The proud owner of a great sense of humour and a repartee of quick witted replies for any given situation, Thilani works as the Head of Legal at Galle Face Group. Thilani loves to unwind by reading, cooking, gardening and RPG, Tabletop and PC Gaming.
Why do you love travel?
Because I love exploring how different kinds of people live, eat, think and feel.
Your favourite travel destination and why?
I don’t think I’ve travelled widely enough to have a clear ‘favourite” yet! But in Asia, I’d have to say India for its amazing architecture and diversity of landscapes and history, Malaysia for its wildlife and food (Vietnam gets an honourable mention in the food department), and Myanmar for its people.
What do you need for a perfect holiday?
A good travel buddy and my Kindle can turn even the most mundane trip into an excellent one. But for me any place that has gorgeous scenery / wildlife, lots of places of historical / architectural interest, good food and an active street life are winners. When I travel, I always want to be on the move, seeing and experiencing things so my holidays can be pretty exhausting. I can’t imagine why some people seem to go to other countries just to spend time in hotels and go shopping - that’s pretty much my idea of Dante’s 7th Circle of Hell.
In which country have you felt most at home?
Myanmar, the huge divide between the affluent and the impoverished (both sometimes rubbing elbows on the same street) together with the religious bigotry made me feel right at home (and no I’m not kidding). There were the little tea and coffee kade’s and street markets that reminded me of Sri Lanka in the 70’s. But what made me really fond of the place were the people. You’d think that people coming out of such a repressive regime would be more morose.. but it was hard to find a face that didn’t smile. Pretty much everyone I met from the taxi men to the street vendors and ferrymen were friendly and a lot of them would happily chat about everything from their religious and political views to their musical taste and their families. Their English was far from perfect but I picked up a few words of the language and we filled in the blanks through mime!
Most unusual souvenir you have brought home?
I’m not one for collecting ornaments and “stuff”. I usually bring back things I’d use regularly - recipe books (if I can find them in English), textiles, anything regional that would fit into my home.
Worst holiday or travel experience?
Well once when I was much younger I went to Thailand with my Dad and brother. We had a great time exploring the country but in Bangkok whenever my brother wasn’t with us, EVERYONE from the taxi drivers to people at the hotel took one look at the younger woman travelling with an older man and assumed he was my sugar daddy! Some even asked outright if I was his girlfriend. It’s funny thinking about it now but it was mortifying and annoying then. I remember keeping a huge distance from him everywhere we went and even now I don’t like going to Bangkok because of that experience. Also in certain areas of India, however modestly I dress, I get harassed (this is a recent change as I never had to deal with it when I used to travel there in the 1990’s and early 2000’s). Not being able to feel safe or respected on the streets has made me not want to visit those places by myself ever again.
Best piece of travel advice?
Research the place you’ll be visiting so that you know what to expect and how to make the most of where you’re going. Try and get to know some locals - they know all the best places that professional “tour guides” may ignore. Be adventurous, try something new and keep an open mind!
Your top five travel destinations?
In no particular order :
Trans- Siberian Train Journey
The Crusader forts and castles - especially in Syria (though that doesn’t look very viable anymore)
Spain / Portugal
What has travel taught you?
To be resilient and more accepting and openminded. Also that people everywhere, no matter what class or ethnicity or religion, are all pretty much the same.
Which country did you taste the best ever cuisine?
There’s something awesome everywhere but street food in Asia in general is wonderful.
Next travel destination?
Singapore for Chinese New Year and then Washington D.C and Boston in the summer.
By Tina Edward Gunawardhana