Tuk Tuk adventure down the East Coast of Sri Lanka

The most important reason for going from one place to another

is to see what’s in between.” 

We are on our way down the Eastern coast from Trincomalee to Arugam Bay, our destination for a few days. We have selected to travel by tuk tuk for the 3 hour car or bus drive, which we are very aware will no doubt take us closer to 6 hours.

Traveling by tuk tuk is a lot cheaper and more fun than a car and the benefit over a bus is that we can stop whenever we like and for as long as we like!

This is how we roll….

All we need is a tuk tuk driver with a good temperament and an ipod full of Tamil music. We find this in Ranjan Thankathurai ~ he is gregarious, playful and excited to be our tuk tuk “host” for the day!


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Ranjan’s tuk tuk ~ and we are off on our tuk tuk adventure.

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We stop along the way to look at and buy some sarongs. Ranjan is enjoying it all as much as we are!

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Outside a Hindu temple with a mom and her little boy.


In the current U.S. political climate where it is now (sadly) deemed acceptable to attack “muslims” at large, without any distinction between the (lethal) radical jihadist fringe minority and the (peaceful) 1.5Billion strong global muslim population, we feel it is particularly important for us to seize any opportunity to engage and learn from muslims along our travels.

As they say, travel is the best antidote against xenophobia.  So as our tuk tuk chugs along and we drive past a group of Muslim girls, Peta asks Ranjan to stop…

While in Chicago, we have been taken aback  when talking with liberal friends who express broad stroke animosity against muslim cultural practices.  Specifically, there seems to be a general belief that muslim women are forced into wearing black burkas. Let’s find out!

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Too good of an opportunity for a chat – Peta approaches a group of Muslim women at a bus stop.

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These girls are completely covered with black veils. One of them does not even have a small slit for her eyes. Turns out that they are all 16 years old and pre med students ~ bubbly and full of personality and enjoying that a foreigner has started a conversation with them. They tell Peta it’s the first time ever, to speak with a foreigner.  She asks them if they HAVE to (i.e. are forced to) wear a burka (head covering)? They crack up laughing and their answer is “Absolutely not! ” It is clearly their preferred choice and part of their religion to dress modestly.

They think my question is really funny!


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A tuk tuk in addition to providing adventure is also a very romantic way to travel ~ fresh air, changing new landscape every few minutes, good company, Tamil music.

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Stopping at Hindu temples along the way is all part of the fun…. This shrine has a Lord Ganesha curtain. Ganesha is a human body with the head of an elephant and represents the power of the Supreme Being that removes obstacles and ensures success in all endeavors. For this reason, Ganesha is worshipped first before any other religious spiritual or worldly activity can begin.

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The colors and 3D figures of gods used in Hindu Temples are surprisingly bright and “garish” especially in comparison to Buddhist temples.

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Hindu temples are designed to bring humans and gods together. Symbolism is used to express ideas and the beliefs of Hinduism. A temple will incorporate all elements of Hindu “cosmos”: presenting the good, the evil and elements of the essence of life and the Hindu sense of cyclic time.

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In Hinduism, each day of the week is devoted to a particular god. There are different rituals such as fasting and folklores, associated with each day as well. These small deities draped in cloth and flowers each represent a different day of the week.

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We stop to see what these women were selling on the side of the road. Best we could figure out was that it was some type of root vegetable, but we were not absolutely sure.

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Hindu mythology incorporates humans and animals, sometimes in one body. Above this temple doorway there is a god sitting on a peacock, with a serpent in front. All have significant mythology and belief structures.

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We stop frequently to say hi to people along the way. Rajhan is very taken with my ipad camera and uses it at every given opportunity to take a multitude of photos of us.


Stopping for gas along the way… Almost all Sri Lankan men in rural areas or smaller cities (than say Colombo) wear sarongs – every region favors a different length and color palette. This area most men seem to be in light pastel colored sarongs tied at the front to shorten to knee length (as opposed to full length.)

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Stopping to say hello to a Hindu family along one of the many bridges we drive across.

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Small towns along the way which clearly do not see many foreigners judging by the surprised reaction on many local faces at encountering us.

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After so many Hindu temples, we notice the shrine of a mosque at the end of this street…. Second opportunity for a chat?

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Ben gets a tour of the mosque by the Imam. (Women not allowed any further than where this photo was taken…)

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Outside the mosque the Imam welcomes one of his young students for his Koranic studies.


We have always been interested in Islam.

It started years ago with our first date, when we went into a mosque; then an eye opening discovery of Islamic calligraphy at the Paris Museum of Islamic Art.  We have visited mosques all over the world and have benefited from many conversations with muslim families whenever feasible during our travels.

We may not have enough knowledge to be considered Islamophiles, but we are certainly very far from being Islamophobes.  In the current US context, it is worth stating explicitly – we have had nothing but positive experiences and interactions with muslims on our travels ((Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Israel, France, Spain…).

Discussions with muslims in Sri Lanka’s Tamil region have been informative.  We mistakenly thought that muslims had been caught up in the long civil war.  It turns out that this is not the case and that the primary adversaries in the conflict were the Hindu population in the North versus the Buddhist Singhalese speaking (majority) population in the South.  Tamil-speaking muslims pretty much stayed out of the conflict, as best we can tell.

Another interesting datapoint is that, as was the case when we spoke with muslim families in Fort Galle in the South, this population does not recognize Islam in the acts of radicalized Middle Eastern muslims.  All are quick to point out the peaceful nature of Islam and to recoil at the equation of actions by what they consider to be opportunistic thugs who have hijacked Islam and justify their criminal actions around dubious religious tenets.


As we get closer to our destination of Arugam Bay the road starts to parallel long stretches of soft sand beaches, none of which are built up at al! The Indian ocean is on the warm side and calm at this time of year.

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Connecting with locals is one of the greatest pleasures for both of us. Peta is quick to initiate conversation and “break the ice” no matter where we are!

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These girls are clearly enjoying the experience of connecting with someone from a different country and background.


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Looks like Ben got caught in an unexpected wave…..

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Tuk tuks lining up at the garage station for gas.

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Water buffaloes are always worth a stop! Beyond the blanket of lilac flowers, there is a herd of buffalo grazing that we are interested in getting closer to.`

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What a glorious sight!  Water Hyacinths create a beautiful lilac blanket over the fields…

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This water buffalo herder has a gorgeous colored sarong …. Very fashionable ~ rural chic!

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Harvested rice fields which are reminiscent of our motorbike adventures in Viet Nam on the Ho Chi Minh trail.


As our tuk tuk whizzes by, we catch a gilmpse of a peculiar, igloo-like structure on the side of the road. We stop to check it out. Turns out to be an NGO-paid and constructed village of igloo-shaped homes – very creative to be sure. Feedback from the residents: Not a huge hit – they are very hot to live in.  Another case of NGOs experimenting with novel designs which are less than practical.

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Meeting one of the residents – a grandmother and her grandson outside their bubble house.

Our tuk tuk adventure is our of our Sri Lankan highlights.  We can definitely recommend this as a fun way to travel.  We arrive at Arugam Bay just in time for the sunset…

16 thoughts on “Tuk Tuk adventure down the East Coast of Sri Lanka

  1. Sharon Rosenzweig

    What a fun blog post. Aaron and I discussed the opening quote, like for say, the plane ride between Chicago and LA, for which we disagreed with the quote, but for your little adventure here it seems to have merit, although we’ll have to wait for the post about Arugam Bay to be sure.

    Anyway. Did your tuk tuk driver speak any language you know? How do you communicate your complex questions to people along the way?

    Looks like great fun, way better than a bus or car, just like you say.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Glad you shared the fun of our tuk tuk journey with us.

      The quote is selected for this particular post because of its appropriateness to the fun we had “inbetween” two places. Not in any way meaning to “reduce” the awesomeness of either place!

      Our tuk tuk driver did speak English, which while not essential, was certainly easier and helpful… As did the Muslim girls at the bus stop. Having a language in common allows for more meaningful conversations and discussions for sure.

  2. Julie Kothlow, Vancouver, Canada

    Loved this post! Also thought your grassroots approach to speaking directly with Muslims and asking questions was brilliant. How best to get insights and perspectives rather than thru media and politicians. If more people did this with curiosity rather than fear, think of the possibilities

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Julie!

      Hear hear! It always amazes us how reluctant people are to engage in one on one dialog
      with locals. So often tourists and travelers only speak to locals in the context of a purchase or service, which of course skews the nature of the exchange. Talking as peers without a transactional need inevitably contributes to the understanding that we are all the same. And yes, this applies to Muslims too.

  3. carolinehelbig

    I think it is just wonderful how you’ve connected with the locals. I’m learning a lot about this fascinating country from your interesting and informative posts.
    How did you find the fun tuk tuk driver? He looks like a great character.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Connecting with the locals, no matter where we are is core to our experience. For this reason we are very mindful not to
      ‘over schedule’ ourselves while traveling so as to leave space for opportunities to connect with people.

      Thanks for your positive feedback.

      We met our tuk tuk driver at the bus station… He spoke English, was super friendly and had an iPod full of music. Score!

  4. Charles

    Dear Peta,
    It would be nice for our presidential candidates to have the understanding that you have of the Muslims there. As always, it is a pleasure to see some of what you have seen. The Hindu temples hardly seem real, and the photo of you and Ben in the field of flowers was lovely. May your adventures continue in safety, Charles

  5. Gili

    Love the colourful Hindu temples and buffalo herder’s stylish sarong. Life would be boring if it was all gray suits and concrete buildings.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      What a great start to your travel adventures! Hopefully you get to return for second round. Sri Lanka is definitely a special country and after a total of 2 months there we still feel we need more time!

  6. Sue Slaght

    Oh what a delight to read this post. I applaud you for connecting with locals and spreading joy and embracing diversity. There is far too much hate in this world. I want to stand up and cheer! Made my day. 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thank you Sue! ?

      That’s the beauty and best part about travel for us… Meeting people ~ connecting with them and sharing a few joyous moments in time together along our journey.

      The more diversity the better!


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