Sri Lanka 3G for tourist

Cheap 3G package from Mobitel. Hearts

I wasn’t planning to get 3G when I was in Sri Lanka. I assumed that wireless connection in my guest house would be enough for me.

However, it turned out that having Internet on my phone was very important as I kept getting lost in Anuradhapura.

If you are thinking about getting 3G in Sri Lanka while travelling, I don’t recommend buying the tourist prepaid SIM packages. For example, Dialog has prepaid SIM for tourists and the premium package is 1,300 rupees.

That’s rather expensive compared with getting a package targeted at locals. For example, Mobitel’s 1024MB data package is only 279 rupees and includes some free minutes and text messages for numbers on the same network.

Cheap 3G package from Mobitel. Hearts
Cheap 3G package from Mobitel. Hearts

I bought a normal SIM card at the airport but had to change it to a micro-SIM later. I was really kiasu and bought a back up 1024MB internet package which I didn’t need at all in the end.

I paid about 1,200 rupees in total for the normal SIM, changed micro-SIM and two internet packages.

I did a lot of Google Maps and Whatsapp with my plan. I was using data up fast at my first guesthouse where the Wi-Fi was wonky. I posted blog updates by tethering my phone’s 3G connection. Surfing on a hotspot was much faster than I expected.

When I switched to the hostel in Kandy, my data consumption dropped because I had stable Wi-Fi.

It might be worthwhile getting the tourist package for the IDD rates. But you don’t really need to make IDD calls if you are contacting others with VoIP apps or services.

I checked out a branch of HUTCH and they told me they didn’t have micro-SIM. I’m not sure if that’s the case for the whole country or just that branch in Anuradhapura.

How is your experience with 3G in Sri Lanka?

6th day at sea: Not winning Bingo [YQrtw Day 17 Apr 24]

Bingo

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 6]

Watched Apollo 13 in the morning.

I spent US$21 on Bingo cards and “tikam”.

I’ve never played “real” Bingo before. The type of Bingo I play in primary school was hand drawn Bingo in which you win if you have a row of 5 number.

Bingo
Bingo

That was why I didn’t really know how to play real Bingo. The announcer said something like “O 70. O 70.” I didn’t know I can look directly under row O for that number.

4th day at sea: Rock climbing [YQrtw Day 15 Apr 22]

YQ climbs a rock climbing wall

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 4]

In the morning, jewellery making class. The retiree in me loves these sort of DIY workshop. We were given a jewellery-making kit I made a necklace which matched my glasses. :D

Jewellery making on Legend of the Seas
Jewellery making on Legend of the Seas

After the calming necklace-making class, I decided that I need more excitement so I changed and headed to the rock climbing area.

I’ve never climbed rocks before. I imagined it was like climbing ladders–one foot up, one foot up. Tom Cruise made it seem easy in Mission Impossible movies.

Legend of the Seas rock climbing wall
Legend of the Seas rock climbing wall

Of course, it turned out to be tough. The first few meter was OK since it was just stepping on the crevices and pulling myself up.

After that, the toe-holders became tinier. My arms froze and my foot refused to go up. I screamed to be let down.

[I later found out that I was given the Expert wall instead of the Beginner. Drats.]

Riding a motorcycle on the rock climbing wall
Riding a motorcycle on the rock climbing wall

After a strenuous afternoon, it was scrapbooking time! I made my first scrapbook project with the other ladies.

Then, I decided to slack and took another nap.

I tried out the swimming pool after dinner. Not many people were around since the sun had set. In the outdoor jacuzzi, I found out that when you push water out of the pool, it will fly back and hit you in the face like a force field. That was really fun.

I soaked a bit but was asked to leave since they needed to do some maintenance work. Then I discovered that the indoor swimming pool is much more fun since it wasn’t as cold.

The water in the pool was salty, surprisingly. I don’t know if they’ve pumped in seawater or if they salted the water like it was a pot of soup.

Later in the evening, I watched some TV. Instead of watching Lincoln, I watched the last Twilight movie because I want to know how bad it is.

It wasn’t too bad but the ending was crappy. Plus, the part about Jacob falling in love with Bella’s kid is so creepily pedo.

3rd day at sea: Pirate drill [YQrtw Day 14 Apr 21]

Scrapbooking

[Apr 30: I’m uploading this post on the tour group bus to Cairo.]

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 3]

My cruise ship will pass through the Gulf of Aiden from April 21 to 24. On the second day of the cruise, everyone received a letter from the captain, telling us that “pirate activity has occurred in the Gulf of Aden during the past few years”.

Other cruisers told me (or the rest of the table at lunch) that they’ve never received such a letter before and they found it amusing. I find it rather amusing too, although probably not so much when the pirates do come on board.

Letter about pirates from Legend of the Seas captain

To prepare for pirate attack, we had a drill at 10:30am.

The drill is a lot less exciting than you think but it was better than the muster drill on Day 1. Since I had an inner stateroom, I just hid in my room. The others who have balconies were required to gather at a common location.

Solo Travelers Lunch

If you’re worried about being lonely travelling alone on a cruise, you don’t need to. The staff set up a Solo Travelers Lunch for people to meet other solo traveller (although quite a few of those who joined the lunch were travelling with a friend).

I’m mostly awkward when around strangers so I mostly smiled and ate at the event. I did meet a lot of interesting people but, in the end, I prefer reading my book to soclalizing. (Antisocial alert!!)

Later in the afternoon, there was scrapbooking class and I managed to do the “scarp” part of a a scrapbook.

Scrapbook Kit from Royal Caribbean

At night, the ship had a performance called “Absolutely Fab”. It was a fun show full of songs. The cruise has live shows every night so your schedule will never be empty.

Second day at sea: ‘You can’t go to Egypt.[YQrtw Day 13 Apr 20]

Legend of the Seas

Location: Legend of the Sea [Day 2]

On the second day of cruising, an officer from the ship called my room as I was preparing to go to the sauna. She told me that I do not have an Egyptian visa which means I cannot go to Egypt.

Here is the entry I wrote after I heard the news:

I just signed a letter of wavier, saying that I will not go on shore Egypt because I do not have a visa for the country.

I tried to brush it off, saying to myself: “I didn’t really want to go anyway.” Then I sat down on my tiny couch and tears came out of my eyes. I think I really do want to go to Egypt.

I can only blame myself. My first research showed that I need a visa but another Google search brought me to the Consulate of the Arab Republic of Egypt in the UK website which said:

Malaysian nationals
Malaysian nationals can stay in Egypt for up to two weeks without a visa. If their stay exceeds two weeks, the usual requirements apply.

Then a document from a Malaysian website said the same that Malaysians do not need a visa and can visit for only 2 weeks.

I really want to go to Egypt. sob.

[A few days later, I was glad to find out that I was right and was able to visit Egypt.]

I put the Egypt visa issue at the back of my head later in the day. I decided that if I cannot go to Egypt, I might as well enjoy myself fully on the ship.

Before the Egypt incident, I had breakfast at the restaurant and met a nice elder couple who I will into multiple times and even share a private tour group later in the future.

There was Italian class on board as well along with print out notes. Do you think greetings alone is enough for me to glide through Italy?

I took a nap and found out later that there were dolphins which followed the ship for a while. I missed watching dolphins!! What a tragedy.

At night, the ship had some “aerial performance” and meet-the-captain session.

Legend of the Seas
Legend of the Seas

Reading in Dubai, first night at sea [YQrtw Day 12 Apr 19]

Legend of the Seas facilities

[Note from Apr 29: Now that I finally have internet connection, I will be uploading the backlog blog posts.]

Location: Dubai, UAE [Day 3]
Location: Legend of the Seas [Day 1]

I woke up early that morning to pack my bag. I didn’t want to head out into the heat for food so I hibernated in the room.

Packing my bag was much easier than it was before I went on the trip. This is partly contributed by the carry on bag that I could distribute my things in.

Around 12 noon, the speakers from the mosque carried the Friday prayers and the very passionate speech made by the Imam.

Although I told my AirBnB host that I would leave at 12 noon, he wasn’t there. I had to send him a text but he recommended staying later for the prayer crowd to disperse.

So I did. This gave me a chance to plough through book 2 of Song of Ice and Fire, aka Game of Thrones series. But at 1:30pm, I was restless and hungry. If I went on the cruise now, there would be unlimited food waiting for me.

I finally checked out and got a cab to Port Rashid.

When I saw the ship, my heart swelled. It was lovely from afar: a white giant with blue lace trimming. It was just so gorgeous, and I would be staying in there for 15 nights! Imagine that.

Checking in wasn’t smooth sailing. I didn’t print out my SeaSail Pass so I had to fill out some forms.

The employees also told me that I cannot head to Egypt because of visa. I showed them the print out from the embassy, saying that Malaysians do not need a visa. I was allowed in but trouble will follow me.

When I got onboard. I was in awe of everything. The ship was HUGE! I was gawking at everything like the country bumpkin I am. I feasted on the lunch buffet at Windjammer Cafe after I put my things in my room.

I joined a tour of the ship by one of the Cruise Director Staff (meaning entertainment stuff) and got a feel of what the cruise liner has (almost EVERYTHING).

Legend of the Seas facilities
Legend of the Seas facilities

Before we set sail, there was a muster drill where everyone gathered at a location as a drill for safety evacuation. It was the most boring thing on this cruise as everyone stood there doing nothing.

The ship didn’t leave the port until well past 7pm. By that time, I’ve missed my time slot for the proper restaurant so I had dinner in the Windjammer Cafe.

That was Night 1 on the cruise which I will call home for the next 15 days.

Dubai bus stops are the coolest, literally

Dubai's air conditioned bus stop

Despite Dubai being in the desert, my trip to the city wasn’t as hot as it was in Sri Lanka. Most of the time, I hid in shopping malls or the freakishly cold buses.

One of the best things about the bus in Dubai is the bus stop. Some of the bus stops here are air conditioned! Inside, the temperature is a chilly 22 degrees Celsius.

Air conditioned bus stops. "We're 22 degrees Celsius all year round."

Bus stop looks like from the front.
Bus stop looks like from the front.

Isn’t it just awesome?!

Less awesome is a video of me giving you a tour of the bus stop. I look like I was very very bored. The truth is, it was rather sunny and I couldn’t open my eyes as wide as usual.

Enjoy!

Video tour of Dubai’s air conditioned bus stop

Glutton in Dubai

Chicken Shawarma from IKEA Dubai

I have to confess: I didn’t eat three meals a day while in Dubai. I was either too lazy to get out for food or too stuffed from tea time.

Still, I did eat some lovely food.

I love you chicken shawarma

I fell in love with the grilled meat and bread combination while in Dubai. It’s just so yummy!

What got me started was a chicken shawarma set from IKEA. The plate had a few sides and even french fries in the bread. The chicken was tender and seasoned so well. Drool. [28 dirhams]

Chicken shawarma from IKEA in Dubai

I had a cheaper shawarma from the roadside stall near where I stayed. It was good too but the pickles were urgh. [10 dirhams]

Chicken shawarma from roadside stall

At Mom’s Cafe, shawarma wasn’t served yet so I got the taco version with grilled chicken. [16 dirhams for two of this.]

Chicken taco

Tea time

I had a coffee break everyday while in Dubai since I was mostly in shopping malls. It was also the best time to use the cafe’s Wi-Fi to send my mom and sister snapshots of my day. (By the time I reach my accommodation, it’s 12 midnight for them so not a very good time to send stuff.)

Organic carrot cake from M&S Cafe

Water

It’s very rare that water gets an entry of its own in the Glutton Series. But water in Dubai is more expensive than other places so it gets a special place.

The most expensive water I bought was a 2 dirham bottle of 500ml water at the Pinoy restaurant. The size is usually only 75 cents in supermarkets.

Lesson learned: Don’t buy water at restaurants.

Bottled water in Dubai

Surprisingly, there’s also free water around too. I was surprised to find water fountains at Dubai Mall. I repeatedly filled my water bottle while walking aimlessly.

Free water at Dubai Mall

Cheap breakfast from supermarket

Cheap non-traditional breakfast from the supermarket

Cobbling together pre-made food from supermarket is a trick that works in other countries as well. I bought a butter croissant and a bottle of milk from the supermarket before the tour at Jumeriah Mosque.

Milk fills up the stomach really easily so it’s something I like to buy for breakfast when travelling.

Do you have a favorite food in Dubai? Share them in the comment section below.

Sri Lanka scams and touts I met

Train time table

Sri Lanka is a very peaceful place but like the Singapore safety tagline “Low crime doesn’t mean low crime”. I will share some of the scams and touts I met while in Sri Lanka.

As usual, at the beginning of a difficult post, I need to put a disclaimer. I have met many lovely people in Sri Lanka who are not scammers or touts. These people include:

  • Two schoolgirls who asked where I was from while I was eating my rice and curry at a “Cold Station”.
  • A Kandyan man with two children who were going back to his wife’s hometown (Sigiriya). His children pointed at me, smiling, when I boarded. He later showed me a picture of the Temple of Tooth and gave me an ice cream. “If you like,” he said.
  • The lady on the bus who insisted I take the seat beside her man-friend as she was getting off soon.
  • The little girl who said Hi on my ride to Colombo Airport.

I am trying hard to remember the good things about Sri Lanka because I am afraid that the dark side will take over and I only have bad memories of the country.

Even though I need to forget the bad, I still want to write down the scams that could have happened to me. I have no idea if the cases were really works of touts but, to be careful, I will list them down:

Official touts

P1050024

As soon as I reached Colombo Fort station, I encountered my first tout. Unfortunately, it was even a government-sanctioned tout.

At the station, I was ushered into an air-conditioned room. On the glass window, big letters spelling RAILWAY TOURIST OFFICE made me feel rather gladly surprised that there was such a service. This is even better than Yogyakarta!

I told the moustached man that I was heading to Anuradhapura and needed tickets  and I just missed the previous train by 15 minutes.

The man made a call on his cell phone to confirm that there were still tickets for the 4:30pm train. He asked where I was off to next, which I thought was nice of him. How wrong I was.

I told him I wanted to buy tickets from Kandy to Colombo and I would take a bus from Anuradhapura to Kandy since there were no trains.

He shook his head and said, “It’s very difficult by bus.” I replied, “It’s OK, I’m up for it.”

He offered to get me a driver to pick me up from Anuradhapura and bring me to the sights in Pollunawara and Sigiriya. I will stay in a hotel in Sigiriya for a night before being sent to Kandy. All this for 25,000 rupees.

At that point, my brain was hay wired. To me, 25,000 rupees sounded like S$25 which is ridiculously cheap. I almost said yes but didn’t because I wanted to do the indie travelling way.

When the man saw that I was not convinced, he brought over a map and pointed to the different places. Anuradhapura and Kandy looked very far from each other.

I was tempted until he said: “All this for US$250.”

Then I snapped out of it. I looked at him and said, “But I don’t have that much money.” US$250 was about two-thirds of my budget for the whole trip!

Then the man turned cold. He folded the map and said, “Well then, you have to buy the ticket yourself. For US$250, we can do it all for you.”

“I really do not have the money,” I said, packing up my things and standing up.

When I left, a Caucasian couple were deciding if they wanted to take up the package. I wanted to shake their shoulders and say: “It’s much cheaper to DIY!” But of course I didn’t, instead I left and went in search of my train.

Special ceremony tout

Kandy Lake

In Kandy, while I was walking the circumference of the lake. A man dressed respectably in sarong and white shirt suddenly started praying towards the Tooth Temple when he saw me approach.

I tried to walk behind him so I won’t block his praying. He stopped his praying and said to me: “Good morning, Madam. Today is a special day.” He pointed to the temple.

I replied: “Yes it’s New Year.”

He said: “There is a special ceremony at the temple. The president is coming.” He looked like he wanted to escort me to the temple.

Even though I had no idea if the president was coming or not, I said: “No! I was at the temple just now. Goodbye.”

I continued walking and heard his footsteps behind. In front, there was a tuk-tuk and the driver said, “Good morning Madam.”

The man behind me immediately followed with a “Good morning” but I just nod my head.

Good things another tuk tuk stopped in front. The drive in the vehicle prayed towards the temple. I took the chance to pretend to be enthralled with a crow that stopped in front of me.

I then continued walking and luckily the man did not follow me. Later, when I walked back (the lake was too big to walk a full circle), I saw the old man sitting in the tuk tuk with the driver.

Perhaps they were accomplices in a “special ceremony” scam: The man pretending to bring the tourist to see a special event. A tuk tuk miraculously appears. They then charge an enormous sum as payment for their company.

I will never know if my theory was right. But thank the Tooth for the tuk tuk which stopped just in time.

Tissue man scam

Donations welcomed

This is a rather small but ridiculous case of scams. At Sigiriya, there were two men lingering outside the women’s public toilet. It was very awkward and if I knew enough Sinhala, I would tell them to not hang around there.

One of the man offered tissue paper. I shook my head and went into the toilet.

When I was washing my hands, a few tourists came in. They took the tissue from the man, perhaps thinking that it was the Official Tissue Dispensing Man.

As I left, the Official Tissue Dispensing Man held out a palm in which there was a 50 rupee note. It was rather

Tour guide tout

At famous sights, there is always a person or two who wants to show me the way to the attraction (even though it’s plainly in sight).

I always decline because I don’t want them to turn out to be tour guide touts who want money in the end as reward for their company.

Regular Sri Lankans are lovely

Ice cream given by kind Kandyan man with Sigiriyan wife and 2 kids. On bus to Sigiriya.

All these incidents made me wary of people. When I hear “Good morning madam,” I have to ignore the greeting because I do not know if it was genuine Hello or just the beginning of a hard sell.

I know that as someone who is privileged enough to travel (yes, travelling is a privilege). I do have more disposable income than the locals. Yes I can bear to part with a dollar or two, but does that mean I should condone these scams and touts? I think not.

If we take out the scammers and touts of Sri Lanka, it’s a really great place to visit. The people are friendly and the sites are nice. Just remember to bring lots of sun protection and not get heat stroke.