Located in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a rather peculiar country with gorgeous landscapes and a culture and history that coincides with that of India’s. It is also a country of anthropological significance since the 3000 years of documented history of this country shows evidence of human settlements of prehistoric times, more than 125,000 years. It being situated in the Maritime Silk Road has helped it flourish over the years by enjoying success from its deep harbors as a result of their geographic location. Dating back as long as 29 BC, the Pali Canon – the oldest known Buddhist writings from Sri Lanka – has made it a culturally significant country. With all these traditions and cultural practices, they are particular about a few things not to do in Sri Lanka as a traveler.
12 Things Not To Do In Sri Lanka
Although there is a lot to discover in Sri Lanka and much to do, it’s always good to be precautious and well aware of the taboos and etiquette of a country. Know the things to keep in mind while visiting a place at a certain period of time or during a particular climate, and so on. The following is a list of dos and don’ts in Sri Lanka when traveling in Sri Lanka.
1. Always Eat With Your Right Hand
Sri Lanka has got some tasty cuisine. Their seafood is to die for. But no matter how much your mouth waters, never ever eat food with your left hand, no matter however difficult it is to eat with your right one if you’re left-handed. The reason behind this etiquette is because the left hand is considered unclean in their culture. The same applies to activities such as taking or giving something, and obviously shaking someone’s hand. Take it as a rule of thumb when traveling in Sri Lanka and do not forget it at any cost or you might risk offending anyone superstitious.
2. Leave The Romance For The Bedroom
Public display of affection is strictly frowned upon anywhere in Sri Lanka. They do not take kindly to people, especially foreigners getting touchy or handsy with one another in Sri Lanka. If you do happen to display some affection in public, good luck trying to fend off aggressive stares from some of the locals who can be quite conservative when it comes to such matters. The farthest couples can go when it comes to the public display of affection is holding hands in public, that’s all. A trick you can adopt from the locals, if you can’t control your impulses, is covering yourselves with an umbrella. You could also avoid a tan perhaps.
3. Do Not Take Pictures Of Locals Without Asking Them
If you wish to take pictures of police officers or the military soldiers, it is best to take their permission, they usually do relent if you ask them kindly. The same also applies when you click pictures of artifacts in exquisite museums as you will have to buy a permit in order to capture beguiling images of those displays. The same applies to taking pictures in temples as well. Make sure the authorities know you are taking pictures or confirm first whether they are okay with you taking pictures within the premises.
4. Always Face The Buddha Statues
Never walk with your back to the statues of Buddha. Even when taking pictures make sure the other visitors in the temples have their backs turned the other way and not in the direction of the statue. Turning your back to the statue is considered a sign of disrespect and when people do turn their backs it is considered an act of mockery of the Buddhist religion and its principles by the locals. It’s not just the statues of Buddha but religious statues in general that this rule applies to. Also avoid wearing any shirts or clothes with images of deities, such as Buddha. Buddha is an admired figure in the Sri Lankan community and the locals frown upon foreigners wearing shirts that have his image imprinted on them.
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5. Follow And Respect Tradition
When entering a temple, always take your shoes off, don’t even think about touching a monk’s head, or any other part of their body for that matter. Women, especially, are not allowed to touch monks. This among those few traditions that people of Sri Lanka are very particular about and follow strictly.
6. Avoid Comparisons Between Sri Lanka And India
Is Sri Lanka a good place to visit? Of course! Sri Lanka and India are both are in their own unique ways culturally rich and diverse. Both of them have similar cultures and follow some of the same traditions and follow the same religion, speak some of the same languages, like Tamil, and so on. Just like India is home to several different communities, so is Sri Lanka, there are the Sinhalese, Malays, Tamilians, Chinese, Burghers, Veddas, Moors, and so on. Therefore, despite some similarities, there are vast differences as well, making each country unique. Therefore, comparisons between the two will be met with frowns and disdain from the locals. Therefore, avoid doing so.
7. Don’t Get Confused When They Waggle Their Heads As An Answer
An action peculiar to Sri Lanka, the head waggle is a distinct form of affirmation. When saying ‘okay’ or ‘yes’, Sri Lankans usually shake their head from one side to the other instead of nodding like most westerners. So don’t mistake their head waggle for a ‘no’, rejection or negation, its connotations often are positive, unless the locals are being ironic or sarcastic with you.
8. Do Not Be Reckless When Crossing Busy Roads
Reckless driving is so rampant that it seems like some sort of fad that will never die out. Road deaths as a result of reckless driving are at an all-time high in the country as a result of drivers taking liberties while on the road. Some examples include, public transport breaking red lights, tuk-tuks or metered taxis driving on the wrong side of the road for convenience’s sake or motorcycles and other two-wheelers driving on the pavement to beat the traffic. So be careful when traversing the roads of Sri Lankan cities.
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9. Do Not Get Confused Between A Restaurant And A Hotel
In the past, the best joints for locals to get a sumptuous meal would be at hotels and not restaurants. As a result, many small restaurants started calling themselves hotels instead of restaurants as it would attract more customers, and consequently, more revenue. So do not go into a hotel and ask them for a room or a bed, for you are most likely to be turned away.
10. Do Not Be Fooled By Tuk Tuk Drivers
Tuk-tuks are basically the Sri Lankan rickshaws that will give you a lift for a certain fare. The distance can vary from a few to more than a hundred kilometers. Be sure to ask for a rate before you get into the tuk-tuk. Ask around the city for what the rates for this tuk-tuks usually are, so that you have an idea and won’t be fooled when a driver charges you a rate exponentially greater than what they would for locals. Also, when in the city of Colombo, make sure that the rickshaw as a meter and whether it is functioning properly. Only then hire the tuk-tuk.
11. Avoid Drinking Tap Water
This is one of the most common things to avoid in Sri Lanka. Other than washing your face and hands after a tiring day full of traveling, avoid drinking tap water or for that even brushing or washing your utensils with water exiting a tap. Sri Lanka is a developing country and some of the problems are yet to get rid of is health issues resulting from contaminated water. Waste from various industries such as the agricultural industry, and waste from homes often get mixed up in the water and although they do have filtration systems, it is not very advanced.
12. Beware Of The Mosquito
Just like any other destination in the world, some of the good things about Sri Lanka are also bad things about Sri Lanka. Its rawness and un-urban charm come with a few drawbacks too. For example, the problem of mosquitoes and other insects. Do not forget to carry mosquito repellent sprays or creams with you when traveling to Sri Lanka, especially in the more remote areas of the country. Dengue fever has had several outbreaks in the past, and so have other diseases like malaria. Therefore, hygiene is of utmost importance.
Although some of these cautionary measures may seem a bit scary, they are merely the worst-case scenarios possible. Sri Lanka is a venue for countless adventures, surprises, and unparalleled beauty and culture. You are bound to meet some extremely kind and polite locals who will introduce you to their culture if you show them the respect they deserve in return as well. You are headed for one ravishing vacation if you ever plan a trip to Sri Lanka, in case you haven’t already.
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