Sri Lanka has a wide variety of attractive handicrafts on sale. Markets in major towns are good places to start. Top-quality vanilla beans are sold very cheaply.
Colombo offers a great and growing range of places to shop. Elsewhere, interesting shops and boutiques can be found in tourist areas, especially Galle and Kandy. Laksala, a government-run store found in most cities and tourist towns, has items of reasonable quality.
Originally introduced by the Dutch in colonial times, the Indonesian art of batik is very popular in Sri Lanka. Some of the best and most original batik is made in the west-coast towns of Marawila, Mahawewa and Ambalangoda, and you'll find some good stores in Kandy and Matale.
You’ll find showrooms and private dealers all across Sri Lanka. In Ratnapura, the centre of the gem trade, it seems that everybody is a part-time gem dealer. Your challenge is the same here as elsewhere in the world: make sure what you’re being offered is not worthless glass. The best way to avoid the myriad gem scams is to avoid buying any.
Sri Lankan masks are a popular collector’s item. They’re carved at a number of places, principally along the southwest coast. Look for shops in Galle and in the main resorts.
Spices are integral to Sri Lanka’s cuisine and Ayurvedic traditions. A visit to a 'spice garden' or 'spice farm' is an excellent way to discover the alternative uses of familiar spices. However, be aware that many of these establishments are in business to sell spices to tourists at vastly inflated prices (that locals would not dream of paying). Market stalls are a cheaper alternative for spice buying.