What Not To Do in Sri Lanka

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People who know me well joke that I am a shopping warrior. I can shop all day everyday. And I really don’t know why I don’t get tired while shopping. And if I do feel down and depressed, retail therapy always comforts me. I absolutely LOVE to shop.

I was in Sri Lanka last month to chaperone Macie to her ITF (International Tennis Federation) Tournament, and sadly, on our second day there, the dreadful bombings happened. ISIS bombed 3 churches and 3 high end hotels killing over 300 people and injuring 500 more. This put Colombo on a complete lock down. Stores, restaurants and most commercial establishments closed and people feared for their safety. Tourists were advised to avoid all public crowded places, like malls, tourist spots, hotels and churches.

Given this situation, I stubbornly didn’t contain my urge to shop, and decided to pop in the jewellery store named Gem Bureau near the tennis court Macie was competing at. Name alone sounds so official no? FYI, Sri Lanka is known for their ceylon blue sapphires and pigeon blood rubies. In fact Kate Middleton’s engagement ring, which actually belonged to Princess Diana previously, had an enormous royal blue ceylon sapphire.

I thought I hit the jackpot. I love playing designer, (just like in our current collab with Joyeria! Shameless plug, sorry!) and got swayed by all the extreme hard sell tactics of the jewellery store staff and purchased sapphires. I also designed and instructed them on how to set the stones in various pieces of jewellery. They also assured me that I will get government issued Gem Corporation and GIS certificated for each stone. I was on such a high because I was actually shopping even though I wasn’t allowed to step foot in a mall!


To make the long story short, I got duped. I chose really beautiful quality royal blue and white sapphires, designed earrings, necklace and a ring for the sapphires. They told me I can pick up my jewellery the next day. Which I did. And I noticed that the stones didn’t look as brilliant the day before. I asked them about it, and they said they lose their brilliance after setting. Stupid me, I believed them. They also only issued me their store’s certificates which looked pretty dubious. That was another red flag I ignored. Walked out of their store, blissfully ignorant and happy. Ugh.

The nice white sapphire I chose (left) beside my diamond stud earring.

The next day, I told my tuktuk driver (he drove for us everyday to and from the tennis courts) that I wanted to check another jewellery store, just to see other designs. And he took me to another one. As soon as I walked in the new store, I had a different experience altogether. First, the staff didn’t resort to pushy hard sell tactics. And secondly, they saw my new sapphire jewellery, they asked me about it. I said I purchased it from the store near the tennis court. They asked for a closer look which I willingly obliged. OMG. This is when the horror started. I realised that I was scammed. I paid for high quality sapphires which were eventually switched with low quality ones.

The white sapphire they gave me (left) beside my diamond stud earring.

They asked me if I checked Trip Advisors to read the reviews about the other store. I said no. They said they know that there are lots of negative reviews from people they have scammed. Stupid, stupid me for not checking Trip Advisor! I mean, I am a review checker type of girl! I even have a Top Reviewer ranking on Trip Advisors! How can I NOT check TA?!

Luckily the staff of the second store took pity and told me what to do. They said that I should go to the first store, return the jewellery and demand for a refund. If they don’t agree, go to the tourist police. This I did. I asked for a refund. They didn’t want to give it because of so many reasons. They said they gave me genuine sapphires, but because of my budget, they couldn’t give me the best color, etc. WTF.

The next day, I decided to go to the tourist police. At first, they didn’t want to help me and said I should go to the Gem Corporation instead, a government body that tests and certifies gems bought in Sri Lanka. This disappointed me tremendously. Because I just wanted to return the jewellery and get a refund.

I sat in the corner of the police station planning my next move, when in walks Chief Inspector Prabath Kumara Vidanagama, the head of the Sri Lanka Tourist Police himself. He took notice of me and asked what was my concern. I immediately introduced myself and told him my story. He heard me out and immediately said he will help me get my money back.

He called the Gem Bureau, the first jewellery store, and summoned the man who switched those low quality sapphires. Chief Vidanagama said the police have received a number of complaints already about this group and Gem Bureau jewellery store is already in hot water.

Two hours later, after much delaying tactics, I got my money returned to me. I was so relieved and immensely grateful to Chief Vidanagama, my hero.

My hero, Chief Inspector Probate Kumara Vidanagama

Please learn from my mistakes. Lessons learned:

  1. When shopping for gems, it is best to visit several stores, before spending all your hard earned cash in one store.
  2. Check reviews on Trip Advisors. Sure, some reviews may be fake. But if there is an overwhelming number of bad reviews about a store, they are probably cheats.
  3. Always demand for a Gem Corporation or GIA (Gemological Institure of America) certificate.

    Sample folder of an official Gem Corporation certificate

  4. Sri Lanka values their tourists and will do everything they can to ensure their tourists’ safety. They received my complaint and implemented strong and swift action in resolving my problem.

Sri Lankans are incredibly nice and hospitable people. Aside from those guys over at Gem Bureau, everyone I encountered during our 2 weeks there were warm, friendly and eager to learn about me and where I came from. In addition, they were genuinely concerned about our safety and even apologized that we visited during such terrible times. I pray that the Sri Lankans rebuild and rekindle their tourism industry soon. They are really such lovely people and the whole world can benefit from their rich culture and heritage.

In case you need assistance, here is the link to the Sri Lanka Tourist Police.