Every Christmas since 2014, we search for presents under a coconut-tree instead of a pine. Are you curious about life in Sri Lanka or considering visiting Sri Lanka? We will tell you a story about a real place that brings magic in our lives.
Today, the adventure spirit is defined by being always active and going different places. We are kite surfers indeed we do that too. We are curious to know the wide world that we are so lucky to live in. Also, when a place fills like home – we would like to come back to it and resource ourselves from the positive energy in it. This is how no matter what happens. We go for a month of kiting in Sri Lanka. Every year around Christmas and until after New Year’s Eve we have a tropical home address. We love Sri Lanka so here is a story that would tell you why?
Are there direct flights to Colombo Sri Lanka? Yes, probably from India. To reach that small paradise on Earth from Europe always has a mid stop (Doha; Dubai; Istanbul … take a guess which Airlines we fly with?). So when you arrive at Colombo’s International Airport after a short 10 to 15 hours of air adventures. It is a delightful surprise to hear some light melody of traditional music while walking across the hallway in direction of the Passport-control. Soon you discover it is a live-band welcoming new arrivals. This is when you may also notice that even if tired everybody is smiling and relaxed.
It is a good place that airport. For start comparison – it is OK to exchange money there. The rates are the same as would be everywhere else. So go for it. In the same line of thoughts, it is practical to buy a local SIM. You only need a passport and to charge some money in it. This way you can use local data-traffic to stay in touch with your close ones with only invested amount of the price of the telephone-card. Before even getting out of the airport, you are all set – cash and communication being assured. If you need a ride, you can also find or if you trust our recommendation – we know a guy too! All set? We pass by the department store to check the latest in washing machines, fridges or an oven. What else would you need to start the adventure?
Are people for real? Yes, they are. No matter what time it is; no matter where you are; no matter whom you are… Sri Lankan citizens are always traditional well acquainted. Women have beautiful “sari” and men wear “sarong” (which is like a man-skirt but it is extremely classy) as a sign of respect. They will smile, because this is a form of politeness and good manners. They will be honest and helpful with all their heart, even if they do not know – they will try to help you.
And this is how you drive on a scooter for over 3h while searching for an animal / veterinary pharmacy or doctor, to arrive in the next city 50km away. On the way, in every village where you stop every 2-3km – they did not have. They want to help, so they send you to the next one where they may have? You ride until you arrive somewhere where they really do. Finally they helped even if they did not literally answer your question. This is how they are and this is how it is. Sri Lankan people are nice people with big hearts that offer you love by sending you in a “random” direction that reveals itself being the good direction. You need to have patience and hope.
This is an adventure after all!
Tuk-tuk ride in the city...
So how is the traffic? Ah! Yes, the traffic is Sri-Lankan too. Let’s start with a note: there is no highway road in Sri Lanka. The traffic is as dense as on the highway only driving on national two-way road. Also, being an ex-Britain colony, the traffic is reverse, so it looks a little messy, speedy and extreme. They are so much in a rush, but aren’t we all? For someone that is not used, it may look chaotic and dangerous.
Participants are driving from the smallest vehicles (like a scooter or a tuk-tuk), then normal cars (still mostly Toyota and mainly hybrids in that poor country lost in the sea) to big colorful buses with doors open and people hanging outside. Yes! It is like in the movies. Only when you trust your driver – everything is going well and impressively he brings you to your destination safe, sane and with a huge smile. They are home and this is usual and most of all this is the only way of driving they know. So stay cool & enjoy the ride. Usually, we ask the driver to stop at some local restaurant with good traditional food or on the side of the road for fresh fruits. Miam!
What about that exquisite cuisine? Now this is a tricky question, because food in Sri Lanka is delicious only very spicy too. So when you say “not hot” before you order, you will get acceptable hot meal. It is important for someone living there for a month to adapt better to the local nutrition manners.
- They have a lot of street-food stands where you can discover the delights of fried garlic (hot), chips (hot) made of tapioca and rarely potatoes, boiled chick-pea etc.
- In almost every store you can find a glass-case with some breakfast type of pastry – coconut pancakes, vegetable or egg or meat roti (looks like a samosa) and it is always spicy. So when you order breakfast, and they serve you tea – it is the English way with milk and surprise! It smells the cow. The milk is real and not treated with bunch of chemicals to suppress the smell of the animal that gave it. Remember? Just like in our childhood.
- If you pass by a fast-food restaurant, you get something special! The only country in the world that serves you your “dünner-kebab” already chewed – the “kotu roti” is a super tasty dish made by frying chopped flat bread and vegetables with spices. It sounds horrible and it looks weird, but this is the reason you can be assured it is super delicious. It can be only vegetables – plus egg – plus meat, so the main ingredients of good kebab. Only while preparing it they are cutting the bread into small pieces mixed with other ingredients while being fried. Watching the preparation is a show on its own and very loud concert. It’s worded.
- When you get to the restaurant, there are some exceptional meals to taste: the rice and curry and fried rice are a must, also if you are into seafood – the “deviled calamari” is delectable and hot or any fish. It is an island in a different sea than the ones we know in Europe, you can guess there are some fish you have never heard of that will impress you with their taste. Oh! And also soup, pumpkin soup is appetizing everywhere, you will appreciate it.
- A side what’s cooked, they have so many fruits! Those that we know in Europe are indeed more luscious… Starting with the biggest fruit on Earth – “Jackfruit” (and has nothing to do with Jack Daniels, except that can help easily to remember the name), mango in all colors, bananas in all sizes, papaya, melons, pineapples, all the citruses … and the king of all the Coconut! Every time you see a stand near the road that sells fruits, you should stop, because there is a big chance to discover a variety of fruits and flavors unknown to you until then.
FAST NOTE about the drinks in Sri Lanka
Concentrate on the coconuts if you like fresh juice, this is the best. And traditional beverage like the “Ginger beer” which has no alcohol in contradiction with name.
Alcoholic drinks are expensive and not available in normal stores. You need to go to the “Alcohol shop” for a beer or any stronger beverage. The “Arrack” would be the local brandy made of coconut. Also, rum is commonly used for cocktails, still expensive like all the rest. Sri Lankan are not a drinking nation, because they are very religious and most religions disapprove of alcohol consumption especially in big quantities. So here is an easy selection between consumers. The Government makes you pay more either to disengage you from drinking, either to collect from tourists bigger prices to remind them of their home-countries. It is a win-win for the local economy.
FUN NOTE about local customs
When you go shopping for whatever type of shopping: glossaries or souvenirs or cloths? You should always remove your shoes before you enter the store!
Usually there is a sign on the door before you enter, but even if there isn’t or you may not notice it because of all the flip-flops scattered outside. It is as fun as it is unusual, because you are in a foreign country and you do not know if you can trust the place to leave your shoes unattended? But you should and you will and with faith and relief you will discover them back outside when you finish your shopping no matter how much time you spent inside that shop. It is extraordinary filling to be safe and home when being so far into the unknown.
What to do when you are in Sri Lanka? For such a small country, there is actually a lot. It is almost 10 times smaller than Romania with bigger population (source); it is such a rich cultural place. So everything depends on what adventure do you seek?
- If interested in sigh-seeing:
The island has an intense history left to inspire us and teach us about the past. The heart of the island is full of touristic sights. The capital has been moved several times over the years so it is a path to discover the history of the country by stop in all ancient cities. Each will strike you with the technological advancement of the past civilizations that lived there several generations before ours.
Each year as a tradition we make a visit to a sacred city marking the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka: Anuradhapura. We drop by the oldest tree in the world certified today. 288 years B.C. Buddhist monks brought from India a branch of the tree under which Buddha got his enlightenment!Road-trip in Sri Lanka? Leaving by tuk-tuk from Colombo → Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte → Dambadeniya → Kurunegala → Puttalam (Wilpattu National Park) → Anuradhapura → Polonnaruwa → Kandy trough Ella Rock and back to Colombo by train. Surely if discovering history while visiting ancient cities, you will find many more sites charged with knowledge of the past.
Such a peaceful experience is when you decide to avoid the crowd to the castle in a rock. So you go climb the rock next to Sigiriya. You pass by the reclining Buddha on the way up. On top you find pure peace and quiet while admiring a 360°view over the whole Dambulla area. You may even notice that huge elephant walking in the tropical forest nearby. He is huge, you cannot miss it.
- If passionate about water sports like we are:
→ SURF: The whole south-cost Est and West are good for surfing on waves for those that may be curious to learn to surf, it may be the perfect destination because the season is all year long.
→ KITESURF: There are perfect conditions for learning or improving your kiteboarding skills on the Kalpitiya lagoon (special attention in a different article). The season is divided in two parts: high- from April to October (average wind 35 knots) and low- from December to February (average wind 20 knots).
→ Windsurfing is always available where kite surfing is too.
→ Scuba-diving is also an option…
- If curious about the local particularities:
Please don’t go visit the elephant orphanage. First ask yourself how did those baby-elephants become orphans in the first place? Yet, it is a tropical country you get a lot of safari options. If you want to see the elephants, there are several national parks like “Willpatu”; “Angammedilla”; “Wasgamuwa” where you can see numerous animals and birds or swimming with the dolphins or the whales. Check those tea-plantations could also be a good plan. Climb a peak of 10.000 stairs to see the sunrise is also a notorious activity for all those romantic souls… Finally, or firstly ride a train between Colombo and Kandy should be on the bucket-list.
Useful NOTE! about local guides & touristic agencies
Where there are tourists, there are people interested in making money out of them. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka it is the same as everywhere in the world. Touristic guides and touristic agencies offering guiding services do have tendency of asking for a higher commission. They would have partners in restoration and hotels in the touristic areas they are offering visits, so they will bring you there as recommendation and the bill may be higher than what the menu says.
This is how the world works as we know it! To spare yourself of being swindled, simply avoid such services. You still get the best experience out of this exotic destination for a budget of your level.
...religion, politics, economy
All the rest? We don’t really care. Most important, we do not trust the media. Our experience is so much different from what we hear or read or see in the press.
What about the scandals in the parliament? No matter the country you live in, it is always the same song. You have politicians that promise to do something while chasing audience to be elected, and then no results once they are in-power. Here is what we see: Sri Lanka has very good national roads. Meaning they are well-built and in good technical condition. Unfortunately, infrastructure priorities stop there. Smaller roads or poorer regions have concrete roads or dirt-roads. This is how it affects us: every time new elections pass – someone promised to build a better road to reach the lagoon where we go for kiting. Yet it is not done, so we ride on the same dusty road, and we enjoy the view.
What about those dangerous diseases? Mhm. Diseases are cruel when we are not prepared. Aside the commonly known, that we get the same medication as in Europe (only with different names). Indeed, the Dengue fever is scary, so spray mosquito repellent like you would anyway and be cool. Mosquitoes are simply annoying, but Sri Lankan have better repellents than what we find in Europe. So check the pharmacy on your arrival to benefit from the best protection.
It is a good moment to note about medicine in Sri Lanka:
You can find some extraordinary medicinal plants, recipes and ointments locally made. Not in the back of the store – but a mass-production for Sri Lankan consumers. We replaced half of our pharmacy with remedies bought in Sri Lanka (Samahan tea instead of Fervex; Sidhalepa creme instead of anti-inflammatory; for cold and/or against mosqitos, and not to mention all the Aloe-Vera based products etc). Aloe Vera you see growing on the side of the road in the street where you live – it is paradise.
What about those fights between social-communities? For such a small country, it is very impressive the strong religious affiliation. It is not possible to say in what God Sri Lankan people believe in. Most of the population is Buddhist, yet Hindu and Muslim are with important presence, also Christian as the most recent. There is not “one God” per say. They are all peacefully living together. We see Mosques next to Buddhist temple followed by a Church over 500 m on the same street.
In the city where we stay the longest while our kite-trips, we noticed the Buddhists, Muslims and Christians are equally present. We identify each community respective neighborhood mostly by the style of their houses. When on the street, they all look to be respecting each other. We even have a small joke about Christmas ‘eve dinner: because restaurants owned by Christians will be closed, we know we are eating at the Muslims-place where we still get traditional Sri Lankan cuisine.
... a Conclusion?
What could we complain about? Aside no drones allowed! Well, we do stay near a lagoon and where is water there are mosquitoes. So we have to admit, that if you are not a bug-lover, you may not appreciate the presence of that many insects around. Other may say it is dirty. But compared to European city-pollution, we would say dust from the roads is nothing. Some more delicate souls may also be missing the hot water at 30°C, because shower is with mostly sun-heated water… But being in a tropical country, it is the perfect temperature to refresh you. And the whole experience is fun.
Not To Do NOTE! about local customs
For all of you romantic souls in love and envious to visit Sri Lanka with your better half: remember not to hold hands in public places! Well, intimacy is something that should stay private to the couple in Sri Lanka. So they don’t do that like we do in Europe ;)!
- Climate: tropical
- Temperatures: min 20° – max 35°
- Seasons: from December to October is dry & rain in November.
When to go? Except if you decide to visit Sri Lanka in November, the rest of the year the weather is hot. The air is humid since you are on the Tropics. So the mood is summer even in winter. Enjoy!
Here we are kite-adventurers in love with a tropical country that calls us back every Christmas. We receive such a worm welcome, we would like to stay longer. We eat at local restaurants, we keep low budget. We travel with tuk-tuk and scooters; we have a lot of fun. We learn so much about history, we would like to transfer it to more people. We see such beautiful landscapes; we would like to admire them forever. We kite – perfect for discovering, for improving skills, for free-ride… This is the best place. It is a nice filling to participate to everyday life in Sri Lanka even if just for a while.
We travel 8600 km away and we arrive home.
Are you curious about life in Sri Lanka or considering visiting Sri Lanka? Here are some main advises:
- Visa : not needed, but an online application (INFO HERE);
- What is the best time to visit Sri Lanka? Depends on the activity. If it is only tourism, just avoid November. If you are also into sports – for surf (there are some cool spots and a lot of information on the internet); for kite (just check our Stories-section) to be aware of the season.
- Cheap flights from Bucharest to Colombo: follow the offers Qatar; Turkish Airlines; FlyDubai to find the best price to fly to Sri Lanka.
- Accommodations: we can help in Kalpityia; for a round-trip inside the island you can trust “booking”® & “AirBnb”®. The conditions of stay are quite good and can be better depending on your budget.
- Transport: public transport is reliable, also hire a driver is a possibility (we can help you with) rent a tuk-tuk or scooter to be more independent would be a good option too and it seems there is even “Über” in the Colombo area.
- Cash: there are ATM-cash machines, there are a lot of banks in Sri Lanka – you are covered.
- Cost of life is low especially if you are open to less fancy restaurants (we already mentioned it above).