Colombo: A Quick Stop in the Capital City of Sri Lanka
We landed in Colombo in the early morning hours at a time when the light of day was still struggling to pierce through the density of dawn. But it was fine by me. Despite the dark circles under my eyes and my blemished complexion after long sleepless flights from Montreal via Abu Dhabi, I couldn’t help but smile. I was excited to have landed in an island country which, just a few years ago, wasn’t easily accessible due to the internal conflicts between the Tamil and the Sinhalese resulting in a full-blown civil war which lasted almost three decades.
I was looking forward to our 10 days exploring the Wonder of Asia and I couldn’t wait to get started! From the airport, we took a local bus (for just a few rupees) to Colombo. The bus ride took about 35 minutes (but traffic is always a factor) dropping us off at the main bus station adjacent to a vibrant market.
And so our journey began.
Colombo isn’t the most desirable city in Sri Lanka. Most travelers stay overnight and then move on to the next destination. And that’s exactly what we did (mostly due to lack of time). We hadn’t booked any accommodation ahead of time but we had looked into which areas were more favorable. We wanted to be away from the frenzy and slightly seedy area of the Central Bus Station so we settled on Colpetty (Kollupitiya). We hired a trishaw to take us around the area to look for a place to stay.
Colpetty was one of the best areas in Colombo but there weren’t many options for accommodation. We asked our trishaw driver to let us off on a random street leading to the water’s edge where there were a few hotels facing the shoreline. Some were downright nasty while others were downright too expensive for our budget. After asking around, a few people told us there was an apartment for rent around the corner from where we were.
We waited patiently for the owner who spoke perfect English (like many Sri Lankans). He took us up the winding stairs to the small studio apartment. The furnishings were undeniably old-fashioned (think heavily laced curtains & bedding) but the room was well-appointed, acceptably clean and the price was reasonable (about $30USD/night) – it was perfect for our overnight stay.
After finding a suitable place to stay, we headed out to find a place to eat. (Where to sleep & where to eat are always a dilemma when traveling independently – sigh). There were only a few Western fast food restaurants in proximity to where we were so, once again, we hired a trishaw driver and asked him to take us to a popular local restaurant. I didn’t know what to expect – we don’t all share the same culinary tastes and I knew nothing about Sri Lankan cuisine.
The place basically looked like a cafeteria painted bright red with outdated brass bistro chairs, 80’s-style glass-top tables and unforgiving neon lighting. The shop next door was blasting all of Shania Twain’s hits non-stop (I’m not at all a fan but I did find it quite amusing). Looking around at the establishment, doubt slowly but surely started creeping in. I started to imagine myself spending a very unpleasant night crouched over/on/around the toilet. But we moved forward nonetheless.
The (very clean) counter was filled with a variety of freshly-made dishes – fried and grilled fish, all sorts of vegetables, purées and samosas all conveniently presented and kept hot in stainless steel containers. The women behind the counter didn’t speak English but I simply used the universally-known gesture of pointing a finger to what I wanted. I ordered a plateful of different things (because, you know, variety is the spice of life) and took my first bite of Sri Lankan food. I know my plate doesn’t look very appetizing but I assure you it was delicious! I was relieved at how good everything tasted; I was starving and savored every bite!
(By the way, I didn’t get sick – yay!)
Content with our meal and feeling re-energized, we headed out
to explore Colombo to where we had arrived by bus that morning to the Manning Market. The market was lively with neatly stacked colorful fruits and vegetables some of which were smartly marked by price. The air was filled with Sinhalese chatter and the vibrancy of locals going about their day. The ground was muddy from the rainfall of the previous night. The rickety buses were frantically honking at us to get out of the way. This was my first impression of Sri Lanka and it instantly piqued my curiosity!
Upon our arrival in Colombo, I noticed many billboards announcing hotels and I was astonished at how many there were – shoulder to shoulder – but in Sri Lanka these ‘hotels’ referred to convenience stores. Of course, actual hotels also bear the same name so it can be very deceiving (and confusing) if your weary head is looking for a place to rest. You can’t help but laugh at the enthusiasm (confetti included) portrayed in the ads to get you excited about buying a cream soda!
Galle Face Green is a long stretch of urban park lining the Indian Ocean. Once the sun sets and the heat settles, many locals enjoy spending their nights leisurely strolling along the waterfront or to simply hang out with friends and family. Unfortunately, our short stay in Colombo meant we didn’t have enough time (or enough energy) to take in this local pastime.
After a few hours’ sleep in our frilly bed, we woke up the next day excited and eager to start exploring and discovering the rest of the Wonder of Asia. And so we were off to the Fort Railway Station to hop on a train to our next destination: the sacred city of Anuradhapura!
Read all about my travels in Sri Lanka
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Have you been to Colombo? Any suggestions on what to see and do?