Updated on May 16, 2019
Day 14 of Sri Lanka Trip, Colombo on July 24, 2017
Last day of our journey around Sri Lanka.
The plan of this day was to tour the
capital city of Colombo, before getting on a flight early next morning back home.
To be honest, there wasn’t much to see in the biggest city of Sri Lanka. It’s not nearly as rich in history as cities like Galle or Kandy, and bustling streets alone won’t make this economic center of a rather under-developed country exciting. However, we still decided to spend an extra night here as a cushion between Sri Lanka’s unreliable train yesterday and our early-morning flight.
Since we didn’t have an action-packed day, my friends and I woke up late and checked out of our apartment at noon. A cozy way of spending the morning on beds.
A small trading post under Portuguese rule, a fortified harbour under the Dutch, torn down by the British to make way for development into what nowadays the economic center of the nation with blends of different cultures.
We made Colombo Fort our first stop of the day, which is just a short Uber ride from our apartment. Yeah, by July 2017 Colombo was the only city in Sri Lanka with Uber service.
Old Colombo Lighthouse
Constructed in 1857 as a lighthouse, deactivated after its light became obscured by nearby buildings and decommissioned on 12 July 1952, the tower still functions as a clock tower at the junction of Chatham Street and Janadhipathi Mawatha.
However, when I got there, I found some rusty and dusty stairs leading up the clock tower unattended. Curiosity drove me up those stairs, to a rather simple internal structure of the clock tower.
I made it to the first floor of the clock tower, the stairs up being dustier and the upper floors being some seemingly fragile planks were the two factors stopping me from further exploration. Amazingly, there were no signs of any homeless people making shelter of the tower.
Sri Lanka Central Bank Building
Although Sri Lanka’s Central Bank was established in 1950, its first building in Colombo Fort was built long before that as a relic from the Colonial period. Today, an economic history museum occupies its ground floor, with most of the bank working in some modern skyscrapers across the street.
We must admit, during our brief tour of Old Colombo Lighthouse our bodies were struggling to adapt to a hot summer noon from our air-conditioned apartment, so the free monetary museum across the street with air-conditioning made our perfect next stop.
It’s a little bit hard to imagine a country’s central bank would take such a welcoming stand towards visitors and open a museum for free, which wasn’t how things usually worked in Sri Lanka, all while sculptures and fences nearby still spoke of memories of the 1996 terrorist attack directed at the bank itself.
After that, we wandered around Colombo Fort.
Headquarter of the leading grocery store (the only one we knew of), who made this iconic building their logo.
The Cargills building was originally the residence of Captain Pieter Sluysken, the former Dutch military commander of Galle. It was subsequently occupied by the first British Governor of Ceylon, Sir Frederick North, who lived there for a short time before moving to a spacious villa in Hulftsdorp. The building was acquired by Cargills in 1896. Construction of the current building was completed in 1906.
Colombo Lighthouse and Sambodhi Chaithya
Our last stop of Colombo Fort was Colombo Lighthouse, which constructed in 1954 to replace the old Lighthouse that got obscured by surrounding buildings. Just North of the lighthouse, a bombastic white dagoba (stupa) perched about 20m off the ground on huge curving concrete ‘legs’ so that sailors can see it from offshore.
I bet Sambodhi Chaithya would brought spiritual reassurance to sailors at sea, but on land with its four legs clearly visible in a not-so-appealing manner, I myself couldn’t appreciate it.
Unfortunately, reclamation for a container port nearby isolated this place from the ocean, and with it, much foot traffic. So both Colombo Lighthouse and Sambodhi Chaithya would stand unattended in a tiny corner of the city. If I were they, I would feel lonely.
And since they were on such a unfrequented street, calling a Uber ride to Colombo’s Market district, which was our next destination, involved more waiting than we’d like.
We made Market District our next stop, because it was lunch time and we were hungry, and we thought where there’s market, there’re people, and thus restaurants.
On the good side, and hustle and bustle of these market streets reminded me of what Colombo’s Fort in old colonial days would look like. But unfortunately, we didn’t find many restaurants, the disparity between which and the number of stores drove me to believe either Sri Lankans didn’t eat lunch at all, all everybody got home-made lunch boxes, which could be quite unbelievable (until I attended an American university).
At last, we found a restaurant just across Colombo Central Bus Station, which was the only restaurant we stumbled into that would openly advertise its ice cream with a huge poster on the wall. In a hot summer day, this wouldn’t be bad.
The only downside was that, we expected this ice cream to be some after-lunch desert. However, given how long Sri Lankan meals often take, that’s little more than a fantasy. We were served ice creams first after sitting for half an hour, finished our ice creams and did some more instagramming before our meals finally arrived.
After that, we made our way to the Old Town Hall.
Old Town Hall
Designed by J.G. Smither, an architect in the Public Works Department during the British rule in Sri Lanka, the Old Town Hall was opened in 1873 as the office and chambers of the Colombo Municipal Council and also functioned as a courthouse. Nowadays it houses a museum that has on exhibit regalia from the old municipal boards of Colombo.
The Old Town Hall was situated in such a busy market district that vendors even permeate its garden. Since we didn’t feel the name-his-own-price admission fee by whatever museum gatekeeper was justified, we didn’t enter the Town Hall. But anyway, it’s reassuring to see such a Gothic-style building in an ocean market stands.
After that, we took another Uber ride to Viharamahadevi Park, our last stop of the day.
The oldest and largest park of the Port of Colombo. Situated in front of the colonial-era Town Hall building, the park is named after Queen Viharamahadevi, the mother of King Dutugamunu. The park was built on land donated to the Colombo city by Charles Henry de Soysa during the British rule of Sri Lanka, and used to be named “Victoria Park” after Queen Victoria. During World War II it was occupied by the British Army with Australian 17th Brigade based at Victoria Park. After the war the park was restored and open to the public in 1951.
Arriving from Old Town Hall, we got out of our Uber just outside the City’s New Town Hall.
While in Viharamahadevi Park, some of my friends rushed a visit to nearby National Museum and National Art Gallery before they closed, at the same time I laid back on comfy glass contemplating our journey for two weeks
After that, it was about 6pm in the afternoon, and we decided to head back to our apartment for left luggage. On our way back, we passed by Beira Lake and Seema Malaka, a temple in the middle of the lake for meditation and rest, designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa.
Unfortunately, apart from the delicate Seema Malaka, Beira Lake was in my opinion, filthy. I guess it’s probably because this part of Beira Lake didn’t get enough fresh water circulation to wash away all the animal excrement from the ducks (they quite liked to roam nearby pavements), and didn’t think this would help make a good environment to meditate in.
After that, we finished dinner in a food court near our apartment, and tried hailing an Uber to the airport. However, it seemed that Uber drivers in Colombo didn’t quite like to take airport rides at night, and we got rejected and transferred for a couple of times before one driver finally agreed to take us.
Although Ubers in Colombo were mostly compact cars, fitting all luggage into which was a challenge. We got it taken care of, and reached the airport safely. End of day.