Although far from being experts, during our time in Sri Lanka we travelled almost 500km of this beautiful country via train. Our trip took us between; Colombo – Habarana, Kandy – Ella, Matara – Galle and Hikkaduwa – Colombo. Trains are a great way to get around Sri Lanka (unless you want to travel South East). Not only is it super cheap, you’ll get to see and experience the amazing culture and breathtaking landscapes, particularly in hill country.
Pre-booking tickets before arriving in Sri Lanka is only possible by using an agent. Seat61.com recommends using VistSriLankaTours. If you want a reserved seat in 1st or 2nd class, my advise would be to try and book tickets as soon as you arrive in the place that you plan on leaving by train from. For example; if you want to get a train from Kandy to Ella, head over to the train station as soon as you arrive in Kandy and book your tickets out. 1st class tickets sell out fairly quick as they are often booked out by tour groups. For 2nd or 3rd class unreserved just turn up at the station on the day, tickets are unlimited. If you’ve booked an unreserved ticket, standard practice for reserving seats in busy stations is to throw your bag through the window on to a seat before getting on the train.
What are the trains like
There are two types of train is Sri Lanka; red ones and blues ones. The red trains are older and slower. The blue are the newer Chinese built trains. We never travelled 1st class so I can’t speak from experience but, from what I’ve heard it’s fairly close to western standard, with comfortable fabric seats and air-conditioning. For us, the best part about traveling on Sri Lankan trains is hanging out of the open doors/ windows with the wind blowing in your face, the food vendors that hop on and off at every stop with a tasty selection of goodies and the inquisitive kids that want to be your friend. We travelled in both 2nd and 3rd class and other than slightly more padded seats and broken ceiling fans in 2nd, we didn’t notice a huge difference.
Are the trains slow
VERY! Travel days are a necessary evil that most of us dread, we just want to get to our destination ASAP but, travelling by train in Sri Lanka is an experience in itself. Even if you only do the one trip, it’s definitely something you need to do! Delays are common and if the train stops for a period of time most of locals will hop off for a leg stretch. Don’t be afraid to do the same just, make sure you don’t wander too far and keep an ear our for the whistle as that means the train is going to start moving (you’ll still have a good few seconds to get back on board after the whistle has gone). Personally, I’d rather have the extra hour or two on the train and save a shed load of money than hire a driver.
We had 70ltr and 30ltr backpack and never struggled to fit them in the overhead racks above our seats.
Food and drink
Every train we caught during our time in Sri Lanka had numerous food/ drink sellers hop on and off the train when stopping at stations. Listen out for them shouting ‘wallah wallah wallah’. The snacks they have on offer are delicious so, don’t be put off from trying anything. If you’re lucky there may even be buffet carriage although, we only came across one of these during our journeys. When buying bottled water, remember to check that it’s sealed.
As with anything, anywhere in the world, there is always a risk. I had a little unwanted from a random drunk who wanted to share his arrack (Sri Lankan spirit) and have a photograph with me but, it was harmless and I never once felt threatened by him or anyone else. Choosing to hang out of the door of a moving train however, isn’t quite so safe.
Where to find information
Official timetables are available on www.railway.gov.lk but, our favourite source of information was www.seat61.com. If you’re a member on TripAdvisor, the forum community is always super helpful if you have any questions.
Have you been to Sri Lanka? Did you travel by train?
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