The neighbourhood of Pettah is easily one of the places that best showcases the essence of Colombo’s colonial and post-colonial culture. The Pettah Markets are the ideal place to purchase clothes, electronics or children’s toys for extremely low prices.
Start your tour at the towering Khan Clock Tower. Wear comfortable shoes, carry some cash, and bring a large bottle of water along with you. Always be mindful of your surroundings here as the streets are narrow and crowded with vehicles and pedestrians. Turn right from the clock tower and travel along the cobblestoned Malwatta Road. The street is lined with plenty of shops selling genuine and faux leather products. A sharp eye and keen bargaining skills are imperative to ensure you don’t get duped by a sweet talking and eager salesman.
The grid layout of the streets will eventually lead you to the entrance of Olcott Mawatha. Known for its reasonably priced apparel shops which contain a wide variety of locally produced and imported clothes and accessories such as bags and sunglasses. Take a left at the end of the street and walk along Bodhiraja Mawatha. This street can be difficult to traverse as it is congested with pavement hawkers selling everything from toys, to phone chargers, to fruits. A good dose of care and cooperation with the traffic, however, will let you to navigate the area safely.
Take a left onto the wider Main Street and find yourself surrounded by a variety of shops selling electronics, clothes, sarees, shoes, kitchenware, sweets and savoury food items. This is one of the busiest commercial streets in the country. If you walk straight down this road, you will end up at the clock tower, right where you began.
Each major street in Pettah branches out to other arteries that specialize in specific types of products. Prince Street, which can be accessed through Malwatta Road, is famous for children’s toys and is always inundated during the holiday season. First Cross Street, which cuts across Prince Street, is famed for all things electronic, ranging from phone cables to televisions. Maliban Street is popular for printing of stationery and gift boxes, making it a must-visit spot for young couples prepping for their weddings. China Street is the party street, simply because it sells everything from red-solo-cups to themed party decorations.
Pettah’s significance as the main commercial hub of Colombo since the days of colonization has resulted in much of its historical sites being demolished to make way for development. However, there are still a few untouched landmarks that remain from the pre-British era.