I hand over a 100 Rupee note to the fare
collector on the bus; I have no idea how much the ticket is from Tangalle in
the South, where I just spent a few glorious days on the beach searching for
sea turtles at night, to Dikwella, a small village just a hop away from the
well-known Unawatuna beach and two hops away from the World UNESCO site, Galle
He hands over my change and plants 80
Rupees in my hand.
A 4-hour bus journey, albeit slightly
comfortable, a tad squishy and with two bus doors open the whole time to fasten
the pace on pick-ups and drop offs, just
came down to 20 Sri Lankan Rupees, less than two silver springbok-embossed
South African coins, less than R2.
“Welcome to Sri Lanka,” I tell myself.
I tuck the 80 Rupees in my wallet knowing
that in a few hours I’ll be able to buy an intense curry from the bus change,
and continue to stare out of the bus window as the West coast of Ceylon
My fingers search on my phone for
accommodation on a booking site. I skim through the reviews, skip the
dormitory-style accommodation and lock in a deal for just under R200 a night;
breakfast, private bathroom, great location and air-conditioning included.
Another beach, another passenger – shoos-shoos-shoos – another fishing boat,
another surfer –
shoosh-shoosh-shoos. I take out the last
samoosa from my bag and snack on the spicy crunchy vegetable treat.
Four samoosas were R4.
“Welcome to Sri Lanka,” I remind myself
in for a Sri Lankan surprise
Sri Lanka, the teardrop-shaped island South
of India, which was once under colonial rule, torn by more than two decades of
civil conflict from 1983 to 2009 and struck by the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004,
is now a firm favourite amongst adventure seekers, budget travellers, solo
travellers, foodies, surfers and yogis as an off-the-beaten path destination in
Asia. And it is not only easy on the wallet,
but with its sprawling jungles, abundant wildlife, idyllic beaches, terraced
tea plantations, friendly and helpful locals, charming landscapes, its fair
share of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and good food, Sri Lanka is also very easy
on the eye.
What is not to like?
You can take the scenic train route to
Nuwara Eliya and Ella and spend your days cooling off in the cooler temperatures
of the highlands where green tea plantations and waterfalls beckon you closer.
Fancy a beach, a chance to surf or want to
go whale watching? Then beaches like Trincomalee in the north, or Arugam Bay,
Mirissa, Uppuveli and Unuwatuna is the white sand answer you’ve been looking
If your budget allows a safari, try Yala
National Park which has the highest density of leopards in the world, or Horton
Plains National Park where you can peek over World’s End, a sheer cliff with a
suitable name. And if you have itchy
feet and feel like a hike, why not tackle Adam’s Peak which towers 2 243 m
above the clouds or Ella’s Rock.
But if you are after history and heritage,
best you add another day in the cultural triangle or just extend your stay in
Sri Lanka; visit the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, go to the sacred city of
Anuradhapura, climb Sigiriya Rock (or Pidurangala if you want a more affordable
option which offers the same view), go inside the impressive Dambulla Caves,
spend some time in Kandy to stroll around the lake and explore the Buddhist
temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. But
just keep in mind that if you are on a tight budget you might not want to visit
all the historic sights mentioned, as tickets to these sights should be bought
separately (about R1 200 for four sites) and it is only valid for one day.
And then of course there is the old Dutch
Galle Fort filled with history, and the vibrant and harmonious mix of people,
cultures, religions and traditions. Don’t forget to stick around for sunset to
see the cliff jumpers plummet into the water.
and Smiles in Sri Lanka
If you are concerned about safety you may
cast your worries aside. Like any country with tourists you may expect the
inflated “tourist price”, but the country is extremely safe; weather you are
travelling as a family, a female, in a group or solo. As with any country,
don’t walk alone at night and trust your instincts. The people are incredibly
friendly, caring and helpful; be prepared to smile a lot because when in Sri
Lanka you smile. Even though English is widely spoken in Sri Lanka and you’ll
most likely have no language barrier if you keep it simple… but a smile is
still the easiest form of communication.
South Africans can apply and pay the R465
visa fee online (highly recommended if you want to avoid lines and papers at
the airport). It is a simple and quick application process to get your 30 day
e-visa and it is also a double entry visa if you wanted to visit the Maldives.
Taking a public bus will set you back about
R1 to R5 while an air-conditioned mini bus is about R16, the express bus from
Galle to Colombo is R40 and a tuk-tuk starts around R17 for a short journey or
R350 for a full day tour.
If you find yourself in the capital city of Colombo
try using Uber as it is cheaper than bargaining a taxi price to get to or from
the airport/guesthouse. Scooter rental
is on average about R120 p/day.
Tourists can pick up an 8GB simcard for
R200 (4GB night time – midnight to 9am, and 4GB day time – 9am to midnight).
Budget accommodation starts from just under
R200; just note that some hotels add a 10% service charge, and there is also a
government tax but if differs from hotel to hotel, just check the fine print of
your booking confirmation or ask the hotel about any extra charges.
Street food starts at R2 while a meal in a
local restaurant is R13 and in a touristy restaurant it can easily go up to R86.
A 1.5 liter bottle of water is R7, a beer R30 and coffee – even though a decent
cup of coffee is almost non-existent – is also R30.
When it comes to the tourist attractions
the heritage sites, like mentioned before, can set you back more than R1000 if
you opt to visit all the sites and if you want to go on a safari it is R400
while a surf lesson is R175.
where, what and how long?
Sri Lanka is all-year destination and it has
rain throughout the year but in different regions; the best time for the west,
south coast and hill country is from December to March while the east coast is
highly enjoyable from April to September.
Sri Lanka is not suitable for a quick visit
due to the time it takes to travel from one destination to the next (unless you
just want to visit one place and move on again); it is best to plan your
itinerary around 10 days to 3 weeks if you want to experience a bit of
everything from beaches to wildlife to the highlands and the cultural triangle.
The names of towns and cities in Sri Lanka
are real tongue twisters - Unawatuna, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura – but before
you know it it will just roll of your tongue, effortlessly.
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