What can be done with just one day in Colombo? Well, an incredible amount as it happens. My brother and his friend came via the city from nearby Bangalore en route to London. And we showed them a good time.
After an early start and a delicious Sri Lankan breakfast we squeezed into a tuk-tuk we’d hired for a few hours. The driver Dudley, now a good friend of ours and our go to man for a local journey, took us out into the countryside to the stunning Kelaniya temple, and then a tour of some of the sights of Colombo.
My brother’s visit was an opportunity for us to sample the best of Colombo’s nightlife. First it was the Blue Bar, part of an excellent pizzeria housed in an old colonial villa in the city’s embassy district. A short tuk-tuk journey along a quiet boulevard lined by giant cinnamon trees took us to Lemon. Its position five stories up gave wonderful views of Colombo. From the rooftop terrace we drank cocktails and watched the twinkling lights of Sri Lanka’s capital.
Dinner was at the Gallery Café, widely recognised as Colombo’s best restaurant. The building and ambience are breath-taking: you enter through a small courtyard with candlelit pools on two sides leaving a bridge to the main restaurant. The building was once the office of internationally renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, famous for mixing modernism with Sri Lanka’s vernacular, and designing buildings that work with the tropical climate. As such there’s a subtle interplay between indoors and outdoors in his work; minimal concrete, exposed brickwork, and hardwoods are organised to create natural cool and shade alike. It was all very zen.
The food was superb, a fusion of Sri Lankan and European to give dishes such as fillet of modha fish, coconut crusted on a bed of mashed potato, vegetables and drizzled with an orange and saffron sauce. And we had white wine, for the first time in three months. Splendid.
Colombo’s nightlife could well be the thing of legend. There are lots of bars and clubs that are extremely trendy, extremely glitzy, extremely expensive, and frequented by expats and wealthy locals. A strict dress code exists at them all – no shorts or sandals allowed.
We had time to kill. The clubs in Colombo don’t get going until midnight and it’s not the done thing to get to one before then. So we had a quiet beer in the courtyard of the colonial Galle Face Hotel; grand, old, and on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
Then, finally, it was a club known locally as the Museum. At one in the morning the place began to get busy and by two it was packed. Glitz, glam and bling were everywhere. All manner of liquor flowed. At four (or was it five?) we got a tuk-tuk back.
24 little hours: 21 of wonderful Colombo, 3 of sleep.