Before I share about my trip in Sri Lanka, I thought it is good to first explain about the train system in Sri Lanka and tips on getting around Sri Lanka.
Traveling on Sri Lanka Railways
As someone who likes to plan things way in advance, I already bought my train tickets online 3 months ago, which is like a third-party agent. I bought the train rides for 2 people from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, Ella to Kandy and lastly from Kandy to Colombo for a whopping £52! My train tickets come with reserved seat numbers because I wanted to be guaranteed a seat for the long hours of train journey, or so I thought.
For our first train ride, we arrived at Nanu Oya station at Nuwara Eliya 45 mins earlier but the train was 30 mins late without any announcements given. Then came the mad rush to scramble on board before the train departs.
As there weren’t any seat numbers indicated outside the train, we just climbed up any available space we saw at the second class cabin. Because everyone was packed like sardines without any space to move, we had to stand throughout the entire 4-hours train journey on a fully packed train and could not even move to find our reserved seats, let alone visit the toilets. A few China tourists standing next to us said that this Sri Lanka train was even more crowded than the one they had in China.
Traveling on Expo Rail
We were so frustrated with this bad train experience that we just forfeited the other train rides I had paid for and vowed to look for a more stress-free transport around the country. We asked the locals and someone suggested that we tried to book Expo Rail online as we would definitely be guaranteed seats and a hot meal on board. We paid 1600 rupees per person.
We were so glad we took Expo Rail which was actually 2 air-conditioned cabins in the usual Sri Lanka train. There were well-mannered staff wearing office attire to serve us food and hot beverages on board and a proper toilet to use.
The Expo Rail staff also reminded us when it was time to alight. There was a viewing platform outside where we could wave to the locals as the train passed by and immersed in the scenery of the rugged terrains and fields. This makes our train journey a very pleasant one and the 7-hour ride enjoyable.
Some tips if you want to experience the Sri Lanka Railways
- You can buy the tickets at the door (instead of online) as the tickets will never be “sold out” as there will always be standing space and people can be packed like sardines on board, even on the steps. The tickets only cost around a few dollars at the station entrance.
- Even if you have reserved train tickets like me, the haphazard booking system only means that they would double sell the tickets to passengers (a local mentioned this to us).
Traveling on Tuk Tuk
Next, I want to share about our experience traveling on Tuk Tuk in the different parts of Sri Lanka. The locals were generally more genuine and friendly in rural and mountainous areas of Nuwara Eliya and Ella as compared to bigger cities like Kandy and Colombo.
Ranjit also told us that it was possible to travel by Tuk Tuk to Ella too if we do not want to take the train. We chatted with our Tuk Tuk drivers in Nuwara Eliya and Ella, knew them by names and always asked them to come back to our hotel the next day to bring us around.
However, in Colombo, we had a few bad experiences with the Tuk Tuk drivers there who were really out to cheat our money. There were touts outside most hotels and the first time we took their Tuk Tuk, one driver insisted that we visit a Gem factory first (reminds me of the Tuk Tuk drivers in Bangkok), even when we refused, he insisted again.
The second time we decided to ignore the touts and tried to hail our own Tuk Tuk but the tout fiercely scolded the other driver to go away in their native language. Helpless, we negotiated 250 rupees for just a short distance back to Cinnamon Red Colombo Hotel with the tout and he hustled us into a nearby Tuk Tuk.
To our horror, the driver demanded 500 rupees instead. We just gave in for our own safety since we were in a foreign land.
Cinnamon Red Colombo Hotel was also terribly unhelpful as they told us they do not help customers call for Tuk Tuk or taxis whereas all the other hotels I had stayed at outside of Colombo do help. This hotel also charged an exorbitant USD35 for a car ride to the airport.
Having learned our lesson with these touts, we just pretended to be on the phone and walk briskly away from the hotel as the tout chased after us. We just keep rejecting them and walked away.
Out of their sight, we negotiated with a Tuk Tuk driver to go to the airport at 2000 rupees, which is a 40-mins drive away. 2000 rupees is also less than half the amount that Cinnamon Red Hotel tried to charge us for the trip to the airport.
I will be sharing more about my trip in Sri Lanka in the next post.
Have you visited Sri Lanka before? Do you have any tips to share on taking trains in Sri Lanka? 🙂