Sri Lanka previously was known as Ceylon. This fascinating port city is full of life but also very visible security. The security is a left over from the past Tamil insurgent activity but none of that is visible. It is also because there is a large naval and military base that is part of the port area. The cruise ship dock itself has some shops. A bit of a walk gets you out of Gate 1, a bit longer walk gets you to Gate 2. Gate 2 seemed more convenient as it brings you right out at York Street. The map provided by the ship is actually useful here, it covers the Fort and Petah areas of the town. Both are walkable from the ship although there are lots of tuktuks available. (Take the black or orange ones with white number plates, others will try to take you to jewellery shops of their choosing.)
Sri Lanka is known for its precious and semi-precious stones as well as tea. Jewellery shops are everywhere! All sell loose stones and a smaller selection of ready to wear items. We have an idea of what we want to see, having looked over a Lonely Planet guide for the city. As always things can change We start by wandering down York St, a wonderful array of old buildings on one side, newer on the other. Entering the Cargill’s store was like a time warp. Wooden floors, old style counters and a well stocked grocery store awaited inside.
A bit further along we stopped at the Laksala, a government run crafts store (there are several around the city). A large array of local made items, including elephants, tea, leather goods and wood carvings. Around the corner we had tea and cake at the spotless Pagoda Tea Room. If you want black tea, ask for that because otherwise you get tea with milk. The taste is great either way.
Colombo is a busy city but finding a book shop is a hopeless task. It did take us to some interesting areas though. On the way back we watched 2 groups of boys fishing with nets. The canal links water from Beira Lake (beside Slave Island) and the harbour. They were catching lots with little effort. We were roasting hot so decided to stop at the Hilton for some beer and lunch in the pub. Pat had lamb, I had spicy cuttlefish, both were delicious. There are several restaurants there with Spices serving a delicious looking buffet. Wi-fi is free and quite fast. The lobby is a great place to sit, relax with some tea and a bite to eat.
There are two main places to buy cut stones. One is on the fourth floor of the east World Trade Centre tower. The other is Gemmological Heritage on Flower Road. This last one is a taxi/tuk-tuk ride but it is probably your best bet for finding what you want. Excellent and very knowledgeable staff will help you select what you need with little pressure to buy. On the subject of tuk-tuks here, only use the black or orange ones with white license plates. Their rates are far more reasonable than the others. As always, agree on a price before hand. We paid LKR120 for the ride back from Flower Rd to Gate 2 of the port.
All in all a great port to visit. We travelled approx. 15km with half that in a tuk-tuk to get to Flower Rd. The major sights are all walkable if you don’t let yourself get to distracted by all the shops, which is why we didn’t get to see the Dutch Museum or walk along the Galle Face boulevard along the ocean. But there will be a next time we hope.