Asia, Culture, Islands, Sri Lanka
Comments 41

Sri Lanka: First Impressions.

Sri Lanka photos

I sit on the terrace of a little budget hotel in Heel Oya, near Ella, penning this. The mountains stretch before me, the surrounding forests are lush green after the light drizzle this afternoon, and the constant chirping of birds has lent a sweet melody to the evening. Three days ago, when we landed on the shores of Sri Lanka, I expected to be swept away by its natural beauty. The cool mountain breeze has done that literally, and as the sun peaks from behind the passing grey clouds, I find myself wondering why I’ve travelled halfway across the globe, but never before visited this pretty little island a stone’s throw away from India.

If you wonder the same, here is a glimpse of Sri Lanka and the ways it has surprised me:

It’s love at first sight for nature lovers.

I immediately fell in love with the relaxed pace of Negombo, a small city next to Colombo and near the airport, and our first stop on this trip. We cycled around the town’s small by-lanes, with rice paddies, coconut plantations and charming houses lining the way. At the Negombo beach, the waves crashed against the soft shore, and the sun lent a golden touch to the beach. Yesterday, we took a train from Kandy to Heel Oya, and rolling hills covered with tea plantations stretched on either side. The clouds descended upon us, and lent a mystical aura to the forests and waterfalls we crossed. Locals from the small countryside villages often stood at the train tracks, waving at us.

Negombo beach, Negombo Sri Lanka, Negombo beach Sri Lanka

The beach at Negombo, which as per the locals, is NOT one of Sri Lanka’s better beaches!

It’s not westernized at all.

Somehow in my mind, I had assumed Sri Lanka to be at par with tourism-driven economies across the world. But our first two stops – Negombo and Kandy, two relatively bigger cities in the country, had no cafe culture to speak of, and no international chains or brands you would expect to find in any big city. There was infact nothing to suggest that these were tourism hubs, or carried any western influences – and that came as a pleasant surprise.

Negombo Sri Lanka, Negombo where to stay, Negombo Villa Shade

Breakfast at Villa Shade in Negombo.

The people are genuinely warm.

I’ve heard people say that Indians can feel discriminated against in Sri Lanka, but so far, we’ve experienced nothing but warmth and hospitality, especially when the locals hear that we are their neighbors. While people did try to sell us stuff, many of their offers were genuine, unlike the touts in India who are out to rip you. On the train to Heel Oya, when someone tried to convince us to buy the drink he was selling and we asked for coke instead, he ran to the far end of the platform to find the guy selling coke, and tell him we wanted it. Just another sign that tourism has not corroded the culture or friendliness of the people.

Sri Lanka tea plantations, Sri Lanka tea

A glimpse of the Sri Lankan countryside from the train.

Sri Lankan food is a treat for vegetarians.

Often hyped as a seafood paradise given its coastal location, Sri Lanka also has its Buddhist side, which means vegetarianism is hardly uncommon. I’ve feasted on string hoppers and curries made of seasonal produce, and my Indian taste buds have delighted in the spiciness of the food and the richness of the flavors. I can’t wait to try the famous kottu (layers of flat bread stuffed with veggies and eggs) though!

Vegetarian Sri Lanka, vegetarian food Sri Lanka

A vegetarian feast at Serendib Restaurant, Negombo.

It’s not a country for flashpackers.

Even though I often travel with a backpack for its convenience, I don’t consider myself a backpacker (Read Confession: I’m Not a Backpacker). While I don’t afford luxury travel, I like to stay in experiential accommodations and travel comfortably. After pouring over hours of research, we’ve realized that “boutique hotels” here are either fancy resorts or budget hotels, and “homestays” are actually guest houses. Our moderate budget only seems to afford us drab guesthouses / budget hotels – average accommodation quality, no local insights, nothing memorable.” This is the same budget that afforded me lovely boutique hotels on the countryside of Europe and Turkey, and higher than what I would spend for experiential homestays in India.

After budget hotels, the scale in Sri Lanka immediately shoots up to high-end hotels, at a minimum of US$150-200 a night. We will have to recalibrate our expectations to this scale, and try to derive as much value from what seems like a low budget for the trip now.

Villa Shade Negombo, Negombo accommodation

The Koi Pond at Villa Shade in Negombo.

Everything’s immaculately clean!

And as India’s neighbor, that does come as a surprise. In fact, even compared to other countries, Sri Lankans possess an impressive attitude when it comes to keeping things clean. From public bathrooms on train stations and on trains, to beaches, roads, rivers – there seems to be a sense of ownership and hygiene among the people, and India has so much to learn from its southern neighbor.

Sri Lanka trains, Sri Lanka photos, Sri Lanka countryside

A train station in Sri Lanka.

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Have you been to Sri Lanka? What were (are) your first impressions?

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Join me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for live updates on my adventures in Sri Lanka.

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41 Comments

    • Thanks Katie! It’s a beautiful country, and what I love most is the laid back pace of the island, wherever you go. Visit soon 🙂

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  1. i had been to Sri Lanka last december and it was my best trip ever. its so much like India, yet it is so different. and the hospitality is something i have never seen before.

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  2. It’s one of my favorite destinations. I was in Lanka in 2010 and spent a good 10 days exploring most of the country. Though I missed out on the mountains which you have mentioned! Though I am yet to blog about my adventures, I look forward to hearing more from you.
    Make sure you visit Sigriya, it’s an adventure!

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    • I’ve heard so much about Sigriya. Hoping to make it there in the next few days. I imagine you must’ve spent quite a bit of time on the coast? I’ve been on the east coast for 4 days now, and wish I had more time, but I still want to head into the forests in the interiors. Shall be posting more 🙂

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      • I actually spent more time in Anuradhapura and Polunnuwara. When you get to Sigriya, look up Cinnamon Lodge. Thats where I stayed. It has a lake inside the hotel complex and is a haven for bird watchers.

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  3. Completely agree with the cleanliness observation. I know I have to talk to you before I plan travel to Lanka. How do u find such places…

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  4. francaangloitalian says

    We’ve only stopped at the Colombo airport once and for few hours while flying from Bangkok to Rome, shame we didn’t get the chance to explore this country because from your words it looks awesome.
    Me & Dale both turned vegetarians recently and knowing that the food wouldn’t be a problem is a big thing for us because we love trying local dishes.
    I also like the fact that it’s not westernized, one more reason to explore a place and discover it as it is and not as people make it look like to ‘please’ tourists.

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    • Oh you have to come back, and soon! The vegetarian food is delicious and aplenty, the people are warm and friendly, and there’s just so much natural beauty. I have no doubt you’ll love it here!

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  5. Indeed, it is a beautiful country. And this is the best part which I liked. 🙂

    “And as India’s neighbor, that does come as a surprise. In fact, even compared to other countries, Sri Lankans possess an impressive attitude when it comes to keeping things clean. From public bathrooms on train stations and on trains, to beaches, roads, rivers – there seems to be a sense of ownership and hygiene among the people, and India has so much to learn from its southern neighbor.”

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  6. I had researched about it and looked wonderful. Now it is officially confirmed :). Looking forward for upcoming posts.

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  8. Shivya…what wonderful comments about our beautiful country!!! Certainly agree that we’re similar but yet so different to India. Each country has its own sense of beauty, it’s own soul, and a passionately proud people who love to share their unique hospitality with visitors. So glad you seem to be enjoying the best of ‘real Sri Lanka’!

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  9. Sri Lanka is everything you’ve said and a great deal more.

    But why are there tens of thousands of Sri Lankans who have left the country of their birth to live, work and bring up their families in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and many other Western countries?

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    • Kosala Garusinghe says

      Hi Andy,
      That happens everywhere. We also have thousands of Westerners and other foreigners. It is true that Sri Lanka is not a rich country according to western terms such as per capita income etc. But Sri Lanka is far more richer in aspects such as Culture, History, Hospitality, Natural Diversity and wildlife etc. You will feel the warmth of people and their hospitality which is unmatchable at any place on the earth as they are cultured by thousand years of Buddhism based living which emphasizes kindness and sharing.

      Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans are cultured by one of the most historic civilization on earth and you have to explore our ancient ruins and remains of irrigation culture which date back to many centuries BC.

      If you need to know more about Sri Lanka, you can contact me at kosalagarusinghe@yahoo.com

      Kosala

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      • Kosala Garusinghe says

        People go abroad for employment and education. That happens everywhere in the world and Sri Lankans are no different than others. Then our beautiful island was plagued by a 30 year long internal conflict fueled by many foreign hands and some people took the advantage of it to look for better pastures. Now it is totally over and Sri Lanka is one of the safest location for anybody to ravel.

        KOsala

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  11. I have been to srilanka twice in a year, people are genuinely warm, beautiful country and largely unspoiled. My experience has been different, I have found very affordable comfortable homestays and guesthouse on prime tourist locations.

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    • Hey Deepak, could you please specify these affordable guesthouses that you stayed in and in which city were they located?
      It would be a great help for me and all those aspiring to travel to Sri Lanka on a budget.

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  14. I have never been in Sri Lanka, after reading your blog I’ve decided to cancel next London trip & visit to this clean and beautiful country. Defiantly will visit the places that you have mentioned. I’ve planned honeymoon vacation in London as I’ve studied there 2 years and know very well the city. Could please any other sightseeing so I can spend 10 days in this wonderful land.

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  17. Hi Shivya… I visited Sri Lanka in March this year. I have friends in Colombo and let them do all the planning as to where to take us and didn’t do any prior research. It was beautiful natural scenery filled with good air… Our first stop was to Pinnawala where you would see a herd of elephants going for bath in the river! It was an awesome sight.. up close with the elephants! We headed to Kandy next where we visited the Buddha Tooth Relic. I was surprised that there were guides who didn’t charge to give us the history of the place. We had lunch up at a relative place up in the hills of Kandy. Breath-taking view! I was enchanted with the serenity. We stayed in a cottage up Nuwara Eliya that night. It was cold! The next morning, we headed to World’s End in Horton Plains National Park. Again another breath-taking view.. Never imagined Sri Lanka to be so pretty. We headed back to Colombo that night and stayed at my friends house. I must say all the Sri Lankans I came across were soooo hospitable and friendly. It was Shivratri the next morning and we visited a huge exhibition organised by the Brahma Kumaris. After lunch, we visited Galle Fort and the beaches there. Fell in love with the Indian Ocean there. Very Mediterranean like waters. Extremely memorable trip!

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  19. Really lovely article, and a fabulous blog. I’m off to Sri Lanka in a week or so and reading your articles has me giddy with excitement! I really can’t wait, it looks beautiful. R

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  20. Really nice article shivya nath, i never went srilanka.But i am very inerested spend time in sri lanka.If you came India,spend time in tirupathi awesome place

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