A Personal Invitation

a personal invitation

"I am a New Zealand born, Sri Lankan Australian. "

I know that today that is neither unique nor uncommon – however it is something that I didn’t properly appreciate growing up.

Having spent most of my life in Australia, being ‘Australian’ came without effort or thought – my accent is strong and my use of colloquial abbreviations such as ‘GDay howya goin’ unapologetically murders the Queen’s English, as it does with all good Aussies! The beauty of what it means to be Australian has been apparent, and taken for granted all my life, never needing clarification.

Being a Kiwi is easy. Having left there when I was a toddler, I could claim the connection when it suited (ie when I’d rather wear the more elegant All Blacks jersey than the less fashionable Wallabies’ green and gold). This fluidity also seemed to be easily accepted, perhaps because so many well-known Australians tend to have been born across the Tasman (like Phar Lap, Russell Crowe, the Pavlova? Okay so that last example may be just a tad controversial).
But Sri Lanka?  The colour of my skin made it clear that, if not Aboriginal, I had my roots outside the land Down Under. When asked about my background, I would answer ‘Sri Lanka’ – basing that response on a few important details: my parents were proud Sri Lankans, my Sri Lankan friends and family were some of the most wonderful people I knew, the tea was great, the food better, and there had been a Cricket World Cup win in the ‘90s… but that was where the connection began and ended. It never felt personal. 

Then, three years ago, my life changed, my world was turned upside down and I found myself in what Christians call “the wilderness”. Thanks to the love, support and generosity of my family – I found myself visiting Sri Lanka on a regular basis. It was over these three years that I started to truly understand Sri Lanka and its people, hospitality and wonder. In many ways the people are some of the most hospitable I have met in my life. Sri Lankans are warm, friendly, welcoming, loving and generous in spirit. They love a laugh, a chat, a drink (tea and otherwise) and extending their kindness in any way in which you may need it. In short, they love life and want you to as well.

As a country, Sri Lanka is stunning. Despite a devastating tsumani 14 years ago – the country has not only recovered but flourished. The beaches – Bentota,  Mawella, Nilaveli, Hikkaduwa, to name a few  – are simply beautiful:  The sand is soft, the water, a perfect temperature and the sunsets provide the most magnificent backdrop to each of your memories. No filters are needed to capture beauty in your photographs – no photo can ever truly do justice to the sensation of being there, in the moment, witnessing the magic of this place in all its glory.
Photo Credit : taruvillas
The heritage of the country is found throughout the land – from the Villas and Small boutique hotels to the homes of the people you visit. There is a chic style that is distinctly Sri Lankan and flows through most homes you see or visit. There is something cultural to see wherever you go, whether it be the cities of Colombo, Kandy or Galle. The ‘Cultural Triangle, spans across several cities in the centre of the teardrop-shaped island, includes 6 out of 8 of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and brings adventure and an understanding of the heritage and depth of a country with a strong and interesting history. From the tea country to the jungle, the beaches to the towns  – there is something for everyone no matter your age or interests.
Photo Credit : Tiyani Fernando

The food is outstanding. You may dine on a traditional Sri Lankan meal of rice and curry that has been made with the locals special blend of exotic spices. I personally like to sometimes substitute the rice for a delicious alternative “carb” like hoppers, string hoppers or roti. There really is food for everyone – even a wimp like me who has never tolerated spices or chilli. The world seems very small when you get to Sri Lanka and realise that most delicacies have made their way into the country and been given an amazing twist.

Photo Credit : taruvillas

The flights to the country are just the right length to give you a decent amount of time to sleep or watch a couple of movies and then stopover in (my preferred route) Singapore – where the world’s best airport keeps you occupied without having to spend a cent.

Yes – it is very easy to see why Sri Lanka was voted Lonely Planet’s 2019 top travel destination.

But what has compelled me to write – what I’m sure is starting to sound like a paid review, which it is not – is that I was in Sri Lanka at the time of the Easter Attacks. It was horrid, unexpected and above all else – sad. Sad for those who lost their lives and their loved ones. That sadness can never be removed and the lives of those taken must be honoured.

That honour must ONLY go to the lives lost, not to the attack itself – for that attack was not reflective of either the country, its people, the current climate or even the political situation in the country. The attacks surprised everyone. They didn’t make sense…. and they still don’t. But sense can never be made from random acts of evil.

However, what was equally important to me at the time – though not covered at all by the world’s media – was that the country’s response to the attacks was absolutely amazing. The security levels kicked in almost immediately – in a way that only a country that had overcome a civil war could activate. The freedom to move around as normal was only restricted at times of well thought-out curfews – that kept people indoors at night until the state of emergency of the country was under control. There was not a moment in and through the whole situation that I ever felt unsafe or concerned… and this is coming from someone who was in a Christian church service at the time of the attacks and was scheduled to lunch at the Shangri-La straight after.

Yes, airport security was a little more exhaustive but no more than travel to New York, London or Paris has been or still is and just like those Western cities, visits to places that could be possible targets for anything have had ramped up security.  Yes, introduced as a result of the attack, but more in place because of a world we now live in.

Photo credit: taruvillas

So it surprises me to hear that one month on from those attacks, while the situation in the country is back to normal – back to the way it was when it was awarded that glorious honour of #1 Travel Destination in the World – that  travel to this spectacular island has halted. What’s even sadder is that given how important the travel industry is to the nation, this sudden and rapid decline is adversely affecting the lives of so much of the population – people who make their living welcoming and serving visitors from all over the world.

Photo Credit : taruvillas
If this is true, then the result of the Easter Attacks is that the terrorists themselves have managed to walk away having taken more than just the lives it took in those fatal 20 minutes on Easter Sunday. Yes that was their plan. Twenty minutes of pain and suffering and they achieved that and more. What the  world can’t do is give any more oxygen to that pain and suffering. When planning a trip, safety is paramount – but that safety is in place in Sri Lanka today and has been from almost the minute the attacks happened. The times we live in today makes it no more certain for us to survive stepping outside our front doors than it does to travel overseas. Bombs go off, planes disappear, cruises overturn, people get shot, sharks attack, flu gets more intense and cars crash.

None of these are avoidable if they are to happen – but we don’t plan our lives around them. In the same way, I urge the many people who had always hoped to visit Sri Lanka to do so. Don’t let the plans of an evil few – spread throughout the world – stop you from experiencing the wonders of Sri Lanka and its people.

Because of something that is happening all around the world today (a random, unexplained, unexpected attack) – don’t miss out on seeing for yourself what all the fuss is about. There is far more reason to visit the exotic and stunning paradise Isle than there is to stay away. So don’t waste all that research you had been doing, the planning to mark this beautiful part of the world on your ‘scratch map’ and the chance to be the envy of your Instagram following. It’s all still there. Sri Lanka is just waiting for you.

The passion with which I share the above comes from an inner need to speak up and call for you all to visit the exotic and stunning paradise Isle. This plea is from someone who has found their personal connection to the country.

Finally I know what it means to be – a New Zealand born, Sri Lankan  Australian and boy I am a proud one.

Written by Sarla Fernando
Principal Consultant – SAF Media Consulting.
Regular visitor to  the Paradise Isle

SHOULD I VISIT SRI LANKA NOW

Yes ,

If you are thinking of visiting our paradise Island but have some concerns about the recent incidents that took place, please read our answers to some of your current most frequently asked questions

TARU VILLAS EXPERIENCE

The best boutique hotel experiences in Sri Lanka

Seventy 7 at Leyn Baan

True heart in Central Galle Fort

Galle Fort

Lake Lodge

LOCATION, STYLE AND LUXURY FOR LESS

Colombo

Rock Villa

An Enchanting, Tropical Escape

Bentota

The Muse

Inspired Style & Discreet Service

Bentota

The Long House

Exquisite Space & Exceptional Service

Bentota

River Cottage

A Haven of Peace & Privacy

Bentota

Leela Walauwwa

Tranquility in a beautiful colonial Manor house

Induruwa

906

Small is Beautiful at this Perfect Beach Hideaway

Hikkaduwa

LightHouse Street

Style and Character in the Heart of Galle Fort

Galle Fort

Rampart Street

Step into Romance & History

Galle Fort

Mawella

Relaxed Charm & The Perfect Ocean Bay

Tangalle

The Tangalle Social

Beach Club Pitstop By Day, Blissful Retreat By Night

Tangalle

Yala Villa

Your Private Jungle Oasis

Yala

Should I visit Sri Lanka now – Yes

SHOULD I VISIT SRI LANKA NOW?

The short answer is YES.

Lonely Planet Named Sri Lanka the #1 Travel Destination for 2019

" Endless beaches, timeless ruins, welcoming people, oodles of elephants, rolling surf, cheap prices, fun trains, famous tea and flavourful food make Sri Lanka irresistible "
Lonely Planet

UPDATE:  August 2019 – Sri Lanka’s cabinet has approved to grant a free on-arrival visa for tourists from the following countries (Listed here in alphabetical order): Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia,  Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, 

France,  Germany,  Greece,  Hungary,  Iceland,  India,  Ireland,  Italy,  Japan,  Latvia,  Lithuania,  Luxembourg,  Malta,  Malaysia,  Netherlands,  Norway,    New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, 

Thailand, United Kingdom, United States of America.

 

UPDATE:  July 2019 – The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), USA  Department of State and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have changed their advice against travel to Sri Lanka. In doing so, the UK and Australia now join Switzerland, China, Austria, Sweden, Germany, India, Norway, the Netherlands, Canada and Italy in relaxing their tourism travel advisory from “Only essential travel” to pre-Easter Sunday levels of “be vigilant about personal safety”.  The USA has reduced its travel advice from level 4 – Do not travel to Level 2 “Exercise increased caution”.  These changes now  also reduce concerns about travel insurance coverage too. Please check your individual travel insurer for details of coverage.

What happened at Easter?

On Easter Sunday, our beautiful island of Sri Lanka had a horrendous terrorist attack on some prominent churches and large hotels. The attack was a pre-planned and organised act of terrorism co-ordinated to occur at a set time – much like acts of terrorism that have taken place in highly populous cities like London, Paris and New York.
Just as happened in these Western countries, the attacks resulted in the nation needing to increase its level of security in order to curtail any other similar attacks.

Is Sri Lanka back to operating ‘Business as usual’?

Yes.

Given the number of lives that were affected by that one day of attack, the nation has balanced respectful mourning and increased permanent security with carrying on with business as usual.

Increased security means that people visiting places where large crowds congregate, should be prepared to follow a more rigid security process but this also means that people can be free of fear to enjoy themselves.

While this increased security is a sad situation, it is not one that is isolated to Sri Lanka. As the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website advises “Terrorism is a threat throughout the world”.

The attacks on Easter Sunday was the reminder no one wanted, that evil exists everywhere. While the world adjusts to realising that, globally, safety can not be taken for granted, Sri Lanka joins an increasing line of countries that will not be relaxed about its security.

Business as usual now means carrying out usual routines and activities in a more security focused environment.

Photo Credit : taruvillas

Was Taru Villas affected by the attacks?

Not directly.

As the attacks resulted in human lives being taken without reason or cause, the whole nation has been affected by the Easter Sunday Attacks. Emotionally, all proud Sri Lankans are devastated but physically no Taru Villas guest, staff member or property was harmed.

 

Taru Villas attracts a very discerning and smaller, exclusive segment of travellers than the larger, more ‘recognised’ or well known Branded hotel chains, giving the term “small mercies” new context. All Taru Villas hotels and Villas, even our Colombo property, are located in residential or quiet neighbourhoods, far from busy commercial hubs”

Photo Credit : taruvillas

Is now a good time to travel to Sri Lanka?

Yes.

This time of year is what the travel industry classifies as “Off-Peak” Season. Which means you can often find great deals in pricing of accommodation, accommodation is less busy, so securing a room is easier than trying to do so at times of year that the Sri Lankan diaspora tend to return home to visit family.

Right now, security is also higher than it has ever been which can be an added peace of mind for tourists who are visiting a country for the first time. Also depending on how well your local economy is doing, a trip to Sri Lanka can be of great value currency-wise.

If I travel to Sri Lanka now, would that help the country as it recovers from the attacks?

Yes.

There are over 2 million people who are actively employed in the tourism industry. Some of these people lost loved ones to the terrorists attack and what was taken from them can never be returned. Those lost must always be honoured. However… many of these survivors, and their colleagues in the tourism industry are still turning up to work to serve those who stand in unity with Sri Lanka and visit. Each tourist that visits this nation is important, partly for the trade they bring in tourism, but also as a new or returning friend to the nation. At times of healing we can all use a friend.

Sri Lankans are hospitable by nature (Taru Villas takes great pride in this reputation) and those in the travel industry have made it their purpose in life to extend that hospitable nature to visitors to the country. It is not only what Sri Lankans do for a living, it is how they live.

Were these attacks part of Sri Lanka’s civil war?

No.

The Civil war that overshadowed the beauty of Sri Lanka ended approximately ten years ago unconnected with the Easter Sunday attacks of April 2019.

The Easter Sunday attacks were not the product of in-fighting within the nation, they were an act of terrorism that have, like many other similar attacks in the world, been claimed by an International Terrorist Organisation, albeit with a linked local network that has subsequently been completely dismantled by the highly effective Sri Lankan Military and Security forces.

With the ending of the civil war a decade ago, a state of peace is the new normal in Sri Lanka and with that a real yearning for and value for peace by most of her people, regardless of ethnicity or religion. This unity of purpose of the people was aptly demonstrated directly after the attacks when people of all religions and races stood in solidarity in a shared love of country and a desire to see her prevail. One example of this: within hours of the attack hospitals, which had initially called for blood donations to help the injured, had to send messages telling people that there was an excess in donations and to please stop coming to donate.

An act of terror designed to divide the people, instead united them in compassion and cooperation.

Why are some government advisory sites advising that I be cautious about travel to Sri Lanka?

Government travel advisory sites are created to help us safely plan our travel to any country but even these sites acknowledge that safety can never be guaranteed, no matter where you go. There are four levels of safety classification on most travel advisory sites – even the lowest concern for safety still requires travellers to be diligent in exercising normal safety precautions.

The security in the country remains tight. This is common for any country that has had an attack on its safety and again, much like other countries that have gone through such an attack, it is likely that Sri Lanka will maintain this level of security for a long time to come.

Update: As the security situation in the island nation continues to improve, some countries are beginning to relax their travel advisory status. On 28th May the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) updated its travel advisory to Sri Lanka from ‘Do not travel’  to  ‘be very vigilant about your personal safety’.  Similarly China, Austria, Sweden, Germany, India, Norway, the Netherlands, Canada, Italy, the UK and Australia have all followed suit and also relaxed the tourism travel advisory  they had  imposed on Sri Lanka.

Is it better to stay in a large hotel or a villa?

The answer to this does not depend on the situation in the country, but rather your own personal taste and expected holiday vibe. If you are someone who prefers the style, scale and offering of a large hotel chain, then you can be sure that following the attacks the security in and around those hotels has been significantly heightened.

A Villa- style holiday is perfect for those people who are looking for the kind of luxury that comes with the privacy and intimacy of having accommodation to yourself or shared with only a small number of others. Obviously Taru Villas – with a collection made up of Small Boutique Hotels and Villas, better suits this group of people and we would be delighted to discuss any impending travel plans you have to Sri Lanka.

Some preparation for the real current dangers in the country


The climate
Sri Lanka is hot. Infact it can be extremely hot and humid in the high season so be sure to have good sun protection (hat, light cool clothing, a decent sunscreen) and remember to stay hydrated.
The traffic
Ever travelled to Rome or India? Yes – well then you know how road rules can be considered an “option” rather than a necessity. Sri Lanka isn’t much better. Taru Villas recommends that you hire a local driver when possible, as they are accustomed to the driving environment in the country.
Ocean currents
Sri Lanka is a surfer’s paradise with a warm and inviting tropical sea that is bliss for those who like ocean swimming. However as with oceans world-wide, currents can be strong and unpredictable so the usual rules and safety precautions apply.
Bugs & Mosquitos
Insects in the Tropics are a given, and the mosquito menace is ever present. To avoid being bitten it is easiest to bring and always wear a Deet Insect Repellant (added 20 mins after your sunscreen for best effect) on all uncovered areas of your body/skin. Wearing neutral or light coloured clothing also helps.
Island time
While Sri Lanka is no doubt a beautiful island, it usually moves on “island time” and things just take a little bit longer! Be prepared to leave behind a rigid time schedule and live and move at a slightly slower pace. Also if visiting busy, major tourist attractions and commercial hubs, give yourself some extra time as everyone will be subject to security checks.
You won’t want to leave
This is something you will genuinely need to be prepared to feel as your holiday comes to an end. Sri Lanka has a reputation of capturing the heart of all who visit!
The following information has been taken from the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance site www.lovesrilanka.org
Have tourists stopped traveling to Sri Lanka?
No, even in the period immediately following the Easter bombings, tourists continued to fly into the island as their travel itineraries did not cover any of the areas that were affected. Since then, tourist arrivals have been growing steadily
Was the whole of Sri Lanka affected by the Easter bombings?
No, the bombings took place in 4 specific areas on the island, Colombo, Kochchikade, Katana and Batticaloa, the rest of the island was unaffected by the bombings.

At present over 1500 tourists are arriving in Sri Lanka daily and their travel itineraries to travel-hot-spots to other areas of Sri Lanka (including but not limited to Kandy, Unawattuna, Bentota, Mirissa, Galle, Nuwaraeliya, Ella, Jaffna, Sigiriya etc) remains unchanged. Realtime posts and video updates from tourists currently in Sri Lanka provides would-be travellers a clearer picture of the fact that the larger part of the island is unaffected, safe and open for travel.
Am I able to travel around Sri Lanka safely?
Yes, key travel destinations around the island remain accessible and secured and were not affected in any way from the Easter bombings given their significant distance from those areas.
Is curfew imposed in Sri Lanka right now?
No, curfew was lifted with businesses and the public returning to normal routines.
Further Questions

If you have any questions related to booking a holiday in Sri Lanka please call Robin on +94 112 340 033 or you may prefer to email Shehan at info@taruvillas.com . Anyone of our friendly team at Taru Villas will be delighted to help you.


Is Sri Lanka safe to travel?

Travel blogger Steve Yalo created a video from the perspective of a foreign traveller. Watch this video below where Steve and some other foreigners give their honest opinion in answering this question. The video first appeared on Steve Yalo’s Youtube channel.  All copyright belongs to Steve Yalo.
Play Video

TARU VILLAS EXPERIENCE

Defining Boutique Hotel Experiences in Sri Lanka for the Discerning Traveller

Seventy 7 at Leyn Baan

True heart in Central Galle Fort

Galle Fort

Lake Lodge

LOCATION, STYLE AND LUXURY FOR LESS

Colombo

Rock Villa

An Enchanting, Tropical Escape

Bentota

The Muse

Inspired Style & Discreet Service

Bentota

The Long House

Exquisite Space & Exceptional Service

Bentota

River Cottage

A Haven of Peace & Privacy

Bentota

Leela Walauwwa

Tranquility in a beautiful colonial Manor house

Induruwa

906

Small is Beautiful at this Perfect Beach Hideaway

Hikkaduwa

LightHouse Street

Style and Character in the Heart of Galle Fort

Galle Fort

Rampart Street

Step into Romance & History

Galle Fort

Mawella

Relaxed Charm & The Perfect Ocean Bay

Tangalle

The Tangalle Social

Beach Club Pitstop By Day, Blissful Retreat By Night

Tangalle

Yala Villa

Your Private Jungle Oasis

Yala