A Different World

Ten minutes in the country and I couldn’t get over how different Sri Lanka was from India. Why would I even compare the two, you might ask. Well, Sri Lanka and India have close ties, the people superficially look the same, and the countries are neighbors. In fact, the flight from Trivandrum in southern India to Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo only takes 45 minutes. You have to understand that a 20-kilometer bus ride in India takes about this much time. So it was natural for me to assume (and maybe a little ignorant) that Sri Lanka was only an extension of India’s southern states Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Clearly, I was mistaken. The first difference I noticed was how clean Colombo was – relatively speaking, of course. This is, after all, a third world capital of several million people. When we came in on a bus from the airport, I was surprised that I didn’t see any heaps of burning trash (a common sight in India), instead, I saw artificial lakes, and road dividers made of shrubs and flowers – generally speaking, a cleaned-up version of urban sprawl. This, I bet, is a direct consequence of Sri Lanka’s smaller population density, which brings me to my next point.

There are a lot fewer people surrounding me at any given moment. This means, less hassle from rickshaw drivers, less noise, and less traffic congestion. It almost brought tears to my eyes when I noticed a car stopping at a pedestrian crossing to let an elderly lady walk over the road. In India, pedestrian crossings are nothing but a farce. They have no meaning other than target practice for unscrupulous drivers.

What’s very obvious in this country is that women are more visible. Unlike India, this is not just a man’s world. Women work in shops, run information desks, they are part of the police force, – by and large, they seem more integrated into every-day life. To my surprise, they seem very westernized, many wearing western clothes rather than traditional clothing.

One difference I could do without is the much higher cost of traveling in Sri Lanka. In preparation for this trip, we foolishly believed the prices quoted in our 2006 guidebook. As it turns out, food and lodging are suddenly 50 to 100 percent more expensive. Ouch! When we ask people why, the answer is always the same: inflation. At first, I didn’t buy it, but when I noticed a bank ad in the local newspaper quoting interest rates of 22 percent for long-term deposits, I became more sympathetic. Still, doubling prices for hotels and meals within a 2-year period doesn’t seem justified. We’ll just have to think twice before buying a second or third lassi.

But, there are some less than fortunate similarities. Sri Lanka, too, has a double pricing system especially when it comes to fees for historical sites or national parks. Often we have to pay 20 to 30 times the local price. But that’s not all. We get overcharged on local buses, in trains, taking rickshaws, and even for our first beef burger in over a year at a McDonald’s restaurant. (They didn’t teach them that at McDonald’s Univerisity.) But after their ears stop ringing from Tony’s tirade on honest business practices, they might think twice about McPrice-Gouging.

Despite the high costs and questionable pricing for foreigners, it looks like Sri Lanka should be an interesting change and more of a cultural diversion from India than we had expected. We’ll be sure to share more of our discoveries with you here on the blog.

9 responses to “A Different World”

  1. avatar Peter Matthews says:

    For a so called third world country they are well above the rest in terms of clenliness. People are very nice and friendly no problems at all from a tourist point of view

  2. avatar Imran Sidiqui says:

    I landed in Colombo a week back for an implementation project. Before boarding Sri Lankan airlines, I was under the impression that Sri Lanka would be as bad as India or worse. But to my surprise, the crew was excellent. And since I set my foot in Sri lanka, Colombo, I just can’t help falling in love with this place.

    The people are so nice. Well groomed. Excellent civic sense. People follow rules while driving. If you ask some one on the road for directions they go out of the way to help you. Literally everyone speaks English. I mean even the auto drivers, maids … everyone. The city is so clean. WOW!! I just could not believe my eyes. I have not come across even one auto driver who tried to cheat me.

    They say India Shining. (I am a proud Indian. And I mean it.) But it is pity that we have managed to screw things up in our country. I hope it is not too late for us Indians to get our country back on track.

    And as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, I look forward to bringing my family some day for vacation to this lovely country.

  3. avatar Indunil says:

    β€’ Hey Thomas, I’m from Sri Lanka. you are talking about Colombo city’s cleanness 2009. I think you better go now and see. In regards to cleanness, Colombo is far far better than 2009. I live here in Singapore. Even Singapore has started talking about Colombo cleanness.


    I’m so happy that you realized the different between Sri Lanka and India

    • avatar Tony says:

      Wow, that sounds amazing. We really can’t wait to go back to Sri Lanka again and see it now that war is over.

  4. avatar Chathura says:

    Hi Tony,
    just saw your post about Sri Lanka on this site.I’m really fascinated on you post.
    I’m student From Sri Lanka and in present, I glad to say Colombo environment is 1000% better than 2009 πŸ˜‰
    you are warmly invite to come and feel the difference again πŸ˜‰
    now you can travel to Northern & Eastern Provinces too… πŸ™‚
    I would like to thank you for your lovely posts as a SriLankan. πŸ™‚


    • avatar Tony says:

      We would love to go back to Sri Lanka, especially since the Northern and Eastern provinces are open. I’m really curious to see how Colombo could be 1000% better. I thought it was great when we were there.

  5. avatar Chaminda Prasanna says:

    Hi ,I am a Sri Lankan living in Dubai for last 15 years, visits CMB every year with kids for summer break. i can proudly say SL is in right path and you can really see the progress. fast forward another 5 years .. SL would be an amazing destination.
    must say “thank you” to all the authorities from street cleaner to CMB mayor.

    one point on negative side, as stated by Thomas, SL tourism board should have proper regulation in place to tackle over pricing of room rates, also high entry fees structure @ toursit hot spots..

    best wishes

  6. avatar Alt says:

    Anyone alive? Lol
    This is the best time to visit Sri Lanka. Believe me tourism is growing and the country soon will be overcrowded by tourists. Now or newer!

    • avatar Thomas says:

      It’s very true. We actually went back to Sri Lanka in 2017, and although tourism has increased quite a bit, we were still able to find some isolated spots along the southern coast. I would definitely agree with you, the sooner you go the better.

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