One of the best things about visiting a new country is learning new things. No matter how much research you do or how many people you ask, there are always things about the country that surprise or even bewilder you.
Last November I had the honor of being selected as one of the top 50 travel bloggers and invited to Sri Lanka as part of TBC Asia. During the course of my month in the country I saw some incredible sights, ate some delicious food, made some amazing new friends, and yes, learned a lot of new things. So without further ado I present to you ten things you don’t know about Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Is India For Beginners
If you are thinking about a trip to India, I highly recommend visiting Sri Lanka first. Given that the countries are only 28km apart, there are of course many similarities between the two. Many of the same foods can be found in both and there is a large overlapping in fashion.
However the people of Sri Lanka are much friendlier and more polite. Many of them care more about making a new friend than making money off you. Countless people invited me back to their house and I always said yes. And then there is the touts! Even if you say no to a tout in India they will still follow you with persistent pleas of “my friend” or “very cheap, just for you.” However in Sri Lanka a single “no” or simple wave of the hand is all it takes to be left alone.
Crossing the street in Sri Lanka is also much easier as traffic is MUCH more tame. Cars will actually stop for you, whereas in India you have to be very defensive when crossing the road, as it can be a life-threatening daily ordeal. However the same cannot be said about buses, which are just as aggressive here in Sri Lanka. The hurtle along the roads day and night at breakneck speed and seemingly would not stop even if the driver’s own mother was crossing the road.
Hotels Are Not Always Hotels
Everywhere in Sri Lanka you will see places called “Hotel Paradise” and “Orient Hotel” however most of these places are not actually hotels. It is very common for restaurants to place the word “hotel” either before or after their name. Not only is it “the cool thing to do,” as several local friends told me, but there was a time in Sri Lanka when if you wanted good food, you had to go to a hotel. Although the word stuck I’m happy to say that now you can find good food on every street in the country 🙂
But my favorite was…THE NON-VEG HOTEL.
Shaking Your Head “No” Actually Means Yes
I was so confused during one meeting with a hotel’s marketing director when he kept agreeing to everything I was saying but shaking his head left to right in what most westerns recognize as a way of saying no. However in Sri Lanka (much like Bulgaria) this in fact means “yes” or “okay, I understand.”
Cows Outnumber Cars In The North
In many parts of Sri Lanka the number of cows wandering the streets far exceeds the number of cars of the road. Several times our bus would stop along the road not due to traffic but rather because there were a hundred or more cows in the middle of the road. These cows are brave bastards too and totally unfazed by horns.
Our bus to Jaffna had to pause while the cows crossed the street (photo by Marysia Maciocha of My Travel Affairs — she had the window seat)
Rapidly Expanding Highway And Tollway Network
Since the war ended five years ago the transportation infrastructure has undergone massive improvements. There are now brand new large highways and tollways connecting many cities along the west coast and other popular tourist destinations. Throughout the country roads are being widened and re-paved with the goal of making it easier and faster to get from one city to another.
Here’s a quick gift for all you Pinners 😉
Buffer Zones Around National Parks
By law there is a 2km buffer zone around all national parks in Sri Lanka. This means that the land cannot be developed by commercial interests and helps protect the pristine beauty of the park. It is a wonderful idea and one practice that I wish more countries would follow.
Pigeon Island is a national park in Trincomalee. Corporate interests want to build hotels on the shoreline of the Trinco mainland near Pigeon Island but luckily the island is 1km off shore, so they cannot.
4th Biggest Tea Producer In The World
Tea is one of the most popular drinks in Sri Lanka and for a good reason. The country produces an insane amount of tea considering how small it is. Only China, India and Kenya produce more, and all of those countries are significantly larger than Sri Lanka. (Kenya is the smallest of the three and it is still more than ten times the size of Lanka.) As such visiting a tea plantation is one of the must do things while in the country.
Sri Lanka tea plantation. Photo via flickr // lakpura
It Is Possible To Travel The Northern Provinces
I read online before arriving that it was forbidden for foreigners to travel the northernmost provinces of Sri Lanka, where much of the fighting occurred during the country’s three decade long civil war. Fortunately this is only half true. It is possible to visit these areas — as long as you have received prior permission from the Ministry of Defence. Luckily as I discovered this is surprisingly easy to obtain.
There Are Extreme Anti-Smoking Warnings On Movies, Even On HBO.
Sri Lanka gets it’s television signals from India. As such in addition to seeing commercials in Hindi they also have many anti-smoking advertisements on TV. These include a large disclaimer before the movie starts that can run 60 seconds or longer, and even text warnings against smoking during any scenes where someone is smoking a cigarette or talking about tobacco.