The Crime of Being a Local Traveler in Sri Lanka

We started this blog – and our Instagram (well, that was the first) as a hobby. A passion. “Hey, what about posting nine photos under one theme? Nine bicycles? Nine cakes? Nine kids? Nine everythingggg,” That was Nathan. “We ain’t gonna have nine photos of every this and that, sweetie,” That was Zin. And she had brains. She sure did! So we settled with three photos and started posting three photos under one theme. Three photos of street food. Three photos of Galle Face Green. That’s how it started. A passion. A truly beautiful passion to take pictures, write small, long, stupid and sometimes witty captions.

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Flower haul, Diyatha Uyana Park, Battaramulla

Then it grew a little and we did learn so many photography tips and learnt to turn colors into words and salt water into ink. Someone rightly said, every school doesn’t have a roof under it. The best schools are often streets. Alleys. The 4am hikes to see your dream sunrise and beach days with your bff. And along the way, we got lucky and got a few complimentary stays in exchange for photos and write-ups. Thanks everyone for hosting us. We haven’t yet made a single rupee from NatnZin and tonight, we both had a discussion about the future of our blog. The thing is natnzin is, still, a passion. A hobby. It will always remain the same. We will always cherish taking public buses to a hidden beach. We’ll always fonder being backpackers and discovering pretty unique places.

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Cargills (Ceylon) Building, Colombo

Before we get all lovey dovey and turn this into a 21st century French love story, here’s what we actually experience being natnzin, and running this blog.

We were lucky to build a small community who helps and encourages us to travel. Most of the hostels we wrote to were hella nice, super friendly and we are glad we could collaborate with them. When you get a complimentary stay (read: this is actually not complimentary. You offer them your work and that’s money in a parallel world), you always have doubts about – how am I going to get treated? Should I behave in a more formal way or should I just be me and kiss my boyfriend under a starry sky? Hell yeah, don’t hesitate to kiss your boyfriend under a starry sky or feed each other just because you didn’t pay money to stay. Be you. Just you. So, sugar plum, how are you going to get treated? That’s totally down to the qualities of each man and woman in each and every place. Nathan made friends with Caitlyn in Evergreen Colombo – to them, what we did was amazing. They welcomed us and treated us the same way and maybe that’s pretty much why we sometimes drop by with a cheesecake for Caitlyin. When Zin first met Fernanda, she really bonded with her. Although she lately left Hangover Hostels, she still helps us to write little things we missed about the comfy little hostel. When we went to Fort Bazaar for a great great great lunch, we were treated so amazingly well. It was all the same with their sister hotel – The Wallawwa. There are some other places where we were welcomed and treated as same as the other guests. Back of Beyond properties and Villa 92 in Kandy are some. No, Kikili House, we didn’t forget you.

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The quirky Owl and the Pussycat Hotel in Talpe, Galle

So what’s bad? First, let us tell you the worst side of being a local traveler in Sri Lanka. These are our real experiences. We first got rejected by X hostel in Kandy because, WE. WERE. LANKANS. On 31st night in ’15, we got rejected by the Y hostel in Colombo. Zin really didn’t have a place to stay that night. Thanks Clock Inn Colombo and Drift BnB for your couches. We love hostels so it kinda hits us when people reject us for the crime of being Lankan. Being local. Owning a Sri Lankan ID or a Sri Lankan passport. Mister, we would do anything to exchange this third world passport for a first world treasure book so WE’LL ACTUALLY GET TO TRAVEL THE WORLD WITHOUT SO MUCH HASSLE.

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Vegetable stall in Diyatha Uyana Park, Battaramulla.

So what’s worse, Nathan? And Zinara? (Does she even write blogs?) – It’s pretty bad here, sugar plum. The crime of being local continues. One day, we were roaming around the Galle Fort Streets. That was back then when Nathan used to look a bit Indian – he lived five years in India, Chennai – where he calls home. One lady from one hotel staff was kind enough to greet him with a smile and let him know the rates. As soon as she saw Zin who looked like your typical Sri Lankan girl wearing a pair of flip-flops, she gave the look and ignored both of us, “No, nothing here.” Once we were checking out this one hostel in Colombo, they thought we were looking for a room for a few hours. “So what the heck?” Fernanda – the ex-manager of Hangover Hostels Colombo tells Zin. “What’s their problem if two locals are taking a room? They pay the same money.

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Views from the Owl and the Pussycat Hotel in Talpe, Galle.

What’s worst, you two? Not being white. That’s the worst. If being local is one major crime you did, not being white is your other crime. Many a times, the same people who greeted a white skin person with a big grin haven’t even looked at us for a few seconds. Once we were in this fancy hotel for a fancy party. The Sri Lankan manager came and told Nathan, “I don’t want people to see you wearing your cheap shorts.” The shorts were not even cheap. Is 70$ cheap to you for a pair of shorts? No. Not to us. We were at the party in exchange for a few photos and that, sugar plum, was how we got treated. Only our clothes looked shady to him even when white people were wearing pretty much the same thing.

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Kala Pola (Art Street) in Colombo.

In Sri Lankan tourism, if you’re white, everything is fine. If you’re a brown local, nothing is quite the same.

We get really sad (read: angry) being turned down for being local, being brown and for the way we dress. And it’s often/always by our own people. The locals ignore us. They turn us down. They give the look. Pretty much in every nice hotel/hostel experience we had, the other party was always from a faraway land. It was always a foreigner who knew how to treat everyone equally. It was mostly a white person with a kind heart who greeted us.

We hope for a day where there’s no ‘foreigners only’ boards in the island. A place where local tourists are also welcomed the same way. A place where home feels home, not somewhere two three oceans away.


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We are Nathan and Zinara, documenting our experiences and stories for a lifestyle full of love and adventure. Currently based in Sri Lanka.

17 thoughts on “The Crime of Being a Local Traveler in Sri Lanka

    1. Yes, it’s so frustrating to see discrimination against your very own people. We’ve heard stories about the discrimination against your own in other parts of the world, too. It’s sad , considering how beautiful the country is. Are you guys in Singapore?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, was lovely to see your message. Would surely drop by again. That’s something we love about Villa 92! Thanks so much. All the best for your hostel 🙂 Nathan and Zinara

      Like

  1. I had this happen to me!!! I am Australian (born and raised) of Sri Lankan decent, and a number of times I have been ignored when others have gotten service. In fact I stayed at a guesthouse where the owner said that I lied about being Australian and that he wouldn’t give locals a room. I couldn’t believe it – it wasn’t until my other (white) foreign friends joined me that he warmed up a little.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That seems really crazy! And i don;t understand the logic behind it. As you say, everyone pays the same price for the room anyway. Could it be that in some places they think foreign travellers are more likely to pay for extras?

    Like

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