Sri Lanka pt 1: Negombo
Negombo is a city (let’s use the term city very loosely; it’s more of a little fishing village) on the west coast of Sri Lanka. It is also the closest city to Sri Lanka’s international airport (Bandaranaike), depending upon where you are staying, it is approximately a 20-minute drive.
Sri Lanka travel tip: If this is your first time to Sri Lanka, it’s important to understand that the roads aren’t exactly fast-flowing highways. They are generally single-lane roads jam-packed with buses, cars and tuk tuks. The hustle and bustle of these roads means you need to allow yourself more time then you’d expect to get anywhere. Driving 30km can take an hour.
Negombo is a great place to acclimatise to the Sri Lankan culture without being overwhelmed by the craziness of the bigger cities, like nearby Colombo.
Things to do in Negombo
There is not much left of the old fort and its currently being used as a local prison. Still interesting to see in connection to the fishing village and the remaining religious buildings
This market, while being overwhelmingly fishy in smell (go figure), is fascinating as it’s right on the beach where you can see the fish come straight from the boats. After seeing the market, wander along the beach to see the fishermen untangling nets and drying the fish in the sun for miles along the sand.
Since so many of the locals converted to Catholicism, the city has been known as “Little Rome.” Three of the main churches dotted throughout the city that are worth a look are St Mary’s Church, St Stephen’s Church and St Sebastian’s Church.
This is a great road to wander along if you are looking for shops, restaurants, bars and cheap massages. This is also a great place to access the beach (which is beautiful although slightly polluted). Even without being a guest, you are still able to enjoy the beach from several of the main hotels that line this road and enjoy a drink at the bar. Some of our highlights pictured below include Lords restaurant for great food, Jetwing Beach Resort for great access to the beach with some cocktails to top it off and T Lounge for an afternoon pit stop.
I don’t like to say I’m cheap as such, but I do like to be thrifty when purchasing airfares. I saved a ton of money by flying with Air Asia, and although it was comfortable, I’d completely forgotten it didn’t come with any of the bells and whistles. This meant while sitting hungrily for 8 hours, Lawson and I were left to our own devises for entertainment. This basically meant we tried to jump aboard the sleep time machine and get there as quick as we could. It did mean I had a little bit of time to flick through the lonely planet guide.
When traveling to Sri Lanka, it would be a mistake if you didn’t make Negombo your first stop. It’s the closet town to the airport, despite the fact the airport is referred to as the Colombo Airport. In fact, it is actually an hour and a half drive from Colombo.
I'm the kind of person who sometimes needs a day or two to fully adjust to a new culture before I become a confident traveler, and this is definitely the place to do that. Some cultural quirks I started to pick up on while here were things like:
-Toilet paper is a luxury in Sri Lanka. Most toilets don't even have a toilet paper holder; there is just a hose that comes out of the wall, that I had no clue how to use. Carrying baby wipes became a must for this prissy traveler. Actually, on that note, hand sanitizer will also become your new best friend.
-I quickly learned that Sri Lankan men love to stare, almost uncomfortably so. I had to learn to just look straight ahead because I figured, if I couldn’t see them, it would make it heaps easier to pretend it wasn’t happening.
-Everyone is so friendly. There is nothing a Sri Lankan person wouldn’t do for you. After arriving at our Airbnb, when merely asking our host where we could buy some bottled water, he was out the door, and in the car, to go buy it for us before we had realised what had happened.
There isn’t a lot to do in Negombo (except for what’s listed above), so two nights is all you’ll need. It was actually a really relaxing place where we just spent our time casually strolling Porutota Road and discovering things as we went. A highlight for me was Tea by the Sea with T Lounge. My taste buds had been watering the whole flight over with the thought of all the amazing teas I could drink and T Lounge did not disappoint. This place was like a history lesson, tea tasting and sugar high all in one.
When going to another country, the first thing I like to do is get myself a local sim card. That way, I can use the internet without having to take a loan out from my bank to pay Optus for international roaming charges. As we sussed out which provider was going to be the best option, we were bombarded by people trying to give us transport. We wanted to sort out our phones before working out how we would travel to our Airbnb, so we politely declined all the gazillion offers for transport and got ourselves a sim each. While we waited for our phones to be activated, I joked that I needed the internet to watch porn, and the phone guy dropped a bombshell on us that neither of us had even considered. UBER is a thing in Sri Lanka and meant we didn't have to worry about being ripped off and could follow our journey all the way to the front door of our accommodation. We ended up paying $2.26 each for a trip that other drivers wanted $20 AUD for.
Negombo was the perfect place to start our Sri Lankan adventure. If you haven't traveled much, especially through Asia, Sri Lanka can be a huge cultural shock, so it was nice to start in Negombo where things are a little slower paced.
I hate people who stare, it can really get on my nerves, but I had to get over that pretty quickly as both Cat and I stuck out like a penis hanging out of your fly. Everyone was staring; if you saw someone’s penis hanging out of their fly, of course you would stare. I decided just to embrace it (not the penis, but being stared at) and started waving back, smiling and being friendly.
We spent an entire day on foot walking the streets of Negombo exploring everything it has to offer. The fish market was so interesting to me. It is hot in Sri Lanka so you can imagine the smell that the fish market has, but more than that there are no fridges and only some had ice to keep their fish fresh, which made me wonder what they did with all the unsold fish at the end of the day.
If you are travelling to Sri Lanka and, like me, know nothing about cricket and have never watched longer than ten minutes of a game (and even that is pushing it), then you are going to need some cricket catch phrases for when the Sri Lankan people find out you are Australian. It became one of my favourite things to do in Sri Lanka: try and have a conversation about cricket by only using key players names, catch phrases like howzzat and “nice one, Gary” and a couple of cricket terms like the baggy greens, LBW and golden duck.
Airbnb has changed the travel game and really allows you to immerse yourself in the culture of a place by seeing how the locals live. It is a cheap way to travel and so far we have had nothing but good experiences. Our Airbnb hosts always went above and beyond to make our stay a memorable one. A tip if you are going to book an Airbnb, especially in a country where it can get f**king hot, don’t skimp out on a cheaper place with no air con. Pay that little bit more so that when you get back from a day in the heat, you have a nice cool place to recharge your batteries.