I paid an impromptu visit to Sri Lanka to apply for a new tourist visa for India (details below) since the previous one expired after 3 months. Frankly I went to this beautiful island unwillingly by interrupting my stay in Goa however, I was glad I did it since I was super impressed by Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches, modern coffee shops, surfing based activities, luxury villas and resorts, long beaches adorned with fishermen boats, and restaurants serving world cuisines + a variety of seafood fresh from the water. Plus it was a nice/hygienic break from India’s pollution and chaotic daily life 🙂
I really enjoyed my time in Sr Lanka and was surprised how I had unheard of this beautiful piece of paradise during my world travels.
The long civil war that ended in 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers, which fought to create an independent Tamil state called Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of the island, darkened the history of the island and caused my ignorance. BUT it was about time to erase that and start a fresh relationship.
To be honest, I thought this place beat Bali in terms of its beaches and surfing scene (compared to the overpriced, overcrowded and overdeveloped Kuta and Seminyak area). However, even though the prominent religion is Buddhism, I didn’t come across much spirituality, yoga or meditation (yet). I will look into this more throughly next time. Also we noticed a strong police presence everywhere in Colombo and in the South, on every corner and they reinforced laws. This resulted in a more harmonious life in which cars and motorbikes let pedestrians cross the streets, they stopped on the red light, the beaches/streets were kept clean, etc. It’s fun to observe how amazing this felt after India!
Bob Marley tunes spread peace and love messages everywhere on the white sand beaches that stretched freely miles and miles on the southern coast of the tropical island that’s covered abundantly by lush greens.
Here is how I traveled to Sri Lanka:
My boyfriend and I flew from Goa to Colombo with a layover in Chennai (India) and paid $150 to SpiceJet for each one way ticket which was a bit of ouch situation. The 30 day-visa on arrival cost us $40/person and it was handled quickly at the airport.
We traveled from the airport to the main bus station in Colombo (last stop) via shuttle bus that can be found a few steps away when you get out of the international terminal. It was a cheap alternative to taxi and took us around 1-1.5 hrs to get to the city.
On our first day in Colombo, the capital we submitted our visa applications to Indian Visa Services (IVS) at 8:30 in the morning and ran away from the city life immediately with the 10:30 am train from Colombo Fort railway station to arrive at Galle at 1:30 pm. 2nd class seats which were comfortable enough for this 3 hour trip cost us 120 SL rupees ($2). BUT keep in mind that you need to get on the train as fast as possible and take a seat, otherwise you travel on you feet for hours. Trains get pretty busy by locals and tourists.
You can get more info about the train schedules and all related train info in this useful blog here.
After a 10 min tuk tuk drive from the railway station to Unawatuna (400 rs/$2.5), we checked in to Nooit Gedacht Holiday Resort for one night at (3000 rs/night/$22) then moved to an apartment in a guest house named Sienna and had a kitchen and large terrace for ourselves for 3000 rs/night.
We chose Unawatuna in the south of the island to stay at while waiting for our visas since it was rated as one of the top beaches of Sri Lanka and its palm-lined shore with turquoise waters were truly blissful. However it’s best to keep in mind after April, East Coast became more popular due to the monsoon season.
During our week long visit, we rented a motorbike (900 rs/day) and went to both west and east sides and some of the notable beaches we stopped at were Mirissa, Hikkaduwa, and Talalla. After seeing the towns around, I would have rather stayed at Hikkaduwa Beach since it was more lively and the waves were amazing to keep ourselves busy with boogie boarding all day long.
Galle Fort, which is home to the Old Dutch hospital turned into high end restaurants and boutiques is one of the highlights of the Southern Coast. Sipping a bloody marry at the sunset was a real indulgence 😉 Prices were $7-10 for dishes and cocktails, higher than usual Sri Lankan standards but still lower than what I would have paid in NY.
Why fishing on stilts: The practice is believed to have started during World War II when food shortages and overcrowded fishing spots prompted some clever men to try fishing on the water. At first they started fishing from wrecks of capsized ships and downed aircraft, then some began erecting their stilts in coral reefs. The skills were then passed on to at least two generations of fishermen living along a 30 km stretch of southern shore between the towns of Unawatuna and Weligama. More info on this is here . I ate fish at almost every dinner in SL and was very happy no matter how they were caught 🙂
Oh we also saw the latest Star Wars movie in 3D (in Matara), which was pretty unexpected and fun too! 🙂
And the inside of this cool beach/island temple looks like this:
How to apply for an Indian Tourist Visa in Sri Lanka:
Before leaving India, I got all the useful tips about the visa application from this site: Www.visrunner.com. But below are some additional notes:
You need to fill out the online application form here and bring the number assigned with you so you can make the necessary adjustments with the help of some folks at the internet cafe on the same street (500 rs/person for this service but it’s money well spent if it’s your first time). We had Israeli and US passports and needed to show our printed application at the airport before checking into our flight to Sri Lanka. So a print out might become handy.
Also make sure you have a proof of your departure from India (a bus or plane ticket) to show when you enter India with your fresh visa. Otherwise they will not let you check in or make you buy a ticket right there.
We submitted our applications for 6 month multiple entry tourist visas on Jan 6 and were asked to drop our passports off one week later, on Jan 13. I got my US passport back on the same day (with multiple entry visa) and the Israeli passport was ready at 4:30 on Jan 14 with a double entry visa. The short lines and positive attitudes of the officers made this process a super pleasant one for us.
Everything else you need to know about the IVS center in Sri Lanka is here. But the fees need to be updated (we paid 16,000 rs for US passport and 6030 rs for Israeli).
Hotels/Guest houses are at least 3 times pricier than India and it’s super hard to find a decent place below $50/night. As a recommendation from a sweet Italian guy we met at the airport, we stayed at Westeern Hotel in Colombo (15 mins walking distance from IVS) for 3000 rs ($22)/night but it was a really low quality place except for its proximity to our target, which we had to visit 3 times in 2 days. You can choose from AC or non-AC rooms however AC was a MUST in January! There was also a mall named Majestic close by and it offered Asian style mall food and free wifi. We walked everywhere in Colombo and the streets were safe and pleasant for that. Also to note, wi-fi was much faster than India so we were happy to have our laptop with us to resume our lives, finishing uncompleted Skype calls, downloading stuff, etc.
Apparently there is much more to see in Sri Lanka from temples to Ceylon tea fields to picturesque green pastures and ashrams on the mountains. For instance we were recommended by everyone we met to make the Kandy-Ella train ride but we couldn’t find time for it- so another visit to SL will be on the calendar!