By Lisa on Apr 12, 2016 with Comments 0
In my opinion there’s only one reason to stay in Colombo and that’s because you need a place to rest your weary head after back to back long-haul flights before you set off the next day on your real Sri Lanka adventure.
Should we stay in Colombo?
That’s a question that many first time visitors to Sri Lanka ask.
I had read in many places that Colombo has very little to offer and, taking the advice of many travellers before me, decided that we would spend only one night in the capital.
I had also read that some travellers skip Colombo altogether and have a driver meet them at the airport to go to Galle, Kandy, Sigiriya or wherever they want to visit first. For us it simply wasn’t in our budget to spend 60€+ to drive across the country in a private car.
Plus that’s a little on the tame side, I think. I didn’t come all the way to Sri Lanka to be cooped up in a car, I came to Sri Lanka to experience Sri Lanka.
I had toyed with the idea of going first to Negombo instead of Colombo but again, this didn’t really hold much appeal and though closer to the airport, would limit us with regard to public transport when it was time to move on the next day.
Colombo it is then
We were landing at Colombo Airport at 3pm and I had estimated that we would be out of the airport after immigration and baggage collection by about 4pm, which turned out to be quite accurate. This would mean that we really wouldn’t have the time (or the desire after travelling for so long) to get on public transport and head to another town or city.
So we were stuck with Colombo for a night.
After extensive and frustrating research I had come to the conclusion that a 6am train from Colombo to Habarana did in fact exist. So the plan was to take it the very next morning and for that first night just to find somewhere to stay close to Fort Station in Colombo.
Easier said than done!
Finding budget accommodation in Colombo is a goddamned nightmare. Either it doesn’t exist or it is so seedy and disgusting that you wouldn’t dream of staying there.
Before leaving Spain I sent many emails, read many reviews and searched many online booking pages. Each time I came up empty handed and after many accumulated hours I was still at square one.
To cut a long story short I ended up taking a gamble and booked a homestay on AirBnB.
It was still expensive by Sri Lankan standards (though not by Colomban standards) but it included airport pick up, which solved another headache as the drive from the airport to the city is around 50 minutes and I didn’t want to have to fork out for a taxi (and I knew that we would be too lazy to take the public bus after so much flying).
Not only did I not know what to expect from this homestay, I also did not know what to even expect from Sri Lanka itself.
AirBnB in Colombo
As it turned out, the AirBnB thing was okay. The guy (our host) was really nice, as were the other members of his family that we met.
The man whose place we were staying at was called Firdouse. And he also picked us up from the airport. He had a large banner with our name on it and was waiting right where we had agreed.
In the car on the way to the city he grilled us relentlessly on what we thought he could do to get more people to stay at his place. That was all a little intense after 18 hours of travel. And it being our very first moments in Sri Lanka and my very first time booking on AirBnB, I couldn’t really advise him very well.
I soon came to realise that this is just the typical way the locals express enthusiasm and the more intense they come across the more it’s just that they value your opinion.
Anyway, here’s my little plug for Firdouse, who is a really great guy and deserves success: His AirBnB listing is here but I’d recommend giving him a direct call on: 0094 (77) 6317073. He’ll sort you out with a bed, he’ll probably pick you up from the airport and he’ll assist you with whatever else you need. Plus you’ll pay a lot less than through AirBnB.
Our first experience of friendly locals
Our conversation turned to our onward travel plans. Firdouse was very concerned that we wanted a train ticket for the very next morning and hadn’t bought it yet. You can only buy tickets from the train station and we’d only just landed so I’m not really sure how we were supposed to have bought it! This was before I’d had first hand experience of how helpful the Sri Lankans are.
“You should have told me and I would have gone to the station a few days ago and bought your tickets,” Firdouse said as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Goodness me! I wouldn’t dream of asking that of him. Would you?
Now Firdouse was insisting that he drop us at the house so we could rest and he would go straight back out to Fort Station and buy the tickets for us.
Then he thought better of that, concerned that the clock was ticking, and suggested that we all go immediately to Fort Station before going to the house.
This was great for us as we had planned to go to Fort Station that afternoon under our own steam anyway to sort out our tickets for the next day out of Colombo. And now Firdouse was offering to take us, wait for us and help us.
Without Firdouse’s help and despite that I had it all written down, it would have been an absolute chore finding where to buy the tickets at Fort Station. The station was chaos. It looked like a scene that should belong in a huge city like Mumbai rather than Colombo. There were tuk tuks everywhere, buses everywhere, people everywhere, horns blasting, dust and grime…
It wasn’t the best first impression of the country.
Luckily, with Firdouse’s help we got our train tickets for the next day and were back in the people carrier within 10 minutes of pulling up at the crazy Fort Station.
Due to our detour to the train station we ended up in gridlock traffic on Galle Road driving back towards the house. We sat there sweating, feeling sick and not moving for an hour. It was horrendous.
We had planned to go and watch the sunset from Galle Face Green but it was already dark when we reached the house.
Firdouse wanted to take us driving on a tour of Colombo but we couldn’t face more time in the filthy gridlock traffic so we pleaded exhaustion and had a much needed shower instead.
We were actually staying at Firdouse’s brother’s house, and his wife Fatima made us a great cup of Sri Lankan tea – the first of many.
Before we hit the sack Toni and I decided to go for a stroll nearby and grab a bite to eat.
That was a waste of time!
As there was very little close to the house we walked down the dark and windy road the 1km to Galle Road. Though still bumper to bumper with traffic there was no other activity. This was a bit of culture shock for us being used to countries in Asia where the streets are a spectacle in themselves and where there are delightful street food snacks on every corner, day and night.
We walked around for a bit and then went in the only place we could find open: a bakery with a few tables. We had an extremely sweet bun and a fruit juice and then trekked back to the house, very glad to collapse into bed with the knowledge that we would be out of Colombo by the crack of dawn.
About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....