It’s an actually an interesting and quirky museum; the only rub is that it’s only open from 10 AM to noon on Wednesdays.
The Customs Museum is in the Customs Department, near Pettah, on Main Street. The Museum itself is on your left as you enter and it’s quite small. You’ll be greeted by these chaps, showing examples of customs uniforms. Customs brings in more than 50% of the tax revenue to Sri Lanka, which is nuts.
The tagline on the museum catalog is ‘ Detected, Forfeited & Exhibited’. All the items here are literally things that someone tried to sneak in or out of the country, which were detected by customs. The catalogue (and website) lists the agent that detected the stuff and when it was seized. So you know that there’s a story behind every piece. Above, for example, is a leopard skin someone tried to smuggle out that was detected at Parcel Post, Colombo.
This is a 200-year-old decorated chank that a couple from Surinam tried to smuggle out to Paris, detected by Mr. Samantha Gunasekara.
The place is full of pieces like this. Some interesting pieces we couldn’t photograph were intricately carved ivory and some beautiful shells. They have restrictions on photography because apparently smugglers come to the museum to try and figure out how to get things through. We weren’t allowed to photograph some of the more interesting things. There are, however, detailed photos on their website. Some exhibits even have QR codes that take you right to the relevant page.
There’s some strange and fascinating stuff here, from butterflies to bugs to rhinoceros horn (labeled unicorn in Sinhala) to cloth and furniture. It’s a strange organizing principle for a museum, displaying things that are essentially illegal to move around, but it works. This is a quirky but interesting collection.
If you’re in Colombo between 10-12 on Wednesdays and you’re into oddities, the Customs Museum is an interesting spot. It’s so strange that it’s cool.