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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in sri lanka
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Tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); southwest monsoon (June to October)
Mostly low, flat to rolling plain; mountains in south-central interior.
The Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C., probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced beginning in about the mid-3rd century B.C. and a great civilization developed at such cities as Anuradhapura (kingdom from c. 200 B.C. to c. 1000 A.D.) and Polonnaruwa (c. 1070 to 1200).
In the 14th century, a south Indian dynasty seized power in the north and established a Tamil kingdom. Occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century, the island was ceded to the British in 1796 and became a crown colony in 1802. As Ceylon it became independent in 1948; its name was changed in 1972.
Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted in violence in the mid-1980s. Tens of thousands have died in that violence (and in bloody uprisings by disaffected Sinhalese). Since late 2001 there has been a ceasefire and slow-going peace talks, and even war-torn parts of the island are now open for travel. But now after the election of the new government in 2005, the hostilities have started and the war is about to begin again. So the North Eastern areas are not safe for travel.
Since the outbreak of hostilities between the government and armed Tamil separatists in the mid-1980s, several hundred thousand Tamil civilians have fled the island; as of mid-1999, approximately 66,000 were housed in 133 refugee camps in south India, another 40,000 lived outside the Indian camps, and more than 200,000 Tamils have sought refuge in the West (July 2002 est.)
There is air service to and from Sri Lanka, provided by the national airline Sri Lankan Airlines. Flights are available from origins throughout Europe, United States, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan.
The most common mode of transport in Sri Lanka is via a three-wheeled automobile called a tri-shaw. These operate in a manner similar to taxis, and is a highly cost-efficient way to get around. Other modes of transport include renting automobiles (which often come with their own drivers). Often the automobile itself is free, whereas the driver will charge a small fee for his services.
For those on a budget buses are everywhere. They're ridiculously crowded and massively uncomfortble, but they get you around for almost nothing; it costs about a dollar to get half-way across the island. If you're planning on splashing out, AC buses run most routes for twice the price, which offer air-conditioning and a guaranteed seat. However, they're still uncomfortable. Bus stations are confusing places, especially the big ones, but almost everyone will be delighted to practice their English and help you.
Trains also run in some places - these are slower than buses but more comfortable and picturesque.
The food is very cheap generally, with a cheap meal costing about a dollar. The most expensive, tourist-orientated places seldom charge more than ten dollars. The staple food of Sri Lankans is rice and curry - a massive mound of rice surrounded by various curries and delicacies. If you want to eat a cheap lunch you can follow the Sri Lankan crowds and duck into any of a million small cafes, confusingly called 'Hotels'. These normally sell a rice and curry packet, as well as 'short eats', a collection of spicy rolls. This is ideal for backpackers and those who want to get past the touristy hotels selling burnt chicken and chips - you're charged by how much you eat, and unless you're absolutely ravenous it probably won't cost over a dollar.
Note that Sri Lankans eat with their hands - this isn't a major problem, because everywhere will be able to provide cutlery if you can't eat otherwise. But try the Sri Lankan way, it's harder than it looks but strangely liberating.
Water is not always healthy for unseasoned travelers, and so it is recommended that bottled water be used whenever possible. Fresh milk, due to the climate, spoils easily, and so is often very expensive. Powdered milk, however, is safe and is often substituted.
Soft drinks are available almost everywhere, normally in dusty-looking glass bottles. The local producer, Elephant, make a range of interesting drinks - try the ginger beer.
The local beer is 'Lion' beer, and the traditional spirit is Arrack, which costs about four dollars for a bottle.
Sleeping is very cheap. Guesthouses normally don't offer a single rate, but you can always try bargaining.
The greeting in Sinhala is "Ayubowan." It means that "May you live longer"
(Nobody actually uses either of those two - the Sri Lankan equivalents are 'hi' and 'give me another'.)
The greeting in Tamil is "Vanakkam."
Violent crime is not a serious problem for tourists in Sri Lanka. As in most tourist locations, beware of pickpockets, and don't leave valuables unguarded. Women should not be alone at night on the beach or streets. There has been a slight increase in violent crimes involving tourists in the past few years, but it is still rare.
The Tamil Tiger terrorists have never targeted anyone for random violence besides the local Buddhist majority, and are currently in peace talks with a cease-fire. In rare instances, a few tourists have been wounded (mostly minor) by terrorist actions, while a somewhat larger number have witnessed and been frightened by them. It's believed that the Tamil Tigers would prefer to have no Western or foreign casualties. In general, traffic accidents should be a much greater concern than terrorism. There is heavy security in all sensitive locations, and together with the country's long experience in dealing with it would probably make any radical Islamist or foreign terrorism less likely than elsewhere. In addition, Sri Lanka has good relations with all nearby countries (who aren't always at peace with each other) and internationally as well.
It's advised that tourists not travel to areas under control of the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels. This is not because they threaten Westerners, but some areas may contain land mines, and the facilities in cities and towns are war torn. It is highly unlikely, though, that someone could inadvertently go into a war zone due to the large number of government checkpoints. Such areas are far distant from places tourists normally visit. Note though, it is common to see well-armed soliders on the streets, main highways and airport, even in times of peace.
Con artist and touts are a serious problem throughout all tourist areas. Using the services of a tout for accommodation, local travel, etc. will most likely increase the price. Do not believe anyone who claims to be a professional (e.g. airline pilot), or in charge of a location (like a bus terminal) without proof. Scams involving gemstones are common. Do not buy with the intention of selling them in your home country for a profit. Also, beware of single males who wish you to accompany them after a religious service. First, ask other members if person is honest and reliable. Dishonest Sri Lankans (mostly male) are very adept at talking tourists out of their money, and generally prefer this method over violence.
Malaria: Gampaha (e.g. Negombo), Colombo, Kalutata, Galle, and Nuwara Eliya districts are considered malaria free, as is the city (but not the entire district) of Kandy. Elsewhere, malaria exists and is most likely in Anuradhapura where the temples are located. In the dry season, using DEET repellent for a mid-day road or train trip to Kandy or Nuwara Eliya should suffice. Risk increases after sunset. Malaria pills are warranted for trips to the north (especially Anuradhapura), east, and southeast (usually Malarone or Lariam, but not available locally.)
Yellow fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers over 1 year of age coming from infected areas.
There are several customs that, (for Westerners) take a bit of getting used to.
Sri Lankans don't use toilet paper - a hose by the side of the toilet is considered good enough. I wouldn't advise trying this out, so bring a roll of toilet paper everywhere. As always, the touristy places will be accustomed to weak Westerners and supply toilet paper, but for cheaper locations you'd be advised to bring your own.
Sri Lankans have an odd charactaristic head-waggle, which to the uninitiated looks exactly like a head-shake. Unfortunately they don't mean this to mean 'no', but it signifies interest or general agreement. Talking to a Sri Lankan who is gently shaking his head and smiling is a disorientating experience, so just remember what it means. And who knows, if you stay there long enough you might start waggling your head yourself.
It is customary to remove your shoes before entering places of worship (excluding most Western-orgin churches), but at home it's not as strict as some other Asian countries (e.g. Japan). Never touch or pat the top of the head of a Buddhist, including children. Also, do not turn your back to (or be alongside) a Buddha statue when within a reasonable distance (observe what others are doing). This includes posing for photos. (It's OK to photograph the statues, but all persons should be facing them.) Public nudity (including female topless) is never acceptable and illegal in Sri Lanka, including all beaches. (A few German-owned hotels may make an exception in designated areas.)
Although much latitude is given to tourists, it is more polite to not use your left hand while shaking hands, handing money and small objects, etc. Likewise, with needlessly exposing the bottom of your feet in public.
Be respectful to all monks, (you'll recognise them easily, they're in bright orange robes.) You probably won't come into much contact with them, and there's no particular etiquette for westerners - just be polite.