Colombo, Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka is better known to many of us as Ceylon, an island that is famous for its tea and its cinnamon.  It is located just southeast of the tip of India.

This was a return visit for us, and it was a pleasure to see how the country has progressed with tourism since our visit two years ago.  Our planned tour was canceled, so we signed up for a walking tour in the city.  All of our guides spoke beautiful English.  Some friends went on a tour where the only words they could understand from their guide were ‘on your left’, ‘on your right’, and ‘Sri Lanka’.  Our tour started out at the old town hall, where they have a museum containing some interesting old machinery, such as a steam car and the largest lightbulb in the world.  Our next stop was Pettah, an amazing market where they sell just about everything you could want.  Literally.  It is huge and very historic.  The area has been a market since the days of early Arab and Chinese traders.  The produce was some of the most beautiful we’ve seen, especially given that it was not produced by large commercial growers.  Pettah contains pretty much everything that passes through the port.  This is the entry point for almost all import activity for the country. The fabric shops were particularly beautiful and the variety of styles and colors was breathtaking.  Pretty much, you name a product and you can most likely find at least one shop here which carries it.  Mark believes that Colombo has some of the strongest and hardest working people in the world moving the merchandise in and out of the market area.  This can be seen in the very heavily laden carts that the men pull through the market.  There were huge crowds in the market, but that was not a problem for us, even though we don’t like crowds.  Everyone here was there for a purpose and they were all pleasant.  One did need to be careful when walking around vehicles, though, as the drivers were not always aware of pedestrians.  

We walked past a Buddhist temple, a Hindu Temple, and a gorgeous mosque on our way to the Grand Oriental Hotel, the oldest hotel in Colombo, where we had refreshments.  Those were very welcome because the temperature and humidity were both high. 

On the way we learned about the old classic buildings that are being restored by the navy.  This is speeding up the restoration process, and we think that’s a great way to use the country’s military.  They are doing a beautiful job.  This is a win-win solution because not only are the buildings being restored beautifully and with some speed but the navy personnel are learning skills which they can use in civilian life.  Possibly the most interesting is the building which housed Cargill’s Department Store, the first such store in Colombo.  Apparently the Raffles Hotel from Singapore is interested in turning it into a Raffles Hotel, which would be wonderful, because the style of the building suits the hotel perfectly.  Our guide, Mark, has a job which involves researching buildings so he is an expert on the historical places we visited.

We also walked through what used to be an old fort, another area which has some wonderful buildings.  This area died after a terrorist attack, but it is being brought back to life very nicely.  It includes a clock tower that is topped by a lighthouse, and the old Dutch Hospital, which has been converted into shops and restaurants.  The hospital building is a wonderful one with large shuttered windows and very thick walls.  We stopped at the Tap House to try Lion, the local beer, which was really quite nice.  As has seemingly become our habit on this cruise, our group was the last one to return to the ship, right at all-aboard time.  One of the last things we learned is that the bird-watching is fantastic in Sri Lanka, so we’ll definitely need to visit again.

You can also see a high number of 3 wheel vehicles (called Tuck-tucks).  These are the main type of vehicle used for public transport.  In most ports we have shuttle buses which transport us to some area of town where there is/are shopping and/or historical sites of interest.  This service was absent here because the taxi union is so strong.  So if you wanted to go into town by yourself you would likely have to use a taxi at your expense or walk.  

As usual, there are more photos in the album.

                                                                                  Dutch Hospital

© Susan L. Stone 2015