Images of Sri Lanka

Travel Journal

About this Series

the splendor of Angkor

All photos ?1998 by David G. Young

I refer to Sri Lanka by its colonial name of Ceylon with special purpose. As a tourist I found that the more rewarding places have very little to do with either modern Sri Lanka or the Buddhist Sinhalese culture upon which it is founded. While Columbo and the cultural center of Kandy certainly have sights for people with specific interests, an international traveler is likely to find that they do not compare favorably with other possible destinations.

Aside from these areas, Sri Lanka has much to see. The Indian Ocean beaches along the south coast are beautiful, relaxing, and quite affordable. The old Dutch city of Galle, with its fantastic ramparts and breathtaking views, is definitely worth a visit. The Rahunu-Yala National Park offers some of the most impressive wildlife in Asia -- of a comparable quality to East African destinations.

The British left behind an antiquated, but charming railway network that serves the highlands and the southern coast. From the train, you can get some of the best views of the island, especially on the mountainous route from Colombo to Kandy. It is worthwhile riding the observation car to the highlands, even if you aren't interested in seeing Kandy.

Entrance to Ta Prohm

All photos ?1998 by David G. Young
Galle Lighthouse

The touts in Sri Lanka are merciless. They will relentlessly follow you, denying that they are interested in your money, and claiming that they want to be your friend. This is inevitably followed by an insistance that you come visit a cousin's shop, or go on a friend's guided tour. Be prepared for this behavior, and learn quickly to be polite but firm in your desire to be left alone.

Likewise, every transaction outside the larger hotels is subject to ruthless bargaining. After agreeing on a price, be sure to reapeat it so there is no misunderstanding. Since English is widely spoken in Sri Lanka, you are likely to encounter difficulty only when a salesman with whom you are negotiating does not wish to understand.

Travel tips:

  • Don't buy spices in Sri Lanka. While the prices are certainly lower than in the West, modern trade makes prices quite affordable everywhere. Unsterilized spices are a major source of food poisoning.
  • Keep up to date on the political situation. Most of the conflict with the Tamil rebels is in the northern part of the country, but the rare bombing may lead to closure of destinations for weeks at a time.
  • Don't agree to go to anyplace that a stranger suggests unsolicited. You will end up paying the gringo rate.
  • If you take the train to Kandy, check to see if the first class observation car is available. It is much bumpier than the other cars, but offers better views.
  • Taxis from the airport are supposed to go to the city for a fixed price. Ask the rate for your destination at the transportation desk, and don't pay a single rupee extra.
About this Series

David G. Young and Lee Ann West traveled to several countries in Southeast Asia in November 1998. David's travel log is being published in segments online as a resource for other travelers. Pictures from specific attractions are being published where appropriate.

This trip was made possible by Cathay Pacific Airlines' All Asia Pass deal, which allowed David and Lee to travel to all their airport destinations for $899, including transport from New York to Hong Kong.

Look for published material from each of the visited countries as it becomes available.

Hong Kong
Bali, Indonesia
Sri Lanka