Sri Lanka is a shimmering jewel and great destination
AS I sat on what was left of the 7000-year-old kingdom built on a 200m-high rock at Sigirya in Sri Lanka, I couldn't believe people would ever consider not visiting the island once known as Serendib (the origin of the word serendipity) by the Arabs.
When I first told my family and friends I was travelling there, I was met with blank stares.
"Why?" my mum said cautiously.
"That's an interesting choice," a high school friend said in a tone that was a little too high- pitched.
The only person who really had anything positive to say was my nanna Jean, whose ship had called in there 61 years ago on the way to and from England.
But no matter what anyone thought, six of us packed our bags and headed to Sri Lanka with no idea what to expect.
We had signed up for a tour called Circle Sri Lanka with travel company Intrepid.
Lucky we did.
To take us on our journey was the 2012 winner of the Wunderlust World Guide Awards, and probably the most genuine person I've met, Noel Bruno.
That's how our group of 12, which consisted of one Welshman, two Englishmen and nine Aussies, found ourselves breathless and mind-blown on the top of Sigiriya rock, which can be found in the central Matale District, Central Province.
As we sat there snacking on a delicious fruit and fending off monkeys, it was hard to believe this peaceful Buddhist country had suffered so much turmoil in a civil war.
The palace on Sigirya rock was a monastery at one time.
As breathtaking as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site was, it was just one of many that had the wow factor.
Our tour guide Noel Bruno had been guiding for 14 years and really knew his job.
Every detail was planned to perfection and he was able to get anything for us, including stopping a local bus to let us off to use the bathroom mid-route.
Having someone in the know worked to our benefit, especially when we had the opportunity to visit the relatively untouched and remote hill country on a two-day trek.
We were all a bit anxious about the trek but were surprised when we found ourselves sitting overlooking a tea plantation while taking pictures with young Tamil children.
The children owned nothing but the clothes on their back but were happy and excited to see us.
As our trek ventured further and higher we were introduced to vast, untouched vistas among the mountains and trees.
For one night it was our sacred spot where we listened to our guides Bruno, Raj and Shiver sing Sri Lankan favourites.
We also managed to eat our own weight of the delicious curry prepared especially for our visit.
"I can't believe we're actually here," one of my friends remarked.
"I never want to go home," I thought to myself.
It was a no-TV, no-radio and no-phone-reception hideaway.
We completely switched off.
It was easy to forget that the civil war between the Tamils and majority Sinhalese, which is estimated to have killed upwards of 100,000 people, had ended only four years ago.
May their peace last a long time.