In July, I announced that we were leaving Sri Lanka. I promised in that post that I would share our experiences as foreigners interested in purchasing land and settling, in Sri Lanka long-term.
Since then, I’ve had a lot of emails reminding me that I need to do this. So here’s a list of all the wonderful things that made me fall in love with Sri Lanka. Tomorrow I’ll post a list of all the reasons why I’m currently wary of going back.
First, I want to make it clear that most of the following impressions, both in this post and the next, are based from the time we spent in Ratnapura. We also spent about one month traveling through Colombo, Negombo, Kandy, Newara Eliya, Galle, and Anuradhapura. In total, we spent about 4 months traveling, living, and working in Sri Lanka.
Awesome Things About Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Durian Is Good
This is, of course, the most important factor in whether or not we like a country (I’m joking. Sort of). Sri Lankan durian is really good, and can be found around the southern half of the island between the months of May and August, depending where you are.
Currently, the only durian being grown in Sri Lanka are native varieties grown from seed. The Horticultural Research Center in Horana has bred a few varieties they deem superior to the local, which are available for purchase, but they haven’t really caught on. Last year one unenterprising farmer established large-scale farms with grafted varieties, but the trees won’t produce fruits for at least 4 years.
Basically, if your main goal is to be somewhere where you can eat or grow good quality durians, Sri Lanka is a perfectly suitable place.
Really Friendly People
Of all the countries I’ve been to, I immediately felt the most comfortable in Sri Lanka. People smile. They wobble their heads. They don’t get up in your face about anything, whether it’s offering tuk-tuk rides, hand-crafted knick-knacks, or begging. And in our experience, they’re always happy to give directions and help out the clueless tourist.
This might be because Sri Lanka is still pretty far off the tourist track, and locals are still happy and curious to see white foreigners. Or it might be the Buddhist, peaceful culture. Or it might be because most people don’t yet have cell phones and are bored. Whatever the reason, I appreciate it.
Not only are people in Sri Lanka more friendly, I feel like they are (in general!!!) more trustworthy. Unlike in some other places I’ve been, I never felt like I needed to wear my backpack on my stomach or rigidly be aware of my surroundings. In Sri Lanka I was able to relax and just enjoy the colorful scenery.
As a woman who runs, I felt fine running by myself in Sri Lanka. Yes, I did attract quite a bit of attention, but I never felt threatened. In other countries, a run by myself might attract an unending onslaught of hoots, hollers, and whistles from the surplus of young men always standing around. Sometimes, those same young men might start padding along with me in their flip-flops. Possibly innocently intended, but unnerving. This never happened to me in Sri Lanka.
Each time I return to Sri Lanka, it is more beautiful than I remember.Sri Lanka is beautiful and the landscapes are varied, each more breathtaking than the last. Sri Lanka has it all – endless stretches of white sand beaches, jungles, high mountain ridges and cloud forests, green labyrinthine tea plantations, and wide, dry flat lands painted with a dazzling array of red soil, green plants and blue skies.
Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country, and many people are vegetarian. It’s extremely easy to find cheap vegetarian food at any of the local digs. Most people know the word “vegetarian,” even if they don’t know any other phrases in English.
Mostly Organic Fruit
So far, fruit isn’t grown large scale in Sri Lanka, which means that it’s a good bet anything you buy in the market wasn’t completely doused in pesticides. Most fruit is grown in small orchards or backyards by farmers who also grow other cash crops, like rubber or tea. Fruit is a bit of a side thought, but that’s lucky for everyone who eats a lot of it like we do.
Kale, Beet Greens, and Other Leafy Veggies
Since I follow a pretty radical vegetarian diet, eating enough leafy
greens is a big deal for me. As hard as I tried, I could not learn to
enjoy most Southeast Asian greens in salad. Which brings me to how much I love kale.
Kale is one of the foods I don’t think I can ever survive without again. It’s wonderful, whether blended into a green smoothie, juiced, wilted into a salad, or lightly steamed. I love kale.
Thanks to the mountains, kale grows in Sri Lanka. So do beet greens, turnip greens, and even a fairly decent lettuce. What sort of greens grow in the area may not be of concern to you, but it is a big deal to me. The availability of familiar leafy greens was one of the reasons I felt I could commit to living long term in Sri Lanka.
If you’re coming from a Western country, Sri Lanka is a great budget vacation. It’s not quite as cheap as traveling in Thailand, Cambodia, or even India, where a budget hotel costs around $5 per night, but it’s definitely no Singapore.
Travel: A budget room can easily be found for $10-15, while public transportation is laughably inexpensive. An air-conditioned bus from Colombo to Ratnapura (around 4 hours) costs only 250 RS ($2), and the non-AC, local bus is even cheaper. For a more comfortable and equally cheap option, use the train for getting around (not an option when going to Ratnapura).Food: Food is the cheapest part. A full, vegetarian meal at a local hole-in-the-wall costs 120 Rupees (RS) (~$1) for rice, dhal, a few chutneys, and your main dish. For a non-veg meal, you’ll pay a bit more.
Property: People interested in purchasing land in the tropics should take note: land prices are dirt cheap in Sri Lanka. You can easily buy land at $4-5,000 an acre or less. Until Rob’s job fell through, we were planning to purchase a few acres and start a small fruit orchard of our own.I’ll tell why we may have dodged a bullet in the next post.