FUNCTIONAL CHAOS and other cultural foibles of Sri Lanka!

 



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Do's & Don'ts in Sri Lanka
"culturally sensitive common sense advise!"

Time
GMT+6

Passport & Visa
Passport must have minimum 6 months validity. In nearly every case 30 day Gratis Visa is provided upon entry for tourists http://www.atsrilanka.com/Visa.htm . Business travellers are sometimes required to obtain a entry visa, especially if arriving from Afghanistan. You may also require a yellow fever inoculation certificate if coming from South America or Africa. In all cases please consult you travel agent and or government advisory before departure.
For more info http://srilanka.embassyhomepage.com/ 

Exchanging Money
A great place to change money is at the airport upon arrival, all major banks are represented and you'll get an immediate idea of what to expect in Sri lanka, because, all the money changers are lined up in a row and will tout for your business; don't feel threatened, approach with caution and learn to bargain. When departing any remaining currency can be exchanged at the airport before entering customs check in area or be used inside the terminal. Check in is 3 hours before departure "perhaps a little excessive".

Duty Free
The airport duty free shop is open 24 hours (unless they feel like closing) and is located just after immigration. They have an extensive variety of international wines, liquor, cigarettes, confectionary etc. Wine and imported spirits can be quite expensive in hotels and to purchase from local super markets; make your purchases before going to claim baggage; you will need your passport.

Currency
The Sri Lankan currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR), but have a passion for US Dollars. However, all major currencies are exchanged in most hotels and at the airport, which is not a bad place to exchange a little currency for tipping etc. One would definitely get a better rate of exchange for US Dollars, but I don't know the equation since you generally loose 1 ˝ percentage points or more in converting to US dollars in the first place. If in doubt take US dollars. Personally "don't bother with too much cash, as credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere" When exchanging currency the best rate will be at banks; if you have the time!

Credit Cards
Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, even in smaller stores.
American Express is also accepted, but not as widely as Visa and Mastercard.

Climate
Hot and sticky on the coast 28-32C and very humid. In the mountains around Nuwara Eliya it gets quite cool, by Sri Lankan standards, especially at night 15-10C sometimes colder. That's summer temperatures for European's, but for Aussie's wear two layers; unless you're from Tasmania or Melbourne.
Click for Katunayake, Sri Lanka Forecast

Sun & Surf
Sun worshippers must bring sun tan lotion. Sri Lanka is surrounded by beaches, but not all beaches are safe for swimming. Some beaches have very steep faces, which create under currents and rips, which pull you out to sea. Some beaches are very close to coral out-crops  "be very careful" as coral will cut you. The pool may be for you!

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Bugs
All hotels are sprayed regularly. But, please do bring some personal insect spray. Don't be paranoid! Malaria is not an issue unless you're going into the Northern jungles. Consult your physician regarding taking a course of malaria tablets. Dengue is more of an issue, more common and no known preventatives; take a good insect repellent, especially in the evening and night. If you don't like chemicals on your skin there are various native ayurvedic repellents, which have been used for thousands of years; ask your driver or a local to get you a potion.

Bugs on 2 Legs "touting"
Along tourist strips "Touting" can be a problem. Try not to make it a problem by being polite at all times and saying "no thank you" repeatedly. Be patient. That's unless you want to buy something! Then be prepared to haggle, these people are some of the best in the business. They can be particularly annoying when trying to relax on the beach "cursed bugs"!

Food & Drink
Included in bed and breakfast are superb breakfasts, by any standard, I suggest making the most of it! Local food is by far the cheapest and the best. At breakfast try hoppers, plain or with an egg in the centre or string hoppers, which are like rice noodles. Eaten either with fish or chicken curry and sambals. "Lingus" a peppery pork sausage is also a favourite. While travelling, if you like, ask your driver to stop at a Kade (or local shack/café) and get you some pan rolls (fish or meat filled), seeni sambol rolls (spicy onion filled), mas panne rolls (fish or meat filled), godamba roti filled with either seeni sambol or egg. These are an ideal snack or lunch. Your driver will find you the best and safest kade. All other things are imported at great expense thus high prices. Wait for steaks and leaf salads back home, you may be disappointed. Although on my last trip I thoroughly enjoyed a prime cut of superb Aussie beef and a Penfold's red, at the Colombo Hilton. In Nuwara Eliya they produce the worlds finest teas, so it's pointless complaining about the coffee. Something I've sadly witnessed on more than one occasion.

Hygiene & Precautions water discipline is extremely important
If you want to be totally sure use only bottled water or filtered water for brushing teeth and drinking. Most major hotels provide bottled water or filtered water free of charge. When asking for water always ask for "bottled water, table water or soda water". Simply asking for "water" leaves a window of danger, as you may be given tap or not properly filtered water. Avoid ice outside the major hotels. There are plenty of bottled soft drinks, soda water and fresh drinking "king" coconuts (orange in colour) everywhere. If drinking beer from the bottle! Please wipe the top of the neck and cap rim- thoroughly. Avoid uncooked food such as leaf salads, outside the hotels. Please go to the toilets before going anywhere, as there are nearly no public toilets. While travelling you can always stop at other hotels and rest houses for food and relief, be prepared only when going for walks, long safari, climbing, visiting ancient sites etc. Carrying a small roll of toilet paper in your travel bag wouldn't be such a bad idea! 
Most important of all; by simply washing your hands, regularly, you will avoid most of the germs that may cause you harm.

Buying
Sri Lankan's like to haggle-always be polite and friendly. Never enter into bargaining if you have no intention to purchase, just to be clever. These situations are self evident and considered to be highly offensive, which may get you into a tricky situation. In the end be prepared to walk away to get the best price. If you really-really want it, just buy it! As you may be haggling over a paltry 50 Rupees or a ridiculous $0.50 or 30p! In the larger stores prices are marked and set.

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Vaccinations & Medicine
Bring all that you think you need ie: indigestion tablets for the over-eaters, paracetamol for minor aches and pains, eye drops for the mornings, bandaids, disinfectant spray and chewing gum for post curry aromas. For those who like to have their own supply of medication, I would strongly suggest having a packet of Immodium for minor stomach upsets and a few disinfectant swabs for minor cuts and abrasions. If you forget anything all chemists in Sri Lanka have everything including gaudia tablets and antibiotics over the counter, no prescriptions required. Ask your tour guide/driver to get you what you need. It is highly unlikely you will need anything, but if you are the cautious type, go prepared. Generally most governments recommend Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Cholera and Malaria inoculations. We strongly suggest seeing your family doctor and getting whatever inoculations you feel comfortable with. Caution and avoiding silly behaviour, is the best policy. If being cautious or avoiding silly behaviour is a problem; be and go prepared!
More health FAQ's
http://www.arugambay.com//
http://www.traveldocs.com

Power Supply
50Hz 230-240 volt AC. You may require an interchanging international adaptor as two types of plugs fittings are used in Sri Lanka. Most major hotels will supply adaptors and or supply hair dryers upon request.

Behaviour
At Buddhist and Hindu temples foot and head ware have to be removed (it's a sign of respect). There are always signs. In some areas photography is not permitted and in other places you need to purchase a photographic permit to take photographs. never take a photograph with yourself or someone in your party posing next to a statue of Buddha. Similarly never try to take a photo with yourself or touch a Buddhist monk dressed in saffron robes. Both are considered highly offensive. Some people ask for silly tips, so don't take photos or get help from people that prompt you! ie: "can I hold your hand and help you climb?", snake charmers and other roadside touts. These touts will surely ask for a tip/money, but for some travellers having someone to assist in climbing can be a godsend. If you don't want to participate, just don't. If you do participate be prepared to pay, it's only a very small price. I must warn you sometimes they can be very persistent and trying. If you don't want their services do your best by saying "no thank you" repeatedly and move on. never ever follow anyone offering to help you. Generally you will most likely not be in harms way but touts will lead you to shops and sellers, hoping to get a commission from your purchases. Generally a total waste of time!

What to Wear & NOT to Wear
Sri Lanka is a very conservative country so as a general rule modesty is the best policy. Light loose cotton clothing is advisable. In places of worship or of cultural importance showing shoulders and legs (above the knee) is frowned upon, that includes wearing short trousers. You will also be required to remove your footwear and headware. Having a sarong or a wrap with you when visiting places of worship could get you out of a sticky spot. Also having a spare pair of socks to wear at Dambulla cave temple or at Annuradharapura will help you avoid what I would call a "fire walking experience". Nudity or topless bathing is definitely not permitted; locals will get quite upset-"please restraint your self from any urge to take your gear off in public." 

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Tipping
People live from their tips. In many restaurants and at the airport the waiters and porters may even have to pay to get their jobs, and a great many don't get paid. Tipping in hotels 50-100 Rupees = $0.50 for a little bit of work ie: porters, room service etc [note: at the airport they ask for 50 Rupees per heavy bag]. Currently a more than reasonable tip would be 100 Rupees (USD$1) and I'm sure would be greatly appreciated in a country were a senior manager might earn USD$500 per month, let alone your porter (minimum wage being USD$35 per month). In restaurants tip around 10% or if it's a large bill, just a fair tip. In the major hotels there is a service charge of 10% added to the bill, it is local custom to then leave a nominal tip at the table. When playing golf tip your caddy 600-700 Rupees-that is all the pay they get, which they share (not always) with the other caddies who miss out. The average daily wage of a waiter is about $4/day, golf caddies get nothing other than your tip. Tipping your tour driver/guide for tours under 7 days, around 5000 rupees+. Tipping for tour groups (6 or more people) in excess of 7 days, Guides around 8-10,000 Rupees+ Driver around 8-10,000 Rupees+ Drivers Assistant around 4-5,000 Rupees. I find myself tipping substaintially more, then I'm hopelessly "soft". Tipping is apart of the culture! In days gone by, one always offered something as a "thank you" for services rendered, which has evolved into tipping.
So, unfortunately, you are obliged to tip to get the best from the locals around you. Don't let tipping annoy you (too much) and spoil your holiday! 

Transport Car/Mini Van Hire & Your Driver
The cost of a driver is included in the cost of hiring a car or mini van. Your driver and if applicable your tour guide's accommodation and meals are included in the cost of your hire/tour. Many drivers will like to take you to all sorts of factories making handicraft. It's a way of making a little extra money on the side, by way of commissions. Go only if you are interested. Some things are interesting but in many cases you will be wasting valuable touring time. If you don't want to be led by the driver be polite and simply say "no thank you"! If you have particular interests while travelling, please ask your driver/guide or get your hotel to contact the tour operator mentioned in your travel assistance details and ask them to contact us with details of what you would like to do? They will contact us and we will organise anything you may want. To get around generally use what are called "three wheelers" or "Tuk Tuk's", by far the cheapest and most convenient. Negotiate your price before you commence your journey by simply asking "How much?". Never get into a tuk tuk when the driver promts you. These drivers prey on tourists by charging ridiculous fares and then annoy the shops you visit by asking for commissions from the shop owner. So as a rule only get into tuk tuk's that you hail down. The majority of honest drivers simply do their job, so they are the friendliest and most helpful to use. Most major Colombo hotels have chauffeured cars available 24 hours, billed to your room. Taxis are also available around Colombo. Taxi telephone numbers in Colombo are 2688 688 and 2588 588. Self driving is for the brave or fool hardy due to the fact that Sri Lankan's will try to overtake anything at any time. There is only one major road rule "any manoeuver is possible as long as you communicate what your intentions are using the horn. If you don't understand horn language, is it really worth attempting to drive." Motor bikes can be another temptation better left until you return home, unless you are very well insured. Rail and bus travel is cheap, but both are over crowded and basic. Still they can be an interesting adventure and a really good way to get to know the country and it's people. 
Transport is an interesting cultural experience, to say the least!

Pick Pockets & Safes
If your room does not have a good safe, place cash, passports or jewellery in the hotel safe at reception. Place such items in a bag or folder so that nothing can be seen. Or keep those items in a discreet place, dirty socks or laundry. Do what is comfortable for you! Like anywhere in the world, theft does occur so you should not be careless. Similarly be cautious and keep everything close to your body or in front of your body, when in large crowds. Thus avoiding pickpockets. The best deterrent is caution and awareness!

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Drugs-Casino's & Other Nefarious Mischief
As in any country never ever follow anyone to buy anything and do not go alone. If you get into any difficulty, in all cases do not get flustered or angry; always be polite. But if you do happen to be silly, you or a friend must contact your personal islanka.com 24 hour assist; immediately. Casinos are predominantly for the use of tourists and generally clean and safe. With regard to HIV; it is an issue in Sri Lanka refer http://www.cia.gov

Security/Conflict/Health
I found this information on the web sites at Stardust Beach Hotel in Arugam Bay, on the picturesque and remote East coast of Sri Lanka. Over the years the Star Dust have experienced first hand most of the security, conflict and health issues you might question. This is what Per who sadly passed away in the tsunami of 2004 had to say. http://www.arugambay.com/cgi-bin-perl/hifaq/security.pl

Departure
You "must" reconfirm your airline ticket a minimum of 3 days prior to departure date or your seats may be given away; Sri Lankan airlines don't have this requirement: please check with you tour agent. To re-confirm your ticket you will need passport number, ticket number, departure date and date of birth, you travel islanka.com consultant will help you with your reconfirmation!

Need Assistance
Contact hotel or your personal islanka.com 24 hour assist named in your travel documents.

General Cultural Information
Sri Lankan's are very easygoing, very conservative and all immensely proud of their culture and especially cricket. So as the old saying goes, "do as the Sri Lankan's do!". Everyone in Sri Lanka has an opinion and enjoy a conversation. But at the same time tread carefully and always be polite so as not to offend people (if you need clarification ask your guide or driver!). Sometimes the easygoing nature is at the point of incompetence, please be patient! Because you are most probably right! Getting upset will only ruin your holiday. When dressing, modesty is the best policy. Try not to touch people on the head as a joke or gesture. For a Buddhist the head is sacred, the seat of your soul. These days not many people care, but you never know your luck, especially if you've had a few too many after dinner drinks. Sri Lankan's speak Sinhalese and Tamil languages. English is the common language that binds everyone. Many people also speak German, Russian and Italian, as a third/forth language. When speaking outside the hotels, speak slowly and clearly, but most of all, be patient!
The main religion is Buddhism, then Hindu, Christianity and Islam. Sri Lankan's have public holidays for all the special days for all the religions. A country unified by public holidays! On these holidays the sale and consumption of alcohol is prohibited except in all major hotels.
Generally the Sri Lankan's are very relaxed, easy going, polite and well mannered. If you're ever in doubt, just mention the word "cricket" and you will have a friend for life!

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