David and Lili's World Tour


April 2015 - Sri Lanka

We did not think much about Sri Lanka before arriving because we were too busy thinking about India, so this island paradise caught us by surprise. The first thing we noticed was the lack of noise pollution, a prevailing calmness that made us smile. Then we noticed the modernity, organization, and cleanliness. Pretty soon, we realized that Sri Lanka is not much like India at all, in a good way. Indeed, this is our new favorite country!

The Civil War ended only 6 years ago, but we saw no indication whatsoever that it ever happened. Indeed, the country's infrastructure is in great shape. We can even drink the tap water!

Sri Lanka is predominately Buddhist, and we like that. Absolutely every local we met was friendly, and nobody ever tried to rip us off. In our experience, it is safe to generalize: the world's Buddhist cultures have the nicest people. This religion is not so much a set of beliefs to be memorized as a child, but instead a way of life, a good way. But it has its quirks. Sri Lankan Buddhists are not into spinning metal wheels to improve their karma, but they did build a major temple dedicated to one tooth from the Buddha. We are still trying to figure out how venerating a dead guy's tooth is consistent with Buddhist philosophy. But anyway...

Compared to India our food budget was the same (about $1.50/meal), but our hotel budget went up from about $8/night to $15/night (USD). Most tourists pay much more. We ate rice and curry every day (a meal that includes chicken or fish and spicy veggies, always fantastic) whereas tourists generally eat Western food costing up to 10x more (and it's not as good). To save money, we also avoided hotels listed in guide books and we rarely booked ahead (we walked around and negotiated), whereas tourists stay in resorts that cost up to 10x more.

Sri Lanka has been discovered, recently, and we predict that tourism is poised to grow quickly, but it's still easy to go local. The roads are so good in the mountains (and the other drivers so careful) that this is our favorite place in the world to tour by motorcycle. Visiting remote sites this way, we had more freedom and (maybe) more fun than most tourists who got trapped in guided tours (costing 10x more).

Highlights include: The mountain train is one of the world's most-scenic rides, through lush forests teeming with diverse life, plus tea plantations and terraced farms that grow an abundance of fresh food... Kandy, the cultural capital, has a surprisingly comfortable and relaxed culture with excellent food (and Buddha's tooth)... Anuradhapura, the ancient capital, is home to fascinating ruins, plus the world's oldest human-planted tree, a clone of the very tree that the Buddha sat under while achieving enlightenment. This place has a peaceful vibe (great to explore by bicycle)... The ancient fortress atop Sigiriya rock is a site that combines powerful geology with the power of a king... Our favorite Buddhist site was the Dambulla cave temple (more than 2000 years old)... Beaches!

The downside? Well, it gets very hot and humid in the lowland plains (but the weather is perfect in the mountains). Also most hotels are overpriced (but good deals can be found by avoiding tourist traps). The only complaints we ever heard from locals were related to the ever-increasing car traffic, plus everyone's favorite complaints world-wide: corruption and growing inequality. That's it for downside. This place is a paradise!

We made it to the end of the world, literally, there's a place here called, the World's End. In reality it's just a beautiful viewpoint in a national park, but for us this place symbolically represented the end of our one-year trek across South Asia. From here we will travel with family for a while, changing gears...

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