A country rich in colour, culture and history; I paid a visit to this delightful country for the first time recently and I was a captive audience. It is a country with a lot to offer. And as a first trip to the Asian continent it was great place to literally dip my toes in the Indian Ocean.
Although on a map it doesn’t seem it, Sri Lanka is a vast country and if you’re looking for a taste of all it has to offer, you’ll be hard pressed to find a single location suitable since all the major attractions are all over the country. If you’re looking to truly immerse yourself in everything Sri Lanka offers, you’re best to book several hotels and travel around the country a bit. Since hotels are super cheap here, even on board basis, this isn’t such a problem but a little bit of research in advance will help you to determine what it is you want to see and your agent can advise the best way of doing it.
Since we wanted just a taste of what the country has, we situated ourselves in an eco-beach resort in Waikkal called Ranwali Holiday Village which sits between a river, a forest of mangroves and the Indian Ocean; it was beautiful, the service friendly, the food delightful and the views breath-taking. We based our holiday here with one overnight excursion to experience the city and the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. The following day we climbed Sigiriya, with tours of the tea factory, spice gardens and a visit to the Botanical Gardens and various other temples and attractions along the way; one aspect of the trip included watching an authentic Sri Lankan dance performance- a treat to behold. In addition to this, we did a day trip to the Udawalawe National Park, most known for its elephant views. Although the few days we were away from the resort were quite jam packed- with travelling taking between 3-5 hours between the major destinations- we were quite grateful of a beautiful resort to rest our head and completely relax in between.
Although this was only a taster of such a beautiful country, it really did allow us the opportunity to really immerse ourselves in some of the wonders it has to offer. We experienced tradition, customs, culture, cuisine and a rich and meaningful history. To determine what is best for you and what attractions you want to visit (there are several national parks to choose from for example), do a little research first before firming travel arrangements.
One thing is for sure: A guide is strongly recommended. Not only do they know the country like the back of their hand and speak the language but they’re full of rich knowledge of history, customs and traditions. You’ll learn an awful lot more. Fine you’ll pay a bit more for the privilege but for starters it isn’t even worth contemplating doing it yourself. Although they’ve plenty of options when it comes to public transport, these are uncomfortable, not air conditioned, cramped and substandard. As for hiring a car and driving yourself, as our driver said to us ‘to drive in Sri Lanka you need 3 things: good luck, a good horn and good brakes!’ If you’ve been before, you’ll know what he means; the driving is chaotic here and not something I would contemplate, so wouldn’t recommend you do either.
Your guide will also make recommendations for you on places to stop- sometimes it’s for a photo opportunity, which is brilliant but as a way to kill time or to learn their techniques in clothing or woodwork, or show you something interesting, some of the places recommended could put you in hard sale situations. Ask the price and obligation before agreeing and if you simply don’t want to be put in that situation, explain that you’re not interested. It can be difficult, especially with ingrained British politeness to buy something regardless. But be firm and honest if you don’t want something and it’s not a problem. Don’t forget in the tea gardens and spice gardens you pay an entry fee, well your guide takes care of that, so you’ve already met your obligation. But if you want to do something you can always leave a donation/tip or buy something small. However, it’s something we can’t stress enough. In some places in Sri Lanka, there is a misconception of wealth. The sites you’ll visit are pretty pricey because you’re a captive audience. You do get the benefit of authenticity with these stops; you get demonstrations, taste tests and first hand experienced of what they do and with some of the processes you won’t begrudge the seemingly high price tag. But you’re not their only customer. Many of the businesses you see on the side of the road have international clients and, again, in some places you’ve already paid your fee to be there. However, if you’re looking for souvenirs, bargains and trinkets, it is worth organising a market day to your nearest town or city- which can be organised with your holiday or hotels tour operator.
Sri Lankan’s are generally friendly people; we met some wonderful people along the way. Our guide was in particular, a diamond. But as with all places, it is worth staying on your guard. If approached, but want to be left alone, be polite but firm and they will leave you alone. An example: we were at the Royal Botanical Gardens and someone approached us claiming to work there and that they collected English money and needed notes to help them complete, this is obviously a scam so politely say you don’t have cash on you and they’ll walk away.
Mosquitoes are a sure thing wherever you are. You’re not likely to need special injections for these pests though unless you’re visiting a remote area or somewhere that is a known risk in the country (aside the recommended tetanus and typhoid injections) but these super pests, even if you don’t normally attract mosquitoes are likely to irritate. However, they hate citrus. Even if you’re not a fan, it’s worth lathering yourself in it. Incognito is the natural version but you really do need to lather yourself in the lotion. We’d recommend getting the spray stuff and reapply throughout the day. If you want extra protection or peace of mind you can use chemical based stuff which contains deet but nothing is a guarantee. The best product we found actually came from our resorts little shop that had an oil based lemongrass spray that did the trick and is something the locals use for its effectiveness too. It’s also best to switch to citrus based shower gels, shampoos etc. every little bit helps after all.
Whether you’re looking for a holiday for sun, sea and sand; heritage, culture and exploring; somewhere tropical, exotic, like paradise or all of the above – Sri Lanka truly has it all.
Ayubowan- a local term to mean ‘long life’.
Have you been before? We’d love to hear your experience!