We spent our first day walking around Colombo trying to organise the rest of our stay in Sri Lanka.
We headed directly to Fort Railway Station to buy train tickets to Kandy, ideally for the next morning. Colombo to Kandy is ‘the’ train ride to take in Sri Lanka so we were eager to get out of the capital and onto a train so that we could really start our holiday.
Fort Railway Station is a run down building built in 1908 and must have been beautiful when it was built.
It was very chaotic. You are not allowed onto the platforms without a valid ticket.
We were heading to the ticket windows when locals (or train workers, there’s no way to tell) directed us (without us asking for help and they were very insisting) to the Railway Tourist Information.
When we asked about tickets to Kandy, we were told that everything was sold out for the next few days. All 1st, 2nd and even 3rd class tickets were gone, he told us, but he would check with the train station manager. We were then left waiting for almost fifteen minutes before he came back with ‘great’ news. As luck would have it, we could have the tickets for the train we wanted (and the best seats) if we would book our entire Sri Lanka trip through them. We made some notes and left in search of a better deal without the obviously bad and pushy sales techniques.
After a few hours of trying to find a travel agent or official tourist information center in the very hot, sticky weather we gave up and went back. Without protest, we bought the package from the railway/tourist official and breathed a sigh of relief. We were sorted for now. I am sure we could have done it for a fraction of what we paid, but to be honest, we did not want to waste another day in Colombo searching for a better deal.
The railway/tourist information official took over the planning of our stay in Sri Lanka, advised us, changed it and came up with a five day itinerary: accommodation (with breakfast), a car plus driver and the most important bit for us: train tickets to Kandy for the next day.
Pettah market – just opposite the station. We spent a couple of hours walking around the narrow roads of the market which seemed to consist of clothes and electronic shops. Very busy. Interestingly, the ratio of men to woman was about 10:1. We were constantly asked which country we come from, but it that was about it. Nothing sleazy and nowhere near as bad as Egypt. For two women traveling together that was very good news.
The most convenient mode of transport in Colombo. Tuk-tuks are everywhere, blocking the pavement and in the middle of the road usually stuck in traffic. Luckily most of them have meters, so no need to bargain.
Jami Ul Alfar historic mosque.
We passed many beautiful but unfortunately run down colonial buildings with obvious Portuguese, Dutch and British influences. Only a handful (like the Old Dutch Hospital) have been renovated to their former glory.
Neo-baroque style Old Parliament Building – now the Presidential Secretariat. We were told several times not to even point our cameras towards the building (both by soldiers and passers by) as the President of Sri Lanka was inside. We saw several military helicopters taking off.
Galle Fort Promenade. It was nice to see locals enjoying themselves, having picnics and flying kites after walking through the busy Pettah area. This cannon used to be mounted at the old fort of Colombo.
I wouldn’t go back to Colombo. Obviously, there is the possibility that we were walking through the ‘wrong’ areas and missed the trendy, cool places known to locals. It felt very polluted, dusty, busy and chaotic. Not a surprise as it is the largest city and capital of Sri Lanka. For us, though, it was just where the plane had to land as it’s has the only international airport in the country. We didn’t get the best impression during our stay but we didn’t expect much.
We decided to change our plans and not stay our last two nights in Sri Lanka here.