Just got back from a month in Sri Lanka which was very wet and very beautiful. There was a lot of exotic, jungly, lush greenery studded with pretty flowering trees, fantastic tea plantations, dramatic hill and some rather lovely towns. Plus ancient sites and well regarded national parks. All strung together by a sweetest railway system with the most wonderful retro stations manned by uniformed staff straight out of Boys Own Topping Tropical Tales.
So we got to trundle through rice paddies and neat tea plantations in reliable trains. We saw lovely old houses, gentle countryside, wild peacocks waddling round the fields and kingfishers skimming muddy pools. We had high tea in the last great hotels of the raj and mooched round the delightfully renovated town of Galle. And it was cleaner than a lot of other Asian countries with (comparatively) very little plastic trash.
Looking back it was lovely but at the time we were ambivalent. Which might have been in part due to the weather but it rained every day. Some days only for a couple of hours but others it went on interminably. Great big splashy soaking storms that made most kinds of out door activities more challenging then we were prepared to cope with. Even when it wasn’t raining a moist miasma lingered and meant nothing ever dried out. My trousers bloomed white mould and the bags had to be unpacked every day. The beds felt clammy the rooms smelt strange and we had to buy our own umbrellas.
And it was a little bit bland. Galle for example was like some well maintained small European town the sights. A quick mince round and an overpriced coffee and you were done. There is a lot of ancient stuff but was expensive. I cant say if it was good value for money because we didn’t get to see any of it. We did try honest we did. We set off to look at an ancient city. We had barely reached the ticket office when the rain blew in in huge tearing sheets of misery and we decided to turn back. Actually we were not too disappointed. The $30.00 dollar entrance fee (each that is) and Google pictures of the site had left us rather cool.
But that left us with nothing to do. Not all of Sri Lanka is lovely. Much of it is ugly concrete tropics and this town was drab and dull and now soaking wet. Also, unusually for Asia, food here is not plentiful. There are few street vendors selling snacks and no cute chai stalls. There are some restaurants and bakeries but they are often rather dreary. Worse still the food is not that great. Stodgy, greasy and sugary. There is some rather nice curry but they serve it luke warm often cold.
So we didn’t do the expensive sights or the national parks either. Who wants to see a wet leopard anyway? The famous beaches went the same way. The seas were too rough to swim or even paddle. Which left…. nothing. Sri Lanka shuts up shop early and by 9pm most places are closed. And this is in Kandy main tourist and pilgrim town. No night markets, no chanting pilgrims, no people sitting out on the street chatting.
And very few backpackers. Possibly they had more sense than to come in the wet season but there seemed to be little in the way of a backpacker infrastructure. There is no area to head to full of cheap hostels, cafes offering banana pancakes and cold beer.
That’s not to say there weren’t tourists. Given it’s charms, general cleanliness and wide range of attractions, plus lots of tea, Sri Lanka is perfect nostalgia tropics. It is rather like going back to an Agatha Christie like golden age of travel. Which of course attracts an Agatha Christie kind of visitor. There were swarms of white haired twitterers wandering round in cream combat pants and pale blue shirts, strapped firmly into enormous beige money belts that look more like a truss than a purse. Being ferried from charming Colonial hotel to tea planters terrace in the comfortable luxury buses. Every train had a special observation car with big windows, (for which you paid extra), that was stuffed full of top end travelers.
Given my white hair and that you really cannot judge the financial standing of a middle-aged European by their crumpled clothes and sensible shoes, I am often mistaken for one such. Tour guides, armed with rolled up copies of Saga, are constantly try to herd me onto the cream tea tour. Sigh!
What with one thing then another, we spent the first three weeks of bitching about Sri Lanka; the food wasn’t as good as Malaysia, the Buddha’s are better in Burma, the hills are more hilly in Laos, you get cheaper rooms in Thailand and it is no where near as exciting as India. And there was no one to talk to. Then the sun came out. And stayed out. After a few dry days Sri Lanka suddenly seemed way more charming.
Once you accept cold curry is the national dish, the food isn’t too bad – better than Mongolian at least. Though I have yet to eat food that is worse than Mongolian. The accommodation is not of the best value but it is of a good standard, mostly clean and comfortable which is always a plus. And while it is not as an exciting as India it is not as dirty, poor and squalid either. There is no backpacker community but nor is it overrun by young people with loud voices and silly hats.
So much so we thought we might extend our visa stay and explore a little more.
Then it started raining again. So we left.
While much of inland Sri Lanka is tidy enough that is comparatively speaking compared to say India, there is a lot of very trashy plastic pollution. Have a look at our facebook page to see how much.
Sri Lanka is still way behind in terms of packaging and pre packed goods. Loads of stuff is sold loose and given to you in a recycled paper bag. Often made from old school books and exam papers. Sadly this is changing fast.
Worse they often your food on a plate that they have covered with a plastic sheet. When you have finished the sheet is whipped off and binned. Even in the smallest of food shacks do this.
There are a lot of bins full of food covered plastic sheets. We had to be very firm but we did get our food served plastic free.
They still sell drinks in returnable bottles and for water we use tap water and our steri-pen. We never buy bottled.
Have a look in our plastic free backpack for more travel tips.
See the other places we’ve been and how to visit them plastic free