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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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

22 thoughts on “Hijabs and Sri Lanka”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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.

  4. *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 others…as she has them herself. Part of traveling is to understand other cultures and to understand other people. You can’t just go..you have to have an open mind as well. I don’t think you did anything wrong.

  5. 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 😉

    • 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.

  6. That’s unfortunate to hear especially about a place that you enjoy going too. I think you handled it in a very graceful manner.

  7. I actually found both this post and Hijab ladys letter to you very interesting reading! And its great that you acknowledged that she was probably letting off steam as that’s what i thought when i was reading her story (of course its easier to have perspective when I’m not the one feeling under attack!). Its just really great to get 2 such different perspectives and experiences out of the same place. I personally resonate with your blog as I’m coming from a similar background & situation (white vegetarian female with 2 boys who loves travel in S.E.Asia etc) but it was educational to have a walk in the shoes of this lady. Personally when i look up sites like TripAdvisor i skim down for comments from people who are from my country first because even if they are more or less ‘fussy’ than me (for want of a better word!) i can get a clearer idea of what the actual conditions are, as we’re looking from the same benchmark as to what we’re used to in terms of cleanliness, service etc in our own country.

  8. I can see it’s upsetting but honestly as I was reading it, she really just needed to vent. I didn’t feel it was directed AT you but rather to share her experience and get it out there. Maybe you could respond back and suggest she start her own blog so she can help people be more aware of her findings in the country:) And to do her own research rather than only reading 1 or 2 blogs posts. We all have to do that because while I love your posts, what you guys think is great might be my idea of hell (cold mountains and dangerous runways come to mind LOL). And my mom and brother traveled around Sri Lanka two years ago for a few weeks. He loved it and my mom didn’t so much. She found the people to be rude to her and the food bad (she is well traveled so it isn’t that). But the kids and I still have it on our list — we know all our perspectives and expectations are different and the way we like to live while traveling differs.

    Menopause travel. The joys, the joys. Fun situations like spending two hours waiting outside a hotel in Bangkok for a motorbike carrier to deliver bioidentical hormone cream prescribed in Chiang Mai (no pharmacy there though) and then being told it has to be refrigerated! That can bring on mood swings!

  9. Interesting post; I don’t think it’s fair at all to blame bloggers for bad travel experiences. By nature, blogs are subjective and the content is opinion-based, people need to take into account that their own experiences may be wildly different. We’ve actually experienced the opposite of your comment a fair bit; for example when I published some stories about not liking Java in Indonesia, some people really didn’t like me writing negatively about the place. Blogs aren’t guide books though, they are spaces to talk about personal travel experiences, I think some people forget that! We will be interested to check out Kandy when we finally make it to Sri Lanka by the way 🙂

  10. Hi again Alyson,

    You are right that I needed to vent. And reading your blog post, I think you are right about not blaming you or the other travel bloggers whom i read before traveling to Kandy with our kids.
    Let me explain a little bit about our family: we come from very traditional backgrounds, but somewhere along the line we picked up the philosophy that it is important to step out of your comfort zone to grow as a human being. So we started talking about traveling to places that are new to us for educational purposes. However, not many people from our cultures do that with their kids so we turned to travel bloggers like you. I read your blog fairly frequently, day dreaming about this kind of travel, as well as some other family bloggers like where’s Sharon, my little nomads etc. after this trip, however, and after reading your post, I am analyzing what happened and why we reacted the way we did. I see now that our problem lay in being far too idealistic. Living in the Middle East, you’re not used to this kind of thing; but going to foreign places, we see more clearly that the world views us very differently from how they view you, or white travelers in general. So it wasn’t right to blame you, because I see that you wrote from your own experience, which will always be different from ours just because of who we are as people. Though I still hold that road conditions need to be expostulated on more clearly, I’m sorry if I gave you a bad start to your day.
    We probably hold some similar goals as mothers who want their children to learn and see the world. I did the best research I thought I could do before I went, but now I see I need to do better. In either case, even if we don’t agree on what constitutes a good trip, your blog is an inspiration and help to many. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, for which I am sorry.
    Take care

    • I love your spirit of adventure! And reading the post and your apology, I think you both hit the perfect notes: sometimes we need to vent but we are all human and can support each other as women and travelers.

      I’ve never been to Sri Lanka but I will say that traveling on ANY road in the developing world scares me more now that I have children than it ever did before. And unfortunately, the statistics back up my fear – road travel is the most dangerous part of our travel (even in the US). So I try to mitigate the dangers when I can. But unfortunately if I’m going to travel with my kids, I’m going to take some risks on the road.

      And I have no doubt people all over the world treat strangers differently based on their skin tone or religious dress. I’ve seen discrimination happen to my Japanese friend in Mali and African-American friends all over Southeast Asia. Not to mention in America 🙂 And I don’t know what the answer to that. Probably getting more travelers of color out there, which is why it’s awesome that you’re starting your kids off right. Maybe in 20 years my kids will meet yours while backpacking and they’ll be treated exactly the same.

      But on the temple thing, I think when someone says you can’t do something because of a sacred taboo, you shouldn’t do it. It’s just as religiously inappropriate for someone to demand to enter the temple with a hijab on as it is for anyone to tell anyone to take it off. Every sacred site is important to someone and I believe we should honor the sacredness even if we don’t feel it. As an aside, I do get disgruntled that these religious taboos affect women more than men, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic 🙂

      • Thank you Heather I hope our kids meet some day too.

        But just to clarify – I am a religious person and I understand how sacred each person’s belief is to them. What I was trying to say in my earlier post was and clearly didn’t say properly is this – when I asked to enter they said no. When I explained myself they said no. So I backed off; I went down the temple steps and called my husband down. They came after us, and a man accosted my husband and demanded I take my scarf off. I told him that it’s okay, as they felt it was disrespectful I would not enter. But like I said, they came after us and created an issue. I was disappointed about not being allowed into the temple, but this is where I got upset. Why be so aggressive when I had already backed away? That was my point

        • I appreciate you sharing your experience here. I love the worldtravelfamily blog too and plan many of my travels based on it.

          Its very sad that you had to experience such behavior because you are Muslim. It breaks my heart that this is a growing problem in my own home country, the US.

          Please keep traveling though. No one can learn to see us all as people until they meet and know us! I recently traveled to Istanbul and many Arab tourists were there enjoying the city, and it might be a much “easier” destination with a baby. Personally, I lived abroad even when my son was an infant, but we only did day trips until he was about 4. Just now at 5, we are taking bigger trips but still not full time. I cannot imagine a very young baby on a hot holiday. My son nursed until 3, so trying to nurse him and travel and deal with diapers and toddler brain (running all over like a mad man) might have done us both in!

          Again, thanks for your input and I hope you have better luck on your family’s next adventure!

  11. Just wanted to say, I love reading your blog and its great information. I would love to do what you do, i am now trying to convince my husband 🙂 but we have six children so I know our experience will be different to yours. So keep up the great job and I look forward to reading more about your adventures and making more of my own.

  12. I fully understand your reaction here Alyson and completely support your stance that a blogger or reviewer who writes honestly about their own experiences cannot be held responsible for someone else’s. We are following you as we are planning to take our 9 year old twins on an RTW trip next year. I love your posts because they are honest, informative and interesting. They, and you, inspire me. I hope to be able to learn from your family’s amazing experiences and advice to help us plan our own adventures. That said there are no guarantees that because you had an amazing time somewhere then so will everyone else! From my own experiences travelling, you read reviews and recommendations as part of your research. You then have to take into consideration your own requirements, expectations and points of comparison, whether they be practical, cultural or otherwise. We backpacked extensively through SE Asia for 9 months, on a budget, 15 years ago: we are not expecting it to be the same experience with 9 year old twins. We have to complete our own research and decide what may work for us. What suits your family may not suit mine but you are only in a position to write about your family and experiences not mine or our expectations. We all have a responsibility to make our own decisions and live our own adventures. It’s great to share these in an open and honest way but we should never blame others if they differ from what we expected. I look forward to sharing our experiences without prejudice or judgment. Deborah????

  13. I’m not sure where to start commenting…you make so many great points. We just moved to Sri Lanka and we all LOVE it. Do I get treated special for being white? Well it depends. Its quite uncomfortable to go eat rice and curry in a local “hotel” on my own. When we are all there together the staring is less intense. I have nothing to say about religious differences but really it is best to just do what you are asked if you want to visit a holy place. I am sorry this woman threw all her frustrations at you.

  14. You are not to blame! We unfortunately live in a culture where, if something goes wrong, we seek to find blame in someone else. We can all experience things completely differently and what is good for one is not good for another.
    As an aside we are starting to think about withdrawing our children from school for a year to go and see the world. Scary but exciting. I hope we pull it off! X

  15. That’s such a shame – I have such fond memories of Sri Lanka, although I did visit before my daughter, I know other families with young kids who’ve been and loved it too (and would go back wit her in a heartbeat). But as you say, it’s so personal – what’s right for one family/age doesn’t work for another and you can only write about your own experience plus any general advice that’s relevant. Something like food allergies is so specific, it would be almost impossible to cover without living it first-hand too. As a travel blogger, perhaps I’m biased and I know how much of a letdown it is to have a bad holiday, but it does seem unfair to blame you…


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