Colombo, Sri Lanka
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 (emirates.com; 1300 303 777) flies from Melbourne to Sri Lanka via Singapore from $1027 return. Cinnamon Red Colombo (cinnamonhotels.com; +94 112 306 600) in Cinnamon Gardens is a quirky hotel with rock-star rooftop pool. From $104 a night.