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SHOPPING GUIDE TO SRI LANKA- SOUVENIERS, GEMS, MEDICINES, TEA AND MORE.
This blog is a shopping guide to Sri Lanka. From exotic Ceylon tea to attractive wooden masks and precious gems and spices, there is a lot you can buy in Sri Lanka. Carry an extra bag. Or better still, buy a local cool bag from one of the chic stores.
Sri Lanka is so much like South India and yet so different. To a foreign visitor who has not been to India, many of the products available on the shelves will offer a novelty. That said, many products available in Sri Lanka are still unique to the country. Though big brands and international chains are pretty common in Sri Lanka, I realized that much of the Sri Lankan products are locally grown and made.
Local brands are popular and cheaper than its international counterparts. Also, though it was easy to find international faces (including many Indian film stars) on hoardings and billboards, I was happy to see many local celebs and everyday people endorsing products on the street side advertisements, which were often a quirky video display as well.
I am not much of a shopper but Sri Lanka tempted me to shop. I hate to hoard things for myself but I did end up buying gifts for my family and friends. Below are some tips on what to buy in Sri Lanka:
WHAT TO SHOP FOR WHEN IN SRI LANKA?
CEYLON TEA: SHOPPING GUIDE FOR SRI LANKA
We visited a tea garden as well as a tea factory. We saw the tea making process and couldn’t resist buying some for home. The tea in Sri Lanka comes in many varieties. They are also creatively packaged. I received a gift of a beautiful porcelain elephant containing choicest of Sri Lankan tea. The most popular tea brand in Sri Lanka is Dilmah.
WOODEN MASKS: SHOPPING GUIDE FOR SRI LANKA
The wooden masks painted in bright colors are unmissable. I saw many masks workshop on the coastal road as I was on my way to Galle. Ambalangoda is the main hub where the masks are made. The wooden masks are traditionally used to ward off evil spirits and also used in ritual kolam dances. Tourists do buy these masks to display on the walls of their homes. The frightening mask, it is said, saves you from evil forces. I did pick mask shaped fridge magnets and keyrings at 100 Sri Lankan Rupees each.
FOOD: SHOPPING GUIDE FOR SRI LANKA
I am a big time foodie and this time too I shopped for food. While it was not possible for me to take home perishable street food, the packaged food is convenient to buy. The spiced peanuts they sell in packets are quite addictive. It was hard to resist once I opened a pack. Tempered with spices and curry leaves, it had a taste which I had never experienced before. You can also buy hoppers flour, local red rice, local curry powders and spices, the work! Just keep your eyes opened and you will find something which is local and interesting. My tip is to go to both local markets and the super stores.
HERBAL MEDICINES AND OILS: SHOPPING GUIDE FOR SRI LANKA
A visit to the spice garden in Sri Lanka reminded me of my visit to a similar spice garden in South Goa called Sahkari farms. We took an interesting tour which educated us about everyday plants which we take for granted or know little about. Who would have thought that the humble turmeric or red pineapple or aloevera has so many health benefits? The store I visited had locally made ointments, oils, balms, creams, cosmetics and even curry powders. From aphrodisiacs to pain relieving oils to local lifestyle products, you will find it all here. The best part is all of it is organic and natural.
GEMS: SHOPPING GUIDE FOR SRI LANKA
I do not have much of an expertise in gems. That said, it is impossible to miss out on gems when traversing the streets of Sri Lanka. A source told me that some of the gems easily available in Sri Lanka are Aquamarines, spinels, corundums, zircons, amethysts, star stones, tourmalines, topaz, garnets, cats’ eyes. Sapphire and Ruby is what most people shop for. Sri Lanka has many ancient rocks and thus the abundance. However, beware of touts and fakes. The best way is to stick to Government approved shops.
TERRACOTA POTS AND PANS: SHOPPING GUIDE FOR SRI LANKA
You will find many street side vendors selling terracotta pots and pans. From an Indian style karahi (wok) to ladles made with coconut shells, you will find innovative products. If you are into kitsch, do buy the quirky animals painted in loud colors.
OTHER SOUVENIERS TO BUY IN SRI LANKA:
No one is allowed to click pictures of the centuries old paintings on one of the walls of Sigiriya. To make up, you can buy postcards of the same paintings while you exit. It is also easy to pick Sri Lanka themed magnets and key chains in most of the cities. The Barefoot café in Colombo also stocks some great souvenirs to pick. Many shops in the very ‘Dutch’ Galle sell fashionable clothes and quirky artefacts. The beautiful Bodhi tree is also common, especially near the religious places.
Buddha statues are also available in many forms. Pettah Bazar in Colombo is where you can find affordable products. As you leave Kandy, watch out for Dumbara mats and baskets made with hand woven fabric. Shopping malls such as Crescat, Majestic City and Liberty Plaza are quite popular among locals. You can also buy handicrafts, books, garments, etc. Most of the shopping malls are fully Wi-Fi enabled.
SHOPPING CASHLESS IN SRI LANKA:
When you are traveling in a new country, shopping cashless is a blessing, as you do not have to worry for dwindling cash or finding the exact change. Most big shops in Sri Lanka accept credit cards. In fact, my co-travelers bought products worth INR 12,000 at the spice garden with a simple swipe of credit card. It sure makes life much easier. For the uninitiated, you can apply for credit cards here. It is especially more convenient to do transactions with credit cards when you deal with big money. For example, bills for gems run in lakhs so it makes sense to pay cashless. The best part is that using credit cards come handy not only when you travel internationally but also when transacting within India. You must avail credit card offers for the best deals. The future of shopping is cashless. Post demonetization in India in November 2016, more and more Indians are making a transition towards cashless. So, it makes sense in buying the one suited to your needs and spending habit.
SHOPPING WITH CASH IN SRI LANKA:
Indian Rupee is just the double of Sri Lankan Rupee. Some shops in big cities do accept Indian notes of high value. However, it is not advised. It is better to carry certain amount of petty cash for products of lower value such as snacks, cab and tuktuk rides, souveniers etc. I also like to collect currency for my numismatics collection, so I did bring along some notes of value 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. Coins are not much in use in Sri Lanka and appears to be phasing out. However, I did manage to take back a 1 Rupee and 2 Rupee coin.
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry to host the writers and bloggers for reviews and media reports, I was also invited on the press trip to cover it. However, my views are not influenced by the sponsorship. It is my responsibility to give truthful information to my readers on my blog and I have adhered to that personal policy while writing this blog.
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