Loving Colombo: The Sri Lankan Diaries
I never thought I would be setting foot in Sri Lanka soon. I had close friends, Paulo and Tala, living there, but when they told me they were already leaving Colombo to move to Singapore, I found myself struggling to plan a trip. So as soon as my calendar got freed up, I booked my plane tickets to Colombo.
I had no expectations of Sri Lanka. I was aware that Lonely Planet called it one of the destinations of the year. I hear a lot of travel enthusiasts giving high praises to this small teardrop shaped island below the Indian subcontinent. So when I woke up to a breezy morning on the apartment of Paulo and Tala in Colombo, all I thought about was where the hell I was.
Nevertheless, I was overly excited to explore the Colombo and the rest of Sri Lanka in just 5 days. We wasted no time, so the day after I arrived, we began our whirlwind journey. More on that of course in my next posts.
We'll be focusing the story now in Colombo, the laid back coastal capital of Sri Lanka. When I arrived, I was telling Paulo how Colombo looked like a Philippine provincial town at night. There were a few people around at midnight, and the streets were unlit and deserted. When I saw Colombo the next day in the light, I was surprised to see how bustling it was, but at the same time, very charming and relaxing, unlike any other capital city I have been to.
Tala took me around her favorite places. Our first stop was Barefoot Garden Cafe, which was popular among expatriates. It was the cafe of the more famous Barefoot store, which has a few branches as well around the country. I bought most of my souvenirs here, which range from fabric bags, clay pots, bright hand loomed textiles and unique household items.
We then took a visit to the National Museum which housed several Sri Lankan artefacts. It is also a good way to get a quick rundown of the nation's history and what Sri Lanka actually offers to tourists.
You need to pay a certain entrance fee and even another to get a permit to take pictures. The pieces here are divided according to era, that started way back the 6th century BC.
The museum also takes you on a tour of the historical sites of their country, which is surprising to me, because I never thought Sri Lanka would have that ancient feel of Cambodia. It has such a rich and diverse history. Its close proximity to India and being part of the trade routes in Asia, Sri Lanka has become a significant place for immigrants, visitors, invaders, travelers, traders and even Buddha himself.
Colombo is slowly getting off its bad reputation, as the country has been torn in recent history by civil war. Now that the conflict is over, the country is experiencing an economic and cultural boom. Colombo has several colonial treasures, like the national museum itself.
That night we had a lovely dinner at al fresco Gallery Cafe. It was my first restaurant in Colombo and I was astounded at the ambience. I though I was at a resort when I entered its wooden doors. It was dim and romantic, yet welcoming and relaxing. It was quite hot though, given that it was located outdoors. The food was also noteworthy. The restaurant also had an art gallery and a store that sells interesting souvenirs.
The next day, we took a tour of boutique hotels in the city. We started with Casa Colombo, a 200 year old mansion tucked behind busy Galle Road. During our time of visit, the hotel was being renovated, so the outdoor veranda was under construction. Too bad, since we were planning to have coffee under the huge old trees surrounding the properties.
We moved on to the Tintagel, a more luxurious property which was also an old mansion that was once home to the prime minster's family. My jaw dropped at the ultra chic-ness of the place. Elegant, dark and minimalist, the Tintagel was definitely a place I would check in to.
It was run by the same owners of Gallery Cafe, so I intended to try their food. I had pasta and some dessert for our afternoon snacks.
I was so ecstatic with the Tintagel that I wanted to book a night here before I left Colombo. However, I knew I didn't have the luxury of time to enjoy the place, so I decided to back down.
I was also brought to an emerging lifestyle centre in the heart of the financial district near the boardwalk. It was called the Dutch Hospital. Now, when Tala mentioned the place, I was already seeing ghosts in my head.
This is what I love about Colombo. Old mansions are converted into chich boutique hotels and abandoned hospitals, well, are converted into lifestyle hotspots. We were here for dinner at the Ministry of Crab, one of the most popular restaurants in the city, and for a reason. But before that, we decided to get an Ayurveda massage first.
So back to dinner, which was at the hip and happening Ministry of Crab, owned by two former captains of the Sri Lankan cricket team. Hence, this place gets a lot of buzz.
I loved their open kitchen concept. I watched how our dishes were cooked. They even allowed guests to add their ingredients. It's really such a fun dining experience.
Needless to say, the food was exquisite. We had the largest crabs I have seen in an upscale restaurant, sumputous prawns, all paired with excellent wine.
On my last day, Tala took me to one of the most popular spots of Colombo, Mount Lavinia, known for its beach. Yes, Colombo has a beach, and I was completely envious of the city now. In Manila, you need to travel at least 2 hours to get to a nice beach. Here, it only took us 15 minutes from the apartment.
I was really surprised that Colombo had a beach, and it wasn't that bad The waves were huge, so swimming was not possible. There were restaurants along the beach itself, so we had a very charming lunch with the sound of the waves as background.
So I end my post on Colombo fittingly with the surprise of a train passing by. Though Colombo would be backwards by modern standards, it was the kind of place I will easily fall in love with. Beautiful colonial buildings, fabulous restaurants, interesting and quirky shops and boutiques, lots of laid back charm and the beach. I am beginning to fall in love indeed with Colombo.