Galle Face Green by Ko-Knia
When I was in the Phillippines I’d ask people what to do in their city, like the default thing, and they couldn’t think of much. Sometimes the most simple questions are the hardest to answer, and I was wondering how I’d answer the same about Colombo. I guess the first thing I’d say was to get out of Colombo. Physically, Colombo is flat and concrete and far eclipsed by Kandy or Galle or Hikkaduwa. Colombo’s main appeal is that everyone is here, hence try to find someone you know. That is the best way to see a city, but barring that there are plenty of places to drop money. If I had one day in Colombo I’d have breakfast in the hotel, go see the two-headed goat, lunch at Barefoot, drinks at Galle Face, dinner at Gallery or Penninsula, and out at Tantra and R&B. Or something like that.
Places to Stay
With friends is always best, but I personally like the Hilton. It has the least character building wise, but the food is really good and I’m guessing the amenities are. I suppose the Cinnamon Grand is nice, but I don’t like their redecoration, especially the condoms they hung in the second lobby. Galle Face is a great location, but the upkeep is poor to middling. Anyways, let’s assume you’re on business and you’re based at the Hilton. The Hilton is unfortunately near nothing lived in, so you’ll have to take a trishaw or taxi out. Never take hotel taxis by the way, they’re very expensive.
I don’t like waking up, but if I did I’d probably go downstairs and have eggs or something and then go back to sleep. Barring that I suppose there must be stuff to do during the day. I just don’t know what.
Stuff To Do During Day
I’m thinking and all I can come up with is seeing the two-headed goat in the natural history museum. The natural history museum looks like it was put together by third graders and the goat is at the end, but it is an awesome goat. It has two heads and it’s folded upon itself in a big jar of formeldehyde. There is also a historical museum which sucks a little less. If you’re lucky enough to be here on the first Sunday of the month there is Jazz at the Ceylon Rugby and Football Club. Barring that, there is always shopping.
There is a traditional tourist circuit (Odel, Gallery, Barefoot) to which you might as well stick. Odel costs basically the same as Singapore or the West so is not really that great. Gallery, specifically the attached Paradise Road has had the same stuff since I was a child. There is porcelain with Sinhala and Tamil writing (mugs being good office gifts), spoons with gara yakas, entire rooms full of useless glass items, nice pillowcases and stuff, and fun flower shaped candles. They also have the most random and irrelevant collection of books I’ve ever seen. Barefoot I’m somewhat partial to, but shopping wise the stuff is at least different. Paradise goods are classy, but in a generic Pier 1 Imports kinda way. Barefoot’s palette is entirely different and the book selection is excellent.
Some other shopping is Crescat Mall, which is OK. Kinda overpriced and pointless if you’re going back to a consumer country. There are little shops on Duplication Road (past Liberty Plaza, but don’t go there) – Cotton Collection, and the new Arena (which looks like it’s going under). The place local people actually shop – House of Fashion – is further down Duplication.
If I had one day I wouldn’t go anywhere besides Barefoot. You can sit outside and nurse a beer for hours while watching people go by. Plus Sri Lankans actually ‘live’ there so it’s not like visiting a sterile restaurant. On weekends it is packed with tourists though. I honestly can’t think of another good place for lunch, plus at Barefoot you can easily spend the rest of the afternoon.
Drinks Before Dinner
As the sun’s going down Galle Face Hotel is a great place to have a drink. Or a soda, or whatever. You can sit out by the ocean and get kinda misted. The service is haphazard and the food isn’t very good so it’s best to go somewhere else for dinner. You can also walk around Galle Face Green (when it reopens) to eat some fried shrimp and see all the people walking around furtive couples in the dark.
One of my favorite spaces is Bawa’s old studio, now the Gallery Cafe. The food is excellent, though expensive, and the lighting is very romantic. I’ve also heard they make an excellent home-brewed Ginger Beer, though I don’t like spicy drinks and have never tried it. The food is all good and the deserts are very chocolatey.
Another great location is Havelock Bungalow, which is nice in that it’s secluded too. All the evil expats and NGO types (and presumably Jews, Gypsies and other unwanted types) dine at Gallery, but not so much at Havelock. I don’t like the food there much at all though. Kinda rich and blunt. Dunno.
Finally, my favorite restaurant in Sri Lanka is in Nawala and serves Jaffna food, which is pretty much Sri Lankan. Pennisula is a bit out there, but you can get everything from rice to pittu to prawn curry to purippu. Basically a lot of very good Sri Lankan food and interesting cocktails.
I’ve found that going out depends entirely on who you’re with and not the place, but here are some places. Tantra is a nice lounge where you can start the night. It is open and overlooks the city and they make some interesting Arrack drinks. From there you can walk to Onyx, which I don’t like. It’s full of teenage girls and it’s underground and it just makes me uncomfortable. You can also walk to Zanzibar, which has low ceilings and also makes me uncomfortable. In fact, the only club that doesn’t make me twitchy is R&B on Duplication Road, which is kinda laid back. You can dance if you want, but there’s also pool and tables outside to chill. There are also clubs and bars in most of the hotels but they mostly suck. Barefoot is now opening nights (starting Thursday) and that should be cool when the bar is running.
And yadda yadda, that is what I would recommend if you had a day in Colombo.