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Saturday, January 06, 2018

Travel to Sri Lanka

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For the last 7-8 years, I have been traveling during Christmas time. Our company has shutdown during year end and my daughter also has school holidays. Until now, all Christmas travel was within India but this year we decided to try somewhere outside. Sri Lanka which was in my backlog got priority!! Sri Lanka has lot of similarities with India. At many times you do not feel that you are outside India!! Though road conditions, driving, cleanliness and civic sense is not comparable with western countries but it is definitely better than India.

St. Clair's falls in Sri Lanks
Before writing posts about our experience in Sri Lanka, I thought I will summarize some of the important aspects of our trip. For a person looking at information, this would be the most important post!!

Itinerary 
We had 8 days in hand for Sri Lanka. Though it is a small island, I realized that the time we had was very less for the country. It had lot to offer in terms of beaches, history, cultural, religious, forest, wild life sanctuaries and hilly places. I chose to concentrate on west, central and southern part of the country considering the probability of good weather during December. The east and northern part of the country receives lot of rain in December.

My personal preference was hilly regions. But ignoring few historical and religious places in Sri Lanka did not look like a good plan. Hence I included them too. Chaya and Tanu refused to be part of the trip if beaches were not included!! So, the itinerary consisted of areas around Colombo, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Galle. 

Our Sri Lanka travel


Airlines
Currently Jet Airways and Sri Lankan airlines have direct connectivity between Bengaluru and Colombo. Indigo will be adding its services from January 2018. The standard return ticket would be between 12K to 15K INR. I had accumulated some Jet Airways miles and got it converted for award tickets. I ended up only paying the tax part. So, a significant amount was saved. I booked it in the month of February.

Visa
We had to obtain an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) through their website prior to travel. The process was very simple. Just enter the passport details and pay the amount through credit card. ETA will be sent within 24 hours to the registered email address. The cost was 20 USD for SAARC countries and it was free for children. In our case, we received ETA within minutes.

As per the requirements, one need to show return ticket and proof of funds for stay at immigration in Sri Lanka. But we were not asked any question!! It is also not necessary to carry ETA as it is already in their system. But it is better to have either soft/hard copy as we were asked by Indian immigration to show return ticket and ETA!!

Travel
Though not very convenient, Sri Lanka has good public transport comprising of buses and trains. But since I was traveling with family and with luggages and considering the short time we had in the country, we chose to hire taxi. A month before the trip, I sent mails to few of the leading taxi companies like Malkey, Casons and others. I did get response from all of them but few did not had cars at that time and quotes by others was very high. Additional journey (> 80/100 km), additional hours (>8 hours) costed extra on top of basic charge per day. Apart from that driver’s food and accommodation was also extra. There was also tax component on top of everything. It was turning out to be very expensive.

Chaya’s friend had gone to Sri Lanka before and had hired driver directly there. They had good feedback about him and shared his number. I contacted him on WhatsApp and shared the itinerary. His quote for 8 days based on my itinerary was significantly less than other well known agencies. The car offered was also superior ( Nissan tiida - Sedan with A/C and airbags). It was indeed a good deal. 

Our car in Sri Lanka

But there was a problem. He wanted us to transfer some advance to his account. It was the first time I was trying international bank account transfer. I am now used to something called as “click of a button” but realized that was not possible. Visit to branch was necessary and I asked Chaya to do that as she was working in MG Road where many banks were located. She came back with 5 different forms that needed to be filled for transfer!! It was really complex. I hated it. Chaya took control of the situation and called up the person and convinced him not to take advance amount. In order to build confidence, I also sent him the ticket copy.

The driver was promptly waiting for us at the airport when we came out at 4 in the morning. He was really good and was not very rigid about the plan and was open to changes.

Monitor lizard crossing - a common sight in Sri Lanka
Currency
Sri Lankan currency is called as Sri Lankan Rupee. 1 INR = 2.4 SLR. Currency could be exchanged at airport or at various banks or private shops. Indian currency is also accepted for exchange. Credit cards are accepted at few places but still cash is king in many parts of Sri Lanka. In Addition to currency exchange, I also used ATM’s to withdraw cash. That looked more convenient.

“Foreigners” charge
Most of the tourist locations in Sri Lanka have different rates for foreigners, though at some places there is some discount for tourists from SAARC countries. The price difference between locals and foreigners could be anywhere between 10X to 50X. That makes many attractions in Sri Lanka super expensive for Indians. So much so that it leads to frustration at many places. I cannot comment a lot about this as India as does the same to its foreign guests.

But I did not experience any ill-treatment towards Indians anywhere in Sri Lanka. 

Food
Though we are strict vegetarians, we did not find any problem with the food. Veg options were always available. At some places like Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Galle, we even managed to find South Indian restaurants. Cost also varied between restaurants but in general, it was reasonable. 

Accommodation
At all places, I booked home stays using AirBnb or Booking.com. It turned out to be very cost effective when compared with standard hotels or resorts. All places were decent and hosts were very hospitable. Though I did booking in the month of June, I feel that there is no need to book so early. When checked, rooms were available even on the last day for decent prices. It looks like Sri Lanka had lot of accommodation options.

Language
Sinhalese is the official language of Sri Lanka. The accent is very similar to Malayalam!! We could manage with English without any issue. Tamil is also understood by few people, especially Tamil people settled in Sri Lanka.  

Connectivity

I purchased Mobitel pre paid SIM at the airport. It served the need for local calls and data. The speed was generally good. Hotels also offered Wi-Fi but the connection was spotty. There are other providers like Dialog and Airtel.

7 comments:

Sadananda Hegde said...

Nice place. Lucid narration.

Pooja Mahimkar said...

Nice post, you have covered almost everything one needs to know before visiting the place

SarvanaKumar said...

Very nice post. Sri Lanka is no doubt is a wonderful country. It is emerging as must visit destination in the tourism industry.

Aravind GJ said...

Sadananda,
Thanks.

Pooja,
Thanks.

Saravana,
Thanks. Yes, it is a beautiful country,

AJEYA RAO said...

Very nice. Refreshed the memories of my first solo backpacking trip here in 2015.

Aravind GJ said...

Ajeya,
Thanks for your comment.

Gopika Raj said...

Worth reading. Post gains everyone’s attention. Keep writing.nata coaching centres in chennai