Another flight, another country... Landing in Sri Lanka was as exciting as our initial arrival in India. We'd heard good things about this island and were about to discover the attractions for ourselves.

The drive through Colombo provided the first glimpse of things to come. Unlike the mad, noisy, bustling cities of India we were pleasantly surprised by the general courtesy and order evident on the main highways. No more excessive use of the horn, far less of the kamakazee-style driving tactics and an overall familiarity to the scene combined to make the drive strangely calming.

One of the most unexpected things to strike me was how British the city felt. Not surprising in hindsight given the history, but nonetheless at times you could have been driving in a leafy Surrey suburb or along a wide Georgian avenue. All the road markings were the same, the public signs and traffic lights too. It was a very strange mixture of home and exotica side by side.

Our hotel for a couple of days was The Grand Oriental up in the Fort district of the city. This was originally used as an army barracks until being turned in to one of the upmarket colonial retreats that dot Colombo. It had an air of faded grandeur, but if it was good enough for Anton Chekhov in 1890 it was good enough for us.

Having spent the last couple of months eating a variety of Asian food, we were quite unrepentant about making one of our first stops a dirty great big slice of Western culture. A Big Mac beckoned and we replied with gusto. A greasy hamburger later and drooling at the memory, we set off to explore the city.

This was a Sunday afternoon, so traffic was probably lighter than usual anyway, but there was a definite feeling of having the place to ourselves as we jumped a rickshaw and toured around for an hour or so.

Many sights were seen, just a few mentioned here:

The White House
The World Trade Centre
Trafalgar Square
The Mall
Natural History Museum
The Pentagon
Paddington Station
Hyde Park
Embassy Seige
New Scotland yard

Had to stock up on a few provisions so the natural choice was ‘Cargill’s’, the colonial era department store still going strong. Not sure what I expected, but it was housed in a beautiful old red brick building with columns and turrets aplenty. When you walked in the main entrance though the overriding feel was that of a church Bring ‘n’ Buy sale.

It was a cavernous space with shelves round the perimeter and a series of tables and glass display cabinets haphazardly plonked in the middle. They did sell a staggering variety of stuff however with electric fans next to the toothpaste and childrens bedcovers nestling alongside the booze. In amongst this lot were old favourites like Heinz Baked Beans (English receipe!) and Branston Pickle – obviously in demand by ex-pats and travellers alike. We managed to find the essentials needed and enjoyed a good browse on the way.

The only other bit of housekeeping we needed to attend to was to alter the date of our flight to Thailand - a result of our extended stay in India. Duly arranged by the resident travel agent for free, and so encouraged we engaged a car & driver for fiive days to take us up in to the hill country before hitting the beach.

After another evening in Colombo where we sampled the best Thai food this side of Bangkok, we bade farewell and headed to the hills...




India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa