Bustling streets, delicious street food, and a rooftop pool.
Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, was our last destination before leaving and it really surprised us. We had heard some crazy things about Colombo, like that it was a mini New Delhi, a busy chaotic smelly city. However, upon arrival, it seemed like any regular city we’ve been to back home but with more tuk-tuk traffic.
Accommodation in Colombo
Accommodation in the big city is a lot different than in the rest of the country. You won’t find many homestays here. We had a hard time finding budget-friendly accommodation in the sea of hotels.
Because of this, while in Colombo we stayed in a nicer hotel, above our normal budget range. BUT it was free with our travel credit card points (hurray!). At the hotel, we enjoyed a buffet for breakfast (with Sri Lankan and western cuisine), a rooftop pool, and the hotel gym. Yes, we did actually make it to the gym a couple of times, surprisingly!
Getting Around Colombo
In the city, you can use apps like Uber and another one similar called PickMe to get a taxi or a tuk-tuk. This is super convenient and cheap for getting around Colombo. Most of the time our rides from one place to another were between $1-3 USD. We used them both to make our way through the city, get to the train station, and to our last accommodation before the airport.
Sight Seeing in the City
In Colombo, we visited the famous Pettah Market and Red Mosque, Independent Square, Galle Face Green, and even stopped at a couple of malls.
Without having done much research, we originally thought Pettah Market was going to be like a vegetable market or something similar to a large farmer’s market, but we were way off.
Pettah Market takes up 4-5 blocks near the Colombo train station, filling the space with tall buildings that hold hundreds of shops. The market is laid out in a semi-organized way. Each street or section has a specific type of good or product, one street for clothes then another for tech items, even a section for light bulbs and light fixtures.
Inside Pettah Market, is the Red Mosque, a huge, candy cane colored mosque squished between the buildings built around it. Because of COVID-19 we couldn’t enter but, taking in this building from the outside was still such a cool thing to see.
We first ventured through Pettah Market when we took our local Colombo street food tour. Our tour guide explained how the market is laid out and some of the local things you can find there. Seeing the market with the local guide helped us get over the initial hesitance.
From the outside, it seemed so hectic and wild which made us nervous to make our way through! Once you realize it’s not too bad, you can find probably almost anything you need here.
Street Food Tour
This tour was the highlight of our stay in Colombo. Honestly, we kind of feel like our favorite thing to do is find yummy things to eat. It’s definitely something we spend a lot of time doing! While eating our way around the city, we got to try a bunch of snacks and sweets that we probably would never have ordered ourselves.
Our first stop was a fruit vendor with 8-10 different fruits seasoned with chili, pepper, and other things. Some of them were a bit hard to eat (like the Wood Apple), but the pineapple was so good!
Our next stop on the tour was for some vadai and chai tea. We may have mentioned vadai a while back because we tried it when we first got to Sri Lanka. We have come to learn there are two types, one is fried dough while the other is fried lentils. BOTH DELICIOUS and a super common street food throughout all of Sri Lanka.
We made many more stops on this tour, visiting little shops and trying local treats like masala-flavored peanuts, cassava chips, and some sweets we can’t remember the name of.
Another item we had on our tour was an avocado shake! Our tour guide told us that avocados are RARELY found in dishes here the way we eat them back home. Avocados are grown in Sri Lanka and viewed as a fruit to enjoy in something sweet like a juice instead. Strange, but tasty nonetheless!
Independence Square and an Asylum?
Independence Square opened in 1953 and is a national monument built to commemorate the independence of Sri Lanka. Right next to Independence Square is a mall with a rather interesting history. Known today as Arcade Independence Square Mall, this “mall” filled with VERY expensive shops was once something else…
AN ASYLUM. This space was an asylum for twenty-eight years before being used as a college, as well as having several other uses throughout the years! It opened as a mall in 2014 and has over 40 stores and services available. Walking through we didn’t feel anything spooky but it is rumored to be haunted!
Galle Face Green
The Galle Face Green is an urban park that is 12 acres along the coast of Colombo. Originally it was used for things like golf, horse racing, sports events. Now, there is a boardwalk and plenty of space to relax and snack on some local street food.
We walked along the water and of course, tried more street food. We had some spiced fruit again, some cassava sticks (similar to potato), and some of the best vadai in Sri Lanka!
This beautiful park is in the middle of Colombo and was just a short walk from our hotel. Inside the park, there are plenty of places for a picnic, some playgrounds, and a large golden Buddha statue (pictured below). We grabbed some tasty iced coffees and took a stroll through the park.
Different Side of Sri Lanka
Oddly, Colombo felt like a breath of fresh air to us. Not that the air was fresh (because it definitely had a smell sometimes…) but because it felt kind of normal. After two months of navigating such a different place, being in the city felt like a slice of “normalcy” to us. We even went to a regular mall!
The city is very modern and very westernized compared to the rest of the country. It definitely has a faster pace than the rest of the relaxed countryside and coastal cities. After spending some time in this city, we made our way from Sri Lanka to a new country with an even bigger city: Bangkok, Thailand!
Until next time,
Sam and Ty