Colombo isn’t the most highly rated city in Asia; some travellers bypass it completely. I quite like the place – sure, it’s hot, but the weather gives it a kind of soporific charm. Here are some of the highlights.
1. Gangaramaya Temple
Visiting temples can be a repetitious experience: remove shoes, wander cautiously inside, stare with faux reverence at the main statue for five minutes (forgetting, briefly, the religion being worshipped), shyly take a few photographs, leave. At the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, I watched elephants chewing grass, listened to the chanting of hundreds of Sunday School children dressed in white, was given a free impromptu tour of the relic chamber, and was quizzed about Singapore by a friendly gardener.
2. Colombo National Museum
A few dusty corners and some empty galleries suggest that this museum has lost a bit of its gloss; still, the collection of bronzes and other statues is eye-catching. I liked the old flags, too. If history bores you to sobs, the stately white building (1877) and the massive banyan tree in the grounds are impressive enough on their own.
3. Mount Lavinia
An afternoon spent on the private beach of the Mount Lavinia Hotel (S$6 for non-hotel guests) is entirely pleasant, but it’s getting there that’s the most fun: namely, via a twenty-minute, ten-cent train ride from the old station at Fort. The railway line literally hugs the dunes the whole way there, and you can hang out the open doors and feel the sea breeze.
4. Action Lanka
This crew can hook you up with any adventure under the sun, including white-water rafting, scuba diving, kayaking and hiking. I’m not an extreme-sports kind of guy, so I chose the civilized option and went mountain-biking along the mellow coastal road north of Negombo, about an hour out of Colombo – all rustic fishing villages and lolling palm trees. My Action Lanka guide was a champ, and the bike was top notch.
5. R. Premadasa Stadium
If you’re a cricket nut, I can’t think of any better place to visit than Sri Lanka (except India, of course!). Catching a game at Colombo’s atmospheric stadium is a great experience – even if cricket isn’t your thing. And ticket prices are extraordinarily cheap: an upper-tier seat with a perfect view costs $3. After the game, make for the Galle Face Hotel for a drink on the black-and-white-checked terrace facing the sea. You’re bound to spot a famous ex-player or two.
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