No one epitomises Sri Lankan resilience more than Shirly Koraleve. The friendly diving instructor was enjoying breakfast at his beachfront shop in Unawatuna on Boxing Day morning. In a matter of minutes, his father, brother and most of the shop were washed away. Yet within 100 days he'd begged and borrowed enough money to build the rickety wooden shed that is the new HQ for Submarine Water Sports. When I met Shirly he was about to take his first customers out diving since reopening. He's glad to be working again. Unawatuna lies on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka. It's an unremarkable village, but one blessed with an outstanding stretch of beach, once voted among the most beautiful in the world by the Discovery Channel. On a sunny April morning it's hard to imagine the calm turquoise waters boiling up and punching holes in sturdy concrete houses. The disaster couldn't have happened at a worse time. The Sri Lankan tourist industry was celebrating unprecedented growth, thanks in part to the ceasefire between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels. Investment in new ventures and renovation projects reflected a sense of confidence and optimism. Fast forward to Easter and it's taken 'two for the price of one' airline deals and heavily discounted room rates to entice bargain hunters and volunteers back to the beaches. Hotels and guesthouses are reopening on almost a daily basis. Many tourists are repeat visitors. Some were staying in Unawatuna on Boxing Day. On the beach, the distinction between aid worker and tourist is blurred. When hoteliers and restaurateurs organised a 'clean the sea bed' initiative, foreigners with snorkels and masks helped locals clear lumps of masonry from the water. Few people are here solely to sunbathe. I stopped off at Upal's Restaurant where an unusual conversation was taking place. A group were bragging about who had paid the most, rather than the least, for a sarong. German visitor Michael Tuerkis felt that buying souvenirs was his small way of helping. 'The vendors spend their profits locally and that helps to kickstart the economy,' he explained. Susil Chandrasena, owner of the Village Inn, agreed. 'The best way to help us is to visit us.' I travelled to devastated settlements along the coast where the urge to dole out handfuls of 100 rupee ($7.80) notes is strong. Creating livelihoods and a sense of hope will take time. New fishing boats don't come cheap. Susil feels that by comparison, Unawatuna and other popular beach resorts have the potential to stand on their own two feet long before less-fortunate areas. 'But we need the tourists to return first.' Besides spending money judiciously, one of the easiest things you can do in Sri Lanka is simply listen. Everyone you meet has a tale to tell. Some are heartwarming, some make you weep. Few, if any, stories are a ploy to con you into parting with your cash, just genuine attempts to come to terms with the scale of the disaster. Ranjith Samarajeewa, head chef at the upscale Unawatuna Beach Resort, is an old friend. He told me how, on the first night after the disaster, he and his kitchen team ferried meals up to a Buddhist temple where all 155 guests were sheltering. It was a day or two before they were transferred to the airport and he could inspect the damage done to his own house. When I arrived, a construction team was busy patching up his property. Ranjith's family was unharmed by the raging waters, though the house was badly flooded. We sat drinking tea as his wife sorted through possessions, salvaging what she could. Photo albums were a soggy mess and important legal documents were papier-mache. She handed me a cracked kitchen clock with the hands set forever at 9.26. It all felt uncomfortably voyeuristic and I was relieved to get back to the beach. Mr Hussein was in the process of reopening his gem store, though it's a gem shed for the time being. Nandnee had rebuilt her grocery hut using bits of driftwood, a material in plentiful supply. She was unwrapping a brand new fridge, a gift from a well-wisher. 'Cold bottled water in an hour,' she promised me. So, should you visit Sri Lanka? Well, you'll see first hand how your money contributes to the rebuilding process. Sri Lankans deeply appreciate the global response to their plight and displays of hospitality are sincere. If you are haunted by the thought of 'a cheap holiday in other people's misery', as Johnny Rotten once snarled, then head for the Hill Country instead. The tea-growing areas, ancient cities and former British hill stations, were all unaffected by the tsunami - hardly surprising considering towns such as Nuwara Eliya are 1,900 metres above sea level. Even here though, bookings are sluggish, with holidaymakers seemingly hesitant to intrude on a nation still grieving. And yet throughout the country there have been no outbreaks of disease, transport infrastructure has been restored, popular destinations are open for business and, as Susil Chandrasena puts it, 'we miss our foreign friends'. Hammering and sawing have become a Sri Lankan soundtrack in recent weeks. For the people of Unawatuna, it's a positive sound. It signals someone is rebuilding their home, their guesthouse, their life. At Upal's the slurring surf drowns out the clatter of construction, and the scarlet sunset marks the end of another day of progress.