Three weeks have gone by, and my time in Sri Lanka has come to an end. One country successfully under my belt. (I survived!!) Below are some of my notes and observations on Sri Lanka in general:
Sri Lanka is just starting to get on the traveler radar since its civil war ended in 2009, but it’s rapidly gaining popularity. Tourists were EVERYWHERE: hanging out of the doors on all of the trains and squeezing past each other at all the tourist attractions. Granted, I followed the tourist-beaten track through Sri Lanka to a T, but I didn’t expect to see as many foreigners as I did. The majority are Westerners (mostly backpackers), but Chinese tourism especially is rapidly growing and is sure to be a booming industry down the road.
Despite the number of tourists, the Sri Lankan people are still very kind and friendly. For the most part they seem eager to share their culture with new visitors, instead of keen to take advantage of foreigners and squeeze out whatever money they can. Every interaction began with the same series of questions:
“Where you from?”
“How long you in Sri Lanka?”
“You like Sri Lanka?”
This may have come across as intrusive to some fellow tourists, but I think it’s usually devoid of ill-will (and honestly, it’s the most obvious topic of conversation). As more foreigners visit and the industry grows, this friendliness factor may change – so I would say visit as soon as you can!
Sri Lanka also had bit of the energy that I liked so much about places like Turkey and Vietnam: an optimistic outlook and a drive to work hard. You can see it just from the number of entrepreneurs, both local and foreign. Some of the guest houses I stayed in were run by local families next to their own homes, while others were opened by previous travelers who fell in love and stayed to make a living. And for most services, people went above and beyond.
Something else that surprised me about Sri Lanka was the prevalence of English. Almost everyone I spoke to had enough English knowledge to answer my inquiries (though sometimes there was a fair amount of gesturing involved). Conversely, even though Chinese tourism is growing and China and Sri Lanka have very close economic ties, not many people seemed to know conversational Chinese. Someone should definitely get on that, stat!
In terms of the sights, Sri Lanka was wonderfully diverse. Whether it’s culture/history in the north, mountains and hikes in the center, safaris in the north and south, or beaches in the east and south, there’s a little bit of everything for everyone. None of these are necessarily the best in the world, but they’re still beautiful. And where else can you find so many different types of terrain and activities concentrated in such a small space?
Overall, Sri Lanka was a great place to begin my trip. It’s foreign, but still friendly and small enough to give me time to ease into traveling. I’m going to miss it, but I’m ready for the next adventure!
Misc Sri Lanka observations:
When other people fill out forms for me, they automatically use the suffix “Mrs.” I wonder if it’s because there is no “Miss” suffix, or if people automatically assume that I’m married? Most of the time they’ve gotten “Jessica” right, but I’ve also seen “Jasika.”
In Columbo, tuk tuks start at 50 and go up based on distance traveled. However, Colombo is the only place with meters. Everywhere else, they’re generally a bit more expensive and require haggling. As a general rule of thumb, 1km should only cost about 100LKR.
Many major street corners have buddha statues encased in glass pavilions. The larger ones have buddhas over 10ft tall, but smaller street corners have mini 2ft buddhas, in their own little glass cases.
The exchange rate was close to 150LKR/$1 for $100 and $50 bills, but about 145LKR for $20 bills.
Bus fare collectors walk up and down the bus with cash in hand, collecting money from everyone and (sometimes) issuing a small receipt from a receipt machine they were around their wrist. How do they keep track of who has pad and who hasn’t?
Local restaurants serve food on newspaper and offer newsprint or newspaper as napkins.
All bathroom light switches are outside the bathroom. I’m sure there is a practical reason for this, but it makes sneaking into the bathroom at night very hard.
Stray dogs are everywhere, I’m not sure if any households actually keep dogs as pets. I saw one pet store in Unawatuna, but otherwise no other evidence of pet dogs.
Every toilet has a spray nozzle. That’s every toilet, even public ones deep inside Yala National Park. I’m not quite sure what for, but they’ve saved me on occasion when I don’t have any toilet paper.