Ayubowan! You'll hear this phrase over and over again on your trip. It means long life and it is how people greet each other. How great is that! I want to mention first that it is a safe travel destination, in case you have any doubts. To enhance your experience there, I wrote down a list of things you need to know before you travel to Sri Lanka.
Be very respectful to Buddha
- No Buddha Tattoos - Buddha tattoos can be considered as a criminal offense and you can be deported. T-shirts with Buddha illustrations are considered offensive. It's best to leave them at home.
- Don't turn your back on Buddha statues - Across the country, there are hundreds of majestic Buddha statues. Generally, everyone's first impulse is to stand in front of it and get their picture taken. Taking a picture facing the statute is OK, but turning your back within a reasonable distance is forbidden. Regardless to say touching or sitting on the statues is off limits too. My guide told me that one-time a temple was washed up till the ceiling because a tourist sat on Budha’s lap as a photo opportunity. This led to serious damage to the ancient handmade paintings in the temple.
- Do your homework about Buddhism - Buddhism is a huge part of Sri Lankan culture. If you want to have a better understanding of what you see around; try to learn about Buddhism as much you can before you travel.
Book Your Train Tickets Early
Scenic train rides of Sri Lanka leave you with great memories and photos to show off. The train goes through green valleys, tea farms, and waterfalls. The most popular route is between Kandy-Nuwara Eliya. Book your train tickets in advance because they sell out very fast. There is a huge demand from locals and tourists. I recommend the first class wagon. It is not fancy or crazy expensive like European trains. The reason I like the first class is, it is less crowded and you can sit back, relax as the tea farms glide by your window. When planning your holiday, keep in mind that train ride is slower than the car ride because it stops in multiple stations and has a longer route.
Driving In Sri Lanka
- Beware Of The Buses - Forget about traffic rules and lanes. Sri Lankans drive with their instincts. It is very important to watch out for busses. They use their size advantage to go full throttle. Don’t expect them to hit the breaks just because you have the right of passage. Save yourself and get out of their way. Having said that I don't think using buses is a safe way to travel for tourists.
- Roads - Roads between cities are generally single lane and narrow. Due to that and traffic congestions into consideration. Plan accordingly. Drive time from point A to B is longer than Google Maps suggests.
- Rent A Car - I don’t recommend renting a car unless you are absolutely sure you can adapt to this traffic chaos easily. Alternatively, you can hire a driver/guide. As a result, you'll be in safe hands of someone who is used to the traffic. This is how most tours operate. It is very common and reasonably priced.
Friendliest People On Earth
Sri Lankan people are the friendliest. Most of them speak English. Considering, don't be shy to interact. You’ll be greeted with huge smiles. They are always more than happy to tell you about their country and culture. They genuinely want you to have a good time in there. Don’t be surprised if someone goes out the extra mile to help you out if you ask something. To keep up the good vibes please be open, kind, and generous in return.
Bring more cash with you than you think you’ll need. This suggestion applies to all destinations. However, why is it worth mentioning here? Depending on where you travel, ATMs are not widely available in Sri Lanka. I imagine nobody wants to find themselves short of cash in just before a safari trip. On the other hand, you don't need to worry if you are only traveling to Colombo there are plenty there.
Don’t talk politics or ask too much about the recent history. It is a delicate subject. Sri Lanka has been through a long civil war and a lot of pain. As a result, people don’t want to talk about it. It is an unspoken rule. Perhaps they don’t want to be reminded of those times. As guests, we should respect that.
It Might Be More Expensive Than You Expect
Sri Lanka is more expensive than other South Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam. One reason behind it is because it is an island and imported items are expensive (like alcohol). Another reason is, Sri Lanka is aiming to become a luxury tourism destination rather than a backpackers stop. Don’t worry there are options for both types of travelers. If you are looking for a budget travel option don’t forget to bring your own toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc. They are not common in budget hotels.
What To Pack?
- Toiletries - As I mentioned above bring your own toiletries. There are convenience stores in big cities like Colombo. You can find what you need but, if you are traveling to the countryside they are harder to find.
- Clothing - You are expected to wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulders while visiting the temples. You can throw a shawl on your shoulders or wrap around your waist. There are shawls at the entrance of the temples to rent or borrow. On the other hand bikinis and shorts are perfectly fine for the beach.
- Insect Repellent - Insect repellent is a must. Sri Lanka is a green, fertile island and home to a lot of plants and animals including flies and other insects. Locals are very at peace with nature. At first, it gave me an impression that I might not need to wear a repellent. I changed my mind immediately after got a lot of mosquito bites. To put it briefly, I advise wearing repellant for all outdoor activities.
Well, that's it you are ready to travel now! I can't wait to go back there. Have fun 🙂 You can also check Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority's website for more information.
If you are looking for best things to do there check out Sri Lanka Points Of Interest.