Up until about 3 weeks ago, I had only left Europe once. I didn’t travel abroad when I was young, so I’m making up for now. However there is so much in Europe to see that it’s always taken priority. However a week ago I came back from a rather non-European place; Sri Lanka. After 14 hours of traveling, I arrived in the capital, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Slightly unprepared for some aspects (mainly the bugs, frogs and lizards) but it is certainly a trip I will never forget; one doesn’t forget their first time to Asia lightly.
Sri Lanka is the tear shaped island of the South East coast of India. It has a population of around 20 million people and around 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists and 12.5% are Hindus.Before going, I had very little knowledge of Sri Lanka, and naively thought it would be very similar to India.
My first notable impression was the driving. While they drive on the same side of the road as in the UK. Lanes are pretty flexible. People weave in and out constantly, over taking is the aim of the game, and small, thinner cars may drive three abreast calmly. Apparently though, compared to India this is positively calm.
After researching hotels in Colombo, I spent the night at The Kingsbury hotel getting some much needed shut eye, the next day was my first proper time to explore. Doing things a little differently I hoped into a WW2 jeep for a tour around the city.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Colombo really, but the main city centre is quite generic. Big corporation buildings and hotels. Everyone is super proud that they are building a Shangri- La hotel. It is the people and the cars that give this area of Colombo it’s personality.
Being my first time to Asia I had never seen a tuk tuk in real life so needless to say became quite obsessed with them. They are just fascinating!
However it’s the outer skirts of the city that are the fascinating parts. It’s where the very day people live and work.
I can't say I was in "shock" about the condition of buildings as well there is a thing called the internet and TV so I had seen images before, but it made me realise actually my travels had mostly consisted of European cities (minus the Arctic) and that is quite a sheltered existence really.
One thing that stuck out for me for the colours and style. The contrast to London in that regards is quite stark. London is quite muted. Greys, browns, but in Colombo, Sri Lanka buildings are blue, pinks, yellows and theres so much green.
Never too far away is a beautiful temple, statue or other religious or political significant artifact. This mix of city living and religious honour is truly fascinating.
Quick tip. You must NEVER turn your back to Buddha. Not only is it offensive, but it is actually against the law in Sri Lanka, and you cant spend time in jail. This is the golden seated Buddha statue at Viharamahadevi Park.
Like in India, buses are heavily used here too However I was really concerned going to Sri Lanka that it would have some of the same problems with women, that India does. I've read too many stories lately about women being attacked on buses. However Sri Lanka is actually alot more progressive in terms of women's rights than other countries in the area. Women study the same as men, have the same education rights and get the same jobs. Infact Sri Lanka was the first nation in the world to elect a female head of state—Srimavo Bandaranaike won the election in 1960. Don't get me wrong gender inequality here isn't perfect, but if women's rights is important to you, then Sri Lanka is a great place to choose then.
We made a quick stop off at Independence Memorial Hall, which commemorates the end of British rule, in 1948.
Also to view the Buddha statue opposite the Colombo International Convention Centre.
After a little more driving we started to come to the outskirts. Where again, in my opinion Colombo comes alive.
We turned down a narrow street, to come to well, what I can only describe as organised chaos.
It was a shopping street and everyone was out in full force looking to either buy or sell. People yelling about there wears, and no one looking when they crossed the street. it was fascinating to see the dynamic of how bartering worked.
One thing to note, that if you are white with light coloured hair. Everyone will stop you, wave, ask for photos etc. But it's not in a malicious way at all. I found it so funny how excited some people really were at the prospect at having a photo with me. I found no one to be creepy, just really friendly, but it is something to be aware of.
By midday it gets really hot and a little muggy, so I'd highly recommend getting a coconut water. I drank countless of these over my ten days in Sri Lanka, and they are really cheap at about a pound£ or one or two $.
Food wise, Colombo has some fantastic restaurants which are known across Asia. However the one I recommend to you isn't actually Sri Lankan food but Japanese.
Nihonbashi is a authentic Japanese restaurant founded by Dharshan Munidasa. Inspired by his half Japanese, half Sri Lankan heritage he set up Sri Lanka's first Japanese restaurant 22 years ago.
Theres a wide range of tradition seating arrangements which make for a fun experience if you've never sat like this before.
There is also an outside cook station and seating area if it's a warm summers night.
My advice is to share with your friends and order lots, as there are so many amazing flavours to try.
Sashimi with pickle. Delicious with a punchy kick.
Chicken mixed skewers (Yakitori) including thigh and gizzard meat. One for the fatty meat lover- me included.
Prawn, vegetable and curry leaf tempura. Heavy on the salt, and maybe not traditional but I would have liked some sauce.
Sushi making at the table
Sashmi with a garlic egg cooked in front of you. Was pretty impressive, and delicious.
Garlic Maki rolls which pretty good as I'd never had garlic sushi rice before. It's something I'll look out for again.
Finally with bellies full, we were served green tea ice cream which is super refreshing.
Over all Nihonbashi is well worth a visit if you are in Colombo.
Colombo surprised me with how much character it actually has. Like I said, the outer parts are where to head and explore. If I'd had more time, I think a wander in the parks would have been lovely.
Let me know what you think of Colombo and your impressions. Tomorrow I have a new post about Sri Lanka and it's a rather daring one.
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