We slowly sailed into Colombo Harbor around dawn this morning. Colombo is a major city with a large commercial port. We will be spending the night here. Why this is an overnight port was not clear to me, since the city doesn’t offer the night life you normally associate with high quality overnight ports like Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney. Since this is a popular jumping off point for the overland to the Taj Mahal, maybe they wanted to give those folks (including us) a chance to see Colombo on day 1 before departing for overland adventures on day 2. We moored one pier over from the Sri Lanka Navy Ship “Sayura” which is the flagship and an offshore patrol vessel for the Sri Lanka Navy
- NOTE: As you leave the immediate area by the ship, you pass by a sentry and are now on a major street with cars, trucks, buses and taxis whizzing by. Based on this you might think (as we did) that you are clear of the port security zone and in the city, but we learned that you have to pass an additional security point to get completely out of the port area. All vehicles required a special permit to access this area, some Tuk Tuks & Taxis had the pass and others didn’t. We didn’t realize this important distinction until we were on our way back later and discovered our taxi couldn’t go beyond the outer gate, about ½ mile from the ship.
- We heard reports of 5 or 6 passengers who had Tuk Tuk drivers demand a higher fare after the ride was complete despite agreeing on the fare before the ride started. Sometimes you can simply give them the original fare and walk off, but other times, you may feel so intimidated you simply give them the extra $ (up to double the agreed upon price) or whatever to avoid any further confrontation. We also heard, second hand, that several crew members had items pick pocketed by Tuk Tuk drivers and other bad experiences. If Colombo wants to have tourists come back they need to clean this up.
We spent most of the day getting ready for our overland to India tomorrow and didn’t venture out in town until around 4pm. Our plan was to walk to and explore the nearby Fort Area for a couple of hours and then head back to the ship early to get a decent night’s sleep. The Fort area is the city’s financial center and home to the 500 foot tall twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Before we left the ship, I had fun watching the activity on the SLNS Sayura from our cabin. Today the ship was filled with school children who were being given tours and allowed to play on the helicopter landing deck.
We decided to walk the approximate 1 mile to the Fort Area, but in hindsight it would have been better to take a taxi as we would have saved our time and energy for exploring rather than simply walking through a rather boring port area.
Once off the ship, there is a small string of temporary shops, right next to the ship, selling gems, clothes and other souvenir type items. However, the ship published the following warning about these shops which discouraged us from spending anytime browsing: “Prior guest experiences with such shopping have led to disappointment in the quality and authenticity of the merchandise”. When the ship advises you to not shop with the vendors right on the pier – that tells you something.
We continued thru the security checkpoint and headed down the main street toward York Street which would lead us to the Fort area. Off to our right side, maybe ¼ mile away sits the Sambodhi Chaitya which is a Buddhist Shrine built with reinforced concrete in 1956, it looks like a rocket ship ready for launch. If we had more time, we may have climbed up to the lower level, but we didn’t have the time or the energy today.
It wasn’t apparent from the map, but York Street sits above the road we were currently on, we ended up climbing up a couple flights of outside stairs to reach another security checkpoint that lead us out of the port area to York Street. At this point we were immediately accosted by a series of TuK Tuk drivers and other people wanting to sell ua this or that, or take us to a special show. They were quite persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer initially and would follow us for 20 yards repeating the same request, all the while we were continuing to say “No Thanks” again and again. Our first stop was the nearby Hilton which was a welcome island of familiarity. We picked up a few souvenirs and then walked off to another shopping area called the “Dutch Hospital” which had some nice restaurants and shops. But as you transit from area to area, you have to wade thru the sea of people trying to sell you anything and everything. If you stand still for a minute to study a map, you will constantly be approached and offered guide services or to be driven to a special shop or special show. After a couple of hours of this, we decided to pack it in and head back to the ship. I forgot to mention that all of this activity is taking place with the heat and humidity in the 90s’s which didn’t help.
We hailed an UBER to avoid dealing with the local taxi drivers and Tuk Tuks, he arrived in a few minutes. The only disappointment was when we realized that he couldn’t get inside the port area and had to drop us off ½ mile away at the outer port security. We did enjoy a nice view of the Amsterdam glistening alongside the pier with her friendship lights illuminated.
Future travelers take note. Determine ahead of time exactly what you want to see in Colombo and where you want to go. I didn’t do my homework and was disappointed by the shops around the Fort area within walking distance of the ship. In hindsight I should have spent more time finding a reputable driver and guide or taken one of the HAL tours. An earlier start when it was cooler would also be a good idea.
Back on the ship we enjoyed another wonderful meal in the MDR. There wasn’t a live show tonight in the Queens Lounge, but instead they were showing the movie “Spy” which we had already seen, so we headed back to our cabin to finish packing for our overland trip to India the next morning.
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