Despite its lacking major sightseeing attractions, Colombo is worth spending a few hours wandering around. If you can bear the excruciating heat, that is.
Here is my pick of sites, in the order I visited them:
#1. Central Bus Stand. This is the main bus station, you will arrive here from the airport and it’s also a handy arrival/starting point if you move around town by local buses, like I did (buses are overcrowded but travelling with the locals is fun!).
The bus station is very chaotic, with dozens of buses coming and going every minute and hundreds of people waiting or running around. Asking for information can be an interesting experience – there are a couple of booths with officers from the Sri Lankan Transport Board but you can also approach the bus drivers. You may often find someone willing to walk you to your platform, or you may just be given vague directions with fingers pointed at ‘somewhere’ in the distance.
#2. Pettah market. I loved it! Spread over several streets, this chaotic area offers many photo opportunities. Head for the food area, characterised by colourful displays of groceries, meat and fish. This is a photographer’s heaven as the people are often keen on having their photos taken and will happily pose for you. Then walk around the area but watch out as all streets are very crowded and you will have to constantly avoid tuk tuks, carts and men carrying heavy loads on their shoulders.
#3. Colombo Fort. No, there is no fort. This area is undergoing modernisation and is where most old colonial buildings (many of which are now government buildings) are. The Old Dutch Hospital, now turned into a series of shops and restaurants, can be found here. Although I enjoyed taking a break from the heat by checking out the shops, I didn’t find the Old Dutch Hospital much interesting. The Sambodhi Chaitya is instead worth checking out, with its white stupa perched about 20m off the ground.
#4. Galle Face Green. A strip of grass and promenade facing the sea, this is where the locals hang out, often at sunset. Despite the heat (I visited around lunchtime), families and groups of school kids crowded the small pier and the viewing platform at its end, while lots of couples enjoyed the view from the benches along the promenade. Food carts were everywhere.
Being my first days in the Sri Lankan heat, I didn’t last more than a handful of hours, so I missed temples, museums and parks in Colombo. I will keep them in my wishlist for another visit.