Hambantota was originally settled by Malay seafarers (the name is a corruption of “Sampan-tota”, or “Sampan Port”, alluding to the type of boat in which they arrived) and the town still has the largest concentration of Malay-descended people in Sri Lanka, with a correspondingly high proportion of Muslims and mosques – you really notice the call to prayer here. A few inhabitants still speak Malay, and although you probably won’t notice this, you’re likely to be struck by the occasional local face with pure Southeast Asian features.

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