BEFORE YOU GO
Fictionalised travel memoir recounting Michael Ondaatje’s return to Sri Lanka to trace his oddball family’s history
Documentary examining the Sri Lankan government’s controversial response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami
WHEN YOU'RE THERE
Five foods and drinks to try on your trip round Sri Lanka
RICE AND CURRY This ubiquitous meal is at its best when the (plain) rice is accompanied by a platter of delicious curries, ranging from chicken to dhal to jackfruit.
HOPPERS Spongey at the bottom and crisp around the sides, these iconic, concave pancakes make a great (edible) dish for curries and are sometimes served with a fried egg in the middle.
POL ROTI Griddled coconut (pol) flatbread that is satisfying on its own but can also (for the more adventurous) be dipped in sambols (spicy relishes).
CURD AND KITHUL Slightly sour yoghurt made from curdled buffalo milk that is drizzled with a syrupy palm sugar known as kithul treacle.
CEYLON TEA You can’t come to Sri Lanka and not enjoy a cup of hand-picked tea: citrusy black leaves (look for those graded as “Orange Pekoe”) or delicate white.
DO THIS (AND DON’T DO THAT)
• Respect temple etiquette – dress appropriately (which, for adults and older children, means covering your shoulders and wearing trousers or over-the-knee-length skirts), remove your shoes when entering the temple itself, and don’t turn your back on statues or images of the Buddha.
• Engage in a bit of bartering – it’s part of everyday life in Sri Lanka and will ensure you receive a fair (or fairer) price. Taken the right way, and not too far, it’s also great fun!
• Carry ankle socks in your day pack – you’ll be walking around temple complexes barefoot otherwise (see point about removing shoes above), and by midday under a Sri Lankan sun, the ground can feel a bit like walking on hot coals!
• Eat or shake people’s hands with your left hand – that one’s reserved for business of another kind.
• Begrudge paying “tourist prices”. At historical sites and national parks, you’ll pay a LOT more than the locals, which can seem a bit unfair until you consider the fact that the minimum wage for a worker (which many people are on) is £1.75 a day.
• Ride the Hill Country train on the days around the full moon (Poya Day), as everyone will be heading home for the holidays and the trains will be crowded, with tickets hard to come by. There are Poya Days in mid-April and mid-August amongst (many) others.