Time to leave Sri Lanka
My time is nearly up in Sri Lanka, and I might say “thank god”.
Sri Lanka is undoubtedly an incredibly beautiful country and the people are extremely friendly. But… its rampant tourism is spoiling it – in my opinion.
The place is expensive! In some instances as expensive as Europe. It is monetised to the hilt. Anything listed in the tourist guides will cost you a pretty penny. I have spent more in 3 weeks here than I spend in two months in India. Pretty much everything will cost you. A trip to a national park can get as high as €25. Sri Lankan street food can be twice the price of Indian street food, and in my opinion, not nearly as nice. I have to admit that I actually broke my own rules and went to Burger King just to have something different from dal curry and chicken fried rice.
The fruit market in Galle tried to sell me mangos at prices that exceeded the supermarket prices in Spain. Red bananas were a mortgage. Now I’m perfectly certain that the locals don’t pay these absurd prices, they couldn’t afford to with their salaries. So I can deduce that there is very much an “us and them” pricing system policy.
Tuktuk drivers and street sellers
The Sri Lanka tuktuk drivers will try and do you every time. I have been told that 100/-LK per kilometre is about right but one tried it on for 1,200/-Lk for 2·2km. Tonight the tuktuk driver actually robbed me! I had agreed a 300/-Lk fare for 2·2km. We physically shook hands on it. I arrived at the hostel (The New Negombo Beach Hostel) and gave him a 500/-Lk note and the bastard drove off without giving me my change. That is pure THEFT. The tuktuk drivers seem to have no conception of the phrase “no thank you, I’m going for a walk“.
You can go nowhere here without being hassled by someone for something. I’ve seen more beggars here than in India. They also have a habit of getting on the train and begging. Captive audience. It might be a blind man or a mother and child. Oft times they will get on the train and bang tambourines and sing awful songs while passing down the carriage. It’s almost worth paying them to shut up.
Train travel in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lanka rail system is… interesting, and, if possible, even slower than that of India. They have 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, but not on all trains. The norm is 2nd and 3rd. If you are lucky you can reserve a 1st or 2nd class seat, but more often than not it’s first come first served. If you want to sit then it’s advisable to get to the station about an hour ahead of the journey. Ask the official selling the ticket which platform (because it’s nearly impossible to find out by other means) and at which end of the platform your carriages are going to be. This only really applies if you are boarding the train at the terminus, otherwise by the time the train reaches your station it will be jam packed.
On the arrival of the train break out your rugby or martial art skills, forget the manners your parents taught you, and elbow, push and shove your way in. There is no room for niceties. If you have the opportunity, throw your bags through an open 2nd or 3rd class window onto a vacant seat to “reserve it”. The chances are though that you’ll be standing for 3 – 8 hours. Admittedly the prices are silly cheap but a 4 hour journey of 100km standing is unpleasant to say the least. Just pray you don’t need a bathroom. Trying to find train times online is difficult. The best sites I have found are these: slr.malindaprasad.com and The Man in Seat 61… there may be others.
Relaxing on a beach in Sri Lanka
Going to the beach is not that pleasant. Looking for some peace and quiet, a bit of relaxation time, you will be approached by every beach seller. They will start with “hello” and “what country” and then will try their hardest to sell you stuff. Some tat, some quite nice. But they won’t take no for an answer. They persist until you almost have to be rude to them to get them to go. They will try to sell you anything from coconut bracelets, paintings, massages, beer, sex, weed and hashish. And they don’t stop! Last night a man tried to sell me hashish at 3 times the price that it would be in Spain. I asked him “why would I want to buy your expensive hashish when I am going home in 2 days to a country where it is decriminalised and one third of the price?” He got seriously annoyed and told me I was wasting his time? These guys, the drug and sex sellers are nothing more than pimps.
You can expect to be hassled about every 15-20 minutes on the beach and you can expect to waste about 5-10 minutes with each vendor. And all you want to do is lie in peace, soak up some rays and read your book. I’ve found speaking to them in Spanish and pretending I don’t understand english can help but often they don’t care and carry on bugging you.
Walking along the main street in the evening is a constant barrage of “want a tuktuk?”, “want to drink some beer?”, “want to eat…?”. Like I can’t make up my mind if I’d like a beer and a meal? For those that read this and know Fuengirola in southern Spain, it’s like a trip down fish alley, but worse. Last night I was asked if I wanted to drink beer? I answered (untruthfully) that I don’t drink alcohol. So he asked me if I wanted to drink water? I couldn’t believe the stupidity of the question, like I couldn’t walk into the shop and buy a bottle of water (without paying his commission).
I started this post with “Sri Lanka is undoubtedly an incredibly beautiful country and the people are extremely friendly” and that’s true. But I have found it so tiring trying to be polite to people whose only mission in life it seems it to incessantly and continuously try to relieve you of your money in whatever way they can. “No thank you” does little. The main difference I have found between Sri Lanka and India is that the Indian people are interested in you and the Sri Lankan is interested in your wallet.
I will be in no rush to revisit Sri Lanka. Sorry Sri Lanka.