Arriving in Colombo I was taken aback by how clean and ordered the city was. The streets are vast with large pavements, one could easily call a “sidewalk”, and row upon rows are filled with modern shops to satisfy every customer. Colombo is split into districts, (which if reading any of my past posts on big cities in Asia you will find is an aspect of a city I love- I think its due to the fact my mum’s family are from the city of communities and cultures: London). Although, within Colombo I felt there was only an actual difference between Pettah and the rest of Colombo. The rest of Colombo seems to be an expansion of each district, just gradually increasing in volume, (more expensive shops, more expensive restaurants and more embassies), which was a shame.
Saying this, the sights within Colombo are pristine and picturesque, and are worth venturing around the city for. However, I advise against walking place to place, (which I did and suffered terribly in the heat), instead organize a tuk tuk ride around your choice of main sights for 500 rupees. Don’t try and walk half and hire the other half as tuk tuk prices even for a short journey are steep because of how expensive it is to own a tuk tuk in Sri Lanka (shipped from India).
Arriving at night, and my couchsurfer host falling asleep, meant that the only available place for me to stay at the time of my arrival were expensive hotels. This meant blowing my budget for Colombo in one night, so I then arranged for me to stay in Colombo one day, thus the following sights I explored were jam packed into one itinerary.
Wandering around Fort, I caught glimpses of the Dutch influences on the city of Colombo from years ago; of red clock towers and square measured architecture, (as well as British style signposts and details to buildings). Fort is a renovated area, the Old Dutch Hospital is now a place of fine dining and luxury shopping. Step into the Economics Museum to see how past predecessors directly influenced Sri Lanka’s economy.
Walking through the commotion of Manning Market, where stall owners beck and call for your attention whilst fanning their perfectly symmetrically arranged fruit, head to Pettah. Walking along the harbour to Pettah, cast your eyes on to the horizon- it may not be the prettiest sight, but the numerous freight tanks and cranes highlight to any visitor, why so many colonizers wanted a piece of Colombo to be a vital asset to their trading route in Asia. Pettah is old Colombo, instead of sweeping roads and glamorous shops- there are fabric retailers neighbouring houses that have low tiled roofs, and have been there for generations. The main reason why I headed there, was to see how the other forms of religion fare in an absolute predominantly Buddhist country. You can do this by visiting: old Kathiresan Kovil Hindu temples, Pettah Mosques and Wolvendal Church, all diverse and interesting sights to see.
From here, head to Galle Face Green. A patch of grass by the sea where couples canoodle under shaded umbrellas; kites erratically blow bubbles next to the the proud waving flag of Sri Lanka, and waves crash angrily onto the wall. Pass street vendors that sell ice cream and prawns still in their shells deep fried on circular discs. Nearby is South Biera Lake– an oasis of serenity and calm from the surrounding towering buildings that circle the lake. You can rent swan shaped pedaloes and float along next to pelicans who share the same lake. Check out the Buddhist shrine that is a afloat on the lake- it makes a perfect Kodak moment.
An even more scared place nearby is Gangaraymaya Temple– a complex that contains a mismatch of stupas, temples, libraries and glass containers filled with gifts that people lay down to his Holiness. It really is a marvel and being there for the holy ceremony of Puja, meant I was lucky enough to see large families come together, dressed in pure white, intertwining their beliefs with string, chanting prayers in union and lightomg candles in appreciation- if possible visit the temple at this time of the month. Nearby is the National Museum, a fantastic showcase of history both from the view of Sri Lankans and the colonoziers. It allows you to fully comprehend the struggles faced within this country for various reasons. Just opposite, titled ironically “Victoria Park”, is a haven away from the searing heat of the sun. Sit under a lofty branch of one of the many trees and watch the “pet” horses graze.
Like I said before, my original plan was to couchsurf. However, when that fell through I stayed at, after spending a night at an expensive hotel, Mrs Marie Barbara Settupathy homestay in Bambalapitiya. A little overpriced for the basic room with fan and no bathroom- 2750 rupees, I recommend taking a look around the area, as due to the location of hotels, many will give you a special price for a fan room.
A place I found on my second visit to Colombo (and on line so those backpackers that rely on The Lonely Planet as a bible like moi miss out) is BED hostel in Havelock Place. Its everything you want a hostel to have, spacious dorms with mosquito nets, individual fans, lockers, 24 hour security, free WiFi, internet, an entertainment room and a kitchen. For 1, 500 rupees- although pricey for a dorm room, it offers a haven in the hectic and sprawling city of Colombo.
A restaurant I highly recommend-well more like trendy coffee shop, is: Commons. Here a young student crowd gathers in air conditioning to sip chilled shakes and order from a wide selection of food available. I advise choosing the grilled prawns with mash and vegetables- fresh seafood barbecued with hollandaise sauce, creamy mash and buttered zucchinis made me a happy bunny.
Although a rushed visit of Colombo, I do think Sri Lanka has more to offer than just this large city; its ancient cities, its highlands, its national parks and its superb beaches, so I didn’t feel guilty about leaving Colombo quickly.
A tip for you, buy your visa online through the offical ETA website- no other, as they charge more saying they offer support when it is not needed, it is a very simple process. Remember to print it out before hand (I forget mine in my backpack meaning I batted my eyelashes and was deeply apologetic to Immigration and was very lucky, although I had seen a lady in front of me, be turned away for a long wait and expensive visa on arrival because she did the same!)