Etiquette

  • Temple footwear Remove shoes and hats at temples. Socks are OK for walking scorching pavements.
  • Clothing Cover shoulders, arms and legs at temples as directed.
  • Buddha statues Never pose beside or in front of a statue (ie with your back to it), as this is considered disrespectful.
  • Buddha images Displaying body art or wearing clothing that includes an image of the Buddha can get you arrested and deported.
  • Photography Ask permission before photographing people. A few business-oriented folk like the stilt fishermen at Koggala will ask for payment.
  • Beach attire Nude and topless sunbathing are not allowed on beaches.
  • Modesty Overt displays of affection are frowned upon.
  • Avoid left hands These are considered unclean. Use both hands or just your right. Many Sri Lankans will eat their food with their right hand.

Getting Around

Air

Internal travel by air is limited. It is a small country so most people travel by car, bus or train.

Bus

Bus routes cover about 80% of the nation’s 90,000km of roads. There are two kinds of bus in Sri Lanka:

Central Transport Board (CTB) buses These are the default buses and usually lack air-con; they ply most long-distance and local routes. You’ll also see buses with a Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) logo.

Private buses Independent bus companies have vehicles ranging from late-model coaches used on intercity-express runs to ancient minibuses on short runs between towns and villages. Private air-con intercity buses cover some major routes. For long-distance travel they are more comfortable and faster than other bus services.

Car & Motorcycle

It is possible to self-drive in Sri Lanka. I would not recommend it as driving is definitely an art form in Sri Lanka, as it is in most Asian countries. We hired a private driver and although there were numerous nerve wracking moments we came out unscathed. 

You will see many motorcycles and mopeds on the roads in Sri Lanka. In some areas you can rent mopeds – but it can be challenging as no allowances are made for inexperienced drivers. I have yet to try a moped, but Sri Lanka would not be my first choice of places to try one out!

Train

Sri Lanka Railways runs the nation’s railways, and trains are a great way to cross the country. Most of the trains are slow and can be crowded – but are still likely to be more comfortable than a bus ride. Between some of the larger cities their are express trains which will get you from A to B faster and more comfortably. These also generally have the modern and comfortable carriages.

There are three classes of travel: 1st, 2nd and 3rd. 1st class will be considerably the more expensives but is the most likely to have air conditioned carriages. Having said that, on the more scenic routes you might prefer to get a seat window in 2nd or 3rd class as you can open the windows and get better photographs (air conditioned carriages have their windows sealed closed).