Do's and don'ts in Sri Lanka
One of the main reasons people visiting other countries is to explore other cultures and establish how other countries and cultures do things. It is important to remember that the social nuances in Sri Lanka are different to those in the western word.
Sri Lanka’s genuine hospitality to its guests is renowned. We recommend that you are as informed as possible about the island do’s and don’ts before you arrive, especially about the religion and culture and learn just a little bit about local rules and values. Be sensitive to cultural difference. Patience, friendliness and courtesy are highly valued virtues and you will win the respect of many.
Religion, Temple and Monks
Buddha and Buddhism has a very high statue in Sri Lanka, and it is very important to be respectful as far as the religion is concerned. Take care to avoid any religious offence and respect the Buddhist faith. This is actually one of the most important thinks not to do In Sri Lanka and you could get deported on the next flight home.
A person’s religious affiliations are also a sensitive topic, avoid discussing alternative religious views unless you know the person well.
Do not touch a monk, particularly his head. Women are not allowed to touch monks at all.
Make sure you also be always dressed a proper way when been around any religious facility. Also check out the Dress Code part below.
- Cover your legs and shoulders
- Take off shoes and hats before you enter a Buddhist temple.
Do not mistreat Buddha images, statues or any other artifact as it is an extremely serious offence.
- Don’t turn your back on a Buddha statue so leave the selfie stick at home and pay your respects to Sri Lanka’s holiest icon face-to-face.
- Do not pose for Photographs with your’ s or anybody else’s back facing the Buddha. This action is considered very disrespectful and you could get stopped by your guide, staff or even police and asked to delete any photos. It is okay to take photos, but make sure everyone in the picture is facing the statue.
- Do not touching or sitting on any images or statue of Buddha
Many temples and cultural sites forbid photography in certain indoor areas. Please adhere to your guide’s instructions and look out for any warning signs.
Sri Lankans is a very conservative country and it is just polite for you to dress as such in public, and sacred, sites. Meaning
- Wearing loose, long and lightweight clothing is the best way to wear away from Beach / pools. Men should always wear a shirt or t-shirt in public areas and will sometimes be required to wear trousers.
- It is okay to wear shorts and tank tops as it is not a problem to expose your shoulders unless you are in a place of warship.
- Do not drive shirtless or in a bikini on a scooter or walk around the town.
- Be especially careful about modest dress when visiting religious sites, where knees and shoulders are often required to be covered. Maybe a good idea is to keep a scarf or sarong in your bag to cover up when sightseeing or visiting temples.
- Bikinis and other swimwear are fine when you are actually on the beach, but topless sunbathing is officially illegal. If you like to go for a swim in a river or lakes, ask for local advice as covering up may be necessary.
Politics and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka are sensitive topics and should not be regarded as a topic for casual conversation. If the topic does arise, be sensitive, about the grief and trauma Sri Lankan experience, the conflict touched many lives with sadness. Be sensitive and understanding
Sri Lankans take great pride in being culturally and politically distinct from India. Do avoid to comparing Sri Lanka to India, they are two different countries, with two unique cultures. Though Sri Lanka been heavily affected by India, it is not and never was part of India.
Use open-ended questions and watch body language to understand how a Sri Lankan feels about something. They are unlikely to speak openly when they disagree with something. And the local Head-Wobble do not always mean no.
Treat elder Sri Lankan with visible respect by address them first and defer to their opinion.
Sri Lankans tend to be reluctant to criticize. The best way to react is to reciprocate this through remaining polite, modest and gentle. Avoid raising your voice or showing strong displays of negative emotion. Sri Lankans generally view this as a loss of control.
The local Head-Wobble
A gesture you will see all over Sri Lanka and is mostly misunderstand it the local Head-Wobble. Do not assume that a Sri Lankan person is saying ‘no’ when they are shaking their head from side to side. It is actually most of the time meaning ‘yes’ or ‘okay’.
Do try to master the local head-wobble, it is fun and will bring you closer to comprehending its exact meaning.
Help to stop wildlife entertainment and help animal welfare
Let’s start with the good news: Sri Lanka has more than a dozen or so national parks where an estimated five to six thousand elephants roam freely. But sadly, there are still around 120 – 200 elephants in captivity which are mostly used in religious processions as well as riding camps.
Elephant spirit are getting “broken” to train them to allow somebody riding them and this on a variety of cruel methods. Most of these poor creatures are not getting well fed and kept all the time on short chains.
Here at South East Asia Dreams we like wildlife and removed many years ago already all kind of wild animal entertainment from our programs. Be a responsible traveler and follow us to one of Sri Lankas’s many national parks and see wild Asian Elephants instead. Here you are able to respect the animals by keeping and do not encourage your driver to get too close or to chase wild animals.
There are some more ways you can help to stop animal cruelty, by visit animal sanctuaries instead of zoos, marine parks or circuses. Boycott businesses that profit from cruelty to animals. Avoid any entertainment or support any local business, which abused animal welfare, such as dolphin, monkey, elephant or any other shows. This also includes elephant trekking, elephant shows or any elephant demonstrations.
Please refrain from taking photographs of captive animals; little monkeys, small elephants, birds of prey or snakes make look cute, but these animals have been taken away from their natural surrounding shortly after birth just to make money. This can only be stopped if there is no support from the tourist and no demand for it.
Do not support any manner of wild animal abuse, never purchase any product or souvenirs made from wild animals including reptiles, turtle shell, ivory. Do not engage in purchase of wild animals whether protected or not. Aside from the moral issues, punishments are very harsh.
Photograph / Video
This not to do rule of Photograph and Video in these modern times of Social Media is not exactly exclusive to Sri Lanka, many nationalities would be offended by insensitive, camera-wielding tourists invading their space with a lens. Be also aware, that in some countries it is not allowed to take any picture of single person or small group of people without their specific permission.
So please be always nice and ask politely, and at an appropriate moment, if you allow to take a picture of a person (especially children) and respect their wishes if they refuse. But you will find that most people will be more than willing to have their portrait taken. It’s nice to share the moment and show your model the photo you took too.
- Photographing Buddhist Monks is not taboo but can create awkwardness, so assess the situation and if in doubt ask.
- Don’t take photographs of military bases, soldiers, government buildings or vehicles used by VIPs.
- Do not take picture of people without their express consent during prayer at temples around the country.
- Taking photos of the stilt fishermen? Know that in tourist areas you will be charged a fee for doing so, and that the fishermen are often just there for the photo opp.
- Before you take a photo, make sure that you check that it is okay to do so. Some places, such as museums, sometimes require you to buy a permit.
We do not recommend paying for the right to take a photo.
You will learn very fast, that Sri Lankans do not use cutlery, instead they eat with their right hand. The left hand is considered ‘unclean’ so never use your left hand to eat food. Although these days many establishments will oblige if you need your Folk, knife and spoon
But you should try this technic at least once. For that reason, keep a handkerchief in your pocket. Napkins are not everywhere available, which is just another one of travel's great mysteries, in a country that primarily eats with its hands.
Be aware of the spicy food and do not overestimate your spicy-food capacity. Start slowly as you can always add more.
Travelling in Sri Lanka is extremely safe, and your personal safety is our first priority but also your own responsibility.
- Caution should always be exercised when visiting a new country, particularly if you find yourself in an unfamiliar environment.
- Take extra care when in an area where there are wild animals and keep a safe distance away should one cross your path.
- Be mindful of any signs stating that an area is restricted or dangerous due to the presence of wild animals but be aware that not all unsafe areas are marked as such – if in doubt, always check.
Our chauffeur and guides will always provide you with safety briefings before you do any activities. Should you have any concerns about the activities included in your holiday, please let us know.
Public displays of affection are not acceptable within Sri Lanka.
Smoking in public areas in Sri Lanka is not allowed, but there are designated smoking areas for restaurants/pubs/cafes etc. Some establisEahments have a designated smoking area inside.
Observe all normal precautions as regards to personal safety as well as the safety of your belongings, beware of pick pockets at all time.
We hope that this overview will help you to have an amazing time in the “land of smile”. Please do not try to impose your cultural. Often these leads to confusion, worse, it sometimes leads to ugly scenes that are entirely avoidable with a modicum on insight on how things are done in Thailand.
If you have any further questions or need any advice just contact us