When you are travelling to a new country with a culture and lifestyle which is extremely different from what you are used to, it is very easy for actions and words to be misunderstood and miscommunicated. To make sure that your holiday is as comfortable and easy as possible, there are a few things you should be aware of and things that you can do to fit in effortlessly into Sri Lanka’s ancient and unique culture.
Some of these tips will help you understand and respect the Asian traditions and cultures that are followed in the country and some will help you have a safe incident-free holiday.
Public displays of affection
Sri Lankan culture is a melting pot of races and religions, most of which frown upon public displays of affection between couples. Hand-holding is probably as far as you should go if you don’t want people around you to become uncomfortable or even worse, stare at you. If you want to kiss your partner, perhaps you can use the common trick used by Sri Lankan youth – the handy umbrella. Who knows, it might make things exciting!
Dress less to beat the heat
Despite the hot, humid, tropical weather in Sri Lanka you will see many people wearing jeans and long t shirts. Although the women in the Sigiriya frescos are wearing nothing or next to nothing, woman travelling in Sri Lanka are advised to avoid wearing short shorts, miniskirts and crop tops or at least limit them to the beach. Of course, if you don’t mind a few (maybe more than a few) obvious stares and comments from passersby as you walk down the street, this would not be a problem.
When visiting temples whether Buddhist or Hindu, as a mark of respect you should wear long pants (whether you are a man or a woman) and you need to cover your shoulders. You are also asked to take off your shoes. At most of the famous religious sites you will notice booths to collect shoes and some vendors even selling or renting scarves. When out and about we recommend carrying a sarong or scarf with you in case you wish to stop by a religious site.
Eating rice and curry wrong
Not using a fork and spoon might seem a bit savage to some, but eating rice and curry with your hands has rules to make sure that it is done right. Sri Lankans almost never eat with the left hand as it is deemed unclean, and when you eat, make sure you don’t get curry on your palms (now THAT is considered savage)!
Tuk Tuk wisdom
There are brightly coloured tuk tuks driven by ever friendly, ever available (most of the time) tuk tuk drivers who are happy to take you where you want to go, whether it’s a kilometer or sometimes even a 100 kilometers away!
However, be sure you negotiate a price before you get into a tuk tuk! They usually charge more for tourists so try haggling by halving the price they ask. When you’re in Colombo, make sure you get into a tuk tuk with a meter and check that the meter is working before you get in. Tuk tuk’s are a great way to get around as long as you follow some of this ‘tuk tuk wisdom’.
Come to Sri Lanka and expect a taste of home
Of course there are exceptions to this particular tip, like “Dolce Italia” in Colombo that serves an authentic Italian Lasagna. But most places you go, especially further away you move from the big cities, you will find that your hamburger or your spaghetti bolognaise or your cordon bleu is not really what you expected it to be. To avoid disappointment, we recommend trying the local food, which might be a tad bit spicier, but they say ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ and now you know how to eat rice and curry in the proper way too!
Give out your number
When travelling you tend to be a little friendlier and trusting than usual. With the friendly happy and ever smiling Sri Lankans, it’s hard to feel distrustful. However, to make sure you don’t have any unpleasant experiences, especially for the ladies, try and avoid giving your personal number to people who ask – unless you are sure that you can trust them with it.
Keep your hotel room secure
It might feel like paradise and the people might look serene and happy but Sri Lanka is a developing country with poverty issues. To avoid any trouble, make sure you lock your hotel room doors and keep your belongings safe at all times.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful and peaceful country with wonderful people, we hope these tips and advice help you to make the best of your holiday in this paradise island. There are hundreds of things you can and should do in Sri Lanka, be it go on adventures, trekking mountains or discovering ancient civilizations.