Getting around Sri Lanka

I will be the first to admit that I was completely wrong about the size of Sri Lanka . I was worried that we would get bored in 10 days and would run out of things to do. I have never been so wrong about a place. In our 10 days in Sri Lanka we barely scratched the surface. We spent the time exploring the south of the island and even that was rushed. But with so much to see we wanted to make the most of it. We found the best transport was the local transport. So this his how our journey began.

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We arrived in Colombo fresh and eager ready to get the train the following day to Kandy. We were prepared. We went to the train station the day before to book our ticket. Turned out we weren’t so prepared after all. They were already sold out. Kicking ourselves and getting a little wound up about it, we created a plan b. We would get the bus. 

Taking the bus

The bus stations are rather large and disorganised. If you ask around someone will point you in the right direction. We asked about a taxi to kandy. They wanted 8,000 Rupees. The bus was just 180 rupees each. We found one of the buses and were quickly ushered one. It felt strange not paying until later in the journey. The bus was the local bus. Leaving no storage for baggage apart from a small crate area at the front of the bus next to the driver. We were lucky enough to find a seat. The bus journey was 4 hours. They don’t close the bus door and people jump on and off everywhere. If you don’t get a seat you will get crammed in – as there is no such thing as a full bus in Sri Lanka. Every now and then people jump on weaving through and over people selling food. The bus wasn’t too bad. I must admit I did always take travel sickness tablets due to the jolts and constant starting and stopping. 

Note that the busses do not completely stop when they reach a bus stop. Be sure to know where you are getting off. We use google maps just to get a location and scence of distance. When you get close to the stop be near the door ready to leave. The busses normally run every 20 minutes. If one is busy and your on a long journey it’s sometimes worth waiting for the next one. 

Train

When we left Kandy we caught the train. We were heading to Ella and everyone talks about how it is one of the most scenic train journeys in the world. We went straight to the train station when we arrive to book our ticket. This time the trains were on strike so no bookings were available. Instead we were told to arrive early in the morning to get our ticket. The train journey is 7-8 hours. When reserving tickets you can book your ticket class. Class 1,2 or 3. Alternatively you can go into the economy carriage where you don’t book, but it will never sell out. It’s a cram them in situation. Class 1 is air conditioned, class 2 has fans and class 3 has opening windows. When we arrived there was a line already. We arrived 2 hours before the train was due to leave. We barely made it on and were left standing at the open door the whole journey. I guess it depends where you get on the train as to if you can get a seat. I would defiantly recommend booking as far in advance as possible. The trains are also cheap. Our ticket to Ella was 200 rupees each.

Read more about my train journey here.

Tuk Tuk’s 

Tuk Tuk’s are a great way to get around the town or even hire for a day  tour. As always do some negotiating. When ever we arrive in a new place we always ask a few different tuk tuk drivers how much it is to a certain destination. You tend to get a good idea as to what a fair price is. Make sure you always agree on a price prior to entering. If not you can be left with a nasty surprise at the end. One example to show how much some will try to rip you off is this. We arrive in Colombo centre after an hours bus from the airport. Our hotel was only 800 meters away so we were walking it any way. A tuk tuk stopped and asked where we were going so just being curious we told him and asked for a price. He said 500 rupees. We knew this was too much based on our other experiences in Asia. When we arrived at the hotel we asked how much a tuk tuk to the bus station was. They said 80-100 rupees. That just goes to show how easily you can get ripped off.  

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Taxi’s

Taxis are much like tuk tuks. But the story you will hear as your waiting at a bus station is always the same. People will come to you and ask where you are heading. Then as a massive coincidence either they are heading there or a family member is. They offer you a ‘special’ price to go with them. As always they make it sound grand. That you wont have to wait, the journey is even quicker than the bus. But just remember these are not coincidences. The bus is going to cost you a small faction of the cost of a taxi, stick your ground!

As a quick sum up public transport in Sri Lanka is rather easy. Just have a plan in mind of where you are going and be aware of your time frame. Bare in mind most things in Sri Lanka don’t run on time. So always allow extra time for that. It may seem a small place but it takes a while to get around.

At the time of travel 100 rupees was US $0.62


Here are my journey times and distamnces on local transport

Colombo – Kandy 4 hours on the bus  115 Km 

Kandy – Ella 8 hours on the train 138 km 

Ella – Tissa 3 hours on the bus 110 km

Tissa – Galle 4 hours on the bus 215km 

Galle – Colombo 4 hours by bus 108 km 

Colombo centre to airport 1 hour via bus 35 km

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