A Filipino's Guide to Sri Lanka: Visa & Prep
Somebody once asked me "Why Sri Lanka?" For starters, it's the gateway to Maldives. Most of the flights to Maldives have a stopover in SL, so my first 2 visits were actually to take advantage of the stopovers.
Secondly, it's only 1.5 hours away from Maldives. Majority of Maldivians go to Sri Lanka during holidays for a quick break.
Lastly, Sri Lanka has so much to offer! From the cold climates of the upper country to the world-class waves in the south, SL caters to tourists of various tastes. You can shop and party til you drop in Colombo without burning a hole in your pocket, wake up in the morning surrounded by trees, and if you're lucky, spot an elephant when you look out the window.
|Kudos to keeping a generous distance between the hotel and sea. Philippines, can you see this? @Negombo|
|The 8th Wonder of the World!|
VISAI totally commend the Sri Lankan government for the hassle-free online visa procedure.
You can apply online for Electronic Travel Authorization aka visa here and pay with your credit card. They will ask for an email address so make sure to give a working email. You will receive your confirmation and ETA within 5 minutes if everything goes smoothly. 35 USD is charged for a tourist visa with double entry for 30 days.
There are some friends who shared getting visa on arrival. However, they paid 40 USD and the process was not so quick.
I always prefer the online procedure as it is faster, cheaper, and more reliable.
|Buddha welcomes you to Sri Lanka|
MONEYBefore leaving the Philippines (or wherever you're from), exchange your pesos to USD! When you arrive in Colombo airport, change 50 USD to Lankan rupees just to get you to your hotel, then you can exchange the rest from money changers along York Street in Colombo. They will give you a higher rate by 2-4 LKR compared to the airport changers. As reference, 1 USD = 155-160 LKR*.
|Tea Village @Nuwara Eliya|
If you're coming from the Philippines, there might be a chance to be asked how much pocket money are you carrying. My suggestion is to say you have 400 USD for every week you'll be in SL. Colombo immigration officers will not ask you this question but...
...they will say "Are you sure you're here for a holiday or you're waiting for your work visa?" This happened to me on my 3RD VISIT! I took offense deep inside because I believe I have established interest to explore the whole country during my first 2 tours, but it was futile to point this out. I handed over my work visa promptly and told the officer I came for Perahera Festival.
|The favoured elephant to carry Buddha's Tooth Relic during Perahera Festival @Kandy|
Anyway, it was not hard to understand the immigration's sentiments. Many Filipinos who found job opportunities while traveling as tourists in neighboring countries like Maldives, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman would choose Sri Lanka as exit point while waiting for their work visas. It's more practical than going back to the Philippines. The issue, however, is some of them might have to wait longer than expected which leads to illegal overstaying or working under a tourist visa.
Show your ETA, work visa or company ID card, and outbound ticket to avoid further questions.
|Nature never fails to amaze! @Seetawaka Botanical Garden|
CLOTHESSri Lanka is a tropical country so you have to pack more cotton fabrics. Shorts for ladies are alright, but you have to expect unwanted ogles from men. If nightlife is on the itinerary, feel free to bring your stunning LBD.
Temperature in Nuwara Eliya and the towns in the upper country (where the tea plantations are) can go as low as 10°C so prepare a sweater and cozy trousers.
|That's a live reindeer! And yes, I made an outfit mistake. My arms are crossed in all photos because I'm too cold!|
Of course, your SL trips will not be complete without visiting Buddhist temples. Some temples require wearing white clothes so don't forget that. As always, cover your cleavage, knees and shoulders. Wear easy footwear to slip on since you will be removing them most of the time.
|Kande Viharaya Temple|
If you're heading to the beaches, the world is your oyster.
TRANSPORTATIONLocal flights to districts outside of Colombo are usually private and expensive! Most tourists go by bus, train, or private vehicle arranged by your tour agent when traveling to far provinces.
|Open air train!|
|Having the whole shore to myself @Jungle Beach|
Tuktuks, on the other hand, are your most reliable mode of transpo when within Colombo. Be sure to ask if the Tuktuk driver has a meter (this is required but some haven't installed yet) before getting in for a scam-free ride.
You may also download the PickMe app to hail tuktuks or taxis. Taxis via PickMe, contracting a private vehicle, or asking your hotel to arrange your transpo are the best ways to transfer to and from the airport which is super far from the city center.
|You know it's an interesting city when cops manage traffic on horses. Imagine if there's a chase!|
FOODSri Lankan cuisine is a must-try! Add Kotthu rotti, isso wade, egg hoppers, and a traditional Sri Lankan rice+curry meal on your bucket list when you visit. Most locals cook and eat by hand, so be cautious of hygiene. However, don't expect to find plenty of street food stalls in the city unless you go to Galle Face.
|Flag Retreat at Galle Face. A little further and you can see food stalls.|
|Isso Wade at Galle Face|
Oh, they have the freshest fruits of various kinds! If you're in Colombo, make a quick stop at Fresheez for the latest picks. If you're traveling to the upper country (lucky you), there will be several stalls selling peeled and chopped mangoes, guavas, and pineapples. Ask the kind vendors to sprinkle chili powder and salt to your fruits to balance the flavors.
|Asked myself if I can get any fresher than this. HAHAHA @Fresheez|
MOST OF ALL, RESPECT
Sri Lankans are among the friendliest people I have ever met. They are always helpful and thoughtful. It would not cost you anything to respect their ways of living and the things that are sacred to them. Take note of these things:
- Don't take a selfie with a statue of Buddha. If you want a photo taken, you should be facing the statue.
- Remove your footwear in sacred places no matter how hot the floor is.
- Do not initiate an argument regarding training elephants. Sinhalese Buddhism has a long-standing connection towards elephants. I have opposing views towards training bordering to cruelty but as tourists, we don't want to disrupt anything. What you can do is respectfully decline offers to ride an elephant or any activity you deem harmful and against your personal values.
- Take photos in museums only after taking permission. There was a period when Sri Lanka required tourists to get special permits to take photos of relics in order to preserve the sanctity. This has been lifted but there will be no harm in proper courtesies. Usually, the caretakers would allow it especially when you ask nicely.
- Basically, be mindful to your surroundings and courteous to the locals. Don't grimace at the sight of people eating by hand. Wear appropriate clothes in holy places. And DON'T STAND UNNECESSARILY WHILE WATCHING PERAHERA. These locals waited 18 hours for a good spot while you, Monsieur, just came at the last hour and stood there, blocking their view. Seriously, guys, be sensitive.
Sri Lanka is magical country, and its people are so endearing. To experience this country is to encounter yourself at a deeper level. In all my visits, Sri Lanka doesn't allow me to leave without peace and radiance in my heart.
|Enjoying the cool waters @Avisawella|
First time in SL? Comment your questions and I'd be happy to answer!
*as of this writing