Published on June 18th, 2014 | by Geckos Tales Team
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT: SRI LANKA
An incredible country in its own right, Sri Lanka’s often referred to as something of a ‘Little India’. But whilst is has many similarities to it’s big cousin in the north, Sri Lanka is home to more than enough unique qualities to help it compete with ol’ mate India. It is ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, after all.
Ryan Turner, our in-house expert on all things India, Himalaya and Sri Lanka, has been letting us pick his brain all this month. He’s already given us the full guide to India (which was so long we had to break it up into two parts), and now he’s been kind enough to share with us everything he knows about Sri Lanka too. Top bloke, that Ryan.
So, is the food better in India or Sri Lanka? Is it safe to visit now, after the civil war? Are Sri Lankans really that good at cricket? Read on, and you might just find out.
RYAN! What is it about Sri Lanka that makes it such a swell part of the world?
It’s a great compact country with so much to offer. It’s the same size as Tasmania so getting around is really easy. You’ve got beautiful beaches in the south and the east, tea plantations and mountains in the middle, the cultural triangle north of Kandy boasting several amazing historical sites and trekking ranging from easy to difficult. The foods great, the people are friendly and its very safe. Its also relatively new to tourism since the end of the civil war.
The country’s had its fair share of drama (in the shape of its civil war), is it safe for travellers to visit now?
It sure is. Sri Lanka has never been safer. The civil war is over and tourism is on the rise. It’s a great time to get there before the tourist hordes do.
There are always going to be the obvious comparisons between India and Sri Lanka – but what does Sri Lanka offer that’s unique for travellers?
The way that I looked at them was that due to its much smaller size, there are no long overnight train rides that you might find in India. You can be in the mountains in the morning and on the beach in the afternoon.
I also personally prefer Sri Lankan food, its similar to Indian, but has its own flavours and style. Sri Lanka’s also 70% Buddhist so you find differing styles of architecture and the practising of religions to India too.
Where do you recommend travellers start when preparing to take a trip in Sri Lanka?
Our website is a great place to start, find a trip that suits your dates and start from there, I’m also big fan of Lonely Planet, do some reading, and learn a bit about what you expect to see. In Kandy I bought a book called “How to see Ceylon” by Bella Sidney Woolf (sister in law of Virginia Woolf). She wrote the first guide book to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in 1914. It’s really interesting to compare Sri Lanka then and now – I recommend anyone planning a trip to Sri Lanka have a read!
What’s your favourite part of Sri Lanka?
I really loved Sigirya and climbing Lion rock. The history of the area is fascinating and it’s a great work out. The views from the top are spectacular. Galle is also pretty amazing. The fort is great and also a fantastic spot to watch the cricket from. And of course, the beaches in the south of the country are amazing too.
What about your best memory of travelling there?
I really loved all the highlights of the cultural triangle. Seeing Lion Rock at Sigirya rise out of the pre-dawn darkness was pretty special. I also timed my trip to coincide with an Australian cricket tour, so got to watch test match cricket live in Kandy for a few days which was pretty amazing.
When you put your Geckos trips together, how do you make sure travellers get to see the best of Sri Lanka?
Local leaders are key, we really try to incorporate a good slice of all the good things that the country has to offer. We spend time in the cultural region, the mountains and at the beach. It’s a really good mix and one that will leave you wanting more.
What’s your favourite food to eat in Sri Lanka?
I’m a big fan of Sri Lankan Daal, it’s a good staple that’s interesting to try in different places as there’s always a slight variation. There are plenty of vegetarian options throughout Sri Lanka too. I also really like eating Mallum as an accompaniment – it’s a bit like tabouleh.
Sri Lanka makes really good beer, there are few brands of dark beer that are outstanding. Lion stout (Sinha stout) is especially good, but beware – they’re all pretty strong.
What’s the most surprising thing about the country?
Just how different it is from region to region. Its quite arid in the north, lush and mountainous in the middle, and it gets cold in the mountains. I think we had thermals on in Nuwara Eliya last time, but the south is tropical and hot. It’s a real contradiction and one that means again Sri Lanka has something for everyone. I’m also always constantly delighted at how friendly everyone was.
What’s the nightlife like in Colombo?
Fun. Colombo is a bit of a hidden gem, its relatively small by Asian standards and really starting to open up.
Are they really as good at cricket out there as everyone thinks?
I play cricket everywhere I go in the region – it’s one thing that we all have in common. I love to rock up to a park or any open space and see if the kids will let me have a hit. I’ve carried a cricket bat around on previous trips and a tennis ball in the bag always helps.
But these kids are good…and they bowl fast, no taking it easy. They bowl at full pelt and when they hit the ball, the ball stays hit.. its great fun. Join in by all means, but you’d better be ready for some chin music.
When’s the best time for travellers hoping to get the best weather?
That’s a tough question for Sri Lanka due to two monsoon seasons. December to March is best for the hill country and the south coast beaches but it’s the busiest period. April and September are great for overall weather countrywide and less busy. I actually like travelling when its wet, it adds a new dimension to a country and forces you to slow down a bit.
Is it a pretty good country in terms of value for money for travellers?
It sure is. The food is cheap, and you can purchase great trinkets and souvenirs for a great price too.
If you had to pick out three unmissable parts or sights of Sri Lanka, what would you pick?
Sigirya, great at sunrise and sunset, but you need a head for heights. Galle, great fort town on the coast. Support the economy there after the Tsumani And Ella, has wonderful views – the drive from Ella to the coast is amazing.
Do you have any pointers for those planning on booking a trip to Sri Lanka in the near future?
Check out the Gecko’s website, ask your travel agents lots of questions and just book it. Oh, and get there soon before it gets too busy!
Do you have any more questions for Ryan? Chuck them in the comments below, and we’ll get him to get back to you pronto!