Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Surprisingly Progressive Capital

It was hard for me not to draw parallels between Sri Lanka and India, what with the proximity of the two countries, not to mention their common-ish ethnic, linguistic and religious ties. But my comparison was shattered almost immediately upon arrival at Colombo’s Bandaranayake international Airport earlier this week.

“The Japanese test all their technology here,” Leave Your Daily Hell reader Charm, who’s been nice enough to show me around his city and plan out my entire two weeks in Sri Lanka, explained,  when I asked why exactly my mobile Internet was so surprisingly fast. “We’re an island, and we’re small, so we make for a great test market.”

And new technology, it turns out, is not the only groundbreaking thing about Sri Lanka’s largest city.

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Indeed, after resting up at my guest house in Colombo 4 – Colombo is divided into 14 numbered districts, not unlike Paris – I set out early to explore the city. I found myself continually amazed by just how progressive Colombo is, given that it is the capital of a country only recently free from the throes of civil war.

Preserving the local environment, for example, is high on the agenda of the Sri Lankan government. Officials have built cages arounds even the smallest of trees that sprout up in the city, and penalties for cutting down trees – even those on your own property – can include imprisonment.


Sri Lankan environmental welfare extends to animals as well: The Colombo city government is in the process of rounding up, fixing and vaccinating stray dogs and cats.

And it’s not just a top-down approach. While en route to the Sri Lanka National Museum, itself home to a tree nearly as wide as the museum building, I came upon a demonstration of local school boys, advocating for a waste-segregation recycling scheme. Contrast this to nearby countries – again, India springs to mind – where even one-size-fits-all trash cans are absent in most places.


Colombo has even constructed dedicated bike lines which, although not currently in very heavy use, provide an alluring alternative to the traditional car, bus and auto-rickshaw tuk-tuk that congests the city’s streets.

This is not to say Colombo is a perfect city, or completely free from the kinds of grit, grime and disorganization that plaque many of the other metropolises in the region.


The sidewalks adjacent to Pettah Market, for example, covered by tin roofs that ring out with unbearable clamor in even the slightest rain, are blanketed in what appears to be hundreds of years of filth, which says nothing of the feces-caked tracks at nearby Colombo Fort Railway Station.

Likewise, the elephant that lives at Colombo’s incredible Gangaramaya Temple is chained, and is made to stomp to and fro in a small area, often on top of an through its own excrement. A large lagoon that sits at the center of the city is tinged an I-think-I-saw-that-on-the-Simpsons green, although not, according to Charm, because of any nuclear waste problem.


I left Colombo Wednesday to begin my exploration of the rest of Sri Lanka humbled, if not a bit taken. Colombo may not be one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited, but it certainly surprised me in the best possible ways. It’s funny that the friend I’ve made here is called “Charm,” because his city seems to have a lot of it.

About The Author

is the author of 847 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Noel Morata June 15, 2013 at 8:47 pm

I’ve always wanted to visit, look forward to seeing more on your travels to Sri Lanka

Suarez November 28, 2013 at 6:23 am

What was it about colombo airport that shattered your preconceptions? And how was colombo airport different from India? Great report by the way.

Robert Schrader November 29, 2013 at 11:58 am

Hi Suarez: I mentioned the airport not so much because it shattered my preconceptions in and of itself, but rather to highlight how immediately I realized Sri Lanka was different from India. One thing I will say, however, is that being able to purchase 10 GB of data for 10 USD at the airport was very preconception-shattering, indeed.

Thanks for your comment!

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