Living among the locals

Local products to buy while traveling

Whether we like it or not, products do shape our experiences. For those of us who are used to owning a certain set of products, it can be pretty hard getting by without them. And don’t pretend like you can survive without your favorite deodorant or sunblock.

For me, though, the list is a bit longer than just these two items. One of the things that I learnt while traveling is that there are plenty of alternative products available across Asia that are cheaper and healthier than the usual commercial stuff.

Here are a few of the products that I picked up while on the road and have absolutely fallen in love with. If you don’t get the chance to buy any of these, I hope the list will at least inspire you to support local and alternative products around the world.

Lemongrass House from Bangkok

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Lemongrass House is a shop that produces fresh, handmade spa products that was founded in 1996 in Bangkok, Thailand, which is where I discovered it. They have expanded considerably over the years and their shops can be found in numerous locations from Australia to South Africa.

Among their 1,200 products, you will find anything that you can possibly hope for ranging from perfumes to bath and shower and body care. What I like to use, however, is their Virgin Coconut Hydrating Body Cream that is made of jojoba oil, shea butter, cucumber, and king coconut oil.

Spa Ceylon from Colombo

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Spa Ceylon is similar to Lemongrass House in that it offers a variety of luxury spa products. The big difference, though, is that Spa Ceylon comes with a lot more Ayurvedic influence, reflecting Sri Lankan traditions. For years, aryurveda has been one of the island’s tourist attractions.

I first found it at the airport in Colombo while I was still living in Sri Lanka and it was love at first sight. Some of my most favorite products are the Jasmine Hair Mask and Red Sandalwood Body Scrub, which smells absolutely amazing. I don’t know if it has shops outside the capita city but you can order directly from their online shop. 

Kumarika Hair oil from Weligama

Kumarika Oil


Like all fellow North Africans, I have curly hair that can be pretty cool sometimes but that can also be a total nightmare, especially in humid climate like Sri Lanka. This is why I was ecstatic when my dear friend introduced me to Kumarika Hair Oil in a small aryuvedic shop in the town of Weligama.

The brand has many products but my favorite ones are the orange hair oil, which has king coconut oil and rice, and the green hair oil consisting of gotu kola, mukunuwenna, amla, aloe, and coconut oil. I don’t know what some of these ingredients mean. Both products smell like heaven.

Siddhalepa from Mirissa



Siddhalepa is a company that produces Ayurvedic products including shampoos and creams, which I am yet to experiment with. What I have used is the multipurpose balm that comes with a blend of eucalyptus, citronella oil, cinnamon oil, pinene oil, menthol, camphor, and base.

As you can image, the blend can be painfully aromatic. That’s probably why some people can’t stand it. But I can’t live without it. I even brought it back to Dubai and started loyally promoting it whenever someone sneezes or coughs.

I really hope though that, unlike what I did, you won’t rub it in your nose when you get a runny nose because it will burn like hell. This is exactly where the magical inhaler comes in handy.

Axe Oil from Matara

Axe Oil


At first, I didn’t know where Axe Oil came from – the bottle that I found online was made in Singapore – but I can vaguely remember this bottle from my childhood days in Cairo back in the 1990’s. Apparently, a Chinese -Singaporean man named Founder Leung Yun Chee invented the product some 80 years ago.

The locals in Sri Lanka use it for headaches and a number of other ailments. It contains similar ingredients to the Siddhalapela balm and inhaler, like eucalyptus oil, camphor and base, but the smell is a lot milder and it comes in liquid form. Through the tiny bottleneck, you poor a drop on your finger and that’s all you will need for a quick head massage. The website also says that it’s a quick relief from cold.

Samahan tea from Mirissa

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Samahan produces a number of products including a balm and something called paspanguwa tea, but I only tried their Samahan herbal tea.

The Ayurvedic formula contains the extracts of 14 herbs including ginger, black pepper, cumin, and coriander. The slogan is “good for health, great for cold” and it definitely delivers what it promises. You can use it for a sore throat, a hangover, or just for a detox.

About Yasmin Helal

Having lived in the GCC, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran, Yasmin is a journalist who enjoys writing travel and culture features.

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