(Updated Sep 2010)
When people in Sri Lanka go to watch cricket in Dambulla, where do they stay? Habarana or Kandalama or Sigiriya are the usual answers. Recently, we visited Thilanka Resort and Spa in Dambulla itself, of which, thanks to its unprepossessing name, we weren't expecting much. But we did have this to go on - one of our fussy friends (only stays at the Hilton residencies when visiting Sri Lanka) enjoyed it. So we crossed our fingers and booked a room for a weekend night.
We came to Dambulla and turned onto the Kandy Road, passing the stadium (the hotel is walking distance from the stadium) and the temple, and there it was. The entrance to Thilanka goes through a seemingly endless Araliya grove, one where the trees look like they've been attacked by an overeager barber. The car parked, we walked into the reception area and we got our first surprise.
Everything had a touch of the new Sri Lankan interior design philosophy that loves polished cement and that vaguely pan Asian ornamentation from the Paradise Roads and the Ghandaras. Beyond the reception area, which is a space open in most directions, you can see the the pool, unused paddy fields and a beautiful old well.Given the keys to our room, we walked along the cement path bordered by patches of vegetables which are grown for the hotel. We passed a family eating their set menu dinner on the lawn (the hotel will do this for you at no extra charge if you prefer not to eat in the restaurant) and came to our room.
I've never seen hotel room doors written about but this was beautifully done. I am a sucker for bright colors and this door was like a colourful wooden kovil window. The room was also just my style, small and cosy. Polished cement floors, a big bed, TV/DVD, a color pallette dominated by greens including a gigiantic banana mural that made me feel somewhat inadequate (although even the Rock would feel that way, given the size of them bananas). The bathroom area was polished cement and chrome with one of those new style glass sinks. There's also a small plunge pool which takes about 2 hours to fill if you want a dip (the water's freezing, though). "Vil Uyana lite" said my partner and I agreed.
"So," I hear you cry, dear reader, "where's the bad stuff?" Here it comes. The dinner which was a western set menu was good but the eastern breakfast was terrible, with string hoppers that resembled something I would have made in handiwork class with flour paste. This was, to be honest, a surprise as it is usually the other way around. (I found out later from a friend in the business that they had sent the cooks at great expense to a French cookery school but as a result they had forgotten how to make local stuff. Irony, thy name is Thilanka.) And, in testing out the "Spa" component of the name, we found out that the ayurveda dude had gone home. For the weekend!
But nothing could really spoil our final impression that much. Like a friend who you enjoy your time with, you can forgive their little misses because there's so much to enjoy there. I am most impressed because Thilanka began with a small hotel in Kandy and, with this one, they have delivered an experience I've not found in bigger chains at an unbeatable price.
Hotel Name: Thilanka Resort and Spa, Dambulla
Address: #51, Gadawalayaya, Moragollawa, Dambulla, Sri Lanka
(It's on the Dambulla Kandy Rd: from Colombo, come to Dambulla town and turn onto the Kandy Rd. Go a bit and you'll see the place on the right)
Phone: +94 (0)66 4468001
(Sep 2010 - Rates are around LKR 7,650 full board double for locals/expats)
More Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaliyaj/sets/72157603869895994/