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Bentota is a charming small town on the South West coast of Sri Lanka and is the best beach resort to visit. Right by the railway station which is ideally located close to the Bentota Beach and The Surf Hotel is a branch of the Bank of Ceylon, the Post Office and the local Police Station together with a few shops to be avoided due to price. On the main street there are a number of shops selling the most popular 'gifts' - wood carvings whilst just across the road bridge heading North is the next small township of Aluthgama. Here there are loads of shops and fruit stalls as well as the local supermarket chain (called 'Cargills Food City'). The beach is superb and totally unspoilt with just a very few beach vendors (their prices are much higher than the local shops so don't buy off them).
If you want to visit other places on the Island then don't book excursions with your tour operator but instead book a local taxi and driver or a reputed tour operator.
There are a number of small inexpensive but good restaurants in Bentota, such as Susanthas just behind the beach and close to the railway station. There is also the Golden Fleece and The Pavilion again close to town and offering very good value. Both restaurants permit you to eat Al Fresco and have specialities featuring Prawn and other seafood but offer many other dishes to suit all tastes and pockets.
It is well worth taking a stroll through the actual village of Bentota where the people live and seeing the many differing styles and sizes of homes as well as getting a real 'non-tourist' feel. An ideal place to stay in the village is Nisala Arana. Also recommended is a local catamaran ride on the Bentota River but be sure to agree the fare in advance. Locals pay just 200 rupees but tourists should expect to be asked about 500 rupees - still a bargain - but occasionally the boatman will try to sting you for 1,000 rupees if he thinks you can afford it. Insist on paying no more than 500 rupees per person and he will be happy to take that.
The people are all very very friendly and have extremely good memories so if you go in a shop and say you will be 'back next week' to buy something don't be surprised if next week you are accosted in the street by the shop keeper asking when you are coming back in to buy whatever it was you were thinking about. Similarly some locals will try to latch onto you offering to show you this and that. Just politely tell them 'No' because at the end of the day they will expect a good tip for showing you the obvious.
Average wages in Bentota range between about £25 and £30 per month so, whilst the cost of living in Sri Lanka is far cheaper than in the West, they think that EVERY tourist is a RICH person. For this reason do tip your hotel staff and taxi drivers etc well when they give you good service (which they always will). Whilst 500 rupees is insignificant to you, to the Sri Lankan it is almost half a week's wages (and they don't work a 35 hour week - it's more like 84 hours).
Sri Lanka is a country often described as the 'pearl in the Indian Ocean' and it truly is. Once you have been there and met it's wonderful warm and honest people, you will want to return again and again. The scenery is beautiful and the warmth of it's people overwhelming.