Stepping into Sri Lanka for the first time, this is what Lawrence Hamilton found.
1. Sri Lanka was a soft landing. We arrived at the Colombo airport, found the ATM and dutifully lined our pockets with rupees before heading out of the air-conditioned building into the heat and the hustle. I took a deep breath and expected the worst: Aggressive touts, inflated prices, and a sordid collection of bullshit artists and hawkish thieves. That outcome couldn’t be further from the truth. While of course there were the taxi touts and I am sure their prices were too high, most didn’t persist and walked away after our rebukes. After a few queries we were directed on how to get to the local bus stand to make our way to Negombo for the night. Far different experiences have been had in other parts of the world I have traveled in.
2. The currency will do your head in. Since our arrival the exchange has hovered around 1 Australian dollar to 120 Sri Lankan rupees. I have spent almost two years traveling around India, Nepal, and Pakistan and giving how similar Sri Lanka feels to India (initially) I was constantly shocked at the prices I was being quoted. It took a few days to get over being told your dinner is 300 rupees or 500 rupees or whatever. On a side note, as a general rule one should always think of prices in the local currency as opposed to converting from prices in your home country. After spending the last 3 years in Australia this is proving exceedingly difficult as everything has become so expensive there. The sheer relief of cheap prices has been fantastic. So far we have found the public transportation to be insanely cheap.
3. Speaking of currency…Sri Lanka is cheap but not as cheap as India or most of SE Asia. At the same time the quality of things is extremely high and if you are in the mood it is a nice place to splash out a bit. For the most part my wife and I have been spending about 8 dollars a night for a cozy room right next to the beach. While we were in the hill country we spent a bit more (around 15 AUD a night for 3 nights) and had quite honestly the most plush hotel room I have ever stayed in. Normally I am a pretty shoestring traveler, but maybe I’m getting old — it was a wonderful three days. This is especially good for people who are coming off a long stint in India.
4. The Food is Delicious..Fresh rice and curry, rotis, coconut sambol, and a wide variety of fresh fruits and bananas are sold right off the tree. If you love subcontinental food and are an obsessive roti-phile then Sri Lanka is the place for you. Again, food is a bit more costly than in India, but it is fresh and tasty. The best bet seems to be eating in your guesthouse, and it pays to order early in the afternoon for your dinner that evening. It is pretty easy to order. Rice and curry with fish, chicken, beef, or vegetarian.
5. Sri Lankan People.. Towards dusk one evening I decided to go for a swim. A local gentleman who I had been talking to throughout the afternoon (and was happily buzzed on local coconut arrack) followed me out to the beach. A bit surprised, I asked him why he came out with me. “To make sure you don’t drown.” I couldn’t think of a better story to show how friendly the Sri Lankans have been on our travels.