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Hijabs and Sri Lanka

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This morning at sunrise I sat down to my computer to start my work for the day. It’s what I do every morning before the kids wake up. The first thing I do is check my emails, messages, data and comments. Some good news, some bad, a couple of lovely comments and readers asking for help, then BAM! this delight hit me like a baseball bat to the head. I seemed to be being blamed for a Muslim lady reader’s bad experience with Sri Lanka hijab wearing. It upset me a lot but I feel it’s worth sharing her experience here as all experiences are valid.

A Reader’s Bad Experience With Wearing a Hijab in Sri Lanka

“We took our boys to Kandy in Sri Lanka this weekend, largely because of the rave reviews I read here and at 1 or 2 other places.

I have to say, we HATED our experience there. The best I can say is that we learned a few things about ourselves and what we can and cannot do as a family.

It was hot, and air conditioning was minimal. As adults we could take it and our preschooler was excited enough not to mind, but the baby could not understand why he was uncomfortable and cried non stop.

The roads were INSANE. I have a bone to pick with any travel bloggers who think that this is a safe place to travel with kids. We had to deal with single lane roads being used for dual carriage purposes in opposite directions with hairpin bends and no mirrors covering the blind spots. We saw two head on collisions while we were there.

The people were not welcoming at all; in fact we found them aggressive and unwilling to respond. They treated us like we were there to steal something. E.g., we went to the Pinnawala elephant orphanage and afterwards there is a point where you cross the road where there are a few shops and a couple of restaurants overlooking a riverfront where the elephants come to bathe. When we tried to cross the road, a guard asked us for tickets to prove that we had been to the orphanage.

My husband found 1 adult and 1 child ticket but lost one adult ticket, and the two tickets we had were not proof enough for them. They asked our driver if we had been and he said yes, but they didn’t believe him either. Then they asked to see pictures of us at the orphanage and only then did they let us through.

Also, we believe in travel as education so I had prepped my preschooler about the Esala Perehera festival and the temple of the tooth in Kandy. We have two of the three books you mentioned for kids in your blog and then some. We made a lapbook and everything.

When we got there, they didn’t let me in. I am a Muslim woman and I cover my head: generally you must have a bared head in a Buddhist temple but I had read online (and experienced personally while visiting Buddhist temples in Thailand) that they let you in if your head covering is for religious purposes.

Not so in Kandy. And the worst part is that they were aggressive about it. When the woman in charge of females entering the temple told me I had to uncover my head and I explained myself, she still said no. So I said that’s okay I won’t go then. That should have been enough but then a man went up to my husband and told him to tell me to take off my head scarf.

I could see my husband struggling to remain calm, as it is unacceptable in our culture for another man to come and tell a Muslim man to get his wife to uncover herself. We got away before the situation escalated, but it was deeply disappointing.

To add to all of this, we have various allergies as a family. They didn’t understand us at the hotel and I was up half the night sick with an allergic reaction. Thank God I had taken food for my boys with me. There was just one chef who we found serendipitously who saved the situation for us. I will add a caveat to this though: their treatment of western travelers was very different from their treatment of us. Maybe that’s where the magic lies?
Never, never, never again. HATED it”

Thanks for sharing.

I’m sorry you had a bad time in Kandy and Sri Lanka.

But to blame the travel bloggers? Me in particular?

Is that fair?


I thought about the morality of sharing this comment in a post and came to the unavoidable conclusion that as the lady shared this comment in a public place, my website, it was fair to share. Obviously her name and email address aren’t here.

Yes, We Recommend Sri Lanka and Always Will

We travel bloggers usually report on our own experiences because that’s all we CAN report on. We love Sri Lanka and have been visiting with our children for the last 3 years. The kids have spent 2 months total there now and when we asked them last time where they wanted to go, straight away they said ” Sri Lanka”.

We always have a great time and have found the Sri Lankan people to be some of the kindest, most honest, most friendly, but not pushy, people on the planet. That’s something we hear a lot from other travellers, how lovely Sri Lankans are.

I do recommend Sri Lanka as a family travel destination, because I believe it is. In our experience. You will find mention of the large waves and strong rips on our site, these are not beaches for small children or weak swimmers.

You will also find mention of food issues, sometimes it’s hard to find what you want in Sri Lanka. I imagine travelling with food allergies is very difficult anywhere, I know I found it very hard to travel vegan, but nobody in our family has serious allergies so I don’t know.

Maybe the roads are a little “thrilling” but nothing compared to India, Laos, Nepal, Vietnam or even family-favourite Thailand. Traffic and driving conditions in Sri Lanka are fine by us and we happily take public buses ( and trains) everywhere.

I am extremely honest, I never write a good review where a bad one is deserved. But I am not you, what I  think is great you could hate, what you love may not be for me. That should go without saying.

Checking Out Some Destination Information is Vital

Sri Lanka is a hot country, that information is very easy to get, anywhere. I think I actually mention specific temperatures on our Sri Lanka travel home page, if I don’t, I give you links to sites with factual information.

If you are sensitive to heat you may struggle. If you need a place with air con, you’d need to find one. If the air con in your chosen accommodation doesn’t work, then you’d need to find different accommodation. It’s very easy to do.

I , as a travel blogger, can help you with the process of finding rooms, but I can’t be held responsible for your choice or failure to act when things didn’t turn out as you hoped.

This is one of the reasons we like to go knocking on doors to find a place to stay rather than booking ahead. It means we know exactly what we’re getting for our money and we know our room suits our requirements.

In our experience, we’ve never needed air-con in Kandy ( it’s cooler up there) and only rarely take rooms with air-con anywhere in Sri Lanka. We’ve spent years living in the tropics and we’re all comfortable in the heat, in jeans, every day. But we’re not you.

The Temple of The Tooth and Hijab

The issue with the hijab at The Temple of The Tooth is an interesting one. I’d never even considered that problem as obviously, I don’t wear a hijab. I do always take off my hat out of respect, even if not asked. I don’t like taking off my hat, sweaty hat hair isn’t a good look, but I totally understand that your religious requirement is a much bigger issue.

I Googled, it took me about 5 seconds. “Can Muslim women wear a hijab to The Temple of the Tooth”. The answer, a very clear no. Regulations are regulations. Just as we don’t wear shorts or strappy tops to just about every religious site in the world, this site requires all female heads to be uncovered. Sure it’s annoying, there are many, many rules and regulations around the world that are annoying, for white people, brown people, people with purple polka dots, everyone. But I don’t make the rules.

I’m sorry you couldn’t get in. Your two cultures have different rules and just as you can’t understand theirs, they don’t understand yours. For the record, we haven’t been inside that temple since 2003, it’s way too expensive.

There have been a flood of posts about white privilege lately from travel bloggers. I guess this is an example, maybe. It’s not something I want to get involved with but there are plenty of negatives and disadvantages of travelling while white, as well as some advantages. Derek shared this post on privilege this week.

I will say that I have come across negative reports on treatment of Indian travellers in Sri Lanka ( I think the Muslim lady may be Indian but I don’t know). It’s not unheard of. I know of 1 Sri Lankan tourist restaurant that refuses to serve non white customers and I’ve read-up on the situation extensively. Sorry we’ve never mentioned it in a post, it wasn’t something we felt we should cover.

I never enthuse about travelling with babies. It’s not something we did, the most we managed was camping trips in Australia ( which were hot, nappy-ridden hell) and family visits to Australia and London, which were OK but not very adventurous.

Some travel bloggers recommend travel with babies, I don’t, particularly not the sort of travel we do. We really started travelling seriously with the kids when my younger son was 6, that was our choice based on previous experience of long term and adventure travel. We knew it would be hard on the baby and on us.

Now they’re 11 and 9 we’ll take them just about anywhere. We travel to destinations appropriate to age, that is one of the reasons we only just took them to see Everest. We have a post on best age to travel with kids.

So Please Don’t Blame Me, The Travel Blogger

I think this lady just needed to vent and I hope feels much better now she’s let loose. I’m a woman too, I have the same strong emotions and bad days ( to be perfectly honest, I have more bad days than good since menopause started shredding my brain).

I’m sorry she had a bad trip. But don’t blame me because it’s really not my fault. I am a human being, I have feelings and lashing out like this at me is hurtful. I really don’t think anything this lady could have read on my site contributed to her unfortunate family holiday. If it had I would have changed the wording or somehow rectified my mistake.

Don't blame the bloggers. If it all goes wrong, and you used our recommendations, we're sorry. But it's not our fault.

It’s very obvious here that this reader and I see the world differently, my fabulous and her hell coincide alarmingly. What do you think? Do you think travel bloggers paint unrealistically rosy pictures? Or do you think the reader should work hard at finding a blogger they resonate with, somebody with the same outlooks, expectations and ideas of what makes ” good” travel? Or maybe readers shouldn’t put any reliance on third party reviews and advice at all. Let me, us, all of us travel bloggers, know. Thanks.

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Nengti Rasjid

Sunday 1st of April 2018

I am a Muslim lady with hijab. I am at the moment in Sri Lanka. It was my mistake that I didnt take time to find out about temple in Sri Lanka. I assumed its will be like in Indonesia, you can go to any temples with hijab on as long as you are decent and modest in your clothing. I respect that and don’t make a big fuss. But then I saw some Buddhis put white scarf or cloth on their head entering the temple. Then I started feeling uneasy. Oh well this is an expensive experience.

Nada Ismail

Tuesday 16th of January 2018

Hi. Today i had the very same experience. I purchased some lotus flowers from the stalls outside the temple in order to place them inside but i was then told to take off my hijab for i was not allowed to enter with my head covered although i did see some people entering the temple with hats on. At the very beginning I did take it personally and that they were just saying that because they don't want Muslims to enter especially from their rude behaviour at the entrance. Only when our driver called his friend who then told us that it was not because of the Hijab but because of specific religious regulations did we understand what happened. Yes, i was disappointed for not being able to see what was inside but i wasn't at all offended. I didn't see the rules as being against any religion or sect but rather a manifestation of Buddhism. Such rules must be respected just the way we expect others to respect us and our religious beliefs. About the bloggers, I don't believe it's their fault. Bloggers usually deliver their experience and they just can't be 100% through with the rules of the destinations they visit. We do hope that we will be able to access the Buddhist huge statues in other places than Kandy.

Alyson Long for World Travel Family

Tuesday 16th of January 2018

Thanks for commenting Nada and sorry you couldn't take your hijab off to go in. To be honest, you didn't miss much, it's not that spectacular and it's over-priced. I wonder how you'd manage anywhere really, we always take off our hats to enter any temple, particularly in Thailand, although I don't remember visiting very many Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. You should be OK with Hindu temples I think as Hindu women often cover their heads, but I'm guessing, I can't really remember. Go to the Kandy Devales instead, they're steps away from the Temple of the Tooth and free.

Melinda L Clayville

Monday 24th of April 2017

Thanks for this post. I feel a constant pull between writing what I think will be pleasing for people to hear and writing what I truly feel. I try to stay true. Thank you for being authentic and real. All the time we have people telling us all kinds of reasons not to go to different places around the world but I feel like I need to experience them for myself, with a few exceptions. There are some situations that may or not be foreseeable, but may need to be experienced.

Alyson Long World Travel Family Blog

Monday 24th of April 2017

Totally! Always find out for yourself. We don't do a whole lot of research to be ones, we wing it, but if you're picky or have exacting needs, the more research and planning the better.


Sunday 25th of December 2016

*sigh* I'm sorry you had this experience. Clearly, this traveler did not take time to do even the skimpiest of research and paid the price. But, more interesting than the rest, to me, is that she was deeply offended by being asked to uncover her head....she surely can appreciate the deep beliefs of she has them herself. Part of traveling is to understand other cultures and to understand other people. You can't just have to have an open mind as well. I don't think you did anything wrong.

Derek Freal

Monday 16th of May 2016

Really, there have been a flood of posts about white privilege recently? Had no idea. Just had some stuff I wanted to get off my chest. Anyway, great post and I completely concur. Our job as travel bloggers is to be honest....but once in a while people (even us) have a bad experience somewhere that 90% of everyone else loves. It happens. That's why travel is the only multi-trillion dollar international industry that is entirely opinion based.

But when you don't like somewhere, the point is not to cast blame but rather to realize *why* you don't like it. That way you can avoid those locations/situations in future trips ;)


Monday 16th of May 2016

Hi, Yep, I don't like Malaysia, it's just not for me, it's too Western, too much like the UK, too normal. It's just not the sort of place I choose to go. I like places that are as "different" as possible. Plenty of people love it. Where was I going with this...can't remember. Anyway, yes, I've seen 2 or 3 lately, and had comments on the site about it. Somebody said one of my posts was the " whitest thing he'd ever read"...whatever.

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