Okay, I admit it… Sri Lanka was different from what I expected. I went in with a lot of misconceptions that were debunked as early as the first day. In fact, my real draw of Sri Lanka was that it was as messy as India, as historical and archeological as Cambodia and the people were as poor as those from Myanmar.
Boy, was I SO wrong.
Then again, there’s always something about a country that draws you right back in. And though I was wrong in so many accounts, Sri Lanka slowly but surely revealed its charms. So what were these misconceptions?
Read on, baby…
1) The island is filled with a mind-blowing amount of archeological sites and artifacts.
Yes, there were some archeological sights (which I actively seek out during my vacations), but none were as impressive as those of Myanmar and Cambodia which bedazzled you of magnificent structures of over 2,000 years ago that still stands now as proud evidence of what man can accomplish despite the lack of modern tools and technology (what they lacked in strength, they made up in numbers of slaves).
Blame this on the Portugese, Dutch and British who came and occupied this island for over a hundred years each. By introducing their language, architecture and culture to the locals, these colonizers have also successfully minimized traces of folk culture present. Sure, they made Sri Lanka more civil (no bloody child sacrifices to the sun god in this town), but it also removed any possibility for the local folk to nurture their own, special culture.
Case in point, hotels and structures here make you feel you’re in Europe, and food here taste halfway like you’re in the US (to my delight, they have butterscotch banana waffles for breakfast) though there’s the dhal and fish curry to remind you that yes, you’re still in Sri Lanka.
But don’t get me wrong. Rather than harboring ancient structures, Sri Lanka’s charm lie on its natural, untouched beauty. In my entire week-long trip of this huge island, my biggest impressions are just how much greenery there is!
For example, the largest botanical garden in Asia is in Kandy. You can walk for an entire day and not finish visiting every nook and cranny of the place. In the area of Habarana which is located in Sri Lanka’s center, you can stand on top of Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock) and look around for 360 degrees and only see forests, trees and nature as far as your eyes can see. It’s like being in Bagan (Myanmar) and instead of being wowed by 2,000 year old temples, you will be mightily impressed on Sri Lankan’s government’s efforts to preserve the wilderness and stop foreign opportunists from developing the land.
True to my more jaded city-girl nature, I remember to my shame how I stood there breathing the fresh air and looking at the large span of untouched land thinking to myself how many high rise buildings can be developed in such area. The guide put me back in my place saying that we’re not the only people living in this planet and it would be sinful to develop such land at the expense of the various wildlife that occupy these areas.
This is Sri Lankan’s competitive advantage–if you are a nature lover who want to get away from it all and want to go back to basics, then Sri Lanka is a terrific place to visit. My tourmates had such a thrill taking thousands of photos of flowers, fruits and trees not found in Taiwan (and they were many), you may think that they’re using crack.
All throughout the bustrip, all I could hear were, “Wow, so beautiful!” or “My god, these are magnificent,” accompanied by sounds of snapping cameras.
Truth be told, nature isn’t really my thing. Green is green and afterwards it all becomes a blur to me. But then again, you’d have to give credit on how wet, fresh, clean, unpolluted (if you stay away from Colombo) and untouched this country is. Quite impressive really and one of the places in Asia where you’re away from the noise and confusion and you can just relax and calm your heart.
2) Sri Lankans are a mess. They live in poverty like their Indian neighbors.
Wrong again! They are actually extremely cultured, intelligent and one of the best service-oriented personnels I’ve met.
Despite being close to the Indians in terms of location and appearance, Sri Lankans are much well behaved than their neighbors. Their skin may be as dark as thee soft muddy earth after a day’s rain, but Sri Lankans havel impressed me with their service-oriented personalities, polite and understated mannerisms and their humility.
Honestly, I was expecting a land of dire poverty similar to that of India and Myanmar where people on the streets wear the same sarong everyday because it’s the only outfit theuy can afford. Instead, the Sri Lankans are relatively better off, earning around USD 10 a day, not too far off from those earned by Filipinos. It’s definitely not much but still better than most.
They are also quite well educated with the government sponsoring their schooling till university. There’s only 16 universities in the country with the rest either continuing their education abrad (usually Europe or Japan) or starting their work. English is widely used in Sri Lanka.
3) Sri Lanka is dangerous, especially as there’s the rumored terrorist movement in the North. The British are warning their people not to visit because of this.
Ummm… Sri Lanka is so safe — it’s boring.
My British colleague sent me a government warning cautioning travellers to prevent vacations in Sri Lanka due to political turmoil in the North. My initial impression of the country before I came here was that it would be as messy as it’s in Indian neighbors.
To my surprise, Sri Lanka was so relaxing and peaceful that it was boring! It felt like Laos with.a bit more culture (those who’s been to Laos know just how extremely laidback it is).
The only sign of turmoil was probably in Colombo because of a foreign dignitary (from Palestine) was visiting. Our guide said that this isn’t really normal so we were in place for a special sight.
So how dangerous was it? Soldiers and policemen were sparsely standing in the streets with machine guns slung on their shoulders, but as am from the Philippines, understand that this isn’t really not a threat and the guns are merely for show unless really. necessary. Hence, you can’t really say that Sri Lanka is a dangerous place.
In addition, there were minimal incidents of petty thefts. Back in Manila, I was advised by my parents to be careful of your jewelry while walking in a crowded mall. “Be careful of you bag,” my mom cautioned. “Place it in front of your body.”
But here in Colombo, my groupmates leave their luggages on the floor without supervision in the airport and NOBODY takes it. There I was imagining how easy it is to roll those babies out but nobody really heeded my advice. Ironically, the overly anticipated political turmoil didn’t come from Sri Lanka itself but in our transit destination, Bangkok!
On our departure date, there was an unrest in Bangkok and flights got freaking cancelled! Actually, the Bangkok airport was closed and thousands of passengers got stranded (leading us to stay one more wasted night in Colombo in one of the worst hotels here) but the ironic twist is just too funny!
So here’s the official ditts–Sri Lanka is safe y’ all! Now if the rest of the countries can just cooperate…
There you go. So did I enjoy my 8 day trip sans the flight cancellation due to the Bangkok unrest?
Will I visit again?
Maybe — but nature’s not really your thing. I cannot really feel too comfortable in a place where you do absolutely nothing and enjoy green, green and more green. That is, unless you’re in your honeymoon and it’s great just to do absolutely nothing.
But am happy I’ve been and I have stories to share! Am a bit tired due to the midnight flights and multiple transits (Colombo-Singapore-Hong Kong-Taipei) so will go to bed early today.
Will update soon!