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Ayubowan-   Good Health and Happiness

Archi

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There’s so much to think about! So many options to select!  Check through some frequently asked questions for some easy answers. More detailed information is available in my ebook.

Sri Lanka is a tropical country with usually quite clear wet and dry seasons. The good news is that as these vary region by region so there’s always good weather somewhere in the island, making it an all year round destination.

Many people like to spend part of their Sri Lankan holiday on a beach. From December to March and late July to September are the best times for the West Coast beaches from Kalpitiya in the mid North West and Hikkaduwa in the South.

During December through to March the East Coast beaches from Nilaveli in the North to Arugum Bay in the South East are a no go area because of excessive rain and rip tides however they are at their best from June to November – just when the West Coast beaches are not so great.

The Deep South Beaches from Galle around to Kirinda are at their best from December through to February with a second best period from mid July to September although, while the days are usually sunny, there are strong sea currents making snorkelling and swimming impossible.

The dry season in the Cultural Triangle is between April and September. This a really good time to visit the National Parks of Wilpattu and the three connected elephant corridor National Parks of Minneriya, Kaudalla and Giritale to see elephants in big numbers when they as they converge on the remaining water sources. October to December are the wettest months. Some places in this area also have a second wet period, notably Dambulla, where it rains more often during April and May.

The Hill Country’s higher elevations mean that it is cooler all year round than the rest of the island. Weather patterns are mixed all year partly because of the influence of two monsoons however rain showers often occur in the afternoons and are often over quickly. While October to December are the wettest months April and May also claim a decent rainfall.

The season to avoid for the Northern Province – Jaffna area – is late December to February when rainfall is fast and heavy. June to September are the driest months.

Visas are available on arrival at a cost of USD35  for countries other than the SAARC ones. [Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka].HOWEVER it is a two step process. First, a week or so before you leave home you need to get an online Electronic Travel Authorisation [which is NOT a visa] from http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/  [Beware of other sites that look like this one as they are agency sites and, while you will get your ETA, it will cost very much more than the official rate of USD35.] More often than not you will not receive the expected email verification of your online ETA, but not to panic if you don’t! Your details will have been recorded and will show up on the Immigration computers when you present your passport. Take a screen shot with your phone if you are likely to worry about this. If you do get your ETA before arrival – just a week or two prior as there is an expiry period with it – on arrival you go immediately to the Immigration desk, bypassing the ETA one.

IF, like me, you choose not to get your ETA online, then on arrival you simply go to the ETA desk first, pay your USD35 PLUS another USD5 for choosing not to risk the lookalike sites that trick so many travellers, then go to the Immigration desk for your visa stamp. Tip: Check that the officer writes 30 days so that there’s no fuss about overstaying when you are departing. Experienced that!

Tourist visas are issued with a double entry for only 30 days, so if you intend to stay longer a trip to Colombo will definitely be needed for an extension.  You can get a two month extension costing around USD55 from the Department of Immigration and Emigration, 41 Ananda Rajakaruna Mw, Punchi Boralla, Colombo 10.

If you are planning to get married in Sri Lanka or to do some volunteering work you definitely need to get a Business visa and these need to be obtained from a Sri Lankan Embassy or consulate – ie before you come to Sri Lanka.

 

Here’s some general information about getting round Sri Lanka. There’s too much important information to include here so aquiring my ebook is a good decision.

The most favoured way, especially for families, of travelling around is by vehicle with a driver who, for the best experience, would be a licensed tour guide. There are three models for this method explained in detail in my ebook. The advantages of going with a small company or solo operator are: Your own itinerary, flexibility to go at your own speed at sites, travelling comfort, not having to find your way, best use of your holiday time, driver knows all the comfort stops, no problems with baggage.

Public transport is the choice of a growing number of visitors. This choice requires a lot of stamina, lots of available time, flexibility of your plan, minimal soft sided baggage. Old, packed red and crazily driven government buses go to every corner of the island so if you have super stamina they’ll get you where you want to go. They’re crazily cheap and usually match their timetable. There’s no aircon except for the open windows. Small bags that you can clutch or hold on your knee are essential. Then there are different kinds of private buses. They’re more expensive, may sometimes have better seating or aircon but don’t stick to a timetable and wait until they’ve got a full payload before moving. Luxury tourist buses are bookable, have aircon, guaranteed seat, some luggage space and do the popular tourist routes. Women of any age should not take any long distance bus at night.

Train travel can be an easier way to travel as long as you avoid the daily and holiday peak periods. It’s also a more scenic and, if you get a seat, more relaxing trip than by bus. Passenger demand is greater than the frequency of the service. Coverage of the country is minimal with the lines all starting from Colombo to Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Kandy, Badulla and Matara. Some coaches on some trains have bookable seats however the process of booking and the validating of booked tickets has its “Must Knows” . Women should not travel on night trains and organised theft is often reported on the night trains from Trincomalee.

Flights between a few places are possible. Expensive but quick and offering a great bird’s eye view of this beautiful country.

The ethnic war that plagued the country for thirty years ended in 2009. This eliminated the risk of terrorist activities which soon saw a gradual increase in tourist numbers.  The geography of the North and East has been hugely changed by the war and, although a great deal of landmine clearing has taken place, – I saw the women doing that – minus good protective gear – you should keep to the main roads.

Sri Lankans are very much embroiled in politics as it affects their every day life – getting a job, enrolling their children in the school of their choice etc so emotions run high at any election time. Although violence leading to deaths inevitably occurs at any election time, elections have been more subdued and even calm in recent times.

I do strongly advise that tourists should avoid any public gatherings or demonstrations as these can turn bad at the slightest trigger.

Traffic on the road is way past crazy. Narrow roads are used by everybody from children walking to school, cyclists, motorbikes, cars, vans by the thousands, tuk tuks by the millions, over laden trucks, sleeping dogs, 4 wheel drives pushing their way through and the Mighty Bus – King of the Road overtaking or undertaking at will, forcing everyone else to scramble. Self driving is seriously advised against. If you so much as hit a slow moving dog you will have a huge problem.

Theft can occur anywhere however in fifty years I had only one near miss when with my 40 year old daughter who disregarded my advice not to carry her wallet in her backpack on her back in a crowded Kandy street. The guy was quick but I was behind her watching and was quicker. He ended up on the ground. Kandy is the worst place for street crime. If you are the victim of theft go to the nearest Police Station to get a report for your insurance.

The local currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee LKR, and all transactions are in this currency, even if you are quoted USD, Euro or GBP. Amounts over LKR 5000 are not allowed to be either brought in or taken out of the country.

You may bring in a total of USD15,000 equivalent without declaring it however if you intend to take the equivalent of USD 5000 with you when you depart, you should declare any amount brought in on your arrival.

Indian currency, INR cannot be exchanged at banks. Licensed money changers or jewellery shops will help you with this currrency.

There are bank desks in the Arrivals hall where you can exchange GBP, AUD, USD, Euro, CAD to rupees. It’s a good idea to get some lower value notes RS100, Rs200 for tips and bigger amounts of Rs2000 and Rs5000 to avoid a fat wallet. Be very careful when handing LKR notes over because they look very similar.

Banks will change your overseas currency however often your passport is required as well as an inordinate amount of time. I use licensed money changers however count your money very carefully before you leave the counter to check that smaller value look alike notes haven’t been included. Hasn’t happened to me in fifty years however there’s always a first time and others have reported this trick. I use the side street money changers and won’t go in if they have several customers. Be aware of who is where and what they are doing.

ATMs are more common now although Ella, for example, has only one and most cards can be used. Work out how many RUPEES you wish to get before you put your card in to avoid thinking in the wrong currency and needing to make multiple transactions which may attract extra bank fees and possible lock out. Recently there was a problem when ATMs were shut down because of high level fraud and tourists were stuck for cash and had to make use of the convenient hotel exchange  service at a very disadvantageous rate. Make sure that you tell your bank that you will be using your card in Sri Lanka before you leave home to avoid the bank blocking it on your first transaction.

Travellers’ cheques are a thing of the past and quite unusable.

Credit Cards can be used in higher starred hotels however using them at restaurants is very risky. While there seems to have been a decline in cloning, do not take your eyes off your card while the transaction is being processed. If you do use your credit card you may need to be assertive about this to avoid back office processing. Local people are now using credit and debit cards in well known supermarkets – worth a try if you wish.

Tip: keep your receipts when you change money so that you can exchange unused rupees for USD etc at the airport. Note that there is just ONE point where you can do this and it’s in the corridor BEFORE  you enter the Departures Hall.

Most women visitors have a wonderful trouble free holiday in Sri Lanka so the short answer is “Yes, usually.” The qualifier is, ” As long as you remember that you are not in your home country where you understand the language, both body and verbal, the cultural and legal attitudes and beliefs surrounding women and the legal system.”

This is a country where women are held responsible for the behaviour of the men, big time. Local women cover up, speak quietly and demurely, defer to men, serve all males food before their daughters or themselves, still gather in separate parts of the room when having social gatherings. So, western women with their independent behaviour, lack of male protection and willingness to have a conversation with a man they don’t know often appear brazen, loud and out for a good time. Any openness and friendliness often sends a completely wrong message and suddenly unwanted attention has to be dealt with.

Some tips so that you can keep yourself safe if you are travelling without a male partner:

  • plan ahead by organising transfers from the airport prior to arrival
  • Know where you are going and pretend you do even if you don’t – act confident
  • avoid all touts, especially taxi touts
  • in a taxi sit behind the driver and give the impression that someone knows that you are on your way and is waiting for you. Make a pretend phone call and say where you are. I had to do this in my home city once when I was uneasy. Worked a treat.
  • note the details of the taxi – number and driver’s details
  • Book accommodation using only your initial and family name as far as possible – avoid the Ms or Mrs
  • avoid booking back street or isolated accommodation. google earth now has some street views for Sri Lanka
  • Check your room, if possible before accepting it and  to see if it has a good lock. Safety chains are not common except in hotels so . . .
  • . . . take a door wedge with you to wedge under the door when you are in the room
  • accepting accommodation from strangers has the potential to be both a great experience or a terrible one. Couchsurfing would be potentially a problem for women.
  • In the eyes of the local population, drinking in public signals that you are immoral. Local women do not drink and do not go to bars. Any female tourist who enters a bar, whether with or without a partner can be regarded as the property of the bar owner/manager. A man has died trying to protect his partner in one such hotel bar.
  • Drink spiking has occurred even in some 4 – 5 star hotel bars. by staff as well as local big people and their entourages.

European women will always capture attention no matter if they dress appropriately for the culture, act subdued or whatever. Sri Lanka has been a safe country for me however there have been some tricky events when I’ve received some unwanted attention. Sri Lankan women are routinely groped and verbally harassed when travelling on buses or packed trains during the day but tourists don’t experience this level of harassment. Night travel on public transport is not recommended for personal safety and theft reasons.

Indian women who dress in western fashion – short shorts and spaghetti strap tops etc will be viewed very harshly. Although bikinis are often seen on foreign women they are totally inappropriate for Sri Lanka whether on the beach or at the hotel pool. If the wearers knew what the local people were saying and thinking most would be mortified.

The above is cautionary however in fifty years and about eighty + visits I have had only three incidents when I have had to take evasive physical action. It is almost 100% that you will have an awesome and safe trip.

Cockroaches, mosquitoes, ants and the occasional scorpion are a fact of life in tropical and subtropical countries however in Sri Lanka there aren’t any Mr Ant, Hit Man or other pest control franchises that can carry out long term guaranteed prevention treatments. The presence of the odd cockroach or line of ants does not always mean that the establishment has lax cleaning practices. If you meet an occasional creepy crawly don’t panic. If it’s a scorpion or large hairy spider just exit the room, shut the door and call for the accommodation staff to do their thing.

Mosquitos : Malaria is not a problem in Sri Lanka now with the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that the last recorded case of transmission was in October 2012.

Dengue fever is a nasty disease spread by several different types of mosquitoes. There is no preventative medicine available. Colombo accounts for 52% of all dengue cases with remote village areas accounting for most of the other cases. The only measures anyone can take is to avoid being bitten so regular applications of generous amounts of high level repellent – DEET and picaridin based repellents are thought to be most effective and are recommended. Dengue carrying mosquitos are active during the day so wearing light coloured, long sleeved and long baggy pants is recommended. Hotels usually have aircon so rooms can be closed. Guesthouses often do not have aircon but provide mosquito nets. These can often have holes so it is a good idea to carry some sticky tape to block these and also any you find on the window screens. My practice is to buy an aerosol can of insect spray and spray the room before going to dinner. Many hotels also provide plug in insect repellents.

Apart from the occasional intrusion into homes or hotels set in treed areas, snakes are not an issue unless you are trekking, walking through paddy fields or tea plantations or staying in villages. Snakes like you less than you like them and will slink quickly out of your path if they have time to do so. Walk slower than usual and look where you are placing your feet if you are in the above mentioned places. They are seldom seen in Colombo or other built up areas. If one does somehow get into your room, make your exit, shut the door and ask for it to be removed.

Australia and some other countries have a regular immunisation program against Hepatitis A and B, Measles – Mumps – Rubella, Tetanus – Pertussis – Diptheria and these are strongly recommended for Sri Lanka. Add Typhoid immunisation and, if you are spending more than a few days in the Northern or Eastern part of the country, anti Malaria medication to the list and that’s all most people need. If, however, you have been in Africa or the Americas you will need a certificate showing immunisation against Yellow Fever.

Unless you are planning on being with animals or staying in farming villages, rabies immunisation is not needed. Monkeys look cute and visitors are often seen feeding them, even encouraging their children to do so too. Cute monkeys quickly become aggressive when vying for food and carry rabies and other nasty diseases. Bats are other rabies carrying offenders. Any animal bite or scratch should immediately be washed and medical attention sought. The advice is not to feed monkeys or other wildlife. Roaming dogs also carry rabies so dog lovers should consider this before going near them.

Sri Lanka is a wonderful place to get married ! Here a wedding is a massive celebration, exciting for everyone, colourful and performed with great ceremony. There are so many stunning locations – a palm fringed beach or a verdant hills location, perhaps surrounded by tea plantations or even a colonial hotel on a beach or in the mountains. Once you have decided on your dream location, you can hire one of the many wedding planners or hotels with wedding packages who have all the knowledge and experience to take care of  the arrangements you wish to make. After the wedding you and your guests can enjoy an awesome holiday on this jewel of an island, full of amazing sights and thrilling activities. Intimate weddings may also be had at some of the smaller but lovely guesthouses so if you are blown away by the beauty of a guesthouse location, just ask and you may be lucky. Everybody in Sri Lanka loves weddings and will love to have a part in yours!

Wherever you stage your wedding in Sri Lanka a lot of paperwork is needed before you even arrive in the country. Both parties need to live in Sri Lanka for a minimum of four days prior to the registration of the marriage.
You need to provide originals and certified copies of: both partners original birth certificates, passports, free to marry documents [ if never married an affidavit from a solicitor confirming both your identity and your free to marry status, if divorced the original of the Decree Absolute plus a free to marry affidavit, If a widow or widower marriage and death certificates of previous wife/husband] as well as proof of residence and length of residence in your home country or other country where you may be residing at the time of your intended marriage. These documents need to be produced to the Sri Lankan Government Consulate or similar where you are currently living.

After the wedding you must get your marriage certificate certified by the Consular Affairs Section of the Ministry of External Affairs in Colombo; if the certificate issued in Sinhalese/ Tamil language you may obtain official English translation and certified that as well by the Ministry of External Affairs, only then will your marriage certificate be valid to submit to authorities outside of Sri Lanka. Allow a day in Colombo for this!

If you are, like me and my husband, a plus aged traveller, the passing of time will have created some nuisance issues for your body. Your knees are likely to be wonky, your back out of kilter, your heart not quite as strong as you would like, your lungs may demand your attention, your feet may misbehave and demand a rest and so on. I’m sure you’ve got the picture! Don’t worry! You can still have fun and enjoy Sri Lanka! I do!

Some tips:

  • Give yourself plenty of time in terms of the length of your trip and also during each day. Set a realistic itinerary for your mental and physical condition. We now take shorter trips of just a month.
  • Travel by vehicle whether with a tour provider or from point to point. Train travel may also be good as long as you pre book a seat and don’t have to endure any pushing and shoving to get on board.
  • Schedule activities for the early morning and enjoy some downtime in the hotter afternoons. An afternoon siesta, reading or blogging time followed by afternoon tea on a cool verandah is a perfect time to plan your next day’s activity.
  • Be ready to compromise by selecting must see sites eg the Gal Vihara and ruins around the circular Vatadage at Polonnaruwa instead of the whole site or being satisfied with climbing slowly as far as the Lion’s feet at Sigiriya and enjoying the scenery from there, leaving the really strenuous final staircase to those who may be fitter.
  • If you have health issues that might arise while travelling take a letter from your doctor advising of these and any medications that you are taking. Saves time explaining if you need medical attention.
  • There are a lot of doctors in Sri Lanka all over the place. Their surgeries may not resemble that of your home doctor and they may lack equipment however they are almost always very well trained and will send you elsewhere if you need further treatment.
  • Take enough of any medications you take for the expected duration of your trip then add at least 25% more in case of delays. We got caught up in an airport take over in Bangkok once, delaying our return home by several days but fortunately we [I] had packed extra meds.
  • Ask your doctor for a general purpose antibiotic prescription, or if you have recurring infections eg chest, a more specific one, fill it and take it with you. It’s surprising how many times my husband has apologised for his pre departure fussing when I did this.
  • Travel Insurance – don’t forget to get this.

Travelling during the ‘twighlight” of your life can bring a deep appreciation of new experiences, meeting interesting people. That sense of exhilaration when you arrive at the temple half way up a rock or try snorkeling for the first time in an azure sea a world away from your usual life is priceless. A sunset walk along a palm fringed beach maybe watching the fishermen preparing their boats for their evening departure, an after dinner nightcap under the stars or on a balcony above a rubber tree lined river create precious memories for yourself and anyone sharing them with you. Sri Lanka is a totally awesome country. Go now.

Yes! Absolutely! Sri Lanka is a great place for holidaying with children. There’s so much to excite and educate them and the local people love children, often very indulgently. I strongly recommend travelling by vehicle for comfort, easy carrying of family gear, the ability to pace your distances and stop whenever something new is spotted Recently I saw a tourist car stopped just a couple of kilometres from the airport to enable the children to see a worker climbing a coconut tree to get the fruit, watched by four mesmerised children. There are so many new and amazing creatures from the awesome jumbo and noisy monkeys to the brightly coloured birds for their delight.
My ebook has a lot of detailed information about travelling with babies and children – there’s too much to include here.
As Sri Lanka is a tropical country there’s no need to pack heavy warm clothing – not even if you are intending to spend more than a couple of days in the Hill Country. There I recommend layering so that you can peel off as the day warms up. Raincoats are uncomfortable in the humidity – use an umbrella and/or one of those thin plastic ponchos available in the dollar store or your local service station. Heavy boots are not needed unless, perhaps, you are doing some serious trekking in the Knuckles Ranges or Horton Plains. Otherwise trainers are just fine for climbing Sigiriya, Dambulla and other similar places.

Essentials:

  • medications that you need to take as routine
  • a first aid kit containing antiseptic cream, band aids, wound cleaning solutions
  • roll on or cream insect repellent such as Off, Aeroguard DEET – essential
  • eyewear and contact lens cleaner
  • toiletries, makeup and men’s grooming gear
  • ladies’ manicure items and hand cream
  • cameras and chargers, spare memory cards
  • phone and charger
  • power outlet adaptor
  • undies for five days – easy wash and wear
  • six tops/T shirts or shirts or a couple of dresses for women, if preferred
  • four pants – 3/4 needed for sacred sites
  • one or two dress up outfits for women and something similar for men [ long pants]
  • for women – a light shawl to satisfy modesty requirements at sacred sites and comfort during flights
  • sunhat and sun glasses
  • sandals, flip flops or preferred shoe type for daily wear
  • trainers for climbing activities
  • light, cool evening footwear
  • light woolen jumper  or hoodie
  • 3/4 gym leggings for Adam’s Peak and Hill country trekking

Apart from the camera gear, I can get all that in a bag under ten kg.  In addition I travel with my notebook plus charger, double plug and 3 metre extension cord, tea and coffee making kit, sticky tape for fixing holey mosquito nets, antibiotic for recurring infections, pens and notebooks

On arrival at Immigration you may be given a free sim card which you would then need to load however most people report that this is not the best way to go. Instead, in the Arrival Hall on the side and back walls, you will find Telcom booths for Dialog, Mobitel, Etisalat, Hutch and Airtel. I use both Dialog and Mobitel and enjoy excellent connectivity with both of them, even in remote parts of the country. Both have average speeds of 5 – 6 Mbps. Dialog also has 4G.Cards can be reloaded all over the country in small roadside shops as well as in the franchise outlets.

To purchase sim cards and dongles you will need to provide your passport which will be scanned. Staff are always ready to insert the cards for you and you have immediate connectivity.

Hotels and guesthouses now have wifi – sometimes only in designated areas. In my experience down loads and uploads are very slow – probably because of the number of people online at any given time.

Colombo and some towns have 4G.

ARCHI’S EBOOK