Sri Lanka musings

5 Apr

I thought I’d do a quick round up of thoughts about Sri Lanka before getting back into writing about Thailand :)

British influence

I said to Dad the other day that Sri Lanka is strange as there is so much that is similar to Britain it kinds of makes you feel like you’re at home, but then there’s so much that is very different and completely unfamiliar that you can’t forget you’re away. They drive on the left (when they feel like it), there are the same road signs, road markings and roundabouts (the rules of which are universally ignored – give way? You give way!), red post boxes, lots of tea, ‘devilled chicken’ – although I can’t remember the last time I heard someone in England described spiced food as ‘devilled’, ginger beer and best of all, THEY SELL MARMITE. Stupidly I forgot to stock up though after eating nothing else for breakfast for a week :(

Incredible food

Hot and mainly vegetable based, delicious and served by the ton. I think Sri Lankans are offended unless you leave their houses or restaurants visibly bulging. If you finish one dish, more often than not it will immediately be replenished, whether you want more or not. Tiny Thai portions will be difficult to get used to.


Most are lovely, very friendly and interest in hearing your thoughts about Sri Lanka or teasing you about the cricket. If you stand still long enough, someone will talk to you and ask how they can help. Sometimes this is finally motivated, or they might just want a cigarette, but more often than not, we found that Sri Lankans are just happy to chat and find out a bit more about you. You can be standing at a bus stop and even though you know what time the bus is, where it is going to and where it stops (the ‘bus halting place’!) at least one person will check with you where you want to go and tell you you’re in the right place! It can get quite overwhelming and sometimes you do feel like saying “I KNOW! I am now 27 and I am able to get on a bus BY MYSELF!” but they are so eager to help you just end up smiling and saying thank you very much. I think getting lost would be nearly impossible here though!

However, some people (mainly tutktuk drivers) are what Craig brilliantly termed ‘endearingly shifty’. They are by no means native to Sri Lanka, but here they are so disarmingly friendly, you know they are up to something, you just don’t know what. Our barriers were lowered significantly here because everyone seems so nice, but there was one man in Kandy we met who said he could take us to a place to stay for 300-800 rupees (£1.50-£4) per night. He smelled of alcohol that morning and there was just something about him we couldn’t put our finger on, but it is difficult because most of the time when travelling is spent going “shut up instincts, I have to get on this bus as we can’t afford to fly everywhere” or “shut up instincts, a bit of mould on the walls will not kill you (unless you lick it). Do not lick it.” This time it was a case of “actually instincts, you might have a point here” and we walked away. It might be that we missed out on a very cheap lovely room; or that we could have ended up in pieces in a suitcase somewhere. Not going back to find out!

Tuktuk drivers

They actually deserve a special category of their own as they were one of the most frustrating things about Sri Lanka. In everywhere else we’ve been, if you agree a price at the beginning, that’s what you’re charged. Twice now we gave tuktuk drivers money and then they added 100 rupees on top ‘for petrol’ or ‘because the traffic’s bad’. My advice is always carry the correct change on you because they won’t give you any. Hence the reason we tried to always travel by bus as it’s cheaper to go 100km by bus that 100m by tuktuk. I also hate the way they ask you where you’re from…you can actually see them mentally accessing the Sri Lankan Tuktuk Driver’s Index of How Much to Overcharge by (Listed by Country) whilst you’re talking to them. We tried lying for a while but it didn’t seem to make much difference. If you say ‘how much’, a driver will say ‘500, 600, 650 rupees? 675 rupees!’ without any input from us! On all of the tuktuks, there are little moral sayings – ‘peace begins with a smile’, ‘there is no fury like a patient man’s’, ‘still waters run deep’, ‘we can change the world’…oh the irony.

I only got hassled once during my time there and that was when Craig wasn’t with me. I’d got lost on the way back to the hotel from the beach and was walking along the main road, looking for the right turning. A tuktuk driver turned up and I waved him away, but he didn’t take no for an answer and just drove alongside me, telling me I was beautiful and very nice…this was funny at first but after 10 minutes I wanted him to go but couldn’t think of any more polite ways of saying it. The only thing that popped into my head that I knew would get my message across was from an assembly from middle school – the headmaster said if someone’se doing something you don’t like, you just need to shout the following: “STOP IT, I DON’T LIKE IT!” With that eloquent dismissal, the tuktuk driver finally drove off :D

But the above was only a very small annoyance during our trip, we loved Sri Lanka with the amazing people, mix of cultures and religions (on one street you will see little Buddhist, Christian and Hindu shrines), stunning scenery, ‘cool spots’ (shops selling cold drinks), hotels (confusingly, little takeaways that sell ‘short eats’ or quick bites!), the infamous ‘head wobble’ (usually meaning yes or ok), beautiful local dress, hot weather…which reminds me. What I also love about Sri Lankans is that THEY DO NOT LIE ABOUT THE WEATHER. They say the same as us – sometimes it’s just too hot! SE Asians will deny it’s hot until the cows come home, even if it’s 40 degrees. They go around in jeans, jumpers, scarves and hats and look at you like you’re crazy for diving into an airconditioned ATM when you’re scarlet and a sweaty mess (which is all the time) just to cool down a bit. In Sri Lanka, a lot of the men wear loose sarongs and maybe a short-sleeved shirt, and the women wear flowing skirts or saris and all carry a little handkerchief for dabbing when they sweat. It makes us feel a lot more normal!

I’m not sure what we were expecting when we got here but we’ve had a fantastic three weeks and some great experiences, met some new friends and have lots of nice memories to take away. I know we missed out on seeing a lot more of Sri Lanka than we did, but it was nice to stay a bit longer with Ajit and his family in a big, airy room near the beach, potter around on the bike and get to know him and his family better.

I am afraid, Adam and his peak will have to wait…there will be a next time!



7 Responses to “Sri Lanka musings”

  1. wheresphil 5 April 2012 at 8:16 am #

    Great post, I still have Sri Lanka on my list, If I don’t go to Europe via the northern route I am definately going to go via SL. I have enjoyed your stories from there.

    And tuk tuk and moto drivers are the same everywhere !

    • toaustraliathelongway 6 April 2012 at 3:21 am #

      Thanks :) if you do make it there, hope you enjoy it as much as we did! I’ve never had a tuktuk driver go back on the price agreed once we’ve got there anywhere else but yes, they generally are all crazy!

  2. Karen Klink 5 April 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    We plan to go to SE Asia for a winter after we sell our house–Thailand, VietNam, Laos. Now looks like we may have to add Sri Lanka.

    • toaustraliathelongway 6 April 2012 at 3:22 am #

      Great plan! If you need any recommendation for guesthouses in all of those countries etc please let me know and would be happy to pass on the details. The flight from Bangkok to Sri Lanka is so reasonable I think you can’t NOT go :)

  3. idsmedia 14 April 2012 at 6:33 am #

    Hi, friend,
    We are very proud of you! Nice story.

    • toaustraliathelongway 14 April 2012 at 6:58 am #

      Hello, thanks for your comment. We loved Sri Lanka and can’t wait to come back. We were very glad to hear everyone was ok after the Indonesian earthquake the other day.

      • idsmedia 14 April 2012 at 8:48 am #

        You are welcome.

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