Sitting or lying Buddha, jungle and beach, Sri Lanka offers everything a tourist could wish for. For the traveller, the ancient kingdom of Ceylon opens the doors to a land of adventure
In Sri Lanka, everything has been said so much that it would be ironic to write something new
We could start with people: aren’t they tired of being nice like that and smiling all the time? No, it’s definitely too hard to make fun of this country.
හෙලෝ ශ්රී ලංකාව, මගේ නම ක්රිස්ටීන්, මම ප්රංශ ජාතිකයෙක්, ඔබව හමුවීම සතුටක්! Hi Sri Lanka
helō śrī laṁkāva, magē nama krisṭīn, mama praṁśa jātikayek, obava hamuvīma satuṭak!
Sri Lanka is small, but it’s intense
Sri Lanka is one tenth the size of France. We could go around it very quickly, in less than a week.
The traveller in a hurry will see the country’s must-sees: a mythical train that slaloms between the tea plantations of Kandi to Nuwara Eliya, the great stone Buddha, the beaches of Mirissa. And quite honestly, he will not be disappointed. The island is so rich that even in three days, it feels like a thousand adventures.
Sri Lanka is touristy, but not that much
The country is well established when it comes to touring the attractions. Agencies compete for the most attractive offers: from exotic resorts to painted caves, private chauffeur, green tea fields, sunset on Sigiriya: we will take our legs and eyes full.
But Sri Lanka cannot be summed up in a few words. It’s where there’s nothing to see that the most beautiful surprises are: inspiring landscapes and friendly locals guaranteed. The tourist attractions are not so numerous and exploration is easy. Going from village to village in remote areas is worth the change of scenery.
So get lost in the jungle of Sri Lanka, you might meet Rambo!
Where do you have to go to see that? Try to reach Deniyaya (in the rainforest) from Kandi on New Year’s Eve. Maybe, like me, you will find yourself face to face with a Sri Lankan Special Forces commander, in the middle of the night, leading a battalion on a mission, on the handlebars of his motorbike, in the jungle, a terrible jungle. All at the same time. He will also be determined to save you from a 3 km walk to your cozy nest somewhere in the hill. He won’t hesitate to stop the troops in camouflage dress, bazooka slung over his shoulder to use his secret weapon: a mobile phone.
Hospitality in Sri Lanka is serious business, but it is not found in tourist areas
Sri Lankans are like people all over the world: 99% nice people. Besides, they have a smile and really like to be of service. They won’t expect any payment, hospitality (Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim) and welcoming foreigners are strong traditions. This warm welcome is to be found among the people, far away from the tourist areas where sharks abound, living on scams and lies.
A visit to the tea plantations in Sri Lanka leaves a bitter taste…
The visit of the tea plantations is not very interesting: no photos allowed, a soulless guide who tells you nothing more than you certainly already knows. Things that might have been interesting are not accessible to the public, because of the secrecy of the production process (hogwash). The purpose of all this is to sell Ceylon tea to the traveller, the shop is at the end of the road. Honestly, savouring my pure Ceylon-lemon with a view on the plantation where underpaid women are struggling (30 kg picked up, 1.50€ per day), is that your cup of tea?
On the road to reconstruction and peace, Sri Lanka has a major asset: a strong identity
The country has some tough years ahead of it. Sri Lanka’s civil war has been in the media spotlight for more than 20 years. The great tsunami of 2004 did not make a detour, it also hit hardly the island.
Since 2009, Sri Lanka is officially at peace and is trying to rebuild. There is a lot to be done but the country has good assets. The nature is beautiful, the beaches are soft and this land has something that is increasingly rare in this world: authenticity.
Even more than elsewhere, in Sri Lanka you have to get out of the tourist swarm. Real Sri Lankans are endearing, honest and very attached to their culture. The most beautiful of Sri Lanka is to be found along the side roads. This is where the people who are worth every trip live.
Sri Lanka is rich in culture and history. It’s a pity that you have to be rich to visit them
A few years ago, the Sri Lankan government decided to increase the price of visits to its monuments tenfold. Since the forums did not take off, Sri Lanka has become an exorbitant cultural destination. Each must-see is between 30 and 60€. So choices will have to be made and that’s a shame.
If the budget is tight, select a top 3 and run away from the rest
Sigirya for its citadel, Polonarowna for the ruins (and also for its lake and its inhabitants), a superb safari in the Yala Park, everyone will choose according to his or her aspirations.
Fortunately, even if they are really worth the detour, the most beautiful things to see in Sri Lanka are not expensive and even free. These are the people you will meet on your way, street restaurants, suburban cafes, the summit of Adam’s Peak (free), the tropical hills and family beaches.
Let’s talk about angry things: Sri Lanka is also being talked about for bad thing
Top 1 bad: Sexual harassment and assault in Sri Lanka
I promised the whole truth and nothing but the truth: sexual harassment has been most prevalent in Sri Lanka.
Even India, with its disastrous reputation in sexual harassment, is no match for it. I would like to make it clear that everything that follows is true, it is sincere, it is real life.
On the buses, men rub, touch, feel and grope all over the place. Some even masturbate, ostentatiously, live on the seat next to you. Men act without shame. Their behaviour can be aggressive, they feel legitimate.
So on local buses and trains, ladies, pants are obligation. No shorts, no dresses, no mini tops. It’s not recommended even if you’re surrounded by your bodyguards. You won’t escape the gestures, the looks and especially the faces: the tongue pulled out that goes back and forth is not that of Einstein. This mimicry is an invitation to violent, dominant and non-consensual coitus. A drawing?
In second place in the top-flop of Sri Lanka: tourist harassment
Many travellers report disappointment or outright anger. Sadly, Sri Lanka’s reputation for harassment of tourists is well-deserved. Some will stop at nothing to extract money from the traveller, their greed knows no borders. Visitors bring back from this island a dominant feeling of excessive greedy, venality. Smiles, curiosity, friendliness often have only one goal: to clean your wallet.
Flop n°3: prohibitive prices. In Sri Lanka, a can of coca is sometimes sold for 5€
In the most touristy areas, prices are soaring, you’ve been warned. But that’s not all. Tourists don’t pay the same bill as locals: entrance to sites, restaurants, museums, bars, there are two rates: one for you, one for them.
The problem is also that a high rate does not guarantee quality. For a dirty room, mediocre food or rotten transport, Sri Lankans may demand the full price. Do not give in in any way. Negotiate firmly or flee, but do not accept these actions. Take them back to the networks or to whomever is entitled and make room for those who are doing their best and offering good services. By fighting scams you will be doing a service to the country that deserves better than this sad reputation.
The truth is not always easy to write. It would be unfair to paint such an unflattering picture of Sri Lankans and end on a discouraging note.
Know that even if everything I report here is true, I also saw men getting up to allow me to change places and apologize for the *uck* (no insults here!) with dirty hands: “Sorry maam, not all Sri Lankans are like that, be welcome, sorry for them“. I had more good encounters than bad ones and my exploration of this island is full of kindness, warmth and generosity. From Bala from Kandi (a pharmacist I met on the street) to Rambo from Deniyaya, they were legion to offer me the best of Sri Lanka. The balance is tipped in favour of the good, the kind, the respectful.
ශ්රී ලංකාවට ස්තූතියි, සමුගන්න, ඉක්මනින් හමුවෙමු śrī laṁkāvaṭa stūtiyi, samuganna, ikmanin hamuvemu!
Deserts, cinemas, cities, dishes, mountains, tea, temples, spices, etc. Any traveller who knows it will tell you: India is the country of all travel. From revelation to trauma, it spares no one and enchants for a lifetime!