Three things you must do in Colombo
Travelling to the sub-continent for a first-timer can become a blurry kaleidoscope of colour, smells and tastes. And the emotions you might feel when landing in a city like Colombo can be nauseating and overwhelming.
The Sri Lankan capital is the perfect example of this and nothing short of chaotic. It bristles in the hot midday sun with tuk-tuks, traders, concrete tower blocks and even overpacked trains that skirt the ocean right in front of my hotel, the new Raddison on the waterfront.
But as the sun starts to set and the oppressive pre-monsoon humidity subsides, if you ever want to have the most incredible experience in Colombo, here are three things you need to experience:
I was given this advice before leaving and was sceptical at first, but it turned out to be one of my most memorable Sri Lankan experiences. From your hotel room, pull up Google Maps and switch it to satellite mode.
Amongst your hotel, the skyscrapers and densely populated apartment blocks, you’ll catch glimpses of either green or brown sporting fields, most of which have a cricket pitch etched at their centre.
If you wander through Colombo’s backstreets to any of these cricket grounds after 4 pm, you’re guaranteed to find groups of welcoming children and teens slinging tennis balls at one another with the same fierceness and tenacity as Chaminda Vaas or Lasith Malinga (former Sri Lankan fast bowlers).
As an Australian and cricket tragic, my backstreet meanderings took me to Bambalapitya Grounds, where I was invited to sit in the slips quadrant of a female cricket team in training. Sport is a great cultural leveller and an incredible way to help break down communication barriers in the sub-continent, where it is another religion.
Like any frenetic and densely populated Asian city, the best way to get some respite is to get above it. Rooftop drinking and dining has taken off in Colombo, as new hotels spruit them as a way to catch the sunset while looking across the Laccadive Sea.
Rooftop Bar & Lounge ‘ON14’ is within the Radisson Hotel Colombo and is easily the pick of the city, featuring an extensive local and western bar menu, local beers as well as decorative arrack cocktails, which discount to about AUD$4 each during happy hour. Arrack is a local spirit made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers and sugarcane.
Cool off in ON14’s infinity pool and catch live local music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
You’ll have done the fancy cocktails in a sanitised hotel; now it’s time to taste the real Sri Lanka. Koththu roti or Kottu roti (spelled both ways) is a local delicacy that is my favourite sub-continent street dish from all my travels to India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
That’s not just because of how it tastes but also how it’s made. The distinctive sounds of kothu roti being prepared on a Sri Lankan street corner hot plate, as its creator flings his two meat cleavers up and down rapidly, is quintessential listening for visiting this part of the world and wonderfully hypnotic.
The word kothuthu means “to chop” in Tamil. So, the dish is best characterised as a blend of finely chopped roti, along with your chosen form of protein (mutton or chicken), with scrambled egg and onion. If you try this dish at my favourite ‘Kothu Shop’ at 55 Collingwood Place in Colombo, ask for a one-litre bottle of water and a lion lager to wash it down. The roti here is at near volcanic levels for its spiciness.
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