Politics aside, the decisive end in 2009 to Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war has ushered its capital city into the throes of an exciting cultural revolution. Where we once we zoomed through Colombo for leopard safaris and beach holidays along the palm dappled southern coast, we’re finding plenty of reasons to pop down from Bangkok these days for an urban renewal of our own.
Army units previously deployed to fight rebels are now rebuilding Colombo Fort, first established by the Portuguese in 1517. Insiders know to follow Sri Lankan photographer Mark Forbes around these streets named Bristol, Chathum and York by the British who seized this city on the Indian Ocean in 1796. His Colombo City Walks lead the way to colonial landmarks like the De Mel building made famous in Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf video. Elsewhere around town, nightlife thrives inside the 400-year-old Dutch Hospital, re-opened in 2011 to house the likes of Ministry of Crab helmed by one of Asia’s top ranked chefs, Dharshan Munidasa. The Japanese-Sri Lankan also joined forces inside the recently restored Independence Arcade with native-born super model Jacqueline Fernandez to open Kaema Sutra where we challenge one another to eat this island’s spiciest curries.
“Those of us here do not like to think in terms of pre and post war,” insists Annika Fernando the owner of PR, one of Colombo’s most fashion-forward emporiums. Dressed in minimalist, made-in-Sri Lanka separates from her own two-year-old MAUS lifestyle brand, this stylish young entrepreneur admits that the war’s end unleashed confidence in the Sri Lankan economy “which encourages fashion designers” like herself as well as those she triumphs within these polished concrete walls. We’re partial with our wallets to hip batik designer Sonali Dharmawardena, Kûr by Kasuni Rathnasuriya, U by Upeksha and Conscience, a line of tropical organic cotton menswear designed in Sri Lanka and produced within what the brand calls a guilt-free “supply chain of happiness.”