March 9-19, 2014
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman
A quick introduction to the island off of the coast of India:
Language: Sinhala, English
Currency: Rupee Rs. 130 = 1 USD
Food: Rice and curry, Kottu, Rotti, Nasi Goreng, Hoepas
Beverages: Ginger Beer, Arrack, Lion Beer
Transportation: Hired driver or train
Meaning of Cassie: coins
Sri Lanka was a unique travel experience for me for many reasons, the most prominent was the transition back into being a tourist, traveling on a timeline; a vastly different type of experience then how I had spent the last 6 months living as a local in a foreign country. I was suddenly thrown back into all of the unknowns: the non-tourist price of something and the shock of the tourist price, the best local places to eat, and the mild skepticism of wondering who and what information to trust.
The first three days in Sri Lanka were spent exploring beautiful World Heritage sites, yet, remained mildly tainted as my friend Sarah and I were very unhappy with the guide we had hired to drive us around the country for five days. On the morning of day three we made the decision to leave him so that we could enjoy our remaining week in Sri Lanka on our own terms, and experience the country how we chose to as opposed to his kickback influenced decisions to take us to every tourist stop we crossed. Many tourists hire drivers to take them around because it is usually reasonably priced and you can avoid the hassle of packing your bags from train to train and tuk-tuk to tuk-tuk. However, we realized we were not receiving the local type of experience we had hoped to when we made the decision to hire him and thus took matters into our own hands – as most experienced travelers usually do – so that we would not remember the country by this sole, unsatisfactory guide.
The next seven days were much more enjoyable. We made our way south from Sigiriya, Kandy, Ella, to Mirissa, Unawatuna, and Hikkaduwa beaches. The landscape of Sri Lanka is amazing. You travel from mountainous valleys and tea plantations, flat agricultural fields, to white sandy beaches within the matter of hours, and each is just as stunning as the last. It’s terrain that I did not expect to see all on one island.
We stayed in Mount Lavinia for two nights as our flight did not arrive until 1:00am our first day there. We stayed along the beach in Mount Lavinia, which was quite nice and very relaxed. We did not spend anytime in the actual city of Colombo as we were advised there wasn’t much to see or do, and that it might not be particularly safe for two girls to wonder the city during the evening. On our last day in Sri Lanka we used public transportation to get to the airport that took about two hours to do around 6:00pm. As locals got on and off each paid about Rs. 40. As we got to the last stop there were only 8 tourist left, I thought it was strange the guy on the bus had not asked any of us to pay when we boarded the bus, but the answer became very clear as we got to the end. The bus attendant came around to each of us and demanded Rs. 300 for the ride. Observing that locals had only paid Rs. 40 we refused to pay Rs. 300. When we did he immediately lowered his price to Rs. 200, making it obvious he was trying to take advantage of us as tourist. Sarah and I refused yet again, and in the end we paid Rs. 100 for the both of us.
Absolutely beautiful. The views from the top are incredible and the hike really is not too terrible and once you reach the top you realize why is very worth it.
Unfortunately, we spent less than 24 hours in this city. It appeared to have a lot of charm and we did explore the a few of the local eateries that had very good middle eastern food. Our hotel was situated right on the lake which we were able to enjoy a beautiful view of while we ate our breakfast. That afternoon we visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and the Royal Botanical Gardens. I wish we had had more time there but what we did see was very nice.
Lovely town in the mountains – it lays in a valley surrounded by beautiful tree and tea covered hills. It is very reminiscent of the relaxed atmosphere and walkable town of Pai located in Northern Thailand.
We spent two nights in Mirissa. Laying on the beach and surfing are the main attraction here. The beach is very nice but there is not much to the town of Mirissa. The road that goes through the town is VERY busy so it’s not ideal for walking around to explore. The road also runs right along the beach so you hear all of the cars and vans honking while you try to enjoy the sand and sea. We were also able to go whale watching while in Mirissa. After an extra three hours on the open sea we finally saw a whale – and it was amazing. We followed it for about 30 minutes and it never got old watching it come in and out of the water.
My favorite! Everything you want in a beach town. There is one quaint and curvy road that leads you to the beach. It houses almost every guest house, restaurant, and shop which makes it lovely to walk and window shop or grab some delicious food. I’ve also heard that it is a favorite beach among the locals. From Unuwatuna we were able to grab a short tuk-tuk ride to Galle Fort. Galle is an old port city used during the British Colonial era. The fort was a great visit and is ideal for sunsets.
One of the most popular beaches for tourist in Sri Lanka, yet, was somewhat of a letdown after enjoying Unawatuna. Hikkaduwa did not have as much of a personality as Unuwatuna did, but it was till nice to visit and stopover here as we made our way back to Colombo via the train.
Ten days in Sri Lanka was just enough to enjoy and experience what the country is. My experience ranged from emotions of enjoyment to feelings of being taken advantage of. As a traveler it’s disheartening to experience this, yet, should always be expected to some degree. This is why I used the quote at the top of this writing; it is important to keep in mind this logic as travelers journey through foreign countries around the world. Immersing oneself into the culture and the people of the country your visiting is always the ultimate goal, to understand and see things in a different light, but it’s not always the easiest act to complete. Not every local wants to see a sea of foreigners in their town, and that is why it’s essential to remain sensitive and respectful as you make your way through a new country.
This was definitely another learning experience for myself as a traveler, an observer, and my desire to see every corner of the world, and I am grateful for it.