Sri Lanka’s reputation as one of the world’s best holiday destinations is absolutely deserved. We’ve got friendly locals, stunning vistas, vast biodiversity, and a beautiful range of natural wonders within a relatively tiny area. This reputation has led to an influx of tourists and expats (like myself) who keep the Lankan flag flying, mostly via barrages of photographic updates (also like myself).
We scrolled through Instagram’s #srilanka and noticed some overarching trends (most of which we’ve done ourselves tbh). Apart from the unavoidable photos of coconut trees leaning over beaches or someone’s girlfriend’s bikini-clad bum leaning over beaches, these are our top 10 clichés:
1. Elephant Riding
Yes, elephants are essentially the cutest things ever. They’re friendly, they’re intelligent, they’re wonderfully social – all good reasons to not sit on them. It’s less about them having to bear your weight (not really an issue for this beasts, they work out brah), but the entire system which supports it. They spend their lives being trained and prodded, to act as props for photoshoots, novelty rides, or even for Peraheras (religious processions). The poor pachyderms are overworked, exhausted, and sometimes hungry. It also promotes elephants being bred in captivity (luckily elephants being taken from the wild is a lot rarer here than in say, Thailand).
If you do love these gentle giants, we’d suggest some alternatives like the Millenium Elephant Foundation that offers “”elephant foraging””, or simply going on safari during “”The Gathering”” in Minneriya during the dry season. It’s a beautiful way to see them interact socially, play, flirt and eat.
This topic’s been discussed pretty heavily of late. If you live here you’ve definitely come across bunches of young foreigners at bars etc on a summer “”volunteer”” program somewhere in Maharagama or down south. We’re not saying people trying to help the disadvantaged is a bad thing, we’re just saying a lot of these voluntourism programs cost a lot of money, and perhaps aren’t as useful as they appear. For some, it just appears to be a cute photo opportunity to update your Tinder profile. We totally appreciate people investing their time and effort to help the disadvantaged here, but we’re less appreciative of the “”hay girl i’m a humanitarian. unrelatedly also look at my pecs plz”” types.
3. Prayer Hands in Front of Buddha Statues
For a lot of foreigners not in the know, Buddha statues are just a chic accessory at hip bars or lounges, and the stuff of sexy sunset music. In Sri Lanka, Buddhism has massive sway over some 70% of the population, and it’s taken pretty dang seriously. Quirky photos doing prayer hands in front of statues aren’t kosher for a few reasons : 1. It’s seen as disrespectful to have your back facing the Buddha 2. Photos are generally forbidden inside temples 3. It’s a bit of a mockery if you’re a non-believer.
4. Sitting on the Footboard of a Local Train
If you’re heading up to the Hill Country, taking the local train is a truly beautiful experience. You’ll wind through picturesque plantations, breathing in the fresh air and chugging along with some disinterested locals. Taking that quintessential photo on the floor/ footboard of the train however, artlessly looking away from the camera as wind blows in your hair, is pretty dangerous. Safety standards aren’t high here but common sense should be.
5. Tuk Tuk Photo
Driving a tuk tuk, getting a tuk tuk ride, photo of the back of your tuk tuk driver’s head, tuk tuk stickers, it’s all been done. To be honest, this may never get old. It’s an established, and wonderful cliché.
6. Monkeys & Snakes
Much like the elephants, these poor creatures have been trapped in a life of servitude and dependancy, tamed and trapped to look exotic for photos. You’ll see a lot of touts with monkeys or snakes in tow, especially down south. The fewer people take these pictures, the less the viability of this awful trade will be. Go to Singharaja or any suburban Rajagiriya backyard for your monkey/snake/kabaragoya fix.
7. Photos of Rustic Life
The sheer explosion of colour in Sri Lanka looks stunning with a strategically chosen Instagram filter. However, we’re a little sceptical as to whether taking photos of old people, wrinkles and all, toiling over their everyday jobs is really necessary or polite. This is probably Steve McCurry’s fault. Except we’re not award winning NatGeo photographers, we’re entitled youth with iPhones. Extra minus points if you hashtag #werk
8. Tea Pluckers
Barring beaches, this is probably one of the most prolific shots you’d find of Sri Lanka. The vivid green backdrop of tea bushes paired with the toothy grins of the tea pluckers is impossible to resist. They usually seem really happy about being photographed, so we don’t see what the harm in this is at all. Except if you stop traffic on windy hill country roads to get this, then it’s dangerous because truck drivers will beat you.
9. Yoga Positions in Random Places
Random place like the beach, Sigirya, Arpico. Yoga is great and all, but in reality we doubt you’re doing yoga in a muddy forest clearing whilst someone is taking photos. Also if you’re doing it on cliffs, mountains, and whatnot, this could be disastrous. Our emergency response is not commendable so check yoself before you wreck yoself.
10. Stilt Fishermen
This is actually one of the best scams we’ve got going. Stilt fishing used to be a legit thing back in the day, but now most stunning stilt fishing shots you see at sunset are almost entirely for photo ops. This started happening when the fishermen realised they got more money hustling tourists for a bit of cash for a photo rather than the process of actually catching fish and selling it. Pretty dang smart.
Honourable Mention : Photos of monks, girls in bikinis facing away from the camera, or sunsets.
Basically, you do you. Just remember to be respectful and safe, and keep #srilanka alive!