Sri Lanka Cruising Information
The following cruising information is provided to help sailors save time, eliminate headaches, and reduce expenses when visiting Sri Lanka. This information is based on two U.S.A. citizens on the 42-foot catamaran. Submitted by Jason Trautz of SY YOLO.
Published 8 years ago, updated 4 years ago
ARRIVAL DAY/ DATE: Monday, February 1, 2015
ARRIVAL PORT: Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
DEPARTURE DAY/DATE: March 2, 2015
DEPARTURE PORT: Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Overview: Good news, Trincomalee harbour and city appears to be inexpensive, very safe, and well managed. Clean clear air abounds unless someone is burning their trash. With an estimated population of 70,000, it has just about everything for day-to-day living. Prior to 2015 very few yachts anchored in this wonderful port, and the port authorities are still working out a few minor issues when it came to accommodating the people with the little white boats.
The 20 million citizens in Sri Lanka are a good blend of Hindu, Buddhist, Christians, and Muslims. Cultural experiences can take you down many wonderful and memorable roads.
The comments noted below apply to Trincomalee, often called “Trinco,” unless stated otherwise.
You Are Free To Roam The Country: Yes, this is true in most parts of Sri Lanka. However, in former LTTE ( A.K.A. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or Tamil Tigers) strongholds, locals and tourists might be inconvenienced for a minute or two by a security guard. Just a few years ago Trincomalee was at the epicentre of a 25+ year civil war. The LTTE group in northern Sri Lanka wanted independence from the rest of the country. The civil war was concluded in 2009 when the country was declared united. After the war, the federal government enacted very tight “controls” on all forms of travel, commerce, etc. in the northern area. Their goal was to avoid another civil war. During the last 6 years the controls have loosened and for most people life has returned to normal.
When you leave the “secure” Passenger Pier area and go into the adjacent city of Trinco you might be asked to show your ID (passport) to the security guards, Customs, or the Harbor Police. They may look for a valid visa stamp in your passport and search your bags/backpack. The same procedure might be required upon return. Being typical governmental, this attention to detail seemed to vanish during our 30-day visit. The officials claim they log your visa information because they are responsible for you while you are away from your yacht. “If you are in an accident while in Sri Lanka and we get a call, we can tell the caller what time you left the Passenger Pier.” When asked for I.D. we flashed them a copy of our passport, leaving our real passports in a secure place on YOLO at all times.
At this time you must ask Port Control for permission to move your boat. Be it several 100 meters, into another bay, or down the coast. The bottom line, you don’t “cruise” around Sri Lanka. And, there are differing opinions on whether you can clear-in at Trinco, move down the eastern coast, and clear out of Galle. The monetary price of such a move is truly unknown by the agents and paper pushers when I asked them.
Language: Given the large tourist area north of Trinco, and the fact that schools now require all students to study English, many locals speak some English. Especially those working in tourist areas and business centres. Being a stone’s throw from India means plenty of “head waggling” and smiles, which are a sign of “yes, ok, I agree, or I understand.” Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of head waggling. Prior, during, and after a beer or two! Caution, you need to be on the lookout for the word “OK.” In Sri Lanka, many people will use OK to bring the final agreement to a conversation or monitory transaction. It seemed rather common for someone to hand you a pile of money (bills and change) and at the same time smile and say, “OK” (no question mark). In most instances, any discrepancy in the amount of change given was in their favour, once to the tune of 5,000 rupees ($38 USD). If you hear “OK,” don’t smile or nod your head yes. Instead, quickly count your change or truly understand the terms and conditions of the discussion, before saying “OK.”
Agents/Gifts/Payoffs/Considerations/Etc.: The local Trinco GAC representative is Ravindran Yogaraja known as “Ravi”. He is the only agent used by yachts in 2015, be it good or bad, time will tell. So, my comments are based on one data point, and I assume that other agents operate differently.
Ravi is a great guy, friendly, and informative. He is working through the issues associated with the new beast called “yachts.” Historically, he like all agents focused on cargo ships. He speaks good English and knows everything and everybody in Trinco. If you truly need to know something, give him a call and he will sort it out. However, his assistants often come with a significant mark-up for local goods or services. I assume container ships don’t care about the mark-up, they just want to be out of the port ASAP. Yacht owners are typically a different breed, and with time I think Ravi will understand this and adjust his prices accordingly.
Ravi has asked every yacht this year for a “consideration” for the officials. He asked me to donate $20 for each official… I asked him, “Is this a routine official charge for clearing it?” He replied, no it was a suggestion, for “consideration”…optional…not required…and he would distribute the donations for me/us. Net, net, no funds were exchanged, or will be donated in the future unless required, and receipted. I do not want to set up the expectation that future yachts should be backhanding a $20 USD here, there, or the other place…for agents and/or governmental employees. None of the first twelve yachts this year have donated additional funds for the officials, in fact, the request was never made to the last couple of yachts.
FYI, Sri Lanka has a detailed law forbidding any governmental employee asking for or receiving compensation for doing or not doing his normal duties. The same law also makes it illegal for a non-governmental person to offer or pay a bribe. For more details about the law type “Sri Lanka Bribery Act OECD Chapter 26” into Google.
It is unbelievable that Ravi does not have a VHF radio. His first pitch during clearance is for the purchase of a SIM card, which he marks up heavily when compared to what you can buy them for yourself in Trinco. When you do get a local cell phone number, call Ravi and give him your phone number. Unfortunately, during our stay 50% of the calls from Ravi where for clients on other yachts. And, about half the calls for us, were initially received by other yachts.
A few officials on the Passenger Pier asked for small favours like cigarettes. We ignored their first request and were never asked again.
Cost of Living: If you are lucky enough to have a steady factory job in Sri Lanka, you will earn about 600 rupees ($4.50 USD) per DAY (8 to 9 hours). Teachers earn about $2,000 USD per year. A few citizens appear to earn much more than these amounts, and most locals appear to be earning much, much, much less. Surprisingly, this is one of the few countries where cell phones are a luxury item, and they are not in the hands of everyone breathing air. Bicycles are everywhere, and you will often see the police and army riding them. I visited several English classes at the local college, and less than half the students had ever ventured outside of Trinco. Very few people can afford electronics, motorized machines, travel, or buying street food.
Tipping: You will never see a local tip for services rendered. And, it will NOT be automatically placed on their bill. However, tourists are often blatantly asked for cash tips, and extra charges will be added to their invoices. If you question the extra charges, they will often be removed, with a smile and head waggle. Surprisingly, in one case a park employee who I spent less than 10 minutes with, sneered at my $2 USD tip and asked for more. If you spend any amount of time talking with a tourist attraction employee, he/she will probably hit you up for a tip. As far as they are concerned, it never hurts to ask a rich tourist for a day’s wages.
Prices: The skin factor continues, though not as prevalent as experienced in Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, and Thailand. Non-locals should expect inflated tourist prices. Few cafes and stores have posted prices. Shopping around will get you a fair local price. For example, 70-80 rupees will get you a kilo of bananas. A dinner for two at the best of restaurants will set you back $15 to $20 USD. A can or bottle of Coke is 70 cents US. A large loaf of white cut bread is 75 cents or less. A large cold beer at the best of cafes will be a little over $2 USD. Fish bought directly from the wooden canoes or in the market cost about 500 rupees ($3-4 USD) per kilo. Eggs are sold individually, at 16 rupees each. Some vendors quote you extremely high prices with a smile on their faces, however about half state the truth and give you the local price, right out of the gate. It seems to be a trend that many vendors don’t have the exact change, often leaving you short a few insignificant rupees. You could be offered candy or garlic in lieu of small change that the cashier or vendor doesn’t have handy.
Currency: 134 local Sri Lanka rupees gets you about $1.00 US dollar, as of February 2015. Cash is king in this country. You will be hard pressed to find a non-tourist vendor who accepts credit cards. The two supermarkets in Trinco did accept MasterCard.
Banking: Good news, the ATMs at the local banks have a very low fee when compared to the bandits in Thailand and Malaysia. Most charge a flat fee of 200 rupees ($1.50 USD) or less for using the ATM, regardless of the amount you withdraw. This does not include the typical 1% foreign transaction fee charged by your bank which is sometimes itemized on your monthly account statement, and for some people not listed, but always added to the withdrawal amount by the bank’s back office. If you go to the Standard Chartered Bank and use your VISA network ATM card, the usage fee is zero. As in Thailand a pile of 1000 rupee notes is of little world value. It is kind of fun to see the ATM just keep on spitting them out until it reaches a couple hundred USD.
There are numerous banks and ATMs in Trinco, but I have not seen any independent money changers. ATMs and banks can be found in the smallest of villages throughout Sri Lanka.
Business Hours: Only the locals know when a business will be open. The multi-cultural communities have a crazy blend of open, lunch, and closing hours. Day of rest and weekends also vary by shop owner religion. Governmental offices tend to be open Monday through Friday, with some exceptions. Banks and most businesses are closed during the 17 governmental holidays each year.
Maps: It is next to impossible to find a free city map of Trinco. Buy one at a local book store, cost $1.25 USD. The “Informative and easy to use Map Sri Lanka” has a detailed map of SL and it includes a dozen city maps, including Trinco. All the major points of interest are noted on the maps. Or, print them off the Internet.
Yacht Related Services: Yachts and crews are definitely a new thing for the Trinco crowd. And, post-LTTE all officials worthy of promotion are towing the “control everything” party line. So, in general, if you are transporting something into OR out of the secured Passenger Pier area, you must contact your agent in advance. What is “something?” Trash, large quantities of water (190 litres or more), any amount of petrol (gasoline) or diesel, and large expensive items. When you contact your agent he will advise you of the rule-of-the-day and complete the appropriate official paperwork if necessary. I.e. put your agent’s phone number in your speed dial list. There is no additional charge for having your agent lube the system, that’s his job 24/7.
If you decide to act like a normal cruiser and do your own thing regardless of this overall guideline, you will have a private meeting with several officials and your agent. Been there, done that…head waggle, great agent to the rescue, again.
Option 1: The provincial government, located in the building at the north end of Post Office Road, should be contacted for garbage pick-up. The person who picks up the garbage per arrangement (date, time, and location specific) is Thusiyau “Tom”. His phone number is 077 179 7355. The charge for the service was 500 Rupee (less than $4 USD). All of the yachts in the anchorage shared this expense which includes up to three large black plastic bags of garage for the fleet. We coordinated the garbage to be picked up once a week. The collective garbage should be taken ashore just north of the Passenger Pier, which is Trinco City land, near the Powder Island Causeway park beach.
NOTE: At this time garbage can NOT be officially transported through the Customs and Harbor Police area (Passenger Pier, which is Port Authority Land) in large bags. Stop smiling…and you thought you got rid of all of the political turf issues when you cast off the dock lines.
Option 2: The provincial government provides free daily garbage pickup to all residents and businesses. You will see the trash/garbage trucks slowing moving up and down the streets while you walk through town. A bunch of young men often go door-to-door collecting the garbage in large plastic sacks. If you walk up to the truck/trailer and dump your trash in it, it is free of charge. If you have front door service a very small tip is often paid by the locals. Because of the hundreds of dogs and thousands of blackbirds, trash is NOT left at the curb for the animals to paw through. Helpful Hint: Many of the local parks have trash cans.
Option 3: An alternative to these arrangements is to have Ravi with GAC make garage pickup arrangements. His quoted fee was $25 USD per pickup in 2015.
Security: The GAC agent repeatedly states, “Someone must remain on board your boat at all times.” As in 24/7, as required by Port Control offices throughout the world for cargo ships. Obviously, this is impractical or impossible for single handers and for couples who go to shore together, so we have acknowledged his comments without committing to them. After the third or fourth time he noted this requirement, he offered to supply a local person to watch the boat while we were away doing whatever. Ravi’s fee for a boat sitter was $25 USD per day (24 hours). The minder would sleep in the cockpit during the night if we were completing land travel. As a follow-up I asked Ravi, “You have lived in Trinco your entire life and worked at GAC for 7 years, correct?” “Yes,” was his reply. “Is there much crime in Trinco and has any boats been boarded by thieves in the past?” Ravi state, “Crime seldom happens in Trinco and he has never heard of boarding of a vessel.”
Because of the extremely sheltered anchorage, good weather, the appearance of low to no crime, and the Harbor Police office being nearby, yacht owners frequently leave their vessels unattended in Trinco. It was common in 2015 for owners to do a week of land travel while a nearby yachtie watched over things and ran their generators. Conclusion, everyone in the fleet looked out for one another and things were fine. I personally feel safer in Trinco than anywhere else I’ve been during the last four years. And, I also feel that YOLO was never in harm’s way. The rest of Sri Lanka also seemed safe, day or night.
Because of the recent civil war, there are numerous soldiers in the Trinco area. Checkpoints abound, yet they never bother the tourists. Historically yachts and tourists have never created problems, and the police forces know that to be true.
The Port Authority, Harbor Policy, and/or Naval Security personnel will NOT permit locals on your yacht, even if they are your guest. In fact, if you hire a local to clean the bottom of your boat, he will be told to leave the yacht anchorage area by the officials. This was observed for a local who had a government permit to dive in the Town Bay! Other than transiting fishing boats and the occasional tour boat or ferry, nobody will get near your boat. And, if you take off for distant beaches, bays, or coves in your dinghy you will be redirected to the yacht anchorage area.
Transportation – Trains: Two trains depart Trinco each day, running all the way to the capital city Colombo, and beyond. The ticket office opens at 0600 and the first train departs at 0700. This train has no first class seats, NO reserved seats, and costs 270 rupees ($2 USD) for the entire trip which includes two changeovers along the way. According to the ticket office, “The 0700 is seldom crowded and everyone usually gets a seat. The train gets into Colombo at around 1530.”
The second train leaves the station at 1930, has a first class sleeper car, has a “reserved second class” car, ALL passengers must have reservations, it is a direct train with many stops, and it gets into Colombo around 0430. This train also has several lower classes of seats which most tourists would find uncomfortable. A reserved second class seat is 550 rupee/$4 USD and a bed in the first class sleeper car is 1250 rupee/$10/per person. Each sleeper berth has two beds and a small toilet and sinks in a separate room. There is no air conditioning on the train, just electric fans. Single males and females are assigned seats or rooms with their own species! Tourists routinely break this Sri Lanka norm with no threat of harm or imprisonment.
Train travel hints: The trains, and buses, do leave on time, not island time. The first cabin in the sleeper car is often reserved for the train crew. If you failed to get a first class sleeper cabin, give a hint to the conductor that you really wanted one but couldn’t get one. Often the conductor will give you the crew cabin which is just like the rest of the cabins, for the market price of the births minus the amount you paid for your second class ticket. It’s a win-win, he pockets the cash and you get the best beds on the train.
You MUST ride a Sri Lanka train, especially the extremely old ones assigned to the Trinco line. As a result, I now know what it feels like to sail on a Volvo 60 footer in the Southern Ocean. I swear the train wheels must be square. The noise and motion are unbelievable, and how the cars stay on the tracks is only known by the train spirits. If you do NOT have a reserved seat on a train or bus, make sure you force your way to the head of the line and quickly find a seat. Open seating is very cheap and people often have to stand. On some sections of the track don’t be surprised if the birds and tuk-tuks pass you by.
Another MUST, take a train from Kandy to Haputale or Badulla. Get a second class ticket and make sure your camera has a fully charged battery. Just for fun, do like the young locals, hang out the doors of the train and let the breeze blow away all your worldly worries. This section of track will place you almost 1.5 miles above sea level, and you can sneak a kiss in one of the dozens of tunnels.
If you get off at Haputale you can take a bus to Rathnapura, the gem capital of Sri Lanka, and known throughout the world for the large high-quality precious stones it produces. When in Rathnapura contact Mr Master, he usually hangs out at the central bus station or one of the local hotels. His cell phone is 071 130 1952, or call him at home at 075 806 5590. For 1500 rupees he will take you (1 to 6 people) on an all-day tour of a gem mine, tea factory, gem museum/gem retailer, and a local waterfall. By the time you pay for the 10 related bus rides, lunch, and miner “tip” the price will double, $26 USD for up to six people. However, given his excellent English, and his informative tour it is considered one of the best values and experiences in Sri Lanka. Mr Master can also assist in honest lodging and dining arrangements, in Ratnapura and other tourist locations.
Call the Trinco train ticket office at 026 222 2271 if you want more details about train travel.
Transportation – Buses: Buses come and go in Trinco, day and night. They fan out to all cities and are very inexpensive. Some of the buses are considered “luxury” and cost a couple of dollars more. Others are “express” non-stop buses which go to distant major cities. The direct to Colombo, deluxe, and air-conditioned bus leaves the Trinco central bus station at 2330 each night. It makes one restroom stop along the way and arrives in Colombo at 0530. Cost is 880 rupee/$7 USD. Call Sampath at 071 804 9509 at the bus ticket counter if you want more information.
Bus travel hints: This is another adventure you have to experience before leaving Sri Lanka, ride a local bus between two cities. You typically pay about $1 USD per 200 kilometres of travel on a local bus. Many of the buses shake, rattle, and roll more than Elvis’s hips. Buses go everywhere 24/7. We often just walked to the nearest bus station and got on the next bus heading in the right direction. We seldom waited more than 30 minutes. Most conductors are honest and charge you the local rate. Ask a local what the fare is before getting on a bus. Only one conductor tripled the fare, because of the skin factor. Warning, the hiring requirements for being a bus driver include…two lead feet, nerves of steel, and a firm belief in reincarnation. If you are a thrill seeker or have a death wish, sit in the front of the bus. If you are sane, cover your eyes, rub your prayer beads, and sit in the back of the bus. In both cases, hold on for the ride of your life!
Buses and trains near the metro areas during rush hour are always PACKED to the gills. Typically, the first seat in a train car and on a bus is reserved for “clergy.” So, if a priest, preacher, holy man, or monk gets on the bus and you are in the first seat, you have to move.
Transportation – Airplanes, Private Cars and Tuk-Tuks: Many tourists travel by private car or van, which always includes a driver. Rates vary greatly depending on your negotiation skills, who you know, and deciding who pays for what. In 2015 in Trinco you could rent a van and driver for a long day of sightseeing for 9,000 rupee/$80 USD, which included gas for the van. The two-day rental price was 15,000 rupee. The variables that you have to agree on BEFORE setting off with your driver are: Who pays for the fuel, the driver’s meals, the driver’s hotel room if staying overnight, tips, fees, etc. Rental cars without drivers basically don’t exist in Sri Lanka. After being on the road for a few minutes you will know why. Hint: Take a train or a bus if you want to hear, see, smell, and feel the true Sri Lanka.
For most cruisers, everything in Trinco is within walking distance. If you like, take a tuk-tuk to cover the fare (80 to a maximum of 200 rupees). Some tuk-tuk drivers play the same games as taxi drivers throughout the world. Make sure you clearly point out your destination on a map and agree on a price before starting your journey. Hint: Have the correct fare or be prepared for the “I don’t have change” discussion, “OK.”
Air travel inside Sri Lanka is limited and extremely expensive. We could fly back to the USA for less money than making a few stops within Sri Lanka. The few airports that exist support military, commercial, and private planes.
Private Car and Tuk-Tuk Drivers: The following drivers speak good English and have served the fleet well in the past.
Kalum: Private van for a day or overnight tours throughout Sri Lanka. He tends to drop his rates for weekend business. Call 077 710 9359
Sanju: Tuk-Tuk owner, call 077 663 5639, he has helped negotiate good deals in the market.
Kumava: Tuk-Tuk owner, call 077 100 8369
Upali: Tuk-Tuk owner, call 077 711 2756. Upali was our “go-to guy.” He was the least expensive, and willing to search and find just about anything at any time. For example, he will remove up to 8 fuel cans off the Passenger Pier dock, run them over to the fuel station, fill them, get a receipt, return to the shady spot you are sitting at, and assist in loading the fuel cans into your dinghy, cost $1.15 USD You have to front him rupees for the cost of the fuel and he will give you the proper change. Big smile, big head waggle.
India Visa: If you seek a VISA FOR INDIA at the Kandy, Sri Lanka processing centre, be prepared for battle. Two couples recently requested the services from the processing centre and we’re told, “India VISAs are only issued for people travelling by aeroplane.” Reportedly it almost came to blows before the cruisers decided to speak with the Visa Administrator at the India High Commission building to get the rational facts. FYI, India has outsourced the processing of visas in most parts of the world, often to IVS Global. The IVS Global office in Kandy is NOT in the India High Commission building. In the end, the Kandy India High Commission forced the local IVS Global office to process the visa applications against their wills. Visa costs vary by nationality. You must have an appointment to submit your application. Be prepared to have to pay someone to make the “necessary corrections” at an office near the processing centre. Ten days later most visas are granted and you must return to the processing centre. Note: If you are a local you will be given a service number when you enter the IVS Global visa processing centre. If you are a tourist, you will NOT be given a service number. After ALL, the people with service numbers have been served, the visa processors will wait on those without service numbers. This form of discrimination has been observed on several occasions, so take a book to the service centre, bite your tongue, and be prepared for a long wait, even if you do have an appointment.
If you are having issues with the Kandy visa processing centre contact the Deputy High Commission of India – Kandy Office at [email protected] or [email protected], or phone +94 812 22 652 or +94 812 223 786. He will get the IVS Global employees back on track in a matter of minutes.
India visas are available in Jaffna, Kandy, or Colombo.
Transport/Courier Service: If you have to have an item shipped from just about any city in Sri Lanka to Trinco, you might want to call Chamara at Pronto Transport, 026 222 5991 or 077 367 9821. His office is located at the north end of Main Street. His trucks hit over 20 cities with next day delivery.
Another nationwide and DHL courier/transportation company in Trinco is Curtis Lanka, at 44 Sea View Road, call 026-222-6598.
DHL services are available throughout Trinco. Just look for their logo on storefront signs.
If you have a large item or many items that need to be trucked across Trinco, contact Mr Yokes by calling 077 655 042. He owns a pick-up truck which he hires out, with him at the wheel.
Communications: Data/voice SIMS cards are cheap $7 USD for one month of voice and 5 GB of data using a 3G network. We purchased services from Dialog, which is supposedly one of the best telecoms in Sri Lanka. The Dialog internet service plan is sold as 3G, which in reality is 2G most of the time during daylight hours. The main office for Dialog is at the north end of Central Road, near the fire station. So far complete Dialog outages only occur when I was completing critical banking transactions, downloads, or Skype calls.
Laundry: If a local shop does your laundry it is charged per item, wash, dried, and ironed. Per load, it is about $30 USD! We are seeking alternatives at this point for laundry services. There are no laundromats in Trinco, and very few homes have washing machines. Ravi with GAC assisted one yacht with their two small bags of laundry, and he charged $50 USD!
Food/Groceries: You have four choices. 1. The Food City grocery store is on the Inner Harbor Road has a few western items, and accepts credit cards. 2. Co-Op (grocery store) is located on Main Street and accepts credit cards. 3. There are dozens of family-run shops throughout Trinco, and they often have fresher items and lower prices that options 1 and 2. 4. The city market is across the street from the fuel station and central bus station. It is in full swing before the sun rises, and many vendors are gone by 1500. You can wheel and deal, cash only. Helpful hint: When buying fruits and vegetables, vendors sometimes blend weights with costs. For example, if you asked how much one kilo of bananas are? The vendor might reply, “180.” From experience, 180 rupee is way too high. After talking to the vendor what he really meant was, “1 kilo for 80 rupees.”
Sails and Dinghies: The largest sail loft in the world is located in Sri Lanka. The huge North Sail operation is located near Galle. North makes sailcloth, designs and sews new sails, repairs sails, produces new dinghies, and manufactures masts, spares, and rigging at this location. Contact Sam Silva at [email protected] or call 077 790 2096 for more details. Or, the headquarters located near Colombo at +94 112 252 378.
Outboard Repair: Very few coastal, bay, or harbour fishermen can afford outboards. And, the local security units require locals to have 25 hp or fewer outboards, if they do have a motor. Later this year the maximum horsepower amount will be raised to 40. Because of the above, you will enjoy a comfortable and quiet anchorage. However, there are several outboard repairs and outboard parts shops located on N.C. Road, just south of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. See Veeranagav at Raju Motors, 328 N.C. Road, call 077 922 8693, or Mr Vettivel at the Yamaha Centre at 251 N.C. Road, call 072 719 4911. The outboard parts store is next to the Yamaha Centre.
Water: Do NOT drink tap water in Trinco, but in many other cities you can drink the water. Many Trinco city water taps are available, free. They are often located at the intersection of two roads. Use this water for washing, bathing, etc. When outside Trinco ask a local if the water is safe to drink.
Per the norm, a 19-litre bottle of drinking water is 250 rupee ($1.90 USD) in Trinco. There is a 650-850 rupee bottle deposit required on the plastic container, which is refunded when the bottle is returned. Just about any “Cream Store” (convenience/7-11) sells drinking water.
If you purchase 10 or more 19-litre bottles the price per bottle drops to 200 rupee/$1.50 USD at the Ashoka Bake House at 168 Main Street in Trinco. Call 026 222 2010 or 077 350 9545 and speak with Mr. or Mrs Ashoka. This price includes free delivery and pick-up of the empty bottles. Make sure you plan your delivery at least one day in advance. The Bake House is open from 0800 to 1200 and 1500 to 2000.
The American Water Company is run by the Shaun Brothers and is located at 221 Thirugnanasamathar Street, across from Food City supermarket. Given their address, I hope they never have a fire and have to spell it out! For 260 rupee/$2.00 USD per 19 litres bottle they will have water delivered to the Passenger Pier.
Delivery options for water:
1 to 10 large water bottles: You can make your own purchase and arrange for delivery to the Passenger Pier.
11 or more water bottles: You must contact your agent first. He will then work his magic and contact the appropriate governmental offices, and then he will arrive at the pier with several officials and observe the water bottle transfer process from the water delivery truck to your yacht or dinghy, tied up at the Passenger Pier.
Large Amounts Of Drinking Water: One cubic meter of drinking water is $8 USD. You must contact your agent in advance and then work with the powers that be, motor to the large container port on the west side of the bay, and get your water out of a 3-inch wide hose attached to a water truck.
Stop laughing, I’m not making this up, I told you it was a work in progress. Be happy, waggle your head.
Harbour Water: The water under the keel can get pretty rank some days. Like the water near most SE Asian cities, it accelerates the growth of barnacles. To reduce the bottom growth, anchor well off the Town and Passenger Piers.
Booze: The “Wine Store” (liquor store/bottle shop) is located several shops northeast of the Post Office, on Post Office road. Lyon beer is sold in large 500 ml cans. 4.8% lager is 160 rupee per can, 8.8% stout and “strong” lager is 190 rupee per can. Add 10 rupee per can if you want refrigerated beer, versus “normal” (room temperature). Prices remain the same no matter how many cans, cases, or slabs you purchase. So…a slab/case of 500 ml lager costs $28 USD and the high octane beers cost $32 for 24 cans. Every town has one or more Wine Stores, just look for the men standing in line at a caged storefront at night.
Beer and soda pop are often sold in glass bottles. If you purchase a product in a beverage bottle you will be charged a 40 rupee deposit. Return the empties to any like kind store for a refund, or significantly increase the net worth of the next kid you see by giving him/her your empty bottles. Better yet, drink it and leave the bottle with the store owner where purchased. Cold drinks are usually barely cool and ice in drinks is not common here.
Pharmacy: Just about all drugs are over the counter and cheaper than just about anywhere we have been. There is a pharmacy on just about every block in Sri Lanka. Usually next to the cell phone store and wedding photoshop.
Garment Industry: One of Sri Lanka’s main exports is clothing. Millions of people sew for a living. Singer sewing machines are everywhere. So, if you want cheap clothes, you are at the sewing centre of the world, be they off the rack, designer, or custom made clothes. Just stop in one of the sewing centres/tailors and tell them what you want. Often, the fabric stores are close by, so choose your favourite colour and pattern. My wife had 4 pairs of shorts custom made for $10 USD. She bought the fabric in Trinco, which was also inexpensive.
Friend For A Lifetime: The local fishermen slowly paddle by the yachts in the anchorage several times per day. The first wave of fishermen shows up prior to 0600. You are sure to have one or two stop by to sell you fresh fish at the local market price. When you do business with one fisherman, you should expect three to visit you the next day, and six the following day… Word spreads fast.
And, the multiplying effect applies to handouts. The first local boat of men will ask for water or crackers. If you are generous and responsive, days later a raft of wooden canoes will head your way with requests for cigarettes, whiskey, T-shirts, etc. The local watermen ignore the yachts who said “no” during round one.
Tuk-Tuk and private car drivers greet you at every corner, and between the corners too. If you get into a conversation they will often want to have tea with you or get your cell phone number. One friendly sailor recited his phone number. During the next two days, he got a call or text from the driver every two hours. In the end, he had to block the driver’s phone number to remain sane.
Weather: A brief shower or two hits the bay every few days. And, the temps are slightly lower and more comfortable than Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Enjoy the nice 10 knot breeze morning, noon, and night. If you are travelling in the highlands you might want to take a light jacket.
Noise: Overall it is not that bad. Still enjoying the five-a-days…calls to prayers. Allah is praised, the volume has been turned down significantly when compared to Malaysia. Church bells ring and schoolchildren sing. Sri Lanka appears to be the dog capital of the world, they are everywhere, and seldom stay silent at night. They are many and the males often travel in packs, kind of like the bars back home. To make safe passage near a menacing dog the locals bend down and pick up a small stone (real or imaginary), which sends the dog running for safety. Make sure you watch where you step. The local bread and ice cream trucks start roaming the streets at 0600 and continue to play their “It’s A Small Small World” and Christmas music jingles into the early evening. At noon you will hear the civil defence siren, and the Trinco seniors will reflect on the last invasion, by the Japanese in the 1940s. The beating drums and chants from Hindu and Buddhist temples can be heard at just about any time. Pop, pop, pop, goes the guns at the nearby naval rifle range.
Clocks: Sri Lanka is one of those unusual half-hour places. UTC +05:30 is local time.
Fuel: You must contact your agent prior to purchasing ANY fuel. ALWAYS request the maximum amount which can be transported on the Passenger Pier, 400 litres. After approval by the paper pushing gods, your agent will give you the head waggle and you can start purchasing fuel.
There is only one fuel station for motorcycles, trucks, and buses in Trinco. It is located across the street from the market place and central bus station. It is open 24/7. Most cruisers would hire a tuk-tuk (maximum of 100 rupees each way) to transport fuel cans to and from this location. When I wandered through the Passenger Pier area with several jerry cans of petrol, nobody blinked an eye. In February 2015 the fuel station prices per litre were:
Gasoline/petrol, 92 octane, 117 rupee, $ .87 USD
Gasoline/petrol, 95 octane, 128 rupee, $ .97 USD
Diesel, X95 rupee, $ .72 USD
Calibrated fuel pumps continue to be absent from Asian countries, yet those in Trinco are much more accurate than those found in Indonesia.
WHEN YOU PURCHASE FUEL YOU MUST GET A RECEIPT FOR THE PURCHASE AT THE FUEL STATION OFFICE. When the fuel is transported on the Passenger Pier the Customs officials will note the quantity of fuel printed on the receipt and subtract that amount from your prior authorization amount. You can make as many purchases as necessary during your stay in Trinco, just don’t exceed 400 litres when using the Passenger Pier.
If you need more than 400 litres of fuel (very large sailboats and power boats) contact your agent and make the request. You will be directed to go the cargo ship fueling station on the west side of the port where the cargo ships do their thing.
Restaurants: Trinco basically has three places to eat. The Dutch Bank Cafe overlooks the yacht anchorage and caters to rich tourists. It serves alcohol and the small dishes are a minimum of $15 per couple plus drinks. It has an American and Euro menu and didn’t really convey the taste of Sri Lanka. Take mosquito spray, whether sitting inside or out. There are two local places to eat across from the bus station. You can NOT miss them, their street hawkers literally drag people off the street and out of the bus station. The northernmost restaurant, nearest the petrol station and market, is certainly the better place to eat. Large fresh plates of local dishes and drinks will cost $8 USD or less per couple. There are a few street vendors in Trinco, using plenty of palm oil for sure.
Tourism: According to the local English newspaper over 1.0 million tourists visit Sri Lanka and they spend over a billion dollars per year. It’s a huge boost to the economy. During the early months of the calendar year, when the NE winds are blowing, all of the tourists stay on the west coast. Later in the year when the winds come out of the west, the tourist trade moves to the east coast, Trinco area.
In Sri Lanka, the word “hotel” does NOT always mean hotel. Local signs often use “hotel” as a reference for a restaurant or store. When you see “Rooms” and “Hotel” on the same sign, you have a place with sleeping accommodations. Cheap hotel rooms come with no hot water, ceiling fans, no air conditioning, and cost about $12 to $16 USD per night (two people one room). Your bed will NOT have a top sheet and you will have to ask the front desk for toilet paper, bottled water, soap, towels, and a mosquito coil. If you want the works, a 4-star hotel with modest European and North American standards, it will cost you a minimum of $75 USD per night. There are always numerous hotels and guest houses within walking distance of the bus and train stations. We didn’t usually make a room reservation and always found an affordable place to sleep and shower.
Meals are cheap if you stick with local food (curry dishes). The guest houses often include breakfast with their rooms. You will certainly spend less than $12 USD per person per day on food and drinks if you eat with the locals, who don’t drink booze. In the tourist areas a local eating the same meal as you will pay about half the price. World branded restaurant chains charge three times the local norm.
For the most part, locals pay no park or tourist site fees. You should expect to pay a minimum of $20 USD at every attraction. Almost double this amount at many locations. The access fee does NOT include the transportation fee, ticketing fee, or tax, which will more than double the price at some locations. The government tacks on a healthy 12 per cent tax on all services provided for tourists. Given the above, you now know why many cruisers declare themselves, “templed out, ancient ruin overloaded, museum short-circuited, and washed out by waterfalls.” Net, net, you will really have to work at stretching your land travel dollars if you are on a tight budget. Most of us will only visit Sri Lanka once in our lives, so we grin and bear it, blow the dust out of your wallet, and enjoy the scenery.
Many people visiting SL want to see Asian elephants. If you go to a national park you will pay big bucks and roll the dice. You might see a lot of elephants, two pachyderms, or none. Just west of Kandy you have several elephant sighting opportunities. The Millennium Elephant Foundation claims to be a non-profit organization, has 8 elephants (5 seen by tourists), and costs 2,000 to 4,000 rupees ($15 to $30 USD) per person. This operation allows you to touch, wash, and have a short ride on an elephant, which has ankle and neck chains. For, significantly less money you can see approximately 30 wild elephants in the nearby Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, no touching or riding allowed. Both Kandy area locations can be reached by inexpensive buses.
I have never personally visited the yacht area of Galle, it is in a security area and only yacht owners are allowed in the area. According to cruisers in Galle, many of the unique control issues described above for Trinco, ring true to a certain extent for Galle. I do not believe yachts are permitted to enter the port at night. Given time, I’m sure positive changes for aquatic visitors will be implemented by the Sri Lanka government.
Read the Sri Lanka Clearance Information article on Noonsite for more information.
Submitted by: Jason Trautz, s/v YOLO (You Only Live Once, life is not a rehearsal)