The Pettah Floating Market opened on the 25th of August to a lot of hype, and it’s worth it. The place is another part of Colombo’s fancy urban development plan along with Arcade Independence Square, but much more accessible to everyone. Colombo has never had such an amazing hangout space before, and it’s affordable.
Edit: We dropped in again a few days later and this time around the distinct smell of the Beira lake was far too prominent. In other words, it smelled pretty awful.
The floating market is a series of pavilions constructed on the far end of the restored Beira lake between the Pettah bus station and the railway station. It’s supposed to include about 90 stalls in total – and when we visited, this included electronics, clothes, shoes, jewellery, short-eats, kottu, vegetables and fruits. It’s kind of the stuff you’d find at Majestic City, except you’re shopping next to this glorious lake.
Here’s a map. On the west end is the entrance, the Testa Bake House (1), a cool arched iron bridge (2), and as you head east – electronics (3), clothes, shoes, short-eats (4), Pettah stuff and fruit stalls (5), and finally a food court (6) surrounded by a red-tent hangout space. Boat rides available on weekends (7). The space is a lot of clean wooden boards, grey floors and red terracotta tiles.
There’s no entrance fee, and you can enter the market at either the west or east end, though the official entrance is on the west side where you get a wood-carved flanking marked ‘The Floating Market’ and a pier where you cross over from the road to the market.
In the first series of the ‘floating’ market space you get some awesome mobile, camera and radio equipment stores in the style of the ones at Majestic City.
The next series has got clothes, shoes and junk jewellery, all pretty affordable (bags for less than Rs. 1000 and Rs. 2000 for a nice pair of sneakers).
There are a lot of convenience stores here and there, that sell biscuits, soft drinks, tipi-tip and the whole works.
At the very east end, after a stall of Pettah stuff (cheap movies, plastic baby dolls and other knick-knacks) you get a nice stretch of fruit stalls, and also a few fruit and vegetable stalls that are legitimately floating next to the market. If you climb into them they wobble around on the water.
The Testa Bake House on the west end of the market has its own square pavilion and you can come here if you want to sit under a large roof and enjoy the view of the lake and the market. You get short-eats, ice cream and tea here, all for just around Rs. 40.
You’ll come across a bunch of short-eats stops along the floating market that sell good burgers, rolls, soft drinks and so on for around Rs. 30. Hot Cabin is in the second series of pavilions, where you can get fruit juices and also hot-hot kottu for Rs. 250. At the far east end you get a Food Court with much of the same stuff, surrounded by a gorgeous mini-park with seating spots, right next to the railway tracks.
Actually, forget about the shops and the food, what makes Pettah’s floating market so amazing, is the space itself. The pathways along the stalls are in warm wood and concrete, the tents and roofs are a clean red, and there are lovely benches at intervals alongside patches of grass and planned out trees.
Natural 10/10 ambience near sunset time, thanks to the open sky and gorgeous body of water (which even has a couple of fountains). It’s all very tastefully done and as far as I know, we’ve never had such a cool – and free – place to hang out at in the city.
These little traditional statuettes alongside one seating area were particularly striking, in faded bronze shades against a brick backdrop. You get big black stone plaques towards the west side that declare this space a part of the Mahinda Chinthana, and also beautiful fresh flower arrangements set up here and there.
While sitting anywhere here you might see a train pass by since the place is open to the railway tracks of the station next-door, which is pretty cool. On the weekend you can take a boat ride on the lake on the east end, in nice looking wooden boats too, not the crappy plastic type ones we boat-ride enthusiasts are used to.
The floating market is a combination of Majestic City/Pettah affordability, easy snacks, drinks and kottu, tasteful design, and a fantastic location by the lake and the railway tracks. To us Sri Lankans, who in Colombo have only Viharamahadevi Park and Independence Square as free public hangouts (and maybe the Arcade, though the shops there are pricey), the floating market is as godayata magic as it gets so far.