The Shopping Malls of Colombo There is no better way of ending a holiday in Sri Lanka than by taking home some souvenir gifts, perhaps spoil yourself with some gems or jewellery, and, last but not least, a bagful of the export quality clothing available at rock bottom prices. Fortunately, most of Colombo’s shopping malls are within easy reach of the city’s hotels. Crescat Boulevard Crescat Boulevard is known as ‘the mall to be seen shopping at’ as it attracts mostly high-end clientele. The appearance is very serene as the mall is decorated in shades of white. At the entrance is an exclusive café where shoppers can delight in delicious French pastries while taking in the ambience. The inside is spacious with an amazing array of stores. You may well buy footwear as there are a significant number of shoe shops. Other shops stock perfume, clothes, accessories, books, watches, luggage, antiques, clothes – and there is a chocolate outlet and an international food chain. Crescat Boulevard has distinctive mobile carts selling items and trinkets. Downstairs is a food court: the fare ranges from eastern to western and everything in-between. Adjoining the food court is a supermarket and a small play area for children. Liberty Plaza This mall, the first one to open in Colombo, is a green-shaded building with a number of entrances, most of which have convenient ATMs. Although the complex is large, it is only the first two floors that house the shops, which display a variety of items: clothes - some local - shoes, household items, books, jewellery, electronics. One noticeable feature is that this complex has frequent lobby sales, in which merchandise from the mall’s shops are sold at bargain prices. Downstairs are a few more outlets and a supermarket which helps to ensure that all items on one’s shopping lists are obtained. Majestic City This is one of the most visited shopping malls in Colombo because it is situated at the hub of an active retail area. Entering the mall, you will find an international franchise outlet and a bank. On the same level there is a flower shop and a supermarket. On other levels there are numerous shops containing clothes, shoes, electronics, toys, jewellery, household items, books. After visiting all three levels of the mall, indulge in the food court in the basement. There are many outlets offering Chinese, Western, Asian, and Mongolian dishes. Adjoining the food court is a children’s play area which provides video games and entertainment to keep the kids busy while you shop. Fell like some entertainment? Then visit the fourth floor and spend time in the malls’ cinema or play a game or two of pool. ODEL Unlimited Without doubt ODEL is the most fashionable mall in Colombo. Its appearance and elegance is of international standard. Inside, for instance, it’s a wonderful ambience of colours and designs. Moreover, ODEL is renowned for its export-quality designer clothes, handbags, footwear and many accessories. And there are superior household items from glassware to linen, and soap and candles. In addition, ODEL has one of the best bookshops in Colombo. While exploring the store, visitors can take a break and indulge in the international food chains, wine counters, and sushi outlet. It’s the difference in atmosphere that makes shopping here an unforgettable experience. It is one of the malls that make shoppers come back for more as they never know what is in store for them unpredictable shopping at its best. Unity Plaza Unity Plaza is more or less a book lovers’ and computer lovers’ paradise. For anyone chained to a computer or a laptop, this mall will not undermine your expectations. There are two floors full of computer equipment, hardware, software and accessories. Enjoying almost equal prominence is one of the most popular book stores around. This is the biggest branch of the store and it houses reading material beyond your wildest dreams. Books on every conceivable subject share the selves: leisure, pleasure, reality, business so much more. Shopping in Pettah There is an area of Colombo known as Pettah, a name that means “the village lying outside the fort.” This harks back to Portuguese and Dutch times when Colombo had a fort other than by name alone, as it does today. In those times, if you were a person of means, it was the best place to reside. Now, however, the situation has changed, for Pettah is one huge, chaotic bazaar. The phrase shopping expedition is perfectly suited to the Pettah area - expedition being the key word of course. If you are fortunate enough to have a car and a driver, it is unlikely your driver will be the least bit excited by the thought of a trip to Pettah. He will possibly roll his eyes and shrug his shoulders in resignation and wish he had taken an “off” day. Pettah is not designed for vehicles. It is very difficult to find parking. But it is a treasure trove of almost any possible item you may wish to buy. Pettah and Fort are next to each other near the main railway station of Colombo. If people tell you to go to Pettah or Fort, it is more or less the same thing. The distinction between the two areas is less clear now that nothing remains of the fort – it did exist in the 17th century – which was constructed by the Dutch. Main Street is certainly wide enough for vehicles, but not in the middle of the day when it throbs with people and transport. The smaller narrow streets and laneways are for foot traffic, though even pedestrians will need to keep their wits – dodging carts and men heaving huge bags of onions, chillies, cabbages, all manner of fruits and vegetables. You will find everything from designer t-shirt rip-offs to suitcases, to CDs to scented candles and underwear for men and women. Even if you do not buy anything the photographic opportunities are endless as you observe characters from all aspects of Sri Lankan life. The mix of shopkeepers, salespeople, vendors, hawkers, beggars and the shopping public is fascinating. You can bargain in most places - small shops, large shops or with street side vendors. There is no harm in asking for the “best price” or offering less if you buy multiple items. The seller will either drop the price a fraction, or simply refuse. Some shops have signs indicating it is a “fixed price” store. It pays to be polite when bargaining. If you become aggressive or rude, the trader will simply lose interest in conducting business with you. I think if you have time the Pettah is worth several visits and there is always a bargain to be found if you look hard enough. A friend of mine says there is something new to discover every time you go there. It is, however, good advice to go in the morning when it is cooler. To spend an entire day traipsing through the alleyways is exhausting and may tinge any good experience you have. Each street has a theme, which you will easily notice, starting in Main Street where all the saree and shalwar kameez boutiques are, together with fabric and curtaining shops. You will meet the same shoppers moving from shop to shop comparing prices, perhaps only to return to the first shop. To many a Sri Lankan, to buy something in the first shop you visit completely defeats the purpose of coming to Pettah. You have to wander around first, get a feel for what is available, and then make your purchases. Maliban Street, which is, incidentally, the brand name of a famous make of Sri Lankan biscuit, is where you will find shop after shop selling stationery, mostly for wedding invitations. There are alleyways dedicated to the sale of glassware, picture frames or electric items; streets smelling like the spices they sell; others sell gold and silver jewellery (Sea Street); or Hindu silverware like incense burners and oil lamps used for special customs and ceremonies. For mobile phones go to Second Cross Street. One street is home to the traditional ingredients used in Ayurvedic medicine – bags full of different roots and plants, all for a specific purpose. Makeshift stalls set up every day along the main road opposite the railway station are where some of the best bargains can be found. Do not expect these goods to last a long time – they are cheap for a reason after all, but you might get some safety pins for your saree, plastic containers and kitchen ware or a gaudy alarm clock. The area around the Kochikade Catholic church is an area of Pettah that never sleeps. You will recognise it from the aroma of the central fish market where seafood is brought from fishing centres such as Negombo. Individual fish vendors come early in the morning to choose the freshest fish to re-sell throughout the suburbs of Colombo. Those who appreciate fish also make the journey to pick the freshest seafood. Leather goods in the World Market next to the railway station are made locally and are a good buy. Bags of all shapes and sizes, wallets, belts and sandals are sold at a fraction of European prices, but it pays to bargain hard and you might end up paying half of the original price. The government handicraft emporium chain Laksala has its main shop in Pettah or, more accurately described, in Fort. If you approach a visit to Pettah with a sense of adventure you’ll be sure to find something to capture your attention. Just remember for the complete experience visit on any day other than Sunday when most of the shops are closed.