SHOPPING - Lonely Planet Sri Lanka (Travel Guide) (2015)

Lonely Planet Sri Lanka (Travel Guide) (2015)


For many visitors, shopping is defined by what’s available in their hotel gift shops - yet venturing out to nearby villages or making a point of shopping in Colombo or Kandy can yield more than batik sarongs and garish masks.

Sri Lanka’s rich artistic traditions rival those of pretty much anywhere in the world. If you’re prepared to shop around, there are excellent crafts to be found, and prices remain among the cheapest in Asia - although equally many of the crafts available are of shoddy quality. Alternatively, tea and spices also make excellent souvenirs.


Batik design is an intricate process

Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications


In Colombo, there are plenty of superior shops - such as Odel for fashions, Paradise Road for knick-knacks and Barefoot for bright fabrics - and shopping malls like Majestic City and the upmarket Crescat (see route 2). The other main places to buy are Kandy, which has a deluge of craft shops, and Galle, famous for its gems, jewellery, lace and Dutch antiques, and now also home to a number of designer boutiques. Local supermarkets such as the islandwide Cargills chain offer another good - if not particularly exotic - hunting ground for shoppers, usually carrying a good stock of local tea, spices and other local edibles at far cheaper prices than you’ll find in hotel gift shops and the like.

Bargaining is the order of the day in smaller shops. A request for a ‘small discount’ or a ‘special price’ can sometimes work, especially if you’re making a big purchase or buying several items.


An immense assortment of gems are to be found, with blue sapphires being the best buy. Gleaming star sapphires and star rubies are beautiful when set as rings and pendants. Alexandrites are olive-green in natural light, turning a raspberry red under artificial light. Cat’s Eye, so called because it has a streak of light in the middle like the eye of a cat, comes in hues of honey-yellow and apple-green. Other popular stones are amethysts, garnets, aquamarines and moonstones.

Only buy in quality shops such as those in five-star hotels. You might find cheaper prices out of Colombo. For example, in Bentota, Aida Gems and Jewellery (12A Mangala Mawatha, Bentota) has a solid reputation. Locally crafted, highly fashionable costume jewellery of exquisite design can be purchased at Stone ’n’ String, which has Colombo outlets in Majestic City, the World Trade Centre and Crescat, and a branch in Kandy inside Kandy City Centre.



Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications


Colourful batik designs involving motifs of elephants, peacocks and Kandyan dancers make attractive sarongs, tablecloths and wall hangings. Laksala, the government handicraft shop with branches in Colombo, Kandy and Galle, stock them, as do many other crafts shops.


Craft shops stock an extensive range of items like mats, masks, drums, coconut-shell dolls, porcupine-quill boxes, lace, reed, basket and bamboo-ware, lacquerware, wooden figurines, shell crafts, and silver and brassware. The varied representations of Sri Lanka’s elephants, painted batik-style or carved from ebony, are attractive.

Several Colombo shops sell unique items such as cushion covers inlaid with the Sinhala or Tamil alphabet, hand-woven cotton sarongs, floating candles and colourful doorstops.

For such items, head for branches of Laksala or the well stocked Lanka Hand (135 Bauddhaloke Mawatha, Colombo 3. The various branches of the Odel spin-off chain LUV SL ( ; outlets in the Dutch Hospital in Colombo Fort and in Kandy on Dalada Vidiya next to the Queen’s Hotel) also sell a fun range of traditional handicrafts given a slightly funky modern makeover.


Gems galore

Sylvaine Poitau/Apa Publications

Tea and spices

Ceylon tea is Sri Lanka’s most famous export. To sample the best, look for loose-leaf Orange Pekoe if you like tea without milk, or Broken Orange Pekoe for a stronger cup drunk with milk and sugar. Plantation-fresh leaf tea (avoid tea bags for a quality cup) is available at many roadside tea centres. There’s a good selection of local teas available in most branches of the islandwide Cargills supermarket chain or (at higher prices) from the various Mlesna tea shops.

Aromatic spices constitute the soul of Sri Lankan cuisine. A specialist is the Spice Shop at Majestic City, Bambalapitiya (see route 2), or try a good supermarket like Keells or Cargills.


Shops usually open 10am-6pm in Colombo, while in other towns, shops and supermarkets open 8am-8pm.

Note that gem merchants and other places selling exclusively to tourists (like spice gardens, craft shops, batik centres) build in a commission to the price they quote, so if you shop without a local guide, ask for a discount equal to the built-in commission.