I’ve been asked a lot about this country and although we’re only in this corner of the world for 2 weeks, I though I’d pass on what we’ve learned thus far.
- They’re super cheap. A 20-minute ride will cost about 40LKR each way (roughly 35 US cents). A longer ride, like 3+ hours will run you about 160-200LKR (about $1-1.25).
- Buses can be labelled and easy to find if you are going to the final stop, say: Kandy to Dambulla will be well marked but if you need a stop along the way it’s harder to know where to go, but really easy to ask around. People will point you in the right direction.
- Bus stations are chaotic. Period. Expect it.
- Putting your bag in the back of the bus for storage has been straightforward so far. We did try and keep our bags on the bus but had to pay extra for it and I felt bad when inevitably the bus filled up and our bags were taking up a seat.
- Buses are not very comfortable. Lots of rattling, shaking, bouncing and horn honking.
- Calmer than buses, for sure. Even air conditioned depending on the car.
- Much slower than buses. For example: a train trip from Kandy to Ella will take 7 hours and a bus ride will take 3.5.
- More expensive than buses. Our tickets from Colombo to Kandy was about $12USD each. We did stay in first class, however and I imagine that the lower class seats are much cheaper.
- Train stations are chaotic as well, but there are announcements made in English and finding your track can be easy.
- Bargaining is a must otherwise you’ll get ripped off. Don’t be too zealous about it, however. The difference in price between 240LKR and 200LKR isn’t that much to us, but to the locals can mean a lot.
- The drivers are usually inquisitive and friendly although they will try to pitch a ride for the next day (or week). We’ve found that smiling a lot and keeping neutral is the best way to deal with the sales pitches. A polite “no thank you” works.
- No, tuk-tuk drivers don’t know where everything is and will get lost a lot if you tell them the name of your hostel and they’ve never heard of it.
- They’re a good deal if you have a short distance to go, but a half-hour ride will cost about 800-1,000LKR ($5-7USD) each way.
On hotels/hostels/home stays:
- Varied. Prices can range from $5USD a night to $200USD. Having stayed in the cheaper home stays (about $10-15USD a night) it’s definitely what you pay for: the beds are thin, the rooms are bare-bones and sometimes there’s free breakfast. The cheaper places we’ve been in have very sweet proprietors, however and they’ll come over for a chat in broken English.
- The more mid-range places ($30-50USD a night) are really nice. The only problem I have is the clientele who stay are generally more entitled and snobby. It’s harder to connect with the staff and locals, too. The beds are a lot nicer, though, and there’s AC.
- We haven’t stayed in a high-end hotel. To be honest, I don’t want to.
- Terrible. Everywhere. At best it’s OK.
- Are overall very friendly and helpful. It’s not uncommon to get smiles on the street and the occasional question about where we are from.
- There are those who’ll try and sell you a “vacation package” or a tuk-tuk ride. Firmly stating you’re not interested usually shakes them off.
- Bargaining is important.
- They’ll help you if you need it. Directions? No problem.
- Most speak a little English.
- Some are the sweetest people! Talking with them and chatting about your life will go a long way. We’ve gotten advice, car rides, food and drinks all for free just because we’ve chatted.
- Is not India. It has its own identity and history.
- Is relatively clean, there is garbage, but it’s not obscene.
- Is relatively small. A long trip will take 6 hours and you can practically cross the country. Jumping from location to location by bus will take between 30min-3hours.
- Is lush, varied and beautiful. Peacocks are not uncommon to see in the wild, there’s bird song everywhere and plump fruits hang off the trees. The wildlife is extraordinary.
- The Cities are intense. Colombo was too much to handle for me. Kandy was a bit more chilled out (but no by much). The downtown centers of the cities we’ve been to are usually packed with traffic, people and pollution. Outside the cities life is calm and slower.
- The heritage sites are SO worth a visit.
- The beaches are lovely, but there is garbage on the beach which is sad.
- The mountains are lovely and a completely different climate: cooler and rainier.
- Similar to Indian food in some ways, but also similar to Thai food. It’s a mix. We’ve tried a variety of dishes and all have been delicious.
- Some examples of food:
- Kottu: a noodle dish that’s chopped up and served with vegetables and meat.
- Roti: a flat pancake-like bread served with curry.
- Daal: a flavorful lentil dish.
- Sambol: a condiment served with most dishes. It’s a powdery-grainy mixture of falvors that you misx in with your curry.
- Chutney: a variety of flavors also served with curry.
- Fried rice: not like the Chinese version, but fluffy and served with chopped veggies and bits of meat, if desired.
- Hoppers: a thin, chewy pancake with a light flavor, sometime served with an egg in the middle. Really good with curry.
- String Hoppers: a spaghetti-like bread that soaks in lots of juices, a very light flavor.
- They’ll use all sorts of fruit in curries (as well as meats). We’ve been surprised at the variety of curries to try! Ambarella fruit (which I’d never heard of!) was one of the most unusual.
- Some examples of food:
- This can be changed depending on your needs and time/budget. In the first week we went:
- Colombo -> Kandy
- Kandy -> Sigiriya
- Sigiriya -> Polonnaruwa -> Anuradhapura
- Anuradhapura -> Trincomalee -> Nilaveli Beach
Is it worth a trip?
- Yes! Aim for 2-3 weeks to really get a good dose of the country. UNESCO sites are expensive ($20-30USD per person) but everything else is pretty cheap. We’ve been staying relatively budget in our accommodations and have spent about $65USD a day for the two of us (and that includes shelling out a lot for the Historical Sites). You can go cheaper if you wanted (or WAY more expensive).