On arriving at the gateway to Sri Lanka, you feel like you’ve caught the city unawares. Like an early guest to a dinner party, arriving before the host has had time to lay the table, as a tourist in Colombo you may feel your arrival wasn’t entirely unexpected, just a touch ahead of schedule. The city is in a state of undress. Buildings, young and old, are not quite at their best; old colonial buildings mottled and weather worn and young developments, butting out of the ground on every corner, girded in scaffolding and bare concrete.
At first we weren’t enamoured I’ll admit but we had suspicions that our choice of hotel was partly to blame. After quite a journey we had booked a pit stop in OZO Colombo. The location is the first down side. Yes, there’s a view of the ocean but it’s removed from the bustle of life in the centre. Tuk tuks are absurdly reasonable but you would have to travel to anywhere you want to visit. It’s as though investment in the coastline hasn’t quite caught up yet. The city may envelop OZO with time but for now, I would pick somewhere closer to the fort, transport links and places of interest. Anywhere near Galle Face would be a good place to start to watch the sunset and experiment with some authentic Sri Lankan street food.
Beyond the OZO’s location, there’s fairly little to criticise in terms of the facilities available (we chose it for the rooftop pool and bar) but what let the hotel down, I felt, was the little things. Our welcome was far from warm; the staff were professional but curt and the sterility extends to the room.
Functional, fine but completely devoid of character. You could be anywhere in the world and maybe that’s the point; I’m sure it would make an adequate base camp for business for but not as an introduction to the vibrant, palpitating country that is Sri Lanka.
Colombo Fort Station – Train travel in Sri Lanka
Pass through Colombo and you’ll likely brush with Colombo Fort Station. From here you can travel to the golden beaches of the south or voyage into the wilds of the hill country (I’ll be writing up on both soon).
A few handy pointers, one learned the hard way… Don’t always take the word of the ticket inspector at the entrance as to your platform. We suffered the consequences having waited close to an hour for an indecently early train only to watch it trundle past, tauntingly slowly, a few platforms away.
Fortunately, tickets are really very cheap but the railway network is a relic of a bygone era. Routes snake across country stopping at every minor station so can be an unnecessarily arduous choice for long distance travel (buses are generally more direct) except on routes where the train affords the additional bonus of some stunning views.
One last tip, take the opportunity to stock up for a picnic aboard from one of the many raucous cafés that jostle for custom by the station entrance. The characteristic glass cabinets spill with samosas and rotis of all kinds. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure exactly what you’re getting but if you’re worried, vegetable is a safe bet and sure to be delicious. Endearingly, they are parcelled up in recycled papers from the ticket office or, elsewhere, in old sheets of homework; education put to good use!