It's easy to get into the slow pace of island time in Hikkaduwa, and forget how many amazing places are just a short train ride away. There are interesting historic buildings all around the island (in fact we are spoilt with 8 UNESCO world heritage sites!) and it would be crazy not to explore when you get the chance. With this in mind, I jumped on the train headed West one morning, with the plan to visit Brief garden (and get a bit of pampering as Bentota is known for it's Ayurvedic spas..why not?!)
There's something about train travel in Sri Lanka, I really recommend taking at least one trip by rail to anyone visiting the island. The trains here are pretty old and rickety and it feels like old-fashioned travel and adventure-especially when you're lucky enough to get an almost empty carriage. The journey we did was quite a short distance, but it pulled into pretty much all of the stops along the way which left my friend and I with time to catch up and chat and take in the view. You can find timetables online HERE: and there is also an app or two which you can add to your phone if you're here for a while.
We got off the train at Bentota and took a tuk tuk from there to the gardens which took about 15 minutes. When we arrived at the gardens we rung a bell and a man greeted us, took the admission fee (1,000LKR each which we thought was a bit steep but hey) and unlocked the gates to let us in. I will admit we arrived without much knowledge of what was inside, and there is no information available at the gate, so we just wandered around, taking in the lush, sometimes wild jungle gardens. ( Don't forget to take mozzie repellent as areas are dense and overgrown and we were bitten within minutes!)
Brief gardens was home of Bevis Bawa, the brother of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa who is known for some large sites such as the Lighthouse near Galle. It is a former rubber plantation and was started in 1929 and then inherited from his mother in 1949. It's dotted with homoerotic statues and art, many of which are found closer to the house itself. We were the only ones there at this time-the only other visitors we saw arrived as we were leaving, so it's very peaceful.
I think the main highlight for us was looking around the house-soaking up a feel for some of the lively (if controversial) history the grounds have seen. On the walls are photographs and paintings of Bawa at different stages of his life, bookcases stuffed full, and a huge mural of the island that we stared at for ages. It's a shame that although the place is clearly cared for and cleaned, not much is done to preserve artworks like that in the tropical climate-it's nice to have seen it before it fades and crumbles more in time.
One of the things we learned through our own research since leaving the property is that the Australian artist Donald Friend -who had initially arrived there for a short vacation and ended up staying for 6 years- had quite worrying relationships with young Ceylonese boys during his stay (and also in Bali where he also spent time) He created many pieces you can see there including the mural, and the man who keeps the house will mention him as he shows you around without going into his background. I won't dwell on it here, but you can read more about it online..Here and here as well as a Documentary by Kerry Negara.
There are so many pockets of garden to explore, with a great outdoor shower, fountains and ponds, it's worth taking your time. This is probably more of interest to lovers of art and gardening than people who want to be kept occupied and entertained-it suited us well! We just wish that there was some kind of information booklet given at the entry, or supplied around the house as I think it would have been an even more interesting experience to know the background and origins of some pieces, or how they were created. If you have the time, you can also visit Lunuganga-his brothers estate, which we didn't get around to.
We rounded off the day by indulging ourselves a bit! Before catching a bus home we decided to get a massage in one of the beach hotels..it's a good idea to shop around as the hotels vary wildly in price! Alternatively, you can visit spice gardens or turtle hatcheries-it's easy to fill a day here!