I decided to go ahead with the trip despite many advice from well meaning friends to do otherwise. Well, I did not initially wanted to go alone but I had less than 2 weeks to plan the trip, so the time was not enough to bring any friends. Anyway, I had customised my tour JUST to visit ancient Buddhist sites, to view carvings, monastery and ancient ruins which date back thousands of years. No safari, beachside, tea plantation or shopping- so I didn’t think anyone will be interested anyway.
From what I learned by visiting Sri Lanka, I would like to share this with Malaysian friends who are thinking of visiting there:
**Note: Today (16 Oct 06) I have to withdraw a point that I had writen earlier about the country being safe as I just watched the Breaking News in BBC about 90 people dying in a blast near Dambulla. Still, I would say that if I am given free flight tickets and enough annual leave, I would not mind going back again***
1. If you wish to save more cost, first, buy only the air ticket from Matta fair. Then make arrangement with a travel agent in Sri Lanka. You should know the type of places you wish to go (you can do some research in the net or buy the Sri Lanka guidebook from Lonely Planet/ Footprint). Then just inform the travel company of the places and they will arrange an itenary for you.
2. About travel agents: do be careful. I have gotten comparison from a few agents. Some are overpriced, some give the itenary that is impossible to be followed. At the end I engaged the agent recommended by my friend: Lanka Vacations (but the last i checked, their url http://www.lankavacations.com/ is no longer working)–refer travel schedule provided by them below. I STRONGLY recommend this travel agent because it is excellent. Actually my friend’s uncle got heart attack during the trip to Sri Lanka. The owner of the agency personally took care of her uncle while the rest of the family comes back to Malaysia. The agent customised a package to the places I wish to go, offered me full board (accomodation at 5 star hotels with good meals) at a very affortable prize.
3. If you are visiting monasteries, and especially ancient sites, you are expected to be well covered & take off your hat and shoes. So if you have sensative feet, bring a pair of socks along. It means walking on hard granite, stone and sand in the middle of the hot sun. But if you go with a joyful heart, you will hardly feel any tireness or pain at all
4. Do tip if you can. Take heart that most people, especially those working in the outskirts only get peanuts. I noticed a very low occupancy rates amongst hotels in Anuradhapura and areas of the Cultural Triangle because many people are afraid to visit the area. A mere 50 rupees (less than RM3) means a lot to the porter who carries your bags to your room. And why not buy your mineral water from the stalls/shops at the roadside- it may be more expensive than the supermarket but you will be giving these people a break.
5. However, if you visit various tourist places, there will be guides offering their services, children begging for money or people approaching you to sell things. For such cases, to avoid complications, it is better to say no politely. However in some places, you are obliged to use a guide from the place and pay them a small fee- always seek advise from your guide on the appropiate action to take.
A guide in Sigiriya (Lion Rock Temple)
In Sigiriya, I had hired an guide (because the tour did not cover my tour guide’s entrance tickets). My tour guide had advise me to get a guide to bring me in Sigiriya because if not, every step of the way, there will be people approaching me, or talking to me. Once I engage the service of someone, the rest will not disturb (some kinda of unspoken code, I guess).
He spoke good English and explained the history of the site. I was very afraid of heights and he was very helpful. I did not dare to climb up the spiral staircase to view the wall famous paintings and he offered to climb up to take the pictures for me. Anyway, after I came down from Sigiriya and paid the guide, gave him my Robustoson sweets for his dry cough. Later my tour guide told me that the guide actually have a son (5yrs old) who is aneamic and every month the boy need to get blood transfusion. They hardly earn enough to make ends meet (because there are so many guides there). Still, they earn their money righteously. My tour guide who had been in this line for about 12 years, know him personally.