Suba Gaman offers great Tuk Tuk Tours around the center of Colombo at good prices if you’re a tourist travelling with a group. The ride is safe, the places are great, and you’ll see a lot more of Colombo than you ever thought possible for a near three hour tour.
The Trishaw was clean, excellently maintained and sported a cool orange and white color scheme. They’ve got complimentary bottled water on board if you’re thirsty. I expect this is for tourists who find Colombo heat too hot to handle. We were fine. Our driver/guide was a nice and pleasant chap. He spoke passable English and apparently speaks basic Japanese too.
Before I begin I’d just like to say that Suba Gaman isn’t afraid to get dirty. Rather than only showing you the clean, pristine areas of Colombo, the tour gives you the best of both worlds. You’ll plough through congested streets with screaming spice sellers in Pettah, make a stop near the dusty Old Colombo Town Hall to enjoy some Thambili and still have enough time to drop by the neater places. I appreciated them not divorcing themselves from the chaotic symphony that makes Colombo what it is.
Our tour began at the Yamu Office. These guys will pick you up and drop you off at the same spot which is pretty convenient. We headed to the Kailasanathar Kovil first. The Kovil, we were told is over 300 years, and features a thin-trunked tree which is as old as the Kovil. I hadn’t the foggiest that Central Colombo had non-colonial buildings this old.
The Kovil was in action when we walked in. Morning worshippers of various walks of life were in unison in prayer while priests chanted, and bells rang. To think that this has been going on for three centuries undeterred… Our driver/guide showed us around, which is one of my two minor concerns; He simply showed us around. He explained a bit, but a little more detail would have been better. You can take photos here, just not in certain areas so just check with the guide.
Next, we headed to the Wolvendaal Church which is the oldest protestant church in Sri Lanka. There’s plenty to appreciate like the old pipe organ that lies beyond repair and gravestones so old they’re written in Dutch. The church was built in 1757 (almost a whopping 260 years ago!) and is true to Dutch architecture of the time. You might enjoy the silence. Here, unlike the Kovil, the silence compels some thought to quiet meditation and reflection.
But if you’re used to hanging around old churches like me, you might not find it as exciting. I suppose silence is better than walking into the church mid-service and taking photos. (Yes, Wolvendaal still runs and offers services in the three main languages.) There’s a guy there who speaks English who’ll tell you a bit about the place. If you’re taking photos he’ll request you to donate to the offertory till.
You’ll wish you’d said your prayers at Wolvendaal ‘cos the next stop is pretty creepy. You’ll head to the seemingly irreparable Old Town Hall Museum. If you’ve read our review on the Postal Museum, you’ll be aware that Sri Lanka is capable of running museums worthy of being visited. The museum is a good stop to admire the building’s near-two-hundred year colonial architecture and regret its decay. Honestly, this place would make a fantastic haunted house. The floor boards creaked under the weight of our feet and broken windows suggested something sinister had taken place prior to our arrival.
That’s when it hit me. Dummies. Beware, these aren’t the friendly dummies of the postal museum, but the foul imitations of the Colombo Council of yore. They sit around a table, frozen in mid conversation and their eyes follow you wherever you go.
Glad to be done with that, we headed downstairs and onto the streets to drink some Thambili. This is ideal for adventurous foreigners. Our guide mentioned that he usually shows tourists a few shops and vendors to check out fabric, clothes and street food. The streets encompass the essence of ole’ chaotic Colombo.
Now for the cleaner part of Colombo.
We headed to what is commonly referred to as the Coin Museum by the Fort Clock Tower. The buildings were marvelous and the road was in excellent shape. History lovers and criminals alike will appreciate the collection of coins too. This museum was excellent. There are videos and detailed boards describing each exhibit. If you’re into making counterfeit bills they show you how money is minted too.
We were then taken to the Ceylinco car park to see the prison cell of the last king of Sri Lanka. This was a short stop. Which leads me to minor issue number two. It would have been great if they could cover a Buddhist temple and/or mosque rather than the cell to add a bit more variety to the mix. We were told by Suba Gaman that this is because certain temples like Gangarama charge tourists about Rs.150 (excluding donations) to get in.
Last on our tour was the Colombo Light House, and a good spot to end our little adventure. The Light House, built post independence was opened by D.S. Senenayake. I assume that once the Colombo City Port is abandoned or completed that the view will be great, but as of now your view will be spoilt by reclaimed shore and heavy machinery.
Suba Gaman is great in groups. They charge USD 42 to take an individual on tour, but groups of two and three are only USD 25 per head, which given, is pretty decent if you’re a traveller who hasn’t the time to experience everything. We were told by Suba Gaman that your own translator can hop along free of charge with your group. If you’re in Colombo for a little while and want to grab a bite of every experience you cannot go wrong with Suba Gaman.