Some helpful Dos and Don'ts for your upcoming tour of Sri Lanka
You are planning for an adventure in Paradise and want to be fully prepared. This write-up is all about providing you with essential and helpful tips to aid that preparation. The dos and don’ts mentioned here have been drawn up for the regular traveller but if you are travelling with Foozoo you can count on everything to be taken care of. Also, these points will not only help you bridge the cultural gap in no time but also give you a chance to enjoy Sri Lankan way of living.
Drinking water. Unless you are particularly sensitive, general tap water is good to drink. But to be on the safe side and not ruin your holiday, stick to bottled water. Most hotels will provide these at a cost. If you are staying at a Foozoo run guesthouse or hotel you will notice that they will provide free drinking water from a dispenser. Also if you tour with them, they provide water for the entire journey. Do make it a point to take a refillable glass or metal bottle to help the island fight its battle against Single Use Plastic. One good way to stay hydrated however is to keep downing those sweet and cooling king coconut water which you will find in abundance.
Sugar and Spice and all that’s nice: Try everything once and be amazed and delighted. And note that every cup of tea or fruit juice is too much too sweet. So if you are particularly trying to avoid sugar, give the restaurant or cafe a heads up. This mostly happens in rural areas and street-side shops. The same goes for spices. Remember you can always ask to have the spices a bit toned down if you know the food is made to order.
Insect Repellent: It’s a tropical paradise and that means the insects are abundant and the locals have adapted well to live with them. So don't be alarmed when you see way too many creepy crawlies and winged insects everywhere. Mosquito-borne diseases are however a big issue. Although concerted efforts have helped keep some of the dangerous diseases like Dengue Fever in check it is always good to stay protected. So do keep your favourite mosquito repellent or all-purpose insect repellent handy. We recommend you try out the many organic ones available which are good for you and the environment. And by the way, if you tend to swell up or have allergic reactions to insect bites, maybe see a doctor before you travel and get some medication.
No Selfies with the Buddha: Don’t take a selfie with the Buddha or any other religious statues such as Hindu gods etc. Sri Lankans hold their religion in high regard. To the extent, a female tourist with a Buddha Tattoo on her arm was recently refused entry to the country for disrespecting Buddhism. Always remember to show respect to religious statues. Avoid facing your back to religious statues or worse yet taking selfies with them. Also, make sure your shoulders and legs are covered when visiting places of religious or cultural importance. Also, no hats when entering such places.
Ahem. No PDA, please. Sri Lankans are a prude lot. You will rarely see people kissing in public, let alone couples holding hands. Showing affection in public is something we tend to avoid like the plague. So unless you enjoy being stared at, it’s best to avoid PDA (Public Displays of Affection) at most times when you are out and about. Of course, this applies to the times when you are in public.
The pace is super slow: What is a 15-minute drive on the map could take an hour if you set off at the wrong time. Sri Lankan roads are small and packed with an ever increasing number of cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks! Rush hour traffic can come to a virtual halt. Also, bus travel can be slow because they to stop whenever they see the potential of taking on another passenger. So Intercity express is more a concept here vs a reality. And it only gets worse on holidays, festival days and so on. While this is all fun for the adventure or budget traveller you will end up precious time staring blankly into another vehicle for long amounts of time. Therefore plan ahead and leave space for delays. If you can afford it, Sri Lanka is one destination where using the services of a tour operator makes perfect sense.
No Meter? Girl Bye! Yep. If the slow pace was bad, being ripped off at the end of a long journey is the worst. Being in the industry we know. And it keeps happening. So always agree on a price beforehand or stick to a taxi with a meter and ensure the meter is running. You could be paying multiple times the cost of an actual trip and have a bad experience overall. So always look for the meter. If there is no meter, simply refuse and walk away. To make matters easy, we have Uber which offers tuk-tuks and a host of transport options as well as the local version, Pick Me, Sri Lanka. The latter, however, requires a local sim to be operational.
Watch out! It’s a fact. Some of us (yours truly excluded) drive like maniacs. Especially the Bus Drivers, Tuk Drivers and motorcyclists. They swerve and cut through in the most unimaginable ways, an innocent drive to the shops sometimes does feel like a rollercoaster ride. There have been occasions too many, where even the pedestrian crossing has not proven to be safe. Make sure to look and look again, before you cross the road. Double the level of alertness if you are brave enough to wield a bicycle, motorcycle or drive.
How does one book a train? Well, this does seem tricky indeed. The general rule is to go to the station, buy a ticket and travel. Scoring a seat is like a winning a lottery. A private website under the title Malinda Prasad provides an easy to understand the time table of trains. The government website can be a bit perplexing. Some train lines, particularly the ones on the upcountry line (Colombo - Kandy - Nanu-Oya - Ella) line offer carriages where the seats can be reserved one month in advance. But they also sell out before you say ‘one ticket please’. Work with Foozoo or other local agents to have your train tickets reserved on these busy lines and act at least a month in advance. For those who fail to get one, know that you can still travel on these trains. A seat may become available as the passengers alight from different stations.
Hand sanitizer and tissues: Sri Lanka is humid and before you know it you are feeling hot and sticky. So passing on or attracting germs is easy. This is why having a bottle of hand sanitiser is a good idea. Especially when there is such a lot of good street food to be had. And you don't want to pass one by. And wet tissues are a genius invention. Not just to wipe off the dust and feel a temporary cool respite. They also help clean your hands after a quick bite or prove helpful in the case of a toilet emergency.
To tip or not to tip: Tip away. It is not essential. It is not expected. But a lot of Sri Lankans you will meet on the road, at cafes, at hotels etc really struggle to get by. So a standard tip of 10% will have a large impact on their lives and families.
Where’s the toilet roll? Why wipe when you can wash? And here’s a delightful hand shower to change your life. If you are going to a public washroom or staying with locals (other than a guesthouse or hotel) you may find a handy shower you can aim at the ‘you know what’ and clean far better than a piece of paper ever could. It’s really nice. Try it.
A mess of a tax system. There are way too many tax systems even for the locals to understand. So don’t try. But if and when booking hotels and services in advance, be mindful that the figure you agreed on may not be the final. But as a standard, you will have to pay VAT, NBT and service charges.
We hope the above these Sri Lanka travel tips will be useful for your upcoming holiday.