Pettah is Colombo's biggest, most functional market space. It's loud, crowded and infinitely full of interesting and useful things - it's one of those places you either love or you hate (it was the former for us).
At first glance, the place seems chaotic and bordering on mad, what with the streets being packed inch to inch by trishaws, hawkers and wooden wagons. But if you know Pettah and know what to get where, you can walk away with some very cool stuff at ridiculous prices. Also with the right attitude you can make friends with some very interesting people here.
We've tried to put together a guide to Pettah here. We obviously haven't covered every single thing about the place - there are continually new businesses popping up and little old shops in corners that are yet to be discovered. But we've tried to give you an overview of Pettah streets to help you navigate through the busy market block.
- Congestion: Pettah is extremely congested during the day. You can avoid the crowd if you get there before 10AM but then the middle of the day is when you'll meet all the street hawkers and their cool random-ass stuff (dancing toy lobsters, swimming toy squirrels, kites, bubble blowers).
- Traffic: Try to always stay on the little bit of 5-inch pavement next to the shops, because there are always trucks, wagons and trishaws trying to impossibly maneuver themselves on the roads. No point bringing a vehicle here, get here by foot.
- Parking: If you do have to get to Pettah by car, you can go around the Khan Clocktower and park near there.
- Man's market: Though there are a lot of women shopping for saris and stuff here, it's mostly a man's domain. The hawkers and most of the shop keepers are men, and so are the street vendors and the workers carrying loads to their trucks. It's generally very safe if you're a girl wandering through, but just prepare yourself for being stared at as though you're a sparkly unicorn with two heads.
- Make a list: If you're here to shop and not just sight-see, then make sure you have a list and a rough idea of where to get these things (our guide will help). Because there's just so much going on here, you could get confused and distracted.
- Learn some Tamil: Or take someone with you who knows Tamil, although Sinhala works too (though they warm up to you if you're a Tamil speaker since that's the first language of a lot of the shop keepers in Pettah). You need this to bargain - if you bargain right, you can get what you want at any price you have in mind.
- Old buildings: If you pay close attention, particularly at the Clocktower roundabout, Bodhiraja Mawatha and 4th Cross Street, you'll find some beautiful ancient architecture from the Dutch period amidst the hustle and bustle.
- Fruit vendors at junctions: You'll find refreshing thambili, oranges, durian, watermelon and grapes at many of the junctions between streets, if you want something to energize you after all the walking. Also look out for Bombay Sweet houses for tasty Faluda (the best is on 1st Cross Street).