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Sri Lanka 1

Having visited almost all the countries in Asia, I have to admit that Sri Lanka wasn’t the most exciting among them. Sigiriya and the surrounding area was pretty, and on two safaris we saw a lot of wild animals. The open-topped jeep was a bit bumpy and chilly (but then what did we expect?). We saw virtually nothing of interest in Colombo until in the evening a taxi driver took us out to a holy Buddhist shrine and persuaded them to open up just for us (well worth the tip). Then he took us to an excellent (though not cheap) restaurant, where the customers were mostly westerners, though clearly not all tourists. Over ten days we travelled around the island on a little bus, and everywhere the practitioners of Ayurveda energetically marketed their services, but some of us – myself included – really enjoyed the traditional massage! We stayed in cheap hotels along the way, staying one or two nights in each, and everything was fine in that regard.

At the end of the trip we spent three days at one of the prettiest beaches in the country, and in one of the more expensive hotels. Unfortunately it was a totally characterless, Western, run-down place in need of renovation. We ate a lot of seafood, which wasn’t cheap in the more touristy restaurants. BUT unfortunately nobody told us that March is precisely the wrong time for a beach holiday in Sri Lanka. At that time the water is gray and often choppy, and strong currents can sweep swimmers far out to sea. So it’s a time when swimming is not recommended – indeed it’s extremely dangerous! We didn’t read this information in any guidebook, and the travel agency that organized our trip for us ‘warmly’ recommended March.

Only when we were back home did we come across the information that March in Sri Lanka is a definite no-no! We weren’t lucky enough to experience for ourselves why Arthur C. Clarke called Sri Lanka a ‘paradise’ and decided to move there. But that was a long time ago, and maybe things have changed. I haven’t read his book on the subject, but I’d like to. Maybe that explains everything. The tea plantations we visited really were bright green, but the teas they offered us in the factory were all so bad that we poured them down the drain. (2015)

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Sri Lanka 2

We planned an eight-day itinerary with the goal not just of collecting memories, but of enjoying ourselves too. That’s exactly what happened, and we fell in love with Sri Lanka. At the very beginning of the trip we recuperated from the long flight in a four-star hotel in Negombo, and if the broad, pleasant beach wasn’t quite out-of-this-world beautiful, still it was nice and relaxing. For our trip around the island we hired a car and a driver, which allowed us to travel between destinations without wasting too much time. Our driver talked to us endlessly, in pretty good English, and while he could be irritating at times, we did learn a lot of interesting things from him. He basically became our tour guide as well as our driver.

I was afraid to climb the rocky mountain of Sigiriya, but my fears proved unfounded. All the same, it felt better to be at the top than it did on the way up! A really great activity. I didn’t have as much patience for the ancient cities, though mainly because of the heat. I have a deep respect for the island’s rich history, but it would have been exhausting to try to follow all the dates and details. I watched the large group of Japanese tourists as they listened to the long-winded explanations, and couldn’t help wondering whether they were listening out of genuine curiosity or just disciplined politeness. Or maybe I’m just a bad traveler?

We both really loved Kandy. Partly because my partner prefers cities to the countryside. We had skipped Colombo – on the advice of several travelers – and Negombo was too provincial, so Kandy was our only real experience of urban life in Sri Lanka. The temple – supposedly containing a tooth of the Buddha, though there was no sign of it – was interesting enough, but not worth going out of your way for. We much preferred the area around the artificial lake, and just watching the life of the streets. The view from our hotel was wonderful.

At the end of our trip we returned to Negombo, which was as pleasant as before. We combined our trip to Sri Lanka with a visit to the Maldives, and there the beauty of the sea was beyond description. There was nothing quite so spectacular during our visit to Sri Lanka, but it was pleasant and stress-free, with no major problem or incident to disrupt our trip. The people here are much more relaxed and easy-going than in India. We’ve been to India twice, and from a tourist perspective the sights are much more spectacular, but Sri Lanka was more comfortable and straightforward. You need those sorts of holidays too. We’re glad we went.” (2018)

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Sri Lanka 3

Overall a very positive impression of the country. Beautiful landscape, fantastic sights, and loads of cultural attractions. Still, while the tourist infrastructure is continually improving, you should be prepared to travel on a lot of single-track roads where the traffic moves very slowly. Getting from A to B generally takes about twice as long as you’d expect, so for example it can take half an hour to go ten kilometers. The traffic situation can also be fairly chaotic, with tuk-tuks, bicycles and buses all going pell-mell, and very few rules. Traffic lights and road signs don’t really exist outside the big cities. Poverty is quite widespread, but there’s relatively little crime.

High season for the hotels on the east coast runs from July to September – this is the coral shore. It’s also one of the less developed regions from a tourist perspective, and you shouldn’t expect superior service from the staff: in many places they don’t really speak English, and they tend to be slow in carrying out tasks. The situation is much better on the west coast, with very good hotels and high-quality service. Here the high season is in winter.

The landscape is spectacular, but if you stay in one of the jungle hotels by the main road that runs round the island, be prepared to find wild animals not only in the forest, but also in your room! You can always call the reception desk, which will quickly eject any unwelcome animal visitors.

Sri Lankan cuisine is generally good, but not particularly unique. Everything is spicy. There’s a wide selection, and they’re especially good at preparing fish and seafood. Soups are tasty, but desserts are fairly insipid – a lot of jelly and mousse. It surprised us that meals are generally served lukewarm, and sometimes almost cold.

In hotels near famous landmarks the prices are comparable to Europe. For instance, a half-liter bottle of mineral water costs 300 LKR, a beer 300-400, 100mls of wine 600LKR, and a bottle of wine starts from 7,000LKR. A coffee is 200LKR and a cappuccino is 400LKR. What’s more, 25% tax is added to all these prices!

There are street vendors at all the major sights, and they’re very persistent. Still, if you’re clear and direct that you don’t want anything they’ll soon leave you alone. This is also one of those places where every tour is built around selling souvenirs.

In terms of weather, it isn’t the heat you have to battle against so much as the terrible humidity. Many activities can’t be done on a particular day, simply because climbing a mountain or clambering over ancient ruins in 80%-90% humidity and blistering sunshine is an impossibility.

People are laid-back, and nobody rushes. This is noticeable in the tour guides as well. We got stuck with a guide who knew his facts in a dictionary sense, but was less interested in making history come alive than in reciting dry facts, and was definitely not an adherent of the ‘less is more’ approach. Apart from that, though, he couldn’t have been more helpful.” (2017)

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Sri Lanka 4

My experience of Sri Lanka was very mixed: it’s a gorgeous place, and the natural landscape in some areas is completely unique. What’s more, the people are much friendlier than in India, but for me it was hard to get over the feeling of being continually fleeced as a tourist.

Sri Lanka lives from tourism, and you can sense that as soon as you arrive. There are hotels everywhere, and even more restaurants. You can catch a bus to practically anywhere on the island, but route information is hard to come by, so it’s highly recommended to buy a SIM card with a few GBs of data – without GPS it’s very easy to get lost.

If you come for a short visit it’s quite straightforward to hire a tuk-tuk driver for the entire duration of your stay. It’s perfectly affordable, and preferable to trying to navigate the traffic yourself – especially if you’re travelling between distant tourist sites. It’s also good to have someone who speaks the local language, though the commission economy is alive and well here, so try not to rely on local assistance too heavily.

If you’re planning on spending more time in the country, and exploring it more thoroughly, it’s best to use the bus service. The country is small, and the road network is generally quite good, but the traffic can be atrocious, and it’s not easy to move around. Even a journey of just a couple of hundred kilometers can easily take all day, though on the other hand it costs pennies. There are trains, but they’re not worth bothering with – there doesn’t seem to have been any investment since the British left, and they’re much slower than buses.

The beaches are beautiful, but the island’s real treasure is its mountainous interior: it’s full of waterfalls, craggy rock formations and wild animals. The architectural heritage is nothing special, especially after India, but the ancient capital, Polonnaruwa, is worth at least a brief visit.

The people are very friendly, and if they see you getting onto the bus with a big rucksack, don’t be surprised if someone gets up and offers you their seat. Outside of tourist areas it’s generally easy to strike up a conversation with a local. Of course, most of the time when someone approaches you it’s because they want to sell you something, but in my experience one firm ‘no, thank you’ was usually enough.

There are plenty of vendors here who try to fleece tourists, but not to the same degree as in India, and it’s generally easy to spot what they’re up to. Many locals are poor, but as far as we could see they work hard and try to keep up appearances. The houses and gardens are generally well maintained, and litter isn’t ubiquitous. You won’t meet many over-educated types, but most people can hold a conversation in English.

You can find accommodation to suit every budget, but do be prepared for the fact that in many places there’s no hot water – locals generally don’t see the need.

Places frequented by tourists tend to be more expensive, with prices are comparable to those in Western Europe. This is especially true in the capital (I can’t write the name without smiling) and around Sigiriya. In the south, where the beaches are, you can find cheap restaurants where locals also go.

Sri Lanka is noticeably cleaner than India, and you can go almost anywhere without worrying too much about the hygiene standards. What is strange, though, is that they eat food cold, and with their hands. If this bothers you then you can always go to the tourist places, though of course you’ll have to pay significantly more. Curry and rice is the most popular dish, which of course is hardly a unique delicacy, but they also make a kind of street food called kotta which, I think, could hold its own anywhere in the world.

This being a Buddhist country, drinking isn’t widespread, and bars are expensive. Otherwise, alcohol can only be bought in special off-licenses, which not every village has. The prices here are more or less comparable to Central Europe – maybe slightly more expensive. The fact is, though, it probably isn’t worth bothering, since there’s fresh fruit in every season, and it’s impossible to drink enough of the sweet juice. Never in my life have I eaten such delicious pineapple. There’s a kind of local fruit they call a mangrove apple, which is also tasty, but the mango and the banana – which both grow everywhere – deserve special mention. There are many other kinds of fruit, unknown in the west, which can be found here, and I’d recommend that you try them all. You can also find them prepared as fruit brandies.

Prices are generally low, but there’s a very big difference between tourist and non-tourist places. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere with so stark a difference. In Colombo you can get food and drink for next to nothing, while around Mt Lavinia or Negombo the prices are similar to Western Europe. It’s always worth trying to get out of the main tourist thoroughfares. It may take a bit of time to find a good place outside the tourist areas, but if you do it will save you a lot of money.

What really annoyed us were the very high entrance fees. In India we’d already felt some irritation at the tourist prices, but here it’s completely shameless – charging $20 or $30 to visit some sight which, if it hadn’t been here, we wouldn’t have gone out of our way to see, since it isn’t so interesting to begin with. The price to go up Sigiriya was so outrageous that we refused, and went up the neighboring peak instead. I suspect it was just as good, and for a tenth of the price.

Bargaining didn’t save us as much money here as elsewhere, but for instance with tour guides it’s worth starting out with a low offer, because they tend to see tourist as walking ATMs.

Would be go back? Gladly! It’s been a long time since I visited such good beaches, so I’d definitely recommend Sri Lanka to families travelling with children. I’d also happily go back for some more adventures in the island’s mountainous interior, but as for the main tourist attractions, I’ll be steering well clear. Once was enough. (2016)

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Sri Lanka 5

Sri Lanka’s small size makes it ideal for a two-week tour, taking in all the major sights. That still leaves a few days at the end for relaxing on the beach, because all’s well that ends well, and anything that ends with a beach holiday sounds good to me!

I wouldn’t say that we had huge expectations before our trip, but what expectations we had, Sri Lanka met them. We had a feeling of ‘yes, yes, very pretty, very good, a bit of everything – except the beer, which unfortunately is very mediocre – but somehow the whole thing somehow didn’t quite click for us. Still, at least we didn’t arrive with such great expectations to begin with.

All the same, it’s possible to put together a very fun little tour. Ours was basically divided into three main sections, with our time more or less equally divided between them: culture and ruins, natural beauty, and the beach. (2018)”

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Sri Lanka 6

When it comes to environmental awareness and littering, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Apart from Colombo, where waste collection and its effects are more visible, the country is full of litter. Beaches, towns, roadsides, and even some major tourist sights. As for the locals, they don’t appear to give the matter much thought. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone that tourist income can be increased not just by raising prices, but by encouraging a clean and attractive environment for visitors, who will then encourage others to come. Tourism seems to be Sri Lanka’s main source of revenue, but over the course of our two-week stay we only saw trash bins in restrooms and hotels. Our experience in China shows, however, that this in itself isn’t enough – while there are trash bins everywhere there, and plenty of resources to collect and dispose of it, people still chuck their trash on the street. (2019)

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fresh coconut milk and stretching out on the soft sand. After taking a stroll through the grounds of the hotel, we were soon admiring marvels further afield. The walk from the hotel reception to our room took us along the island’s ‘main road.’ This led us through a garden of palms, and it was like wandering through a rainforest. Everywhere flowers and palms were in bloom, and birds twittered in the undergrowth. Our island luxuriated in the unimaginative name of ‘Sun Island’, but we only smiled at this rather mundane effort until we heard the original, local name, Nalaguraidhoo, which for a European isn’t just impossible to remember, it’s even plain impossible to say.”

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Sri Lanka 7

Often the locals didn’t want to realize (or accept) that if we said we didn’t need something, we really didn’t need it. What generally happened when we said we didn’t need something was that they would offer it again at a lower price. Like the lady at the fish stall selling fresh, raw, sliced fish. She offered us some, and we said we didn’t want fish. My girlfriend even grimaced, indicating that more fish would make her stomach turn. The lady then began offering the same fish at a lower price. How much clearer could we have been?

We came across many tuk-tuk drivers on our journey, and they were equally resistant to the idea that we might be quite happy where we were. One guy started telling me that for 100 rupees he would take me here or there and I said I didn’t want to go anywhere. Then he offered the same for 50 rupees. Fifty rupees is spare change, and I wouldn’t have stood bargaining with him over it – or over one hundred, for that matter – but the fact was I really didn’t want to go anywhere. This kind of thing really started to annoy me, and soon I was in such a bad mood that I didn’t want to buy anything at all – nobody was going to tell me what I needed. The fact is, though, practically everyone in the country is a part-time tour guide, eager to take us to see some sight or other. I’m sure I’d have found it very interesting, it’s just that I like to be left in peace when I walk down the street. It’s tiring to talk to everyone and haggle over prices, especially if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t really like shopping at the best of times, and doesn’t buy much except groceries – and even then, does plenty of research on the internet to find the best deals. When you’re this kind of person, and vendors on the street keep stopping you to sell you things you’d never so much as think of buying, it gets old very quickly. Still, I’m sure this kind of ‘hard sell’ works with a lot of tourists, or else they wouldn’t do it. I just started to feel as though there must be something about my face or my expression that screamed ‘clueless chump’ and everyone could see it.

I also consider it a pretty low kind of trick when they help you with something or offer directions (usually unprompted) before – surprise, surprise – it turns out this Good Samaritan is also a businessman, and has a tablecloth or some jewelry that would be just right for you. Or else a tuk-tuk, or perhaps a canoe…

The tourist hunt continues on the beaches.
There were times when we wanted to stroll together as a couple on the beach. Then, wouldn’t you know it, some guy joins us, so now we’re three. Well, it eventually transpires that he has this bar, or maybe a canoe, or a tuk-tuk… ‘I knew it the minute you said hello, old buddy.’

Another guy tried to sell us a ring for ten dollars, then two minutes later he was back, trying to sell us the same ring for fifteen…

There are also plenty of scarf sellers, and mussel sellers. They lay the prettier items out on the beach and try to offload them.

But it was the tuk-tuk drivers who really fried my nerves. One stops and asks us if we need a ride. We say no, and he drives on. Ten seconds later the next one arrives, and the same thing repeats ad infinitum. Even when we actually needed a tuk-tuk to take us back to our hotel, no sooner had we climbed aboard when we heard the familiar shout from a driver behind us:
“Need a tuk-tuk?” (2015)

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Sri Lanka 8

Tricked by a guide on a hike

A friend and I set off on a hike in the area around a little mountain town called Ella. A local farmer who happened to be working in a nearby field joined us, and though he spoke very little English, we could understand that he was offering to accompany us to a waterfall that we wanted to see. It was perfectly clear to me how the story would end – a farmer isn’t going to abandon his work and take a couple of foreigners to a waterfall simply out of the goodness of his heart. Well, sure enough. Even at the start we tried to explain to him that we really didn’t need a guide, and were perfectly capable of finding the falls on our own, but he didn’t want to know. At the end of the trail he told us we owed him twenty American dollars (which by local standards is serious money). We tried to explain to him that we’d never asked for his help to begin with, and had told him so when we first met. That made $20 seem like a lot, and in fact we didn’t necessarily feel we owed him any money at all. If we’d at least been able to have a conversation with him on the way, and if he’d told us some interesting local lore about the area, then I suppose it might have been worth some money to us. As it was, though, there had never been much chance of getting lost (and even if there had been, there were people around who could have pointed us in the right direction) making a guide totally superfluous. All in all, we felt like we were being scammed. There was no way of explaining all this too him, though, and in the end we put together some loose change (about twelve dollars). He grumbled, but at last took it and stormed off. (2017)





Sri Lanka - Galle - Petra photo

Practicals

Transport

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Sri lanka - public bus - e.v. photo

Sri Lanka - Kandalama Lake - traffic obsruction - l.z. photo

Sri Lanka - train passangers - s.i. photo

Sri Lanka - train travel - l.z. photo

Others

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Sri Lanka - Colombo - Statue of a phone held by a hand outside the Telecommunications Center - s.i. photo

Background

Sri Lanka - Uthuwankanda Mountain - national flag - i.p. photo

Destination in brief

Sri Lanka in brief
 
Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, located southeast of the Indian subcontinent.
 
Size: 65,610 km² (25,332 mi²) – Sri Lanka is nicknamed “the teardrop of India” (it has a teardrop shape) and “the Pearl of the Indian Ocean”.
 
The Portuguese occupied the island in 1505 and called it “Ceilao”. The name was later westernized to “Ceylon” when it became a British Crown Colony, and it stayed that way even after independence (1948), right up until 1972, when it became Sri Lanka.
 
Capital city: Colombo
 
Population (in 2020): 21.3 million – Two major ethnic group: the Sinhalese and the Tamils – their conflicts have dominated the country’s life since the 19th century  - 75% Sinhalese, 12% Tamils.
 
Language: Sinhalese (or Sinhala) is the official language. English is widely spoken. Sinhala is written in Sinhala script, which is a segmental writing system in which consonant–vowel sequences are written as a unit: each unit is based on a consonant letter, and vowel notation is secondary.
 
Standing at a spectacular 93%, Sri Lanka’s literacy rate is the highest in South Asia.
 
For reasons only the Sri Lankans may know, when online, they Google the word “sex” more than any other country except for Bangladesh.
 
Religion: 69% of the population is Buddhist, 13% Hindu (mostly the Tamils), 10.4% Muslim, 7.2% Christian
 
Sri Lanka is a democratic republic with an executive presidency. 
 
Most of the world’s cinnamon still comes from Sri Lanka (80-90%!).
 
Most common surname: Perera
 
Sri Lanka is a left-driving country.
 
Currency: Sri Lanka rupee (LKR)
 
Average net monthly salary (in 2020): about 550 USD
 
Best time to visit Sri Lanka: February and March
 
Main tourist attractions:
 
Sigiriya, Pollonnaruwa, Dambulla, Kandy, Tea plantations, Anuradhapura, Pinnawala, Bentota, Bruwala, Galle, Hikkaduwa, Kalutara,



 
For reasons that even the locals don’t understand, many restaurants, bars, and cafés are called “hotels” in Sri Lanka.


Geography

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Sri Lanka - lake - b.w. photo

Sri Lanka - Nuwara Eliya - l.z. photo

Climate

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People

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Sri Lanka - Kandy - traditional wedding - l.z. photo

Sri Lanka - Kandy - local beauty - Elter photo

Sri Lanka - Galle - school kids - boys flirting with the sea water - s.i. photo

Attractions

Sigiriya

Sri Lanka - Sigiriya - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Kandy

Sri Lanka - Kandy - Temple of the Tooth (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic) - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Sri Lanka - Kandy - city center - s.i. photo

Polonnaruwa

Sri Lanka - Polonnaruwa Ruins - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Sri Lanka - Polonnaruwa Ruins - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Sri Lanka - Polonnaruwa - Rankoth Vehera, a stupa (12th century) - Elter photo

Colombo

Sri Lanka - Colombo - s.i. photo

Dambulla

Sri Lanka - Dambulla - Royal Cave Temple - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Sri Lanka - Dambulla - Royal Cave Temple - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Sri Lanka - Dambulla - Royal Cave Temple - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Sri Lanka - Dambulla - Royal Cave Temple - Viktor Ohotin's photo

Hikkaduwa

Sri Lanka - Hikkaduwa - Peraliya Buddha Satue, a Tsunami Memorial - s.i. photo

Hikkaduwa - Kumara Maha Viharaya, a Buddhist temple - s.i. photo

Sri Lanka - train passangers - s.i. photo

Anuradhapura

Sri Lanka - Anuradhapura - Abhayagiri Vihāra was an important monastery site of Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism - Viktor Ohotin's photo

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