While having a peaceful dinner near Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka the other night, we were surprised to have our phones start buzzing and ringing. “Are you ok?” and “What’s happening there?” were some common questions. We did a quick Google search and found that Sri Lanka was in a “state of emergency” because Muslim/Buddhist tensions had led to riots in the city of Kandy. There were many sensational news articles from all the big players, such as “Sri Lanka on the brink” from Al-Jazeera and scary words about “mob violence” from the BBC. We were sitting less than 90km away from the “riots” but somehow knew less than our friends on the other side of the planet. Our intuition is telling us these events have a deeper meaning, and we are still trying to figure out what exactly what that is. Regardless, here are some thoughts from a less politically-slanted mindset on why you shouldn’t cancel your trip to Sri Lanka.
1 – With reports of rioters ranging in number from 200-500, is this really the start of some new civil war? With three casualties so far, these numbers are small in comparison to tensions in places like the United States where riots are increasingly common. Throughout 2017 there were many civil disturbances in the States far larger than this current Sri Lankan problem.
2 – These incidents were only in several neighborhoods of one city. There was also no violence directed at tourists or anywhere near where any tourists are. The curfew that was set up to keep the peace has now ended and all areas have returned to normal.
3 – A majority of Sri Lankans have no interest in returning to civil conflict. With the war only over since 2009, violence is still in the recent memory of most of the populace. But now tourism is booming and foreign investment is driving a huge wave of new travelers to the island. While corruption is still a major issue, things are looking up for the average citizen and no one wants to stop the recent flow of new money.
Yes, watch the news to keep up to date, but take it with a grain of salt. There is a possibility that this is all part of a bigger play by one of the political parties in Sri Lanka or other foreign powers. If that’s not the case, then I believe this to be nothing more than an over-dramatization by the news media. Whatever the answer, all tourist attractions remain open and safe and things are carrying on as normal in most of the country. Social media is still being throttled, so download a VPN if you have to keep the ‘gram running.
Buses have resumed running to Kandy so we will go there today to check it out. Stay tuned for updates if there are any.
***UPDATE 3/11/18*** We are in Kandy and the curfew is still in effect until 8pm, although people are starting to open their businesses back up now (6:30pm). There are lots of soldiers on the street corners with AK-47s and I saw a few camouflage Land Rovers backed full of guys in fatigues. There were a few foreigners in the grocery store and a couple at the hostel. All the locals say that the trouble is over, so we plan to go do some touring around town tomorrow.
***UPDATE 3/12/18*** We spent the last two nights in Kandy. The first night was very quiet around, with soldiers on nearly every corner. Large military presence in the city. However, by the morning everything was returning to normal, with less and less soldiers visible throughout the day. We went to the Tooth Relic Temple and all was well. I believe that there are less tourists than normal, but still some groups and large buses.
When we left the city the next day we bused though the north end of town. There were more military in these neighborhoods and we saw a few of the buildings that were burnt down. Definitely still tensions there. Saw a few news reporters interviewing the locals, surrounded by armed guards. Mostly they are guarding the schools and religious sites. We would recommend going to Kandy still, it’s a nice city and seemed very safe.
Still no social media in the country. We have a VPN which works great and connects us to all the sites. There are many free versions if you search online. We use Windscribe which gives you a 10GB free trial.