Safe Haven in Tropical Paradise

The 21st Century traveller ever seeks new exciting experiences. They also want to feel safe. The Insta-Aware, TripAdvisor guided, AirBnB user who locates new accommodations on the basis of the guest experiences located within Booking.com, Expedia, Google or Facebook reviews is not interested in large ‘same name, same food, different city’ of large hotel chains. Rather they seek boutique, special and memorable and educational interactions with the people and not the hotel.

Traveller excitement is directly linked risk taking. For those seeking more exciting adventures, the level of risk increases. Travelling in the 3rd world increases the risk to traveller safety. Sri Lankan visitors are quick to reassure friends and relatives that they never felt unsafe during their time in the island paradise. This is no surprise to the 20 something million people who call the island home.

Safe Accommodation

70% of the ‘hotel’ rooms available on the island situated in Colonial Villas and boutique hotels have 8 rooms or less. Keeping guests safe is a very personal thing. Respect for elder members of society has created a unique local job for retired workers. They don’t carry guns or batons, they call out to unruly elements and talk to them. Whilst that may be scorned in the First World, in Sri Lanka it is very effective.

Different sized villas are scattered all over Sri Lanka

Colonial villas dot the landscape, whether beachside, lakeside, mountainside or overlooking plantations of tea, cinnamon, rubber, coconuts or other tropical crops. The villa experience places you in the heart of a small community. Each villa has a history, whether it is ancient or a recent addition, the history is carried in the elder members of the surrounding community. A housekeeper or night watcher often has familial ties to current or past owners; with stories and a living history to engage guests. A recipe from great-grandmother or past owners. A secret planting within the gardens, whether that be flowers, herbs or one of the hundreds of spices that Sri Lanka produces.

Villas traditionally are enclosed with either walls, fences or ‘green fences’ made from local vegetation. This physical barrier between the local wildlife, street noise if on a main road, and passers-by is a clear signal to all; this is a safe place. A place to rest, relax by a pool, enjoy a garden in the tropical warmth and delicious local meals. Villas are a destination, not an overnight room. In less than a week you quickly find your favourite locals; stores, temples, beaches or shopping centres. Many villa loving travellers return to a location in following years, enjoying the familiarity of the community and the staff.

Driving and Riding Safely

Slow train travel is safe and spectacular in Sri Lanka
Take a slow train journey

Getting to and from your villa to the nearest platform is efficiently done by mini bus, car or Tuk Tuk. Being driven may be new for independent travellers, but the tourist transport system provides income for thousands of Sri Lankans. Villa staff have networks of reliable providers from within their familial or village networks. This takes the hassle out of the hustle trying to get a better deal.

Reliable and safe Tuk Tuks make short trips fun

Longer trips are best conducted in minivans if there are multiple people or family groups. The air-conditioned comfort becomes highly prized if travelling longer periods. A cheeky rule one villa owner tells their guests is that every trip will take 3 hours. This is regardless of how far, how many stops are planned or the condition of roads and expressways. It is difficult to perceive for an Australian, American or Russian how it could possibly take more than 2 hours to cross the island from the west to the east. That is of course until they arrive!

The chaos on roads is far less than one finds in India, (as cattle, camel carts and naked Gurus are not found on roads) Thailand (faster and more rushed) or Vietnam (more cars, busses and trucks than Hanoi). Road rules seem to exist, but you could be forgiven if you think you may not survive your first road trip. Excellent drivers in mini vans fear their vehicles being scratched or damaged that they are ‘super careful’ as the Sri Lankan’s say. The moment you depart from major towns and cities your journey takes a very different direction.

The quality of major expressways and highways is excellent. They get crowded during peak periods, but the slower pace on local roads ensures you are safe getting around. The secret is using your villa owner or manager’s knowledge to give you access to the most appropriate vehicle and driver for your trip. The growth of UBER and the local version, Pick Me makes quick casual trips in Colombo easy and affordable. Drivers are vetted, licenced, taught to use online maps and haggling over price is a thing of the past. These services are spreading into the South, with the beauty of the tourist coast at your doorstep.

The Feeling Safety

Sri Lanka is a deeply spiritual place steeped in Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic traditions. You will notice the impact of Buddhism as a religious and political force as you explore the thousands of temples located in every village. Whether it is the inclusion of the study of Buddhism in schools, the impact of Islamic of Hindu Temples or the attendance of people at church services, the population has a natural, lifelong spiritual awareness.

Temple surrounded by paddy fields during monsson
Overlooking the paddy fields the temple stand serene in monsoon floodwaters

It is difficult to explain why or even how this impacts on travellers in such a profound way. Few visitors to the island come only once. The draw of the tropics, the almost instant connection with people and the Sri Lankan smile are surely part of the reason. Great natural and historical sites which are easily accessed may be another. But it seems more often than not that an unexplainable bond is created with Sri Lanka when you visit your first time. You feel safe because the island gathers and welcomes you into its heart and soul.

Buddhist traditions are immortalised in ancient ruins
Buddhist traditions are immortalised in ancient ruins

UPDATE

This blog would not be complete without commenting on the bloody 2019 Easter Sunday terrorist attack. The effectiveness of the police and security forces saw perpetrators and their networks rounded up in a matter of days.

Being on the island during this horrific event never once left me feeling unsafe. It did not feel like the Middle East during the Gulf War, Paris or London after similar attacks or even New York, 12 months after 911.

This is mainly because of the reaction of locals. Though fearful for their children’s wellbeing, life simply continued. Workers trying to earn the money they needed for their families. Sri Lanka’s tourism industry suffered more than any other economic sector. Within 90 days $10 Billion dollars of foreign income was lost as travellers cancelled trips and stopped trying to visit Conde Nast and Lonely Planet’s Top Destination in 2019. Why a New Zealander wants you to visit Sri Lanka today >

Those travellers who remained took precautions, but every single one whom I interviewed said, “At no time did I feel I was not safe.” Villa owners and managers understand your need to be safe. They are aware of parents’ fears for their children and the benefits of travel in a child’s education. Their local knowledge of systems, people, events and places affords you access to best Sri Lanka has to offer. The latest news update > Prime Minister reassures travellers

Of course, this will never make sense in the cold of a European or Australian winter. But the warmth of the island will never leave you when you have visited the first time.

 

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