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Nice places to live other than Colombo

I know this is a post about Colombo, no not quite the right place to ask this question... but:
I am coming to Sri Lanka in january, to spend 4 months as part of my PhD research looking at solar panels. The plan was to have a base in Negombo because friends of friends have a house there, and just travel around to the different destinations I need to go and visit villages from there. Unfortunately there has been a little setback and the house in Ngombo is no longer available other than one room, which isn't ideal for 4 months with a 3 year old..., which opens the whole question of where in Sri Lanka to live whilst we're there ('we' includes my husband and 3 year old son).
It's difficult to say exactly where my fieldwork will happen at this stage, so plan is to just choose somewhere to live and try and plan fieldwork around that. Sorry - there is a question ... here it comes:
We are both students with limited funds, and my feeling is that Colombo might be a bit expensive for us. Also, I like the idea of somewhere slightly less urban. It needs to have reasonably good transport links, but other than that just a nice, preferably quiet place to live. it doesn't need to have nightclubs and posh restaurants (in fact I'd rather it didn't).
Does anybody have any suggestions?
Thank you,