Chilling out in Colombo, Sri Lanka

By Fouad Alaa

I HAVEN’T DONE any international traveling over the past few years, so when the chance presented itself to go on a trip to Sri Lanka with my family, I was pretty excited. I have to admit though, I was only pumped up about of the idea of traveling rather than specifically getting to see Sir Lanka. After all it’s not a country that one might have on their bucket list.


By the time my trip was over though, I realised that Sri Lanka was pretty understated on the list of Asian countries to visit. It had a combination of the Egyptian type of atmosphere and Kuching’s chill nature and spirit.


The airport


After arriving at Colombo international airport, I instantly felt at home. The feel of the place reminded me so much of Cairo international airport, except that it was much smaller.


My dad had been to Colombo a few months ago on a conference, and told me to not take any rides from outside the airport but to book my ride to the city from the agents in the arrival hall. Later I found out that not only did that save us some money, but also saved us the hassle of being targeted by the tons of drivers outside who were playing feeding frenzy with the customers.


The hotel


It took the cab about 45 minutes to reach Colombo and about 5-10 more to reach Marine Drive where the hotel was. I had viewed the budget hotels which cost anywhere from RM50-100 per night, but they looked dodgy. If I was travelling alone or with friends one of them would have been my choice, but they are not an option for a family.


The Global Towers Hotel & Apartments has an apartment-like suite that costs RM450 per night. Personally I thought it was overpriced but once I reached there I thought it was very reasonable for its quality. The rooms were squeaky clean and the master bathroom had a huge tub, the kitchen was fully equipped even though they had room service available. The pool was a tad tiny in comparison to what one might expect from the rest of the hotel, but who would even look at it with the shores of Colombo just across the street?


The view is simply a delight:


The beach view from Global Hotel Towers where we were staying.

The beach view from Global Towers Apartment Hotel where we were staying.


With our small angry mob settled in, I thought I would go out and discover the city. Joining me was my good friend Yazmin Yousuf, a radio host, producer and voice-over artist at YESFM, Colombo’s number one hit music station. She showed me around the cool hot spots in Colombo and introduced me to the local street food.

Taphouse by RNR


I had the chance to hang out at Taphouse by RNR on my first night out, and it was the best introduction to Colombo’s night life. The place was super chill, the food is alright and the drinks are super cheap if you compare the prices to those of your average Malaysian chill bars.


There was also a live band that usually plays over the weekend and their music playlist had a variety of classic and new songs that added a beautiful harmony to the place. The best thing I liked was that the local crowd seemed to be very welcoming of tourists without being too friendly which made everyone comfortable and able to enjoy themselves.


The band playing at Taphouse

The band playing at Taphouse


Public transport


One of the things that is so different about Colombo is the public transportation; there are tuktuks everywhere! A tuktuk is a three-wheeled cabin cycle that is considered a key element in moving around the city. It is not cheaper than public buses but it is cheaper than normal cabs.


The tuktuk (right) and the public transport bus.

The tuktuk (right) and the public transport bus.


The public buses look ancient and once you enter one you lose the right to personal space; after all it is public transport. However, there is just something about getting into a tuktuk that moves at about 30 km/hour and feel the cooling wind in the heat of the city. For a 5-day vacation it seemed refreshing, but I would think the locals might have a very different opinion.


The Shore By O


An absolute chill-out lounge on the beach with live rock and very cheap drinks, it couldn’t get any better. Even though the service and food weren’t that great, the design of the place along with the beach creates the perfect place to chill out and enjoy a live rock show.


After hanging out I got to know the reason why such a nice place on the beach would be that cheap, the reason was that most of the area is owned by a beer company! Now I get it.


The local food


Over the next few days I tried to get a taste of the local food, but the menus of most food courts and restaurants have a lot in common with those in Malaysia (a combination of Indian cuisines, Malaysian, Thai, etc). I didn’t want to waste a meal on Tom Yam fried rice of Malaysian fried rice, so I decided to go for street food.


The best street food I tried was the kottu. Basically it is made up of shredded Sri Lankan godamba roti which is stir-fried along with an assortment of spices and meaty (or vegetarian) ingredients. The kottu is more or less the burger of Sri Lanka, and it tasted like a little slice of spicy heaven. There is also the cheese kottu and the egg kottu that leaves you with Sophie’s choice of picking which one to eat first!


There were a couple more popular sites in Colombo that I didn’t get a chance of visiting like the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, which is said to have the largest herd of captive elephants in the world.


I am more of a night-life traveler, but the elephant orphanage would definitely be on my list the next time I am in Colombo. Usually elephants bathe their own calves, but since the baby calves have no mothers they instinctively learn how to bathe themselves. While it is a bit sad, I would imagine it would be unbelievably adorable.


After the 5 days were done I really wished I could have been able to stay around more. The friendly nature of the people, the chill hang outs and the feel of the city made me want to book another flight for a longer time somewhere in the near future. Since I didn’t have enough time to look up more places in and near the city, I would make sure the next time I am more prepared to the wonders of discovering Colombo.


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