Sri Lanka has been a special place to me because of a lovely girlfriend back in 1987 in Brighton called Stella. She was a 6th former at Roedean and her farther was the Cultural Attaché to the British ambassador of Sri Lanka.
She told me so much about this amazing island paradise that I was absolutely fixated with the place. I eventually visited on several occasions. Older and wiser now, I returned as a digital nomad & entrepreneur.
Sri Lanka is an island that everyone loves at some level inside themselves. A very special island that travellers, from Sinbad to Marco Polo, dreamed about. A place where the contours of the land itself forms a kind of sinewy poetry.
8 Tips To Get You Started In Sri Lanka
- Get yourself a Dialog Sim card for your phone. It’s really cheap so get a 4K internet package. Sri Lanka has one of the fastest 4G networks in SE Asia. I purchased my own 4G portable router which is super fast and well worth the investment if you are going to be working online and traveling about the island. Dialog (and the other small number of competitors) internet provision is charged on a monthly tariff basis and lots of restaurants who use Dialog (which is most) run over of their tariff towards the end of the month. Very few of them pay for the extra, so end up with no connectivity until the month re-news I have seen this a number of times and hear of the same scenario repeated. Be prepared.
- Best way to get around the cities and local areas is by Tuk Tuk. They are everywhere and incredibly cheap. Make sure you ask for the meter to be turned on or negotiate a price before you get in. There is an Uber service here and a service called Pick Me which you can download an app and book a Tuk Tuk Uber style. Do be prepared for some Mario-Cart style driving.
- It’s hot here, its near the equator, its hotter than Bangkok – you are going to sweat buckets. It is however cooler in the hill country in places like Kandy & Nuwara Eliya. Make sure you drink plenty of water.
- Sri Lanka, like Thailand is mainly Buddhist but there are many Catholic & Muslim people here, they all get along better than most countries do. You will see some of the most awe-inspiring Buddhist monuments in the world here.
- The civil war is over and it it is safe to travel to the north and the east. Check out Trincomalee if you get a chance! Its pretty unsullied by tourists and a beautiful place with amazing beaches and Whale watching.
- Food-wise, its hot and spicy all over. Expect curry for breakfast. I would say that Sri Lankan cuisine is the best I have tasted in SE Asia and definitely my favourite.
- The trains offer the best views of anywhere on earth and are some of the cheapest fares in the world! Expect to pay $5 for a first class carriage from Colombo to Kandy or Colombo to Galle.
- There aren’t many pubs here. The ones that you may find are tourist traps and charge a fortune. The local brew is called Lion Beer and is very similar to Singha in Thailand, about a $1.50 per bottle and comes in either 5% or 8.5% alcohol content. If you are a smoker, you are in bad luck, you can only get Dunhill, Benson & Hedges or something I have not seen since the 1980’s, …Gold Leaf. You cannot buy rolling tobacco, cigars or Marlboro here. Best get them at the Duty Free on your way over.
Hikkaduwa is a small town on the south coast of Sri Lanka located in the Southern Province, about 11 miles north-west of Galle and 61 mi south of Colombo. I first visited Hikkaduwa back in 1998 (Hikkaduwa means sword of knowledge). It was a short stopover of only 2 days but I fell in love with the place and promised myself that I would one day return! So, I did.
To me, Hikkaduwa is the place that I would want to live in Sri Lanka. It just seemed more chilled and less in a rush to modernise itself like the rest of Sri Lanka is doing. All the tradition still seems to be in place and the people are mellow and not so prone to ripping off people from the west. Its comfortable on the emotions and feels mellow.
The 2004 Tsunami
Hikkaduwa suffered really badly in the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004! Thousands of people lost there lives including on incident that has become the largest singular train disaster in history! When the Tsunami wave hit Hikkaduwa, it took out a train killing 1100 in one g. The Tuk Tuk driver I had lost members of his family and he showed me some very nest scares on his leg from when he was caught in the devastation of the wave. It was most humbling to actually meet someone who experienced it at first hand. It is well worth checking out the Tsunami museum in Hikkaduwa.
I loved Hikkaduwa but again, my stay was way too short. At some time in the near future I will spend a good 3 months there and maybe look for some land to eventually build a villa. I got talking to the guy who runs the place where I stayed, (see above) I had this place all to myself for a week (see pics above) and was spoilt rotten by the wonderful guys who run the villa. He told me that the land and the house next door were for sale. If it still is this time next year, I will be buying it! I’ll knock the old shack down and build colonial style house in it’s place.
It was sad to be leaving Hikkaduwa, so sad infact that I stayed an extra day. And I have to say that with all the wonderful and not so wonderful places I have visited on my travels, Hikkaduwa is in the top 3.
Kandy – The Hill Country
I have been to Kandy before back in 1998. I went and did the usual tourist stuff, visited the Temple of the Buddhas Tooth and the Botanical Gardens. Kandy is a fascinating place. Kandy is a 1000ft above sea level and a lot cooler than Colombo. Many wealthy Sri Lankans have second homes in Kandy to escape the tropical and humid heat of Colombo. And I can see why!
I will eventually buy a house on the outskirts of Kandy in the hill country where it is even cooler, this is where I went to on this visit. I stayed in the Yala National Park at a fabulous hotel called the Yale Park Hotel. Absolutely amazing place with infinity pools outside all of the rooms. The rooms without exception were all massive and really well thought out.
A Chinese guy called Wesley bought the place a few years ago and has invested a fortune in making the place awesome. There are even horses there as well as fish ponds and visits from the local monkeys, a white boar and a white buffalo.
The views from every aspect of the hotel were awe-inspiring and memorising. So good to wake up and unpack the entrepreneurial stress with a long distance gaze into the far off mountains! Gods creation at its best and in full affect, you cannot help but to be moved by the view.
I will look for an old colonial tea plantation house to renovate rather than a new build. I love the Sri Lankan colonial architecture as it is pretty much intact from the Victorian era from when it was built. It probably cost a small fortune but my philosophy and belief system will take care of the finances!
I do believe that when you think of something, write it down, unpack it from thought and imagination into words and then focus positive energy onto it, the subject matter in mind and on paper will begin to manifest itself into reality. You do have to feed the thought pattern with positive affirmations and a focused belief-energy. Being aware that it is already reality and its only the time-line that has to be traveled to make the initial thought manifest into the absolute tangible truth .
Puttalam – The Coconut Triangle
Puttalam is a district in the north west of Sri Lanka and resides on a giant saline lagoon which is responsible for the salt mining industry in country. I also resides on the northern border of the Coconut Triangle, a 100 mile forest of the best coconuts in the world.
I was in Puttalam for the second time staying at my business partners house there, it is also the home of the Coco Anna and St Annes Factory Coconut plantation and processing plant! This is where my Ink Oil, Palm Tree Products and Stardust Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening products are produced.
The 1970’s Revisited
Puttalam is a district that will take you back in time. It is reminiscent of the 1970’s in the UK in regards of infrastructure and development. Its a beautiful place, like most of Sri Lanka and is mostly jungle with towns and villages dotted here and there.
The coast line is only a few miles from the factory but its hardly worth mentioning, that is unless you are into giant wind turbines and silty sea. Its not exactly the surfers paradise of Trincomalee or Galle. I loved it there. There are not many places in the world that when you open your bedroom door out onto the jungle, you see wild Peacocks.
It was work and product development in Puttalam for me but I did get to take a few choice shots of the dried out lagoon area on a salt mine. The landscape there was almost alien and very surreal. I’m sure i’ll be back there soon enough. (There is a white Land Rover Defender that is under covers that I want to buy if my business associate will sell it to me).
Galle – The Southern Gem
I got the train down to Galle, it was a journey I had been looking forward to for years! The train travels north to south on the east coast between the Indian ocean and the jungle. It really is spectacular scenery and quite breathtaking at times.
The train was bloody noisy though. I decided to ride 3rd class as I wanted to have the real Sri Lankan experience. There are no doors on the carriages and all of the windows are open to create an impression of ‘air conditioning’. It actually worked when the train reached 20 MPH.
The Train Kept a’Rollin
It took 3 hours to reach Galle all together, the train made plenty of stops at unique little fishing villages on the way. There wasn’t what you’d call station platforms in much evidence, I’d say that the Sri Lankan train system would fail every British health and safety law in the book, and that would be standing still. The smells & aromas wafting through the carriage were almost as breath-taking as the scenery and not all in a good way.
It was really good to chat to the other passengers on the train, most spoke English, but they speak in rapid fire as is norm here and it can be tricky keeping up with the conversation. But some great conversations were had! Mainly about politics and many answering questions about Brexit.
Apart from the aromas and the clickity-clack of the rolling stock, there are the food sellers to contend with too! Its relentless, a non stop top-of-the-voice calling out the name of the food and looking you in the eye.
I decided to purchase a few tasty treats that turned out to be yummy but very spicy. A word of caution, make sure you have a bottle of water with you if you decide to eat something on the train, you are going to need it. The choice of food is varied, tasty, cheap and constantly available! One thing is for sure, you won’s starve on a Sri Lankan train.
A Coast Of Many Colours
Galle is at the southern tip of Sri Lanka and has been invaded by the Dutch, the Portuguese and off course the English over the last three hundred years, this is due to its strategic and geographical significance.
The Dutch fort is well worth a visit, as is the light house. Its a beautiful town, quiet and friendly, just like most of Sri Lanka for that matter.
When I go on these journeys, I either book last minute on the Agoda website to get a 5 star bargain or take the adventurous option of turning up and hoping to stumble on a little gem. Thats what happened this time.
I got a Tuk Tuk in to the main town area and found a place on Google Maps that I liked the sound of – So, I booked in to the Bliss Hotel! Cool beans, I was the only customer as they were doing maintenance but I convinced that to let me stay and also wangled a discount. My stay was very quiet and I had all the WiFi bandwidth to myself.
Will definitely go back to Galle but next time go a little further east to Unawatuna. This is where the expat older hippies live and there are great beaches and surfing there too.
Colombo – The Ocean City
Well, its May 2017 and I’m here in Colombo, just been down to Galle for the week end and now back to work on several projects that look like they are coming to fruition all at the same time. It’s busy but there is a sense of purpose and probability here far more than I ever felt in Bangkok. It’s almost like this is a nation that has escaped the onslaught of the ‘Startup’ which is spreading round the rest of South East Asia like a plague.
I just don’t think the locals would buy into the ‘startup’ idea here. I cant quite see a foreign Startup wanting to invest into the the Sri Lankan economy somehow. But saying that, there is massive scope for opportunity and for export here and the natural products of Sri Lanka are in abundance and inexpensive! I wont tell you what they are just yet as I am working on some quite exciting little side projects away form the two coconut oil business’s.
Recomended Colombo Eateries
- Barefoot Cafe : Run by Tony, an English guy, great food, great service, a very cool shop and lots of Jazz music. Live band on Saturdays. Vey good value for money and an absolute must visit. Good Wifi.
- Coco Veranda : Good food, service is OK on some days and dreadful the next. Its a good place to hang out and get work done but the wifi tends to disapear towards the end of the month when their tariff runs out! For some reason, they dont pay the bill and you have to rely on tethering your phone for an internet connection. This place could be awesome but there doesnt seem to be much appetite for improving the place or investing the money, shame really, still, good menu – no alcohol on sale.
- Black Cat Cafe : Just around the corner from Coco Veranda, quite spot, good service but the barking 3 legged dog is a nuisance when it barks – which is most of the time. Will definitely return here as it has cool clientele and is a peaceful place (when the dog is quiet). Also, the architecture is old colonial and in a great state of upkeep. They have invested well with this establishment. Good Wifi.
Sri Lanka Internet – My Digital Nomad Entrepreneur Wishlist
My project ‘Sri Lanka Internet’ is now in the planning and due diligence stages, we (my business partner Evan) have both the .COM and the .LK domains and I am currently writing out a business plan and proposal that we will be putting before the Colombo Chamber of Commerce and to other organisations here.
Sri Lanka Internet will be a social as well as a financial enterprise both offering and education to work program with internships & technology training and partnering with Sri Lanka’s business community.