I Wanted to Live in a Duran Duran Video so I Went to Sri Lanka
I was obsessed with Duran Duran in high school.
The gorgeous, highly coiffed band from Birmingham, England, revolutionized music videos (and my life) in the ’80s when the band took music videos out of a studio into gorgeous, landscaped backdrops
Two videos in particular, “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Save a Prayer,” changed my life. No, not just made an impression, but literally changed my life. The videos, set in Sri Lanka, featured the group in a tropical paradise, running through lush jungles, frolicking with elephants, and visiting spectacular temples — the likes of which this Midwestern girl had never seen. It was those two videos that truly sparked my desire to travel and explore the world.
Since then, Sri Lanka had been on my bucket list, so I suggested to some friends that we head there for our annual New Year’s trip. As plans came together, I was excited to find out that much in the videos was filmed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites and beach towns we’d planned to visit. So I decided to channel my inner teen and photobomb my way through Duran Duran’s Sri Lanka on my vacation.
The old market in Galle (Photo: Lisa Bonner)
Much of the urban footage in the videos was filmed in Galle, 75 miles south of the capital city of Colombo. Galle Fort, built in 1549, is the largest European constructed surviving fort city in Asia and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside the city’s well-preserved walls is a charming fully operational town dotted with government buildings, churches, art galleries, coffee shops, and eateries. Just inside the Old Gate however, is where I struck gold. The Amangalla Hotel, a lovely Colonial hotel with a pillared verandah, is a great spot to grab lunch. But best of all, it’s where Duran Duran filmed several scenes from “Save a Prayer.”
WATCH: Save a Prayer
Although the hotel has been renamed and remodeled since then, it’s instantly recognizable and I was geeked! The Great Hall, where Simon LeBon danced with a woman throughout the video, has been given a face-lift, but its high ceilings with exposed wood, floor-to-ceiling windows, and glossy wood floors took me back to when I was dancing (in my head) with Simon. Grab a room here and relax in the courtyard’s quiet pool, then venture outside the walls to visit the open air markets, shops, and colorful, busy streets where the group dashed, gorgeous hair and all, through much of the town in “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
If you’re looking for a great beach, head about 7 miles southeast of Galle to Unawatuna, where many of the beach scenes, including the opening in “Save a Prayer” were filmed. The biodiverse beach, with pristine turquoise waters and white sand, is home to Sri Lanka’s famed stilt fishermen, who can also be seen in the video. Once you visit, you’ll understand why it was featured as one of the world’s best beaches by Discovery TV.
Drive northeast to the Central Province, and you’ll find the Cultural Triangle, home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Formerly ruins of bygone kingdoms, this area features a wealth of the most fascinating and oft-visited cultural landmarks in Sri Lanka. And of course, the British band hit several of them for some impressive footage in the videos.
Sigiriya Rock (Photo: Lisa Bonner)
Sigiriya Rock, declared a World Heritage Site in 1982, stands an imposing 656 feet above the mountains in the countryside and was used as a former fort of King Kassapa, who killed his father to assume the throne. As you ascend to the peak of the rock, you’ll pass the Lion’s Claw to reach the summit, a 4-acre vista that’s home to the King’s Royal Gardens and reflecting pool, and has the most impressive aerial views of the Sri Lankan countryside. The band was helicoptered in, ostensibly to spare their hair and makeup for the video, but we mortals climbed. No matter how you get there, it’s a spectacular view that’s not to be missed.
Lisa standing atop Sigiriya Rock (Photo: Lisa Bonner)
About an hour away is Polonnaruwa, arguably the highlight of the Cultural Triangle. The band filmed many temple scenes in “Save a Prayer” among these 10th-century ruins, also a World Heritage Site. Here you’ll find Gal Vihara, home to four giant granite Buddhas in various states of rest and recline (now covered to protect them from the elements), and Rankot Vihara, the fourth largest pagoda in Sri Lanka, both of which were featured prominently in “Save a Prayer.” My favorite however, was the standing headless Buddha at Lankathilaka, where the band closes out the video by walking up and paying homage to the Buddha, and of course, I did the same.
The headless Buddha (Photo: Lisa Bonner)
The Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana, in the midst of the Cultural Triangle, is a perfect respite from the heat with its charming guest rooms, lush vegetation, and tranquil spa. The pool is also a great place to finish with a congratulatory “I did it!” cocktail.
I think Duran Duran would be proud.