When I came back from my trip to Sri Lanka earlier in the year, I noted down a handful of hints and tips about travelling there but I never published them.
So here they are now…better late than never!
In no particular order except for #1 being my Number One tip:
#1. Buy a Sri Lankan SIM card upon arrival. I got mine at Colombo airport. SIM cards are very cheap (Rs 1,300) and packages come with lots of data (3GB!) – you will make great use of it.
#2. Switch the GPS on. On your smartphone. Now that you are online 24/7 at superlow cost (see #1 above) you can track your route. So useful when trying to find out where you should get off the long distance bus, if you are not heading to a central bus station and no one is giving you the right directions! Ditto when you get a bit lost wandering around mazes of streets (Negombo my best example).
#3. Fresh coconuts. Drinking coconut water is very refreshing and you will enjoy it when spending hours in the sun. I am totally addicted to it. Fresh coconuts cost Rs 50-60. At Galle Fort I got asked Rs 100 so I told them that in Colombo I had paid Rs 60 and the price instantly dropped!
#4. “No, thank you”. Make sure you are comfortable with saying that. “No, thank you” is the statement I have used the most in Sri Lanka. No, I am not interested in your services/tuk tuk/taxi/goods/shop/etc. Statement usually followed by one of the following white lies: “I am leaving tomorrow”/”I am on my way to meet some friends”/”No, I am not alone, my husband is back at the guesthouse” (not realising, though, that my thumb ring can hardly be mistaken for a wedding ring). I have used all the above excuses to get rid of unwanted attention or pushy tuk tuk drivers. Who usually turned their attention elsewhere quickly. I never felt harassed when travelling Sri Lanka, though, unlike what I experienced in India for example.
#5. Scams. Plenty. You will probably fall for one of them at some point. No matter how street-wise and/or experienced traveller you are. There is plenty of info on the internet but the ones I encountered the most are related to not-to-be-missed Buddhist ceremonies (where of course only your prospective “guide” can take you to, and not for free), cancelled buses on certain routes (so you’ll have to take a tuk tuk instead – I was always very firm on this one, skill picked up in years of Asia travels), and sob stories about family dramas/poverty/etc (while I am all for charity, it is often hard to tell which stories are true, and I had to quickly grow a thick skin on these).
#6. Don’t buy souvenirs at the airport. Rather, support the local communities and artists, and shop at the local craft shops where you can find original pieces at very reasonable prices. Galle and Kandy are great for this. As for me, I came back from my trip with a little elephant made of brass (made for me by the artist), ankle bracelets, painted fabric coasters, and a couple of kids’ books…