10 Tips for Touring Sri Lanka
If you’re planning to join us for the PTBA conference in Sri Lanka in November, British resident of Sri Lanka and author of The Bradt Travel Guide to Sri Lanka, Royston Ellis (www.roystonellis.com) offers these tips.
1. Cut down on the amount of clothes you plan to take; lightweight cotton clothing and respectable shorts (but not skimpy) are enough for touring. Use jeans and the top you wear on the plane to double up for evening and convention wear. 2. Get your entry permit in advance online at www.eta.gov.lk to avoid the hassle and the extra US$5 fee it costs getting it at the airport (in a separate queue before immigration). Online fee is US$30 for 30 days; US$15 for SAARC country passport holders. 3. Change traveller’s cheque or cash into local currency at the airport bank counters; it’s easier and you’ll get a better rate than at hotels while touring.
4. ATMs are in all towns and accept foreign credit cards for cash loans but beware some machines don’t automatically return the card and you need to press yet another button to get it back. Inform your credit card company that you’ll be using your card in Sri Lanka, so it doesn’t get blocked.
5. Hotel and restaurant bills attract service charge and taxes amounting to about 27.5% of the total, so allow for that when budgeting extras. Give as tip half the service charge (10%) in cash direct to the person you want to reward, otherwise he won’t get it at all.
6. Sri Lankans are beguiling but keep temptation from sticky fingers by squirrelling away money in buttoned pockets and keeping your eye on your belongings in public transport.
7.Whatever you are told about the water being safe to drink, stick to bottled mineral water opened in front of you, and avoid ice of uncertain provenance.
8.Stay an extra few days and take the luxury Rajadhani carriage attached to the 06.55 train from Colombo station for a day trip to the walled fort of Galle (a World Heritage Site) with free entry and stacks of trendy boutique shops, sidewalk cafés, antique shops, art deco mansions and bastions of its British and Dutch heritage. The train returns from Galle at 15.30; Rs2,300 day return; book online at http://www.rajadhani.lk.
9. November is the beginning of the tourist season on the West Coast so it’s a good time to swim in the Indian Ocean from the beaches of Mount Lavinia (a bus ride 12km south of Colombo) or Bentota (by train, 62km from Colombo).
10.Try Sri Lanka street food as a change from the ubiquitous rice and curry. Near liquor shops in towns and villages, you’ll find vendors offering hot snacks of chick peas with grated coconut, crisp cookies of lentil flour, whole deep fried garlic bulbs, large samosas stuffed with fish or vegetables, and egg hoppers (a rice flour pancake with a fried egg nesting in it).