Jonathan Norman checks out when he discovers there's no bowl to eat his cornflakes from.

Sri Lanka is a country whose population smiles freely, often and without guile, where the cuisine explodes off the tongue, alternate religions sit side by side and a family-friendly culture puts children centre-stage (and often helmetless on motorbikes). And one where enticing photographs or descriptions on Airbnb can bear little resemblance to the excruciating reality.

Let's be frank. Despite extensive research my Sri Lankan Airbnb experience was an unmitigated disaster.

It went like this: "It will be built next year, sir."


"It became a school six months ago, sir."

"It changed hands six months ago and we don't have a record of your booking, sir."
"We have unknowingly double-booked, sir."

"We have knowingly double-booked but why don't you stay at one of our other properties, sir?"
"The government has turfed you out, sir."

"True, the picture on our website has been doctored, half the local wildlife is living in your room, bugs will fall on your face in the night, the oven doesn't work and there is no internet but I still can't understand why you are leaving, sir."

When it comes to being stuck in traffic behind an elephant, Sri Lanka is a world leader, however, in Airbnb terms the country rates as highly as its football team in the FIFA rankings, (201 out of 208).

And nowhere on this wonderful island is safe.

First up, the capital Colombo, a bustling city whose inhabitants live in fast forward. In choked narrow roads, tuktuks dart in and out of the never-ending traffic as horns blare from competing buses that take no prisoners in the hunt for passengers.

This was the setting for our first mishap. My party was split between two properties. One of which existed (I knew this because I stood in its reception, which also doubled as a garage) but what of the other?

"Oh no, sir. The other apartment is currently under construction."

And when will it be ready?

"In 12 months time."

This was to become a theme, with advertised properties double-booked in the hope that when the customer arrived they would have no choice but to accept another unadvertised property in its place.
We cancelled immediately.

On to the picturesque jungle city of Kandy where humans and animals happily live side by side and where our up-until-that-point responsive satnav started spinning out. Round and round Kandy Lake we went as the little arrow on the screen did the same. Could we find our apartment? No.

Eventually we came to a fork in the road and stepped out to ask a friendly face. It was then we spotted a familiar-looking building that matched the one on the website. The only problem was that it had 30 schoolchildren inside, all wondering who the strange faces peering in through the window were.

To the coastal city of Galle, which was badly hit by the 2005 tsunami. At the time, few had heard of the dangers, so when the first waves approached, thousands came to the shore to watch, with tragic consequences.

All of which puts into context the trivial matter of finding out our digs existed but now had a new name and a new owner who had no record of our booking.

To Dambulla in the centre of Sri Lanka, a location you probably wouldn't visit unless you were going to watch a cricket match. Think Hamilton but with monkeys and snakes.

According to the blurb, our house boasted a swimming pool slap bang outside the front door (it didn't), an oven (it didn't), and internet (it didn't) and there was no mention we would share our digs with frogs, ants, beetles and unidentifiable flying bugs.

Being English, we put up with that with minimal murmur, but when we discovered there weren't any bowls to eat our cornflakes out of, we checked out.

Back to Kandy where after a long day on the road, team morale took a monster hit when, after an hour spent trying to locate our property, it turned out the owner had booked someone else in and was trying to fob us off with an alternative.

It is at this point I should make mention of the professional, courteous and speedy way Airbnb dealt with every single mishap. We got our money back each and every time, black marks were made against the owners and we even got a $290 voucher for our troubles.

Of course, $290 doesn't go far among nine unhappy campers, and by now mutiny was a real possibility. To alleviate some of the angst, I booked everyone into the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo. Fourteen restaurants, a large swimming pool, old-world charm and proper coffee meant people were smiling again.

It was there we found out our Kandy accommodation had been cancelled. We'd been booted out. And no amount of shouting down a crackling telephone line to the proprietor would change anything. The Government had got involved in a bed-shortage crisis and rather than move more famous and better-paid people than us they turfed us out instead.

For the remainder of our trip we stayed at Airbnb accommodation that met our every need, but if and when I return to this wonderful country — and I plan to — I will pay someone else to prepare my cornflakes.



Singapore Airlines

flies daily from Auckland to Sri Lanka, via their hub at Changi Airport.