The last 2 decades have seen troubling times in Sri Lanka with civil wars, bombings and generally consistent periods of unrest. Around 2000 this was enough to put many tourists off the idea of travelling there especially those from Scandinavia. This is now all long gone and Sri Lanka is a perfectly safe country to visit.
On Dec 26th 2004 a Tsunami wrecked havoc on the southern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka with around 40,000 people dead and missing, however the recovery period since then has allowed a huge improvement in the basic infrastructure of the country that was essential.
For example the first motorway was built connecting Colombo with Galle, meaning that this journey might take 2-3 hours as opposed to over 5 hours previously with a high likelihood of meeting a few cattle on the roads.
The south-western coast is the area most often visited by tourists extending from Negombo down to Galle with various small beachside towns hosting hotels along the way.
There is no point hiding it but chaos still reigns in Sri Lanka and the check-in queues at Colombo are testimony to this chaos. Although English is spoken it is an error to presume it is spoken well and understood, even in hotels.
A typical Sri Lankan scenario might go like this:
A group of four people enter the restaurant and wait. A waiter approaches
“Table for three?”
“No, we are a group of four”
“OK follow me”
The group is taken to a round table with four chairs and prepares to sit down. The waiter then takes one chair away……..
Having said all that hotels are good but nowehere near the luxury level. Most are built next to the beach. One noticeable change in the last 20 years is the weight of the average Sri Lankan population, obesity is now very common in working Sri Lankans. In the past one could almost predict the size of the person from their job. Whereas those with simpler jobs were very thin, the managers of hotels and restaurants were larger. This is not the case today and one wonders about the epidemic of Diabetes that can be expected to arise in the next 10 years.
Many people still remember vividly the Tsunami and talk openly about it and some small Tsunami museums have opened in the south near Hikkaduwa where the Tsunami struck. To spend an hour looking at the photos and the words spoken make one feel very emotional. This event was only 12 years ago.
Sri Lankans have a lot to say and a lot of it seems to take place in the middle of the railway lines, where busy trains with people literally hanging out pass by regularly. Many other curious things happen in Sri Lanka. People use coconuts as pillows at cricket! If you head to Galle Fort, a nice place to spend a few hours walking, test cricket can be seen for free from the hilltop there.
There remain things that need to be improved including poverty. Still too many children live in poverty but this again has improved a lot over 20 years but their smiling faces hide any worries they may have.
Sri Lanka is a great country to visit. Aside from the beach and the pools, there is a plethora of culture throughout the country and the greatest challenge facing any tourist is choosing what to see and where to stay. There however are quite well defined seasons in Sri Lanka essentially two dry and two rainy seasons a year. In the rainy season in August do not expect to be able to enter the sea or indeed want to spend much beach time. The beaches also can be a little littered with debris.
Sri Lanka is also a superb place to visit for animals and wildlife. Elephants and birds abound in Udawalawe Safari Park. Various turtle sanctuaries also exist.
The people are also both gentle and genuine even in the more inland areas where poverty is more commonly still seen.
There are many towns and places to visit but Galle should be one of those to walk along the headland and the fort and see the superb old lighthouse.
During a recent trip to Sri Lanka we were fortunate enough to have a spare hour at the end of the day to watch the cricket from the Galle Fort that sits high above the ground.
Many choose to watch from here as it is free and the views are not too bad. Some locals and some tourists. A great experience to see English folks avidly supporting the Sri Lankans. Maybe the most interesting use of a coconut I have seen as a pillow for this slumbering gentleman.
The last time I visited Sri Lanka was 15 years ago before the Tsunami and when the civil war was threatening to ruin tourism. Many things have changed. To start with the Tsunami although a devastating event did open up many lines of altruistic development in the country. People visited and learned what a beautiful people the Sri Lankans are, investment has flooded in and importantly time is a great healer. The end of the civil war also meant that less money and effort was being expended on weopons and death. So what did I find?
The first clear difference is that when arriving at the main airport near Colombo, Bandaranaike International Airport, there are no soldiers lining the avenues that form the entance and exit. The second difference is that there are now 2 international airports. A new one has been built down south at Hambantota.
Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) (also known as the Hambantota International Airport) is an international airport serving the city of Hambantota in southeast Sri Lanka.Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport is Sri Lanka’s second international airport, after Bandaranaike International Airport. It serves as the secondary hubs for Sri Lankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka. It is named after the Rajapaksa family. It is also the first greenfield airport in the country.
The next set of changes are that a number of motorways have been built, mainly two lane toll motorways. At the moment they seem a bit random but eventually they will join up and make tranportation far easier. The journey time already from Colombo airport to Galle has been reduced from 4.5 hours to around 2.5 hours. The most noticeable change though relates to the people, they weigh more. There was no evidence of the thin malnourished poverty stricken people whom 15 years ago undertook the menial jobs for almost no wages. They have vanished. There were no requests from children for pens or clothes. The schools clearly have also improved in that computers are now present in some.
This is a country on the ascent, a happy country. The people in general are satisfied with their lot. Tourists are asked not to over tip something that can endanger the local economy. The population in 2012 was 20 million and increasing. The modernisation will continue and now may be the time to visit this beautiful country before westernisation takes over.