Since the end of its civil war a number of years ago, Sri Lanka is fast becoming the new Vietnam/Thailand as a holiday destination. It’s currently still in its development stage (the Ritz Carton is being constructed as we speak), which is why if you’ve ever fancied experiencing a place prior to a full ‘western tourist’ make over, Sri Lanka would have to be up there with any place on the planet.
I hold this to be true, as where else on the earth can you get pristine beaches, untouched mountain views and interaction with big game wild life, all within about a 100 km radius? Plus there’s the added bonus of English being spoken everywhere.
I arrived with two best friends from school and our experiences consisted of 4 sections; Colombo, beaches, mountains and elephants. These will form the main headings as I try to keep this from becoming an essay with no scholarly value what so ever. Here we go:
Unless you come via cruise ship, Colombo international airport will likely be your port of entry. So for a relatively stress free beginning to your trip, consider the following.
- Change some money after clearing immigration (western currencies ‘lose’ about 5% in value, compared to 20% if you were to change it back in Australia). Keep your receipt as proof if you want to change money back at the end of the trip.
- There is a 24/7 bank (Ceylon bank – national bank) in Colombo for when you need to change more money. This is especially handy when you run out of money after normal working hours.
- You can also change money at most jewellers but they don’t give receipts and may be untrustworthy. However, jewellers offer better rates (less than 2% below the official Forex rate – AUD/LKR). Best to ask your accommodation/reliable source for recommendations.
- Airport to central Colombo should only cost about LKR 2000-2500 via taxi.
- Best way to get around all cities and nearby towns is to travel via tuk tuk. A basic pricing guideline for any journey is to assume LKR 50/km. Colombo has tuk tuks with meters at LKR 50/km, so if a driver says ‘no meter’ just get another one. Just be wary meters can also be tampered with. If you want/are forced to use an unmetered tuk tuks, any journey under 5 km is likely to attract a price of LKR 100/km. Note: You can barter the price down!
- Get a SIM card whilst in Sri Lanka. Best network for coverage and download speed is Dialog – I chose to get the 9GB data plan (4 GB peak – 8 am to 12 am and 5 GB off peak – 12am to 8am). Data lasts 30 days and costs LKR 649 plus LKR 300 rupee for the SIM card. Note the sim is more expensive in the airport (about LKR 300-400 extra).
- The local beer in Sri Lanka is called Lion (it’s a lager). Usually priced anywhere between LKR 300-500 rupee for a 500ml bottle. It’s not the nicest tasting beer especially once it starts to warm up – which is pretty quickly in the Sri Lankan climate. However, its recommended to have a beer with every meal as the alcohol content is likely to help you to avoid having the squirts. Most places should also have Carlsberg which is slightly more expensive as well as other common foreign beers (corona, peroni etc) for about LKR 700 for a 330ml bottle. Otherwise, you could always go to a local bottle shop (looks like a high school canteen) and get one for LKR 200 if you wish – among other things.
Unfortunately, Colombo was essentially a forgettable city if not for the casual beer at the Cricket Club Cafe which led to a chance meeting with some locals (one of whom I think turned out to be the Prime Minister’s son), copious amounts of tequila shots at 11am and ended with a party at a 4 storey mansion of Tony Montana Scarface proportions.
Notable points of interest were the Pettah Market (Floating and non floating) and drinks by the pool at the Kingsbury Hotel. Trying any and all street food is a must, with samosas being my fuel for this trip. Roti and khottu (a fried rice style dish containing chopped roti) are easy to find and are also highly recommended.
After a day exploring the capital, we headed south towards the beaches in search of our serendipity. To be continued…
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