Sri Lanka has had a colourful history when it comes to being colonized. The Portuguese, Dutch and English all had a crack, and all left an indelible mark on the culture and landscape of the country formally known as Ceylon. This history really comes to life in colonial Galle, a small Dutch-built town within an impressive old fort. It’s a crumbling, messy old town and is a great place to wander and breathe in Sri Lanka’s colonial past.
The first thing you’ll notice in colonial Galle is the huge fort. It’s the best preserved fort I’ve seen so far in Asia, and it’s possible to walk almost the whole way around on the old walls. You get a good view of Galle from here, including the narrow alleys and crumbling buildings of the old town, the cricket ground and some of the inner city beaches. The fort didn’t just keep the Dutch, and later English, safe – it also shielded the old town from the full force of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.
Heading down into the old town below you’ll instantly notice how quiet it is compared to the newer part of Galle, a place that doesn’t seem to hold much interest for the average traveller. It can get pretty hectic in parts of the old town, but there are small streets and alleys that are almost completely deserted.
There are some museums and galleries to look around, but I had more fun just strolling the streets, taking lots of photos and occasionally heading back up the fort walls to check out the views.
There are some great places to eat in Galle, not so much for the food (It was alright but I had far better Sri Lankan food elsewhere, especially in the hill country) but for the locations. Many restaurants are housed in old colonial buildings, often looking out at the old town below. It’s hard to beat sitting in a nice old restaurant and looking out over the historical old town, while drinking a cold beer and eating some decent Sri Lankan food.
Galle is a great place to spend a day but I’m not sure if it’s worth spending the night. The guesthouses within the old city seem expensive and the newer part of Galle looks a bit grim; it’s probably a better idea to stay at one of the nearby beach towns. I stayed at Unawatuna (just a few kilometres from town) and it worked out pretty well. Unawatuna’s beach is good, although it didn’t have the clear, blue and calm water I’ve become accustomed to in Asia. Most of Sri Lanka’s beaches seem more suited to surfers, but if you don’t mind a few waves and some murky water (Unawatuna is actually pretty calm, it didn’t look that appealing to swim in though) then it should be fine, as the beaches themselves are excellent.
Getting to Galle
The train from Colombo to Galle runs right down the coast and offers up some awesome views. Unfortunately, I was really sick, and the train was so full that I had to stand in a crowded carriage. I either got sick eating Subway at Changi Airport, or got banana poisoning (I ate about 5 bananas on the day leading up to my flight – I can’t really remember why I did that), so it was quite a difficult ride. I looked so pathetic that an old guy (probably about 100) got up and tried to give me his seat. I took it for about 10 minutes but could feel the eyes of judgement on me, so I insisted he have it back. I’m getting off topic; I should be talking about the views. You can see beaches, small towns by the tracks and, surprisingly, you can still see buildings that were destroyed by the tsunami.
A stroll around colonial Galle is a great way to spend a day and shouldn’t be missed if you are travelling on the west coast of Sri Lanka. There is so much variety in Sri Lanka, I’d highly recommend anyone thinking about going to book their ticket straight away, it really is a special place to travel.
Have you been to Galle, or any other well preserved colonial towns in Asia? Let me know!
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