Sri Lanka 1
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)
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)
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
Sri Lanka 5
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
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)
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
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
“Need a tuk-tuk?” (2015)
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