Sri Lanka was the first Asian country we’ve ever visited together. Hence we saw a lot of things that were quite uncommon to us. Below is a list of the 27 things we thought were odd enough to be in this list 🙂
1. No is not always no
When someone in Sri Lanka shakes his head from left to right it doesn’t mean he’s not agreeing with you. The same gesture we see as no, means they’re okay with your thoughts. it’s a little wiggle they do, not really left to right.
2. Holy cow!
Most people in Sri Lanka are Buddhistic, hence they see cows as sacred. So sacred that some Sri Lankans keep a cow in their front garden and walk with the animal a few times a day! We haven’t been in the north, but they told us that in the northern part of Sri Lanka there are more cows than cars.
3. Sri Lankans are super friendly
One of the nicknames of Sri Lanka is ‘nation of smiling people’. Says enough, doesn’t it? At least 9 out of 10 people you see on the street will show you their white teeth, surrounded by a big smile!
4. Passing vehicles on the street is a national sport
Honking whilst doing so too. They literally honk every time they pass a bike, motorcycle, tuk-tuk or car and that’s at least six times every minute.
Up until 1972, Sri Lanka was called Ceylon. That’s why you’ll see the word Ceylon all over Sri Lanka. Some Sri Lankans still call themselves Ceylonese.
Sorry, we’re 90’s kids and didn’t know it before we arrived.. 🙂
6. Sinhala and Tamil
As much as Sri Lanka is one united country, it’s also divided into different ethnic groups. The 2 largest groups are the Sinhala and Tamil. Sinhala is the largest group, most of them living in the southern part of the country (74.90% of the population in 2011). Tamil 11.15%, closely followed by the Sri Lankan Moors (9.30%).
PS. you can call anyone in Sri Lanka a Sri Lankan, but don’t offend them by saying Tamil if they’re Sinhala and vice versa. 😉
7. Tea for two!
Sri Lankans will have tea for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They’re the 2nd largest producer of tea in the world. Did we mention the amazing train ride between Kandy & Ella where you’ll pass astonishing tea plantations?
8. Prices in the shop are printed on the items
When you go to the supermarket the prices won’t be on the shelves, but on the items themselves. A bottle of coca-cola or a pack of biscuits will cost the same everywhere you go! We’ve bought lots of Marie cookies and they cost 30 LKR (€0,16) every time we bought them… 🙂
9. Smart kiddos
Year on year, the literacy rate among each gender here is always over 90%. You’ll also notice that all kids try to talk to you in English to ‘train their English’, however, the little toddlers mostly only know hello & goodbye. And some of them add an unpleasant “money?”.
10. A hotel is not always a hotel
It’s not because you see ‘hotel’ on a building that it actually is a hotel. A lot of times it is a supermarket or a restaurant. Our favourite ‘hotel’ was Ambaal’s, the vegetarian hotel, where they had delicious food, but not a single bed!
11. Stay local, wherever you are
There are guesthouses all around Sri Lanka. It’s our preferred way of travelling as we really meet the locals. You’re staying in their house and sometimes eat with them. You’ll have a clean and private room, and it’s not another hotel or hostel chain. Another advantage is that you have the wifi all by yourself (and the locals) so you won’t be bothered by other kids eating up all of the data with their youtube videos.
12. Act local, wherever you go
We don’t like going to touristic places as they’ll just serve you a pizza or whatever food from home you want and you’ll have to pay even more than you would at home.
We prefer tasting the real local life. Not only teaches it you a lot about their food culture, it’s also a lot cheaper (and most of the time more delicious).
Same goes for transport. Don’t take a taxi everywhere. Live at the pace of the locals. Use their forms of transportation: a tuk-tuk, a bus, a train,… not only is it an incredible experience, but it’s also once again way cheaper. We paid 1-3€/$ for every bus we took. Some of the bus rides were more than 4 hours!
13. Tuk Tuk Tuk Tuk
Tuk-tuks are amazing vehicles (we want one in Belgium when we go back!). The only two disadvantages are the crazy drivers and the negotiation for the price.
As a rule of thumb, the drivers will ask double the price. So if they ask 1000, you should say half of that price: 500. If you stick to that price you’ll end up somewhere around 600 which would be a fair price.
If you have a local sim card you can use the app ‘Pick Me Sri Lanka’ which has been of great use to us as you can book a tuk-tuk through the app or just use it for reference prices.
14. Personal space is something they might’ve heard off…
But probably not. You won’t have much of a personal bubble if you’re standing or sitting on a bus or train.
Not that we care so much about personal space, but the thing is that in Sri Lanka temperatures of 30-40 degrees are common and thus people sweat. And if there are 2 things I hate about sweat:
- The smell of sweat.
- Not knowing if I am the one who smells or my neighbour.
15. Buffers around national parks
The government of Sri Lanka has announced a buffer zone around every national park of 2 kilometres a couple years ago to preserve the nature!
Not only does this forbid new buildings, it also makes it possible for animals to roam around the parks so you can meet them on the streets.
16. Arrack attack!
The national alcoholic drink of Sri Lanka is Arrack. We only tried it once in a cocktail, but it seems a nice drink. We drank lots and lots of water to stay hydrated. 😉
17. Northern provinces
Some blogs state that you cannot visit the northern provinces without some kind of approval letter (like a mini visa). But every local we asked about it, said that you can easily visit the northern provinces.
18. Need a new fridge when you arrive?
When you arrive at Colombo airport (CMB) there are a lot of tax-free shops. Odd thing: almost every shop there sells fridges, microwaves, ovens,…
Not enough checked luggage?
19. Banknotes of all sizes
Just like American dollars, the Sri Lankan rupees should all be of the same size. But when you compare the bills closely, you’ll see that they’re not all the same. The reason: different banks have made the money in the past and they all had different machines. So don’t worry if your 2 rupee bills with the same value are not identical.
20. Hearing ice cream vans in the street?
The first time we heard the ice cream sound on the street we were like “ooooh ice cream”. When we arrived we saw a tuk-tuk driver selling bread.
Jup, whenever you hear the ice cream sound it’ll be a local trying to sell bread, samosa and other delicious food. But no ice cream.
21. It’s a dog life!
There are stray dogs everywhere in Sri Lanka. Literally everywhere.
Other wild animals you’ll see a lot: cats, crows and monkeys. Watch out for the latter, they seem cute, but they’re real thieves.
Fishing is not only one of the main income streams for a lot of Sri Lankans.
Sri Lankans are also a bit superstitious when it comes to fish. In every railway station, there is a tank with fish inside, which guarantees safe travels.
23. Rice for breakfast
Sri Lankans love breakfast. They have many possibilities like hoppers (Coconut milk, hardened in some kind of a bowl so they end up like bowls and are eaten like pancakes. They top them off with onions, tomato and spices), string hoppers (almost the same, but small pieces with dip sauces), pancakes, but also rice with curry.
Trust us, you need a strong stomach to handle it in the morning…
Another type of food they love is pastry.
Some of our favourites are wade (fried vegetables in the shape of a cookie, sometimes with prawns or dale), samosa (spicy triangle) and roti (a wrap with different fillings: egg, vegetables, chicken,…).
Remember number 20? Jup, that guy sells them all!
The national sports in Sri Lanka are cricket and volleyball.
We haven’t seen anyone play volleyball, but we’ve seen lots of cricket! We’ve only seen one official match, but when kids are playing around about half of them are practising their cricket skills.
Sri Lanka is famous for their spices.
- Rice and curry? Check!
- Cinnamon? About 80% of all cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka.
27. The flag
‘The lion flag’ is considered one of the oldest flags in the world! It also has a unique design, it’s the only flag in the world to recognize different religious groups.
As you could read in 6, there are lots of ethnic groups. In the flag, the Buddhists are symbolized by the yellow border and the Bo Leaves (peepal tree). The green represents the Muslims and the saffron represents the Hindu communities.