Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

crags and peaks, sun­flow­er­sown val­leys and hill­sides car­peted with rice ter­races, Ha Giang is a real-life ShangriLa. It’s north­ern­most dis­trict is Dong Van, a high-altitude plateau recog­nised by UNESCO in 2010 as Viet­nam’s first global geo-park for its im­pos­ing geog­ra­phy and rich his­tor­i­cal sites.

They in­clude the town of Dong Van, a war­ren of cob­ble­stone al­ley­ways lined with French flag­stone build­ings brac­ing the Chi­nese bor­der, and Nha Vua Meo, the palace of the Hmong king.

See the Hmong king’s descen­dants in their colour­ful tra­di­tional clothes sell­ing fresh gin­seng, hand­made rice noodles and slabs of tofu at the When Sri Lanka was cat­a­pulted on to Asia’s list of must-see des­ti­na­tions last year, re­ports fo­cused on the coun­try’s beaches, wildlife and tea plan­ta­tions. Yet rel­a­tively lit­tle has been writ­ten about the cap­i­tal Colombo and the ur­ban re­ju­ve­na­tion project that started in 2009 fol­low­ing the end of the 26-year civil war.

Set in one of the world’s largest ar­ti­fi­cial har­bours, the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict of Fort is an ex­otic mix­ture of build­ings from Colombo’s Dutch, Por­tuguese and Bri­tish past. See Gale Face Green, a large ocean­front park that comes alive with kite fly­ers on week­ends, the neo-baroque Old Par­lia­ment Build­ing and the Old Colombo Dutch Hos­pi­tal.

Trans­formed into a palaz­zostyle dining precinct in 2011, it’s home to two of Colombo’s most so­phis­ti­cated eater­ies. Min­istry of Crab re­quires no elab­o­ra­tion and Colombo Fort Cafe, is the sig­na­ture Mediter­ranean open­style dining room of Harpo Goon­er­atne, Colombo’s most pro­lific restau­ra­teur.

South of Fort is Cin­na­mon Gar­dens, a for­mer cin­na­mon­grow­ing re­gion that reigns as Colombo’s swanki­est ad­dress.

Streets lined with fig trees, em­bassies and luxury ho­tels con­verge on to a Parisian-style boule­vard, home to the city’s most iconic land­marks. Th­ese in­clude In­de­pen­dence Hall, the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice and Ar­cade In­de­pen­dence Square, a luxury re­tail precinct en­cas­ing an in­ner court­yard with gran­ite stat­ues and flood­lit foun­tains. Emi­rates (emi­; 1300 303 777) flies from Mel­bourne to Sri Lanka via Sin­ga­pore from $1027 re­turn. Cin­na­mon Red Colombo (cin­na­mon­ho­; +94 112 306 600) in Cin­na­mon Gar­dens is a quirky ho­tel with rock-star rooftop pool. From $104 a night.

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