The first thing I want to say about Sri Lanka is: Be careful; you will fall in love with this place and you may never leave. Arriving at 4am on a Sunday morning may not immediately make you think this but believe me, after the first 24 hours it will already have surrounded you and made you feel a little better about things. The sunshine, the sea... even if you've managed to get as far as the mountains - there is something special about the place that I was rapt with from early on.
People have a huge impact - those you're travelling with or those you meet. For me, the first conversation I had was with Indrani, the hostess at the hostel I was staying at - Beach Monkey in Negombo
It was certainly no frills, but Indrani's attitude and friendliness (even at 5am) more than made up for any lack of facilities. She is just a really warm person. I was barely coherent (see - me & airplanes etc) but she quickly sorted out my bed, deposit etc so I could get to sleep. She also said she'd make breakfast whenever I liked. Over a couple of days and a mix of Sinhalese and broken English I discovered she was from Pereniya, near Kandy and her family worked in tea plantations. Her daughter was getting married in December and she would travel back for the wedding. when she discovered that I wasn't as flush with cash as other travellers she got her son to show me to the bus station and we both took the bus to Kandy. She even made me lunch, free of charge, whilst she was making a portion for him. It was just a wonderful welcome by someone - especially since I was travelling alone.
In the hostel you'll get your bed, a mossie net and a good location. The bathroom is outside (but there are lights) and your shower probably won't be too hot but it's an absolute bargain. I stayed out of season and it cost me about 3 euro's a night!
Most people aren't incredibly impressed by Negombo but for me it was a nice taster for the rest of Sri Lanka, the children all wanted to high-five me, residents all wanted to speak with me for a few minutes - even those who had nothing to sell. There are lots of shops with pretty high quality leather goods for a fraction of what you would pay in Europe. Cows roam the beaches - which is a new one for an Irish lass
It isn't the tidiest of places but there are stretches of quiet seaside, and little cafe's/bars line it so in the afternoon you can have your own slice of unspoiled sea-views with probably no people around. I liked it. I also had lunch at http://www.icebearhotel.com which all the guidebooks recommend. Everywhere is reasonably priced but it is helpful to know that you're getting quality, as places can vary wildly. I had a lovely fluffy omelette and the staff were very nice. I also had my first taste of Sri Lankan tea. I didn't notice a huge difference but I guess knowing it was picked nearby was pretty cool.
In the evening I headed to Lord's, which is worth a visit just to read the owner, Martin's, story. Fascinating.
The food and drinks were tasty too. Here I had my first arrack cocktail - the local spirit, coconut based and pretty tasty (although even two knocked me a little off-balance!). You can have a fish pedicure and look at some art. I particularly appreciated the sax player providing some bluesy numbers whilst I dined.
So don't rush past Negombo; it's a nice introduction to this beautiful island.