In those forests of South India, we only were enjoying a retreating vacation at a naturopathy ashram, days before flying across the ocean into the neighboring island country of Sri Lanka. From Mysore in Karnataka to dropping our final pin in Kochi, Kerala, we came up with the idea of stretching our journey south over again and going to this gorgeous, marshy Beachland, which was only a stone’s throw away from where we stood.
And that is how it was, no complex emotions and checklists involved Sri Lanka just happened because it was in the vicinity.
Hack, direct flights from Kochi to Colombo were not available. Also, if you’re running on a shoestring, there’s absolutely no harm in trying a connecting flight, and it saves you money by a good deal of margin.
Ours was a connecting flight from Kochi-Chennai-Colombo, with a couple of hours of a layover in Chennai. So before it was sunset here in Kochi, I was resting my head on the window of an airplane ready to take a flight at about 5:55 pm.
By 7:20 pm, after it was visibly dark, we landed in Chennai and one plate of dosa dolloped with a few hours of rest at the airport later, it was time for boarding the final flight for Colombo, we were scheduled to fly at 12:10 in the night and sleeping felt like a great idea.
The watch runs the same as it does in India, with the Sri Lankan standard time being GMT +5:30 because of the vertical alignment of both the countries, so no tough readjustments for now.
It was 2 in the morning when we reached Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo. In one hand, my passport carefully pressed between the ETA receipt (Electronic Travel Authorization, which costs about $20 per person) and our disembarkment card in another. When I walked up to the counter (add to the list, my first day’s AIRBNB booking printout in the Sling bag), it turned out to be incredibly straightforward and quick.
No papers asked, just a few basic questions and voila, it was done!
VISA on arrival is available for two or three nationalities only, so getting an eVISA makes traveling to this country relatively easier (at least the formalities of getting until here).
Walking past the duty-free section, we literally saw the most intriguing morning prayers. It’s 2 in the morning (almost feels criminal to call it morning in fact), and right after stepping down from the elevator on the ground floor, we saw a group of people chanting and praying in the main hall. Clearly, something that I personally have never seen or experienced at any of the world’s airports.
Sri Lankan Rupee or LKR is the general mode of transactions in Sri Lanka, digital payments though are there but never rely on them entirely.
1$ = 185.11 LKR
1 INR = 2.45 LKR
With the luggage now with us, we finally check for the conversion of some cash at the exchanges at the airport. Quickly to realize that the rates offered were super high, not much surprising from our previous experiences. After trying a couple of banks, we got our withdrawal from Bank of Ceylon, which happened to be the only one not charging the extra fee of about $2 (400 LKR) per transaction.
Culture and Communication
Most of Sri Lankan culture is medieval to ancient on the time scale, and Buddhism has its roots deeply buried into the marshy, forestry grounds of Sri Lanka. Light and full of spice cheap food platters, super calm beaches, forests, and colorful streets, Sri Lanka fits into one and many frames. Locals understand Sinhalese mostly, and finding a local who speaks English is not a tough task in cities. In rural areas, though, it can be a bit daunting at times (sans the hotel and restaurant owners).
Interestingly, we met a couple of people who could understand and speak Hindi. The reason behind that was their love for Indian cinema and, in some cases, their work experience in middle east countries where the fellow workers spoke Hindi.
Sim cards are available at the airport, and for booking a cab, we needed one. After crossing the money exchange counter, you can see a Dialogue Kiosk, before you finally exit the airport. The lady at the desk asked us for our passports, and we got the Dialogue Sim Card. The staff was courteous, and the process was quick. She activated the SIM there and then. The sim costed us about $7 (1299 LKR) + a 7% ATM usage commission.
Now here comes one big bummer, Sri Lankan scams are worst when it comes to Tuktuk. The Tuktuk drivers would quote one price and would defer later. We had a couple of drivers coming for us even at this time in the night, but to avoid haggling, we opted to call an Uber, which seemed to be a safe and reliable option.
We paid a reasonable charge of $3.25 (about 600 LKR) for a 7.5 KM ride from the airport to our homestay in Negombo.
That’s how we came to this beauty of a country, unintended, pumped with excitement plus in the middle of the night! Read our adventures in this beautiful country here.