustles up delectable meals from ingredients provided by the guests.
Bedroom with openair bathroom

During my visit we hailed a passing motorboat, which picked us up at the bungalow’s jetty and took us for a brief river cruise.

We met some fishermen who were happy to sell us some magnificent, plump river crayfish. Just 20 minutes after they had been in the river, the bungalow’s cook turned them into the best sundowner snack I have ever tasted.

Unfortunately, as happens with beachside properties, the corrosive sea air has worked its wicked way and the bungalow, although built since the tsunami, already has a patina that’s affected some of the fittings.

However, it is a stunning place to stay in simple do-it-yourself style. And no complaints about the service!

Reservations for Sri Lankans at Rs. 10,000++ per night for the entire bungalow can be made at Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Bureau, 80 Galle Road, Colombo 3; tel: 011 2348887.

(The correct telephone number for Robin Hill Bungalow Suites reviewed in the last Resort Report column is 071 4174714.)

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