About two hours after Sri Lanka announced they would reopen their borders to travelers in January 2021, I bought tickets to go there.
I live in Hong Kong, which has done a good job containing the pandemic. But the tradeoff is that it has been extremely difficult to travel anywhere.
Due to Hong Kong’s tough quarantine mandates, most residents have been limited to our city and can’t even cross the border into mainland China.
Normally I’m a hyperplanner, but nearly two years of not going more than 30 kilometers from my apartment had gone to my head. The idea of a country in Asia being open to tourists was so thrilling to me that I didn’t even do much research, figuring I could sort it out later and make sure regulations didn’t change before my trip.
One week beforehand
In order to get into Sri Lanka, I needed more than a spontaneously purchased airplane ticket. Most visitors to the island nation must spend up to 14 days at a “level one” hotel or resort, which means it has received an official government designation as a safe, approved place to quarantine.
I’m glad that quarantine went smoothly, because a few days into my stay Sri Lanka loosened its rules, permitting vaccinated travelers to spend only one single night in quarantine provided they test negative on arrival. I’m immune compromised and have been bummed out about not getting vaccinated yet — at least this removed one layer of FOMO.
And this was no ordinary quarantine. While some places — like Australia and China — require all quarantiners to stay inside their hotel rooms except for when they are given PCR tests, Sri Lanka has come up with an innovative third path.
Guests are allowed to go anywhere on hotel or resort premises and can visit certain pre-approved “bubble attractions” provided they follow strict criteria. They are also allowed to stay at more than one property during those two weeks as long as all the hotels are level one-listed.
Based on that, I went with a two-in-one deal from the Anantara hotel group — I would spend one week at its resort in Tangalle, at Sri Lanka’s southernmost tip, and then one week at a sister property in Kalutara, on the western coast.