A Travellerspoint blog

Travel planning for Sri Lanka from India

Visa, Flights, Forex and other info

sunny
View Off to Sri Lanka: Sigiriya -> Dambulla -> Kandy-> Pinnawala -> Negombo on arunbaliga's travel map.

The visa part....
Tourists travelling to Sri Lanka can use the online Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) mechanism to obtain the visa. A 30 day double entry visa costs 10 USD for SAARC tourists whereas it is 20 USD for other countries. The payment is online and ETA arrives quickly, I got mine within 30 min via email. Just take a copy of the ETA and get the passport stamped on arrival. There is no delay at the immigration counters and no additional forms to fill. However, do keep a copy of accommodation booking, return flight and proof of sufficient funds handy, though they are usually not asked.

For ETA application & other details: http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/

Flights...
From Bangalore, there is a daily flight late evening by Sri Lankan Airlines, but it is more economical to fly from Chennai due to the variety of flight options and presence of both budget carriers like SpiceJet, Air India Express and full service carriers like Sri Lankan & Jet Airways. There are also flights to Colombo from other South Indian cities like Kochi and Tiruchirapalli.

Colombo Airport..
Bandaranaike International Airport (code: CMB and formerly, Katunayake) is currently the lone International Airport of Sri Lanka though a 2nd one is being built at Hambantota. The Airport is not exactly in Colombo but located around 35km north of Colombo. Infact, it is closer to the Beach town of Negombo which is about 15km away. The airport is smaller compared to the ones in New Delhi & Chennai but has an international look. we didnt experience hassles at immigration, customs or security, it was smooth, however we did experience a lot delay during checkin on return. It took us around 1.30 hrs for checkin, so it is advised to reach early. For transport to/from Airport, the possible options are taxi, 3 wheeled rickshaws (tuk-tuk) or public bus. For public bus, buses are available at the airport depot which I heard is about 10-15min away by walk.

Airport site: http://airport.lk

Forex..
The Sri Lankan currency is LKR (Sri Lankan Rupee), it normally hovers around 1 Indian Rupee (INR) = 2.3 or 2.4 LKR. This is about 1 USD = 125 - 135 LKR. There are restrictions on the import/export of the LKR (maximum 5000 LKR for import/export) and also on certain currencies of South Asia such as the Indian and Pakistani Rupees. Moreover, the forex rates provided for LKR outside Sri Lanka are very low for both buy and sell. So, if travelling from India or any other country, it is better to go with USD or any other internationally currency such as the Euro. Even with double conversion, you will get a good rate. Even while on return, convert the left over LKRs to USD or Euro. Once in Sri Lanka, the LKRs could be obtained at the airport (there are 4-5 bank counters after customs near the exit) or from banks or money exchangers within Sri Lanka. Large tour operators and hotels usually accept payment in USD or other major currencies, however, for entrance fees for tourist spots, expenditure at shops, restaurants/smaller hotels or local transport and other local expenses, the payment is always required in LKR.

Tour operators...
I m not recommending in any specific operator, this is just for info..there are plenty of large and small tour operators in Sri Lanka who will provide end to end tour packages for a variety of tastes and budgets. If you intend to go for packaged tours, it is good to go with Sri Lankan operators (usually ex-Colombo airport).
Some of the larger and well rated ones are Red Dot, Walker, Aitken Spence and JF Tours. Red Dot caters to luxury tastes, thereby big budget, it also has a brilliant website with lots of good info, certainly the best operator website I ever saw for my Sri Lanka planning.

For the other end of the economy, there are plenty of small operators..infact hundreds of them (just google them), you can book accommodation inclusive packages with them or just avail transport incase you are booking hotels directly. The pros of a smaller operator are that they are more flexible with accommodation...luxury, budget or a combination, for the vehicle used or itinerary and are much cheaper than the larger ones. The cons are that many of these are very small, lack a clear policy w.r.t backups in case of car breakdown etc and some might even have issues with tourist licenses or registration with Govt. Tourist boards.

In any case do remember these before booking a tour package:
1. Decide your itinerary, preferred local transport and accommodation (hotels or guesthouses) and then check with multiple operators. You wont be surprised if you get a variety of quotes for the same itinerary. Almost all operators tend to give a single quote (USD/person) , never broken up into detail. Do try to get a breakdown of the quote or atleast compare it with your expectation. Also, find out the type of vehicle provided

2. To get your expected quote, check the tariffs of the same hotels on booking sites like Agoda or Booking.com (note: SL has about 22-25% tax on hotels, ensure it is inclusive). SL seems to have some dual pricing for tourist accommodation, so when booked by local operators this is usually much lower than what booking engines give. It is ok for the operator to take a cut but it shouldn't be huge. Ensure you are really getting a better deal from the operator otherwise it is easier for you to book directly, sometimes, an operator might be getting a discount from the hotel but might be charging the external rate from you thereby pocketing the difference (20-30% or more). For driver accommodation, it is free in almost all large/mid-size hotels. Only certain small space starved hotels/guest houses don't provide it or might charge for it. I also heard that hotels in Colombo don't provide it, so check with the hotel for these areas but otherwise, you can assume it is provided and you don't need to pay anything extra towards it.

For the transport, find out the distance being covered. The rate for a car is about 40-45 LKR/km varying based on the vehicle.

3. Check what is inclusive/exclusive of the package. There could be a reason for a cheaper/higher quote.
a) Accommodation, Meal options - B&B, half/full board. Many of the hotel locations outside major cities & towns might not have restaurants nearby, so you may have to rely on the hotel for your dinner. The touristy hotels/restaurants usually provide free meal to the driver when you are eating.
b) Entrance fees: Tickets to tourist spots for foreigners are very expensive in SL. SAARC citizens get a 50% discount in most places (detailed later).
c) Are any strings for shopping excursions attached?
d) Parking fees.
e) Guidance. For small groups, a driver cum guide is sufficient. Charges are higher for those proficient in languages other than English - say if need one speaking Russian or German. Drivers cant guide you in historical spots like Sigiriya unless they have a separate license for it and these places have separate guides in case you need them.

Non-package tour..
You can book the hotels directly and go about travelling on your own. If you are visiting multiple spots every day, it is better to take a car with driver. One of the large rental companies is Malkey. I had checked once with Malkey, their approx quotes were reasonable (it ll be variable since total cost is calculated at the end of the journey based on mileage in case of rental companies) and neatly broken up into mileage, driver charges, taxes etc. You can also book transport from the small tour operators, they usually give a single fixed quote (usually 60-70 USD all incl per day for a car + driver assuming travel distance is in normal range, say 100-150km in a day). Note: Roads in SL are well paved in most stretches, better than the state highways in India, but are mostly 2 lane (no divider) and heavily trafficked. So, you can cover atmost 35-40km/hr. For eg: It took us 4.5 hrs to cover Airport -> Sigiriya (about 150km) by car.

Buses/Trains...
It is not possible to book trains online (except for few luxury trains). There are plenty of public/private buses and trains connecting major towns. If you have sufficient time and your plan is not tight, it would be cheaper to take this option.

Credit cards..
Don't use your credit/debit cards in SL unless it is a large credible hotel or retailer. Prefer to pay by cash at all other places - shops, restaurants, ticket counters and so on.

Posted by arunbaliga 11:46 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged travel india from tour sri lanka plan Comments (0)

Tonle Sap Lake and the Chong Khneas Floating Village

Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia

sunny

Date of Visit: 17th Jan 2012 (Half-Day: Morning to Afternoon)
Traveled as: Family

Tonle Sap Lake

The Tonle Sap Lake (Khmer equivalent of 'Great Lake') is very prominent on the map of Cambodia. It is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and a UNESCO Biosphere reserve (the only one in Cambodia). The lake is connected to the Mekong River through the Tonle Sap River. The Lake is around 160 km long and 32 km wide. During the dry season, the lake is fairly small with an area of around 3000 sq.km. However, during the monsoons in June, its area expands to as much as 16000 sq.km flooding the nearby forests and fields. This contributes greatly to the fertility of the nearby fields and becomes a great breeding ground for fish. No doubt, the Tonle Sap contributes to around 75% of Cambodian inland fish production.

Chong Khneas Floating Village
The Chong Khneas is one among the many floating villages built on the edges of the Tonle Sap Lake. This is the closest one from Siem Reap town (around 16km) and the most touristed.

Since I had kept only half a day for a trip to the Tonle Sap lake and I didnt have sufficient information to go for an own excursion to the lake, I chose a local tour package from Tara River Boat (http://www.taraboat.com/). A half day tour from them cost us 27 USD/person (inclusive of hotel drop/pickup and lunch). The car picked us promptly from our hotel at 8am and we reached the Government checkpoint near the Chong Khneas floating Village (around 16km from the Siem Reap town). After passing through the checkpoint, we boarded a smaller boat from the jetty which took us through the Chong Khneas floating village. The village is said to be inhabited by more than 7000 people (mostly Khmer and Vietnamese) most of whom are engaged in fishing. Apart from the floating houses, you will find a floating Catholic Church, Basketball court, a school, a restaurant cum shop with a crocodile farm and people on boats either selling vegetables or merchandise and some kids even with snakes (making money from tourists from photo souvenirs).
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We finally boarded the larger Tara Boat which is a stationary boat on the edge of the village with a great view of the massive Tonle Sap lake, the village and the flooded forests. We were served an early lunch around 10:30am. We left the Tara boat around 11:30am and were dropped at the hotel around noon. Overall the trip was very relaxing after a full day tour of the Angkor Archaeological Park the previous day and gave us an insight into the local Cambodian life.

Posted by arunbaliga 18:06 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap tonle_sap floating_village chong_khneas Comments (0)

Off to Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia

- With information on flights to Siem Reap from Bangalore and details on Cambodian e-Visa

sunny

Flight related information:
There is currently no direct flight connectivity between India and Siem Reap. The fastest and most inexpensive way to fly to Siem Reap is via transit through Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi Airport). Bangkok Airways operates 5 flights on everyday of the week and is the only air carrier connecting Thailand with Siem Reap. Another option is via Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Budget carrier Air Asia has a daily flight whereas the full service carrier Malaysia Airlines operates 3 flights per week (Sun, Wed & Fri - each returning the same day). However, do note that Air Asia operates from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) whereas Malaysian national carrier operates from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Don't worry about moving between these 2 airports though. There is a fast automated train linking the two.
Superfast connectivity between LCCT and KLIA

Superfast connectivity between LCCT and KLIA

Another possible way is via Singapore (through the Singapore Airlines subsidiary Silk Air and the budget carrier Jet star). However, the Singapore option is more expensive than Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur if travelling from India.

We chose Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia Airlines) for our transit.

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

On Transit @ KLIA

Information on Cambodia E-Visa:
For Cambodian visa, you have 3 options - apply via the embassy, e-Visa or Visa-on-arrival.
a) Embassy: If applying from India, the Cambodian Embassy is located in New Delhi and there are no consulates in any other Indian city. Tourist visa charge is INR 1800/person. It takes 4-5 working days for processing. So, this option is expensive as far as cost is concerned and time consuming too.

b) Visa-on-Arrival: If flying to Cambodia, visa on arrival is available at the International Airport in Siem Reap as well as the one in Phnom Penh. Visa charge = 20 USD/person. This is the most inexpensive option. After arrival, you can go straight to the visa-on-arrival counter, fill up the form and get a tourist visa. There are enough counters in Siem Reap Airport and I haven't observed any long queues when I visited. However, I had used the e-Visa option for my travel since that will ensure that you have a visa before you arrive and you can go straight to the e-Visa (also acts as the immigration) counter.

c) e-Visa: e-Visa can be applied from the Cambodian Government website: .The visa charge is 25 USD/person and you get the visa within 3 days via email (I got mine the very next day). Take at least a couple of printouts of the e-visa (note: It is not necessary to stick/staple the visa to your passport). Validity is 3 months for the visa with length of stay being 30 days. On arrival at Siem Reap Airport, go straight to the e-visa counter (which also serves as the immigration counter), provide your passport and the e-Visa printout. Keep your hotel booking confirmation (if any) and return flight ticket handy incase it is demanded. However, no such documents were asked in my case. A scan of both your palms is done at the counter (and you need to do the same when you exit). And after that, just collect your bags and exit the airport.

There is no need to carry any Cambodian Riels as part of your forex since USD is the defacto currency in Siem Reap.

The airport (IATA code: REP) is fairly small but neat and beautifully built based on Khmer architecture and not crowded. There are taxis as well as tuk-tuks available outside the airport. Taxis charge around 8-10 USDs to go to the town whereas the tuk tuk charge is around 5 USD. There are no meters and a flat rate system exists for the standard routes. You can however pre-book your transfer with the hotel at similar rates.
Siem Reap International Airport

Siem Reap International Airport

Siem Reap International Airport

Siem Reap International Airport

Siem Reap International Airport

Siem Reap International Airport


Siem Reap International Airport

Siem Reap International Airport

-- Arun Baliga
Date of travel: 15th January 2012
Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Posted by arunbaliga 16:49 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia siem_reap rep siem_reap_airport Comments (0)

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