I hadn’t done much research before getting to Sri Lanka, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. For some reason I was thinking the country was going to be a bit more off the beaten track, perhaps given to the island’s remote location of the SE tip of India. That was not exactly the case! Apparently Sri Lanka has gotten pretty popular in the last couple of years, so there was no shortage of people on the beaches and prowling around the country’s cultural sites. I even met some young Australian girls who joked they were doing an instagram tour, trying to recreate some of the their favorite photos they had seen on various instagram accounts. Hmmm…
I arrived at the airport in the mid-morning and got through immigration in no time. I had plenty of Indian rupees that I was hoping to exchange for Sri Lankan rupees, but to my surprise at the money exchanges, with about 30 currencies listed on their boards, did not change Indian rupees. What!? I still don’t know what the deal is with this one, but the ATM worked fine. Outside the airport it was very easy to find the airport-city bus. It seems like most of the time you have to go off hunting in far flung corners of the airport to find these buses, so it was nice to have it just waiting out front. $1 to get into the city center vs $30 for a taxi. I was welcomed by a pouring rain, which felt strange because it never rained in Goa.
The main city, Colombo, was nicer than I would have expected. It’s certainly not as crowded, chaotic, and dirty as similar Indian cities. Although the traffic is still pretty awful and the bus drivers arguably crazier. I still can’t understand the need to overtake every single car as possible in heavy traffic, especially when you have to pull over every couple of minutes anyway! Then there’s the honking, dear god! And the sudden braking with absolute no regard for the passengers on board. Fun times. But I still prefer the bus over getting a tuk-tuk, who just wait around at touristy areas to try and rip people off.
I ended spending more time in Colombo than 99% percent of tourists would, due to the poker games. And what I came to realize is that Colombo is friggen BORING. I can’t think of many big cities that have less to do than Colombo. Once you hit the museum, one or two fairly average temples, and spend the sunset at the Galle Face waterfront area, you’ve got the city covered. There’s very little local nightlife, and even if there is something on a weekend night there’s hardly any girls, except maybe the handful there with their boyfriends. It’s redeeming factor for me was the poker action.
Colombo has a few casinos, two of which offer poker, with most of the action at the biggest casino, Ballys. It’s still a very small player pool, just one table going during weekdays and maybe two tables during the weekends. The nice thing about the casino is that everything you could possible want is free. There is a big buffet going all night, but if you don’t want any of that food then you can order a bunch of things ala carte. Want a shrimp tray, fruit plate, cheese plate, some sandwiches? Done! All alcoholic drinks are free, including top shelf type stuff. If you want to smoke they’ll give you cigarettes or a cigar, or even a shisha to smoke at the table. This is also one of the biggest downsides of the room if you care about your health at all. The majority of the players playing poker are smoking cigarettes at the table and the whole place is just way too smoky in general. But I do really like the novelty of smoking shisha at the table! Oh and they have all these different live song and dance routines going on at the center stage, so plenty of entertainment.
As far as the gameplay, it’s about double the stakes of India, and the games are quite a bit more aggressive. There is much more reraising preflop and bluffs/semibluffs. There are more very good regulars in the game, but also more loaded dudes who don’t care about money and will happily blow a couple thousand in a night. When I was there, there were some guys in from the middle east making the games pretty crazy, which unfortunately did not go well for me that week, but what can I say, those are types of games I want to be playing in. Certainly nothing like that action in Chicago. But this is the problem of trying to play poker and travel at the same time, obviously I don’t want to spend all my time in Sri Lanka in the casino, but traveling after losing a bunch of money tends to put a damper on things. But that’s how things go sometimes.
As for the rest of the country tourists mainly go to three areas: the southern beaches, the hill country, and the ‘cultural triangle’ where they have some ruins of ancient cities. The one thing to note in Sri Lanka, that annoys the hell out of most travellers is their policy of tourist pricing, where anything of tourist interest they charge the hell out of you, especially by Sri Lankan standards. Want to go to a temple? $10. Go for a hike in a national park? $25. See some ruins? $25. Meanwhile the local price would be 50c or something like that. At least on the beaches they can’t charge you to go into the ocean.
Normally the best way to see the country is by train. Thanks to British, they’ve got a nice rail system running through the country. Unfortunately during heavy tourist season it’s extremely difficult to get a seat on the train. My first train ride from Colombo to Kandy was three hours of standing completely jammed into the car. Of course your head is over the window level so you can’t even look out and see the scenery. So I was careful to not replicate that experience again!