An Introduction to Sri Lanka

travelwyse By travelwyse, 10th Feb 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Other

An insight into the traditions and cultures experienced when travelling to Sri Lanka.


Travelling to a country that is culturally very different to your own can be a little daunting, but if you do your homework properly and have an idea of what to expect you'll have the trip of a lifetime.
Lying just to the east of the Southern tip of India is Sri Lanka. It's documented history dates back thousands of years, reportedly having been first populated in the 6th Century BC; it was once the centre of Buddhist culture and religion, and it's geographical location made it a vital stop for the spice trade.
The largest city is Colombo, home to nearly a third of the country's population, and is considered the capital of the country, but officially it's Sri Jayewardenepura which is about five miles south-east of the coastal metropolis.
This amazing tropical island is now one of the top tourist destinations in the world, people drawn by its fascinating history and importance to trade throughout its time as part of European empires.
It's famous for the export of coffee, precious stones, coconut, rubber, its native spice cinnamon, and is probably most well-known for tea. One of the biggest exporters in the world, tea makes up a significant percentage of the country's GDP, and employs more than 7% of the 21 million people living here.

If you're going to travel here what should you consider?

The country has many diverse cultures and 99% of Sri Lankans say that religion is an important part of their daily life. Buddhism is the main religion, practiced by around three-quarters of the population. Hinduism is also important here, especially in the Tamil north.
Christianity and Islam are not practiced widely - Islam was spread throughout the Indian Ocean by Arab traders, and then Christianity was brought to the island in the 16th by Portuguese missionaries.
While most areas will be predominantly Buddhist, the other religions are spread thinly throughout the whole country so it's important to familiarise yourself with a range of customs so as not to cause offence.

Getting around

Much of your Sri Lanka holidays are spent travelling from place to place, exploring the nation. In the cities the most convenient method of travel is by tuk-tuk - a three-wheeled taxi. They are everywhere, but as they don't usually have meters you'll have to negotiate a price before getting in.
Exploring further afield can be done by train, but this is not recommended as they are few and infrequent. The main mode of transport is the nationalised bus service with routes that will take you to most parts of the country.
It is possible to hire a car and hit the road yourself, but be warned you'll be sharing the road with cats, dogs, livestock, and other road users who drive like they have a death wish.

Greeting people

How you greet people will differ slightly depending on the ethnic group they belong to, but this is more for people native to the country who will be familiar with the intricacies of saying hello; foreign travellers are not usually expected to be aware of these differences, but there are some simple rules you should follow.
Older generations of Sri Lankans will use "namaste" with their clasped hand held at their chin and a slight nod of the head.
In Sinhalese (the predominant language) Sri Lankans might say "ayubowan", and for Tamils it's "vanakkam", both meaning "may you be blessed with a long life."
In more informal settings you might hear "kuhomadu", simply meening, "how are you?"
There is of course the simple hand shake but generally speaking Sri Lankan women will not touch men from outside of their own family, so you should let them extend their had first.
On the whole, when talking to people you should remain on formal name terms (title and surname) until they decide to change to first name basis.


Gifts are usually only given on birthdays and religious holidays, and they are symbolic so are not usually expensive, but like many things in Sri Lanka there is a proper etiquette to follow.
You should avoid giving flowers as they are used in mourning, as are the colours white and black; pig products or anything with meat should be avoided if the recipient is Muslim; Hindus should not be given anything made from leather, and if you receive a gift it's important to reciprocate.

Dining etiquette

Meal times are an important time for family and friends, but if you are invited to eat at somebody's home, again, there is protocol to follow.
You should only use your right hand to eat, and leaving a small amount of food on your plate indicates that you are full.
When you are invited at a certain time the actual meal will not take place for a few hours. Unlike in the UK most of the socialising at dinner is done before the meal, so once you've finished eating you are expected to leave within half-an-hour.
Before eating you might be asked if you would like to wash your hands - it's not mandatory but it would be rude to decline. You should also wait to be seated as there are often small ceremonies that have to be followed.

Armed with just a a few of these tips will help to ensure you don't offend anyone while on your travels, and are also the difference between having a just good time and an amazing time in Sri Lanka.


Customs, Dining, Sri Lanka, Traditions, Travel

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Hello and welcome to Travelwyse, a travel blog staffed by a motley crew of writers and passionate globe-trotters. We’re based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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