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Sri Lanka Travel Tips

You can find here some practical information which will help you prepare your trip in Sri Lanka in the best conditions.

 

General Information

Sri Lanka Travel

Name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Capital: Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte

Economic Capital: Colombo

President: Mahinda Rajapaksa (since November 2005, re-elected in January 2010).

National Day: February 4th (Independence 1948)

Population: 20,220,000 inhabitants

Time: GMT + 5:30

Exports: tea, textiles, jewellery, rubber and coconut products

Highest peaks: Pidurutalagala (Mt Pedro) peaking at 2524 meters. Adam's Peak (Sri Pada) to 2 243 meters.

The flag

The yellow, green, orange and purple flag was adopted in 1948. The vertical stripes on the left side represent the Muslim minority (green) and Hinduism (orange). The lion depicted in the middle of the flag symbolizes the Buddhist tradition of the majority of the population. The lion passant armed purple background was the emblem of the ancient kingdom of Kandy, on the four sheets pipal, are the leaves of the tree under which Gautama Buddha liked to meditate.

Local Customs

Photography

  • Always ask Buddhist monks for permission before photographing them.
  • Never pose for a photograph in front of a sculpture or statue of the Buddha.
  • Photography and filming is prohibited at sensitive areas such as airports, dams and military zones.
  • Flash photography is prohibited at many temples (ie: Dambulla Cave Temple and Sigiriya) in order to preserve the extremely ancient paintings and murals that adorn these sites.

Dress Codes

  • You will NOT be allowed entry to Buddhist and Hindu temples and other places of worship in inappropriate clothing. Shoes MUST be removed before entry to religious places.
  • Short skirts, shorts and low cut clothing are usually frowned upon outside of the beach areas.

Tipping

Although hotels and restaurants include a 10% service charge on bills, it is better to give a tip to waiters, drivers or porterss…

Travelling in Sri Lanka

Roads

Road travel can be an experience since the island’s road network is not in good condition. Speeds of more than 60 km per hour are rarely possible and potholes abound, so it can be a somewhat bumpy ride. You will also see people and animals adopting casual attitudes to road safety (especially the sight of dogs that get out of the way seemingly in the nick of time!). It is definitely not recommended for anybody to attempt to drive on his or her own.

Colombo can be highly congested especially between 7-10 am and 3.30-6 pm. The town of Kandy too can be crowded with vehicles during the daytime.

Tuk Tuks or 3 Wheelers

Three-wheeled autorickshaws are to be found everywhere and are the most popular form of transport in the island. The golden rule is to ALWAYS agree on the fare BEFORE you get in. Tourists can expect to be quoted exorbitant prices. Always haggle and bargain down from the initial price asked. As a general rule do not pay more than Rs 100 per km for your journey. Short journeys in Colombo will be much faster in a 3 wheeler during periods of heavy daytime traffic.

Post and Communication

Sri Lanka Travel

Telephone

We would recommend you to avoid making international phone calls from your hotel room due to the hefty surcharges added by most hotels. International phone cards (from shops and kiosks) and communication centers are fairly common and are open till late including weekends. Some call centers allow you to accept incoming calls at a nominal rate for each minute.

How To Call Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Country Code: 0094

To call a number in Sri Lanka, do the following: Country Code (0094) + City Code (Without The 0) + Phone Number, ie: (0094) (11) 465 4500, to call our office in Sri Lanka

Area Codes:

  • Colombo: 011
  • Galle: 091
  • Jaffna: 021
  • Kandy: 081

NOTE: In Sri Lanka, only dial the local number within the town but include the STD code when dialing from outside the town. There are also several private operators with telephone numbers which begin 114, 115 etc.

Mobile Phones

If you have requested international call roaming for your mobile, it will switch automatically on arrival to local operators such as Dialog Telekom, Tigo, Hutch or Mobitel. Coverage is actually quite good in most areas visited by tourists within the island except inside the wildlife parks and remote areas of the East 5 Coast. Reception may also be variable in the mountainous Hill Country for understandable reasons.

Local mobile telephones numbers have a digit range between 071-078. If you are likely to be making a lot of international phone calls from your mobile, think seriously about buying a SIM Card from a Sri Lankan mobile operator on arrival. SIM Cards are widely available at phone shops and cost about $10. With this you will be charged domestic rates for international calls (@ $ 0.20 cents minute) and local calls.

Money

Sri Lanka Travel

For up-to-the-minute exchange rates, check out www.xe.com

CURRENT RATE OF EXCHANGE

The Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR) is not traded abroad and so it is not possible to purchase local currency before your arrival in Sri Lanka.

It is recommended that you exchange money upon arrival at the Airport Bank Counters (open 24 hours) or at bank branches located in towns because hotel counters usually offer substantially lower rates of exchange for foreign currency or credit card advances. You will need to show your passport for any foreign exchange transactions. Keep your receipt to enable re-conversion to upon departure.

Travelers Cheques

Reputable Travelers Cheques (American Express, Thomas Cook) are widely accepted at banks and may in fact give you a better exchange rate than currency notes in Sri Lanka. A small commission will be charged. Passports need to be shown when encasing travelers’ cheques. Hotels will offer a substantially lower rate than banks.

Credit Cards

Payment By Credit Card Visa and Mastercard are recognized by a large number of hotels, tourist shops and banks throughout the island.

ATM Machines For Credit Card Cash Withdrawals Although there has been a rapid expansion of ATM machines throughout Sri Lanka, many do not necessarily dispense cash from International Credit Cards despite Visa/MasterCard signs on the ATM. If you require cash from an ATM machine we would recommend HSBC ATM’s,Bank Of Ceylon ATM’s throughout the island that usually recognize International Credit Cards. If you wish to take out money using your Debit Card, you need to make sure that you inform your bank prior to your arrival in Sri Lanka.

Local Banks

In general private Banks such as Hatton National Bank, Commercial Bank, Sampath Bank and HSBC offer better service than the Government banks Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00-13:00 (town branches are open until 15:00).

Languages

Sri Lanka Travel

Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka. The first is predominant in most parts of the country and about 74% of the population speaks it. 14% of the population speaks Tamil, although because of the countries until recently troubled political climate most Tamils also speak Sinhala.

English is not an official language, but is spoken to varying degrees across the country and is still the official language used in commerce. You will find better English speakers in the cities than in the countryside.

Sinhalese like a lot of Asian languages, differs from western languages what we consider to be an everyday politeness (hello, how are you, thank you, goodbye) are not really used. Ayubowan covers all these bases, which can be a little confusing!

If you want to thank someone it is best to smile, with a slight inclination of the head from right to left. This same movement comparable to a western nod often means yes, so do not say you have not been warned!

Some expressions:

  • Hello / Goodbye "Ayubowan"
  • Yes: "Owu"
  • No: "Naha"
  • Right: "Dakunata"
  • Left: "Wamata"
  • Straight ahead , "kelinma"
  • Day: "Davasa"
  • Night: "Raah"
  • Morning: "udai"
  • Afternoon: "Havas"
  • Today: "ada"
  • Tomorrow: "Heta"
  • Yesterday 'ee-yeh "
  • Bus "bus eka"
  • Train: "koh-chii
  • Airplane "flat eka"
  • Car: "kar eka"
  • Bicycle: "baisikeleya"

Figures:

  • 0: binduwa
  • 1: eka
  • 2: deka
  • 3: thun
  • 4: hathara
  • 5: paha
  • 6: haya
  • 7: hatha
  • 8: atta
  • 9: Navai
  • 10: Dahai
  • 100: SeeYa
  • 200: deh SeeYa
  • 1000: Daah
  • 2000: deh Daah
  • 100000: lakshaya
  • 1 million: daseh lakshaya
  • 10 million: kotiya

The Tamil language, meanwhile, resembles that of southern India, but with quite marked differences in pronunciation. As for the Sinhalese, if you wish to improve your pronunciation, just listen carefully when locals are talking.

Holidays

Sri Lanka Travel

National Holidays

  • Indipendance Day – 4 February
  • Heroes Day – 18 May

Holidays celebrated by the Sinhalese

  • Sinhala and Tamil New Year - it usually takes place on 13 and 14 April. The people celebrate the arrival of the New Year.
  • Poson - Poson is celebrated in June. This day symbolizes the entry of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
  • Vesak - Vesak is celebrated in May. This is the birth of Lord Buddha and his enlightenment. It is celebrated with lots of lights and candles.

Holidays celebrated by Tamils

  • Dheepavali - This festival takes place in October. It is also called the Festival of Lights. This is one of the most important days in the Hindu calendar.
  • Maha Sivarathri - Celebrated in February. Called "The Great Night of Shiva" is the most important of the year.
  • Thai Pongal - It is celebrated on 13 and 14 January and is honor of the sun god.

Holidays celebrated by Muslims

  • Eid-ul-Fitr - Day marks the end of Ramadan. After 30 days of fasting, Ramadan ends when the moon reappears. The day after the appearance of the moon is a big party.
  • Eid-ul-Adha (Hajj Day) - Eid-ul-Adha is celebrated during the month of Hajj, which is the month of December. On this occasion, they kill an animal (goat or cow) as an offering to Allah.
  • Meeladun Nabi - This day is celebrated by Muslims around the world, marking the birth of Prophet Muhammad (the Messenger of Allah).

In addition to this please note every full moon day also called a Poya is a public holiday. During this day, meat and alcohol will not be sold.

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