Sri Lanka has two healthy systems, one free of charge from government and one paid from private companies. The foreigners have to pay also for the government system and the private system is more expensive for them. They will give you a bill to show to your health insurance. Healthy insurance exists in Sri Lanka but they are too expensive for local people.
The doctors are usually good. All speak English and most of them studied in a Commonwealth country (England and Australia).
Most of the medicine are available in Sri Lanka.
Tangalle has some good doctors. The specialists are available at special times at special days. They are at the clinic usually from 7am to 8am and from 4pm to 9pm. (From 8am to 4pm, they work at the public hospital; the waiting time is too long for you). Some specialists come only once or twice a week. We have to take a number by calling the clinic. Better to inform your guesthouse as soon as you don’t feel well so it can take a small number and so you can go to see the doctor not too late. At Tangalle, these specialists charge about 3’000rs without medicament.
At Tangalle, we know another good doctor who is available from 7am to 1pm and from 3pm to 8pm. He is cheap, less than 1’000rs included the medicaments.
In case of emergency, we have to transport you to the public hospital; no ambulance comes to pick up you. Public hospital has an emergency unit. If it is too bad and they are not able to care you, they will send you to Matara or Galle hospital.
The pharmacy in town sells medicaments like other thinks, it doesn’t give medical advice. If your medicament is finished, take it to the pharmacy to show them.
In Sri Lanka, you have two kinds of restaurants, for locals or for tourists. The local restaurants are called hotels. Sri Lankan people don't take time to eat, they eat in 5-10 minutes. So the local restaurants are not nice. Usually a room without windows, without veranda, with plastic tables and chairs. Usually, they are not really clean, lot of papers on the floor, the tables are sticky. But the food is fresh and clean serving in cleaned plates. They cook it in the morning and sell everything within the day. They served only rice and curries, very spicy. Some restaurants can serve fried rice which is not spicy. Hoppers, string hoppers, koturoti and other specialties are cooked for the morning or evening. Many restaurants can give you the food in take away so you can eat it in your guesthouse. In big towns (Colombo, Kandy, Galle,...), you can find restaurants like Europeans are used to, for locals and tourists.
Many tea shops or bakery sell snacks like roll, bun, roti, cakes,... Most of the snacks are very spicy. If the tea shop is near the bus station or the center of the town, these snacks are fresh, you can eat them without any healthy trouble.
The local restaurants are very cheap because they cook for 300 meals at once. So they can have discount on vegetables, meat, fishes, spices,... They also cook on wood fire. The guesthouses cook with gas which is very expensive. A rice and curries need minimum two hours to be cooked. So it is very expensive with gas and work for only two people who eat compare to 300 meals from the local restaurant. In the guesthouse, you can ask it no spicy, no chili, no pepper, so all the family can eat... In the local restaurant, you don't have choice.
In the guesthouses, you can eat salads, fruit juices,... The line water from the road has a lot of chlorine, sometimes even too much. So the water is not too bad and you won't be ill.
In guesthouses, the food is freshly prepared. Nothing is cut or cook in advance. So the cook needs some times to cook. Rice and curries need at least two hours to be cooked. At some restaurants, you could wait one hour to be served. The best for everybody (you and the cook) is that you order your meal few hours before. So the guesthouse team has time to go shopping, to prepare the food and to serve you on the required time.
Tips in restaurant and hotel, 10% service charge
Most of restaurants and some hotels charge a "10% for Service Charge". This added tax is to pay the salary of the workers, i think. It is not to cover a tip. The tip is to thank the worker for his good job. So if you are happy with the job, you can leave a tip. If you are not happy, don't need to leave a tip. A tip is always welcome because the salary is not so high in the hospitality service. A lot of workers (cookers, cleaners) are hidden, so they wouldn't get the tip. So you can tell to the waiter that the tip is for the whole team or only for him. Many places have a tip box where you can leave the tip for the whole team. At the end of the month, the owner or manager opens the tip box and shares the amount among all the workers. If you like to thank one worker specially, better to give a tip by hand directly to him. The tip left on the table in the room or in the restaurant will be catched by the first one who see it (usually the laziest worker).
We usually leave 10% of the bill in the restaurant and 200rs per night in a hotel, sometimes per worker too. These amount depends on how we are happy. We leave 10% of the restaurant bill when we are very happy and 5% when we are satisfied. In hotel, we leave 500rs in the tip box for a satisfied short stay (few nights) and 2'000rs for a very happy long stay (one week). These amounts to give you an idea, we vary them, it depends on the feeling on that time...
At Tangalle and in most of the cities, the banks are open from Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm. In Colombo and Kandy, their opening times are different. They should be open on Saturday morning.
All the banks have ATM (cash machine) open 24h. The withdraw limit is not fixed. Our limit is 100’000rs per day. Some guests told us 20’000rs, some other 40’000rs or 60’000rs. It also depends on your card limit or if the ATM has enough cash money inside… You can try with 60'000rs first, then 40'000rs then 20'000rs. If you have a round amount, the ATM will give you big notes (5'000rs) which are hard to be used in restaurants and shops (only the guesthouses will take them). You can ask an amount ending with 900rs to get some small notes.
You need to inform your bank that you will travel to Sri Lanka. Otherwise, your bank could block your card when you use it during your travel in Sri Lanka.
Take credit cards from two different companies and persons. Because some cards work in one bank and other cards work in other banks... You will have to find out which bank and which amount limit. It can change from town to town...
All the shops are open every day included the week-end, from 9am to 6pm, some of them are open until 7pm. They are closed on Poya Day.
Alcohols are sold only by liquor or wine shops. Some supermarkets are allowed to sell alcohol. At Tangalle, only two liquor shops are allowed to sell alcohols. You will find beers, wines, arack and other strong alcohols. Check the price printed with laser on the bottle, not on the label and don't hesitate to bargain. The Tangalle liquor shop is open every day included the week-end, from 9am to 8pm. It is closed on Poya Day.
In big cities, you will find many kinds of supermarket. At Tangalle, only Cargills Food City is available. They have a lot of European things. If you like to buy spices, tea, biscuits, drinks, … better you go to small family shops or the daily market than the supermarket to help the families and the spices are more fresh in the small shops. The Tangalle supermarket is open every day (even on Poya day) from 8am to 10pm. At Tangalle, a family shop, we call it Upul Shop or Jaella Shop but it doesn’t have any written name, offers a lot of European things among all the other things which offer groceries (biscuits, drinks, bathroom items, spices, tea powder, yoghurt, breakfast items…). You can check what you need walking in it (like a supermarket) before go to Cargills Food City.
Only English people need an electrical adapter. Most of other countries use a two round pins plug which fits in Sri Lankan wall plug. There is a trick: you need to put a pen inside the top hole of the plug (no danger, don’t worry, there is no electricity in this hole. If you worry, you can switch off the plug); Move up the pen; it unlocks the two down holes; so you can put your plug inside. Please don't force, the down holes are closed for security reason. Electrical adapters are available in town for cheap price, about 150rs.
There are mosquitos all around year. Every day is different, some days there are more mosquitoes, some days less. They don't like wind. So the sea breeze should protect you. Always take your repellent with you in case you get bothered.
Sri Lanka is Malaria free country. Dengue (day mosquitoes) is mainly in Colombo. At Tangalle, we don't have problem with Dengue or very rare. We don't protect ourselves or our children. You can ask your guesthouse how is dengue situation in their town.
Mosquitos like to hide under tables or chairs to bite you when you are eating or reading… So spray your mosquito repellent on the legs specially. Better to spray on the clothes too because they bite through them very easily. Long clothes protect you if they are loose and not tight. Loose clothing prevents mosquitoes from reaching your skin…
You can find mosquito coil (spirale) or electric mosquito repellent in shops. The coil is good to burn under the tables or in the room. Don't sleep with it because you will have headach the next morning. It is bad for healthy. If you like to use electric repellent or coil in the room to put the mosquitoes out of the room, you need to close all doors and windows and burn the coil or switch on the electric repellent. Better to do it when you go out of the room. When you come back in the room, the smell will go out through the door and window and prevent the mosquitoes to entry your room. It should chase the mosquitoes out of the room too.
To prevent to be bitten during the night, the mosquito net need to be fixed under the mattress. Otherwise the wind from the fan will make the mosquito net flying and leave a large entrance for the mosquitoes. When you are in the bed, better to check before fall asleep if no mosquito will sleep with you…
In Sri Lanka, there is no unlimited usage rental. All the monthly rentals have a limit, more or less high depend on the rental chosen by the guesthouse. So be kind enough not watch movies or download heavy files.
- The network of buses is very important and covers all the island, any villages. The local people travel a lot by bus so the bus is full most of the time. No online timetable available. You have to go to ask to the bus station or to your guesthouse. Ticket has to be taken and paid in the bus. If the ticket man doesn't have the balance, he writes on the back of your ticket and gives the balance later. If he forgets, ask him before get out of the bus. Prefer the long distance bus because the short distance bus stops everywhere and takes much more time. Prefer to take a bus which starts in your city to be sure to get a seat otherwise the buses are full. Cover your luggage to avoid it comes out of the bus very dirty (rice powder or oil).
- Hop On Lanka offers private bus travels. You can go in and out of the bus where you like along it routes. If you type "sri lankan bus booking" in your search engin, you will find many companies which offers bus seat online reservations. Read very carefully their "terms and conditions". For example Busbooking.lk's terms and conditions: "BusBooking.lk is reserve rights to change the schedule and/or cancel, terminate, postpone, divert, reschedule or delay any bus/coach, anytime after booking without a prior notice." Our guests were informed at 10.30am that their booked bus to airport at 1.30pm is broken and that the company will try to find another bus. At 12.30pm, it informed that no bus is available. The guests had to find another way to go to airport! No help from the company. Very stressful for the last day! So much better to use public transport which are very regular and plan enough time. Or use these companies if you don't have a meeting point to respect.
- Train timetables in Sri Lanka are at railway.gov.lk. Be 30 minutes before your train time to get your ticket. If you have to change train, plan enough time between the two trains because the train can be late and because you have to go out of the train station to buy the ticket for the second train. The seat reservation in public trains is not easy and we don't know the details, please check the official website or travelling forums. Private companies (Rajadhani and Exporail) attach private wagons to public trains. Seats in these wagons can be booked but at a much higher price that in the public wagons. 3 classes are available. Third and second classes are available in all the train. The first class is available only in some trains. In some trains the third class is not so comfortable (wooden bank). The second and first classes are comfortable. The railways lines are like a star around Colombo. The lines are Colombo-Matara, Colombo-Badulla (the mountain line), Colombo-Kandy-Matale, Colombo-Trincomalee, Colombo-Jaffna, Colombo-Mannar, Colombo-Batticaloa (maybe not yet rebuilt). In Colombo, Colombo Fort is the main train station. It is located not far from Pettah where all the buses start.
- Taxis (tuk tuks and van/car) are available everywhere. Ask your guesthouse. The van/car hire is very expensive because the government takes a huge tax for vehicles import (more than 300%). The price to buy a vehicle is double or triple than in Europe. Many drivers take a leasing at about 15% per year to be able to buy the vehicle. The gasoline is quite expensive too, per liter about 95rs for diesel, 110rs for super diesel, 115rs for petrol 92, 130rs for petrol 95. The car insurance is very expensive too (about 80'000rs per year). The travel is usually long (1 to 5 hours) and your driver has to drive the way back to his home.
- It is possible to rent a car, a scooter or a bicycle to self-drive. Be aware that the rules are not the same than in Europe/Australia. The biggest and most powerful vehicles have the priority. The smallest (bicycle and scooter) don't have any priority at all. If you rent a powerful car, don't hesitate, almost don't break because the other vehicles expect that you go fast and first... At junctions and circles (roundabouts), no priority rule is applied and nobody really watch before entering a road at a junction. The drive is on the left side. If you need to turn right, wait on the left side of the road for the both sides/ways to be free. Vehicles cross the continue line in the middle of the road (it is not allowed and police check it, but not so many people care about it). Vehicles over take in bend and even in third position (it is not rare to see a bus overtake a car overtaking a motorbike). Vehicles over take on the left too, anywhere is space, they over take. Be ready to watch in all directions. No security distance is respected. The vehicles are very close to each other, sometimes only 1cm.
- Seaplanes are now available to travel through Sri Lanka with many internal airports. Sri Lankan Airlines and Cinnamon Air are codesharing those routes. Other companies also have internal flights: Fits Air, Fly Sri Sanka, Helitours.
When you go to town, please dress properly, cover your shoulder and knees (at least long bermuda until middle knees), no sexy clothes.
When you go to temple, please dress like if you go to church on Sunday, clean, properly, cover shoulder and knees (knees completely covered), uncover your head, remove your shoes when you reach a sacred site (dagoba, shrine room and bo-tree) (take some black socks if the floor is too hot). If you do offering or if a local show you a basket with offering, touch it with two hands or give your offering with two hands.
When money is exchanged, the locals do it with two hands or at least with right hand and the left hand touch the right arm.
If you like to avoid problem, you need to respect the security rules applied in every country:
- dress properly: cover your shoulder and knees, no sexy clothes, older your are longer should be the skirt/short
- avoid to be outside of your guesthouse by night, take a tuk tuk if it is night
- smile to the men with a polite smile, not too large smile. You can smile largerly to the women.
- avoid the local parties
- avoid to be drunk
- if a man touch your bottom, don't react, only go away, otherwise the man will loose his face and will react violently specially if he is drunk.
Some women travelled alone without any trouble, some others have more trouble. We don't know why. Rape is rare. The trouble is more harrassing, calling, touching... If it happen to you, just go away.
If you have sex with locals, please tell them that not all the white women search it. Local men think that most of white women come to Sri Lanka (specially to the beach) to have sex... A reason is that it happened very often. Another reason is that the sex movies show only white women... The Sri Lankan are not allowed to have sex before marriage. The parents check the bed sheet after the first night after the wedding. So the Sri Lankan women are not available for sex. So the boys try with foreigners.
It looks bad, written like that. But it is not, many single women travelers enjoyed their Sri Lankan holiday very much and didn't get any trouble. You will find many bad comments on the traveling forums because people always say the bad things and forget to say the good things.