First thing you need to think about is surely accommodation. When choosing the place for living it is better to base upon the following factors.
The longer you live here, the cheaper is one day of living for you. In case the terms are shorter than two weeks, maximum what you can get is some discount for daily rent of the room. Here a lot depends on a season, on a guest-house or a hotel occupancy and of course on your ability to bargain. If you are planning to spend up to one month on the island, then a better solution is to rent a house. It is also possible to rent a house for 2 weeks, but far not all housekeepers agree to that, and if the do they rise the price high.
A Hotel, a guest-house, a house. Guest-houses are always cheaper than hotels. And it does not mean absolutely that there will be less comfortable. It happens not so rarely when for a half-price of a hotel room you can find a guest-house with the same level of comfort. Surely, a hotel also has its pluses, but it is very much individually and depends solely on your demands. My recommendation is simple, do not trust anyone, just stay personally in a guest-house and make your own conclusion. Of course, if you got used to 5* hotel service then your way is straight to Bendota. This is the top resort city of Sri-Lanka with network of expensive hotels of good service. Though personally I am against this. First there is dirty, second you will simply live in manmade environment and definitely will not experience the spirit of the country. For such a recreation it is better to go to Turkey. There is cheaper, service is better and nearer to go.
A house is a good choice when you come for a month and longer. Also a house is very saving, in case you come in a big company, certainly if you can stand each other for a long time all together, sharing common fridge, kitchen and sitting-room. Here as during screening of astronauts crew you need to consider carefully the issues of compatibility.
Strange as it may seem for the first sight, but sometimes even a luxury villa may be more cost-effective that staying in a hotel. At average hotel price of $60 for a room, in case you need 6 rooms, it already makes $360, and for 10 days – even $3600. For such a money you can rent a villa with a pool and servants at the ocean’s coast, which will add flavour to your recreation.
Number of people or necessary rooms if there comes a company.
You see yourself, the more people, the lower price you can get at a guest-house, but in this case I definitely recommend to use pre-booking to have certain amount of rooms exactly where you want. If it is in low season time lasting from April till November, you still have a chance to find something on site, but in high season this may become a problem.
Remember that in Sri-Lanka, in spring of 2009 finished the war and in this connection the number of tourists dramatically increased. Already now, in August, 2009, by opinion of local old hands, despite of low season the number of tourists visually is more than last year, even in time of the crisis. Well and of course if you go in a big company, then even for 2 weeks it is worth renting a house and hiring servants. If you split this amount among all the company you will get a price much more profitable than anywhere else. For instance, a house for 16 people.
The distance to the sea inevitably effects the price. First line, this is the view of the ocean, is always more expensive. Here it is up to your decision to pay 5-10 dollars a day for the first line or to walk. I will add only that some tourists noted constant roar of the ocean is tiresome. Sure this is a private business, tastes differ.
Conditioners de facto are installed in hotels. Many guest-houses also offer some rooms with conditioners. The explanation is very simple – price. First, it must be installed, second, it must be maintained, third it consumes much electricity. In Sri-Lanka electricity prices are the same as in Europe that is why if you choose a room with conditioning in the guest-house the price may be higher by 5-15 dollars a day. All the rooms, even in 7-dollar guest-houses are equipped with fans as a rule. In the beginning it may be unusual, but after some days your organism will adapt itself and you will feel yourself quite comfortable without a conditioner. Furthermore, this will be just for good for your organism. Because the difference between 34 degrees outside and 22 degrees in the room seriously impoverish your organism, and if you add here acclimatization stress you risk to spoil your rest due to a cold. But all this is a personal business.
You are sure that it is vital to have a room with TV, mini-bar, bath-room and 50 m2 big? Do not forget that you came to rest and to enjoy the island, not to watch soap-operas and measure the square of your apartments. Surely everyone have different perception of comfort, but believe me, the one who lives in more than comfortable house and rents the house in Sri-Lanka without conditioners and TV – it is undue here. It's already the third month when I do not have eyes in my plasma TV, and my children do not sit hours after hours at the Xbox. My opinion is that we just gained of it. Sometimes we gather the whole family and watch a downloaded movie on the computer. The joy of such viewing is incomparable to clicking 500 channels. This is like a movie brought to a village – a simple and great joy. To be fare I will note that sometimes I want all this comfort, but I came here not to rest, I am working here. Also the price may be influenced by presence of hot water supply. Without it by no means is cheaper. Cold water here is about 20-25 degrees. So you can wash yourself easily. People here manage with this. By the way the Singhalese are very neat. Much neater than Europeans. They take shower at any convenient chance, up to 4 times a day. Always in clean clothes. Even in the second class of a crowded train or bus nobody smells. Remember our overcrowded buses and trolleybuses? But still if your budget allows you it is better to have hot water. Summarizing, if fresh linen, clean shower and room is enough for you, then this also will save a penny for your budget.
I'll say immediately – you may save money by several times. For certain you know that food in Sri-Lanka, as by the way in most other Asian countries is very spicy. Plenty of spices and pepper make it practically impossible for eating by an average tourist. I will make a remark at once that I am speaking about tourists from Europe and Russia, the lands where spicy food is not an everyday thing. Local restaurants and cafes know it perfectly and use actively.
If you communicate with people constantly visiting Asian countries then most of them will advice you to try to get used to local food. And this has several reasons. First, what is most important for tourists caring about their budget – it is cheaper. Second, there are very few places where they can cook traditional for us food. I am not speaking now about restaurants in expensive hotels and just expensive restaurants. But this is an exception. Pork, beef – you better forget about them. In Sri-Lanka there is not any tough taboo on eating meat like is the fact for instance in India. On my question why you do not cook and do not eat meat I got the more than satisfactory answer – «If you kill mummy who will take care of her children, who will feed them with milk?». Chicken, fish, vegetables. This is what they can cook here. National food – rice with curry. Curry is in the essence a sauce with chicken, fish or vegetables. Veg curry is most widespread, it is cheaper and a lot of Singhalese are vegetarians or sometimes vegetarians. I am writing consciously:Singhalese, as Muslims and Tamils eat meat with zest. In the East, where they are the majority, I could even eat some nourishing soup of beef legs. This soup is cooked for about 8 hours and in the essence it is hot and spicy aspic. Still according to the words of my Singhalese friend, who himself is a big lover of it, this is the only place where you can try it. But let’s come back to saving money on food. All restaurants in resort cities always will be more expensive. I suspect that they all are in cahoot with each other, though honestly it is very much explicable. Rent fees are higher, a more or less trained waiter with conversing minimum of English, German and Italian costs more. A chef cooking European food – also. This forms the prices. Of course they are not fatal. In the average 5-7 dollars for a chicken with chips and salad. 2 dollars for beer, 8-10 dollars for a portion of shrimps. About 15 dollars for a lobster. But these are tourist prices. My elder son is 14 years. He is a tall guy a bit shorter than one meter and ninety with 47 foot size. His specific feature is - he wants to eat all the time. Growing organism, fresh air, outside all the time, in a word, energy is needed. 10 dollars in café is a minimum budget to let him eat head off. Periodically he helps me at work and together with two my Singhalese employees he goes around guest-houses and takes pictures. In such trips he always eats in cafés for natives, which are squillions in all villages and along the roads. Within 2 months he completely adapted himself to local cuisine and with pleasure eats rice with curry and also may swallow a chilly pepper. So each time he just eats head off in local snack bars and as a rule it costs 100 rupees, which is less than 1 dollar. Do you feel the difference? A plateful of rice, selection of several curries and fish as a rule. We ourselves step by step got used and buy with big pleasure kotu, hopos and other local courses. They are tasty, nourishing, spicy and cheap. Remembering myself during the first visit to Sri-Lanka I recall with what disgust and antipathy we looked at roadside stalls, where something was cooked. Salesmen with buckets of some glop, which they baked some cap-shaped things of, and which appeared to be a hopos, a tasty pan-cake, eaten with pleasure by everyone including children. Optional is a baked inside egg. Strange glop of plenty of ingredients, cut with two huge knives on a big hot metal leaf appeared to be the most delicious course – kotu. My favourite, by the way. But when you are on the way and you are hungry, you drop into a roadside café and feast. There is put a huge plate of rice on the table, 4-5 kinds of curry, chicken, popadam – local chips. And you eat, as much as you can, eat head off and pay 6 bucks for 4 pax. And you know, nobody ever has got any stomach upset, poisoning and other things like that. Most expensive fruit of course is at beach salesmen's. Go to the city, reach the road, find a fruit store and buy fruit there. Do not trust finding a fruit store to tukers, in most cases he will bring you to his places, where he gets maximum kickback from your purchases. Even after, coming without him, be sure that his commission will be put into your price.
Alcohol as a matter of fact is a separate issue in Sri-Lanka. There are many norms defining its right location, as the consequence there is only one shop for each small town. As a rule it is a grilled cabin in country-house style. Beer also refers to alcohol and is not sold in common shops. In Sri-Lanka as it used to be in the Soviet Union, return bottles cost good money. Buying beer keep the receipt. Then you will be able to return the bottles. If the receipt is lost then you can just exchange the bottles 1:1 for full ones and pay the rest. Imported alcohol costs approximately the same as in our region. The choice is not big, but variable. Champagne is most expensive. Local drinks have quite an acceptable quality. For my taste it is Double Distilled Arrack (or as they call it DD Arrack) and White Label Arrack. Local kinds of beer Lion Lager and Carlsberg of local production also are quite good. Local lemonades are very sugared. This concerns also Cola, Sprite, Fanta. Sour lemonade just is absent. Still you can order in any cafe or make yourself lime juice – several limes pressed into still or gas water. Sugar added up to taste. If you cook yourself then just ask a local tuker where is the nearest network store Food City, Keels, Co-oop city. Their assortment differs a bit, so if you have a chance visit all of them. Very often there is a problem of goods delivery to stores. Do not be shy, clear when delivery is expected, get up earlier as in old good times, and go shopping. Good meat, milk, ham – such products are not always available.
Certainly if you are confused with left-side driving you can rent a motorbike or a scooter. I did not risk. The cheapest way is going by bus. Bus routes cover all the country and allow to move around it very cheap. In tandem with railway and its more than democratic prices you can travel around all the country. For moving around your city and going shopping use a tuk-tuk. If you drive a lot you better employ a tuker permanently and fill up with petrol. You will get a tuker within $180 a month, ready to work for you every day any time. Just do not forget to control petrol consumption. In case you need little driving then just study the prices for your itineraries and before getting into a tuk name your price. If he does not agree – his problems, you can catch another one. After 8 p.m. it becomes a problem to find a tuk, that is why if you plan to go somewhere and to stay late I recommend to make a deal beforehand with a tuker who picks you up and drives you back. I hope very much that all written above will help you to spend your time on this splendid island with more comfort and profit. I am always glad to receive references and comments.