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Aaron Arndt

Travelled to 7 countries / regions

Written 12 briefs
Visited Sri Lanka in February 2018 for 5 days

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Asia > Sri Lanka > Trip Briefs
Updated on Aug 19, 2018 Trip Brief

Travelling through Sri Lanka by train

I visited Sri Lanka for 5 full days (7 days including arrival and departure) earlier this year. The main reason I went was to check out the country by train, as the country has popped up a number of times on my radar as having some of the most scenic train routes in the world

Overview

  • There are 3 main train routes (numbered from most popular to least):User submitted photo of Sri Lanka


  • 1. Going east from Colombo to Kandy, then to Ella (the route I took; lush hills and tea plantations):
  • The stretch from Kandy -> Ella is the more scenic route, arguably the most scenic route and well-known in Sri Lanka. Colombo -> Kandy was also really nice as well
  • Colombo -> Kandy takes about 3 hours. Kandy -> Ella takes 6.5 hours
  • You can book Colombo -> Ella on a single trip; or do 2 separate trips Colombo -> Kandy, and Kandy -> Ella like I did. Kandy itself is worth checking out as it's an old capital of Sri Lanka with many cultural sights
  • Suffice it to say, do not take night trains, you'll miss all the good views
  • Sit on the left of the train from Colombo -> Kandy, sit on the right side of the train from Kandy -> Ella
  • Schedule: you can search for the current schedule here on the official Sri Lanka Railway website (note that Ella is spelt as Elle on this website). There are a lot of trains that run Colombo -> Kandy. But only 3 day trains Kandy -> Ella
  • 2. Going south from Colombo to Galle (coast and ocean):
  • Very scenic route; some stretches of this trip the train is literally meters from the ocean
  • 3. Going north Colombo to Anuradhapura (rice fields and rural Sri Lanka scenery). I didn't do this trip so don't know much about it


How to take trains in Sri Lanka

  • There are 2 types of train tickets in Sri Lanka: reserved and unreserved. I bought both of these types of tickets on my trip. But you should know that the vast majority of the tickets sold in the country are unreserved
  • Reserved tickets (i.e. with seat assignments):
  • Only for 1st class and a limited number of 2nd class seats (2nd class is better because 1st class windows are shut. Though 2nd class doesn't have AC)
  • You should try to book reserved tickets for Kandy -> Ella leg. It's really nice leg and it takes away from the scenery if you can't find good seats (again, on this stretch sit on the right side of the train)
  • How and where to book reserved tickets:
  • Based on the recommendations I came across on my research, I booked my ticket 1 month in advance online through an agency (you can't buy it from Sri Lanka Railway directly online)
  • The reason you should try to book far ahead is that reserved seats sell out really, really quickly because seats are so limited. I booked through this website; cost was 13 British Pounds for my 2nd class ticket
  • You can also try to buy these tickets in person from any train station in Sri Lanka. If you do it this way, go book on your first day in Sri Lanka and book all your trips. The earlier you book the better, or reserved seats will run out
  • Another site you can book through is this (12go). Only trains departing from Colombo and you need to book 32 days in advance
  • Cost: my Kandy -> Ella trip was 13 British pounds, or around 17 US dollars
  • Unreserved tickets (no seat assignment):
  • These tickets are available in basically unlimited quantities and you never have to worry about them selling out
  • How and where to buy unreserved tickets: you buy them on the day of your trip, in person at the train station. Just go to the station a few hours before your trip and pay cash to get your ticket
  • You will be lucky to get a seat, especially on the Colombo -> Kandy -> Ella route
  • Colombo southward to Galle is all unreserved tickets
  • Cost: very cheap. Most routes are just a few US dollars. Check out the official Sri Lanka Railway site to find the schedule and price
  • Other tips
  • If you buy your tickets with Sri Lanka Railway (i.e. in person from a station), it doesn't allow for change or cancellation. If you book with a 3rd party agency, there are some leeway with change or refund
  • No food or drinks sold on any of these trains from what I've seen. So bring your own food
  • This website (Seat 61) was a very useful and detailed resource for train travel in Sri Lanka that I used a lot when I was planning my trip
  • At the Colombo train station (called Colombo Fort), different counters sell tickets to different parts of the country. Tickets east to Kandy / Ella are counters 2-8; tickets south are counters 13-14. Tickets going north to Anuradhapura is counter 1
  • 2nd class tickets are the best. 1st class windows don't open and you miss amazing photo opportunities. Only exception is if you can get a ticket to what's called 1st class Observation Saloon. This has giant windows and also opens. 3rd class is for if you really want to experience how locals commute
  • Important websites:
  • Sri Lanka Railway official website for schedule and fares for unreserved tickets
  • Booking agency 1 - I used this
  • Booking agency 2 - I didn't use this but came across on my research


Getting in from the airport to Colombo

I took a Uber from the airport, which in my opinion is the easiest and least stressful. Also pretty cheap. I wrote about all the options to get in from the airport here


Things I did in Sri Lanka


Colombo (day 1)

Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil: beautiful Southern Indian style Hindu temple with an amazingly detailed facade; 200 LKR ($1.5USD) per person admission; dress modestly

User submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Independence Square: free

User submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque: the facade was gorgeous. It's closed during prayers hours to non-Muslims (and I think prayer hours are 5 times a day)

User submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Old Parliament Building: the colonial-era legislature of Sri Lanka. Amazing looking building but I couldn't go inside (I'm pretty sure it's not open to tourists)

User submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil: a beautiful Hindu temple made from marble. I'm just in awe of the details on the facade

User submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Train from Colombo -> Kandy (day 2)

  • Finally doing the main thing I'm here in Sri Lanka to do!
  • Woke up early in the morning to catch the 8:30am train (number 1050) leaving the Colombo Fort Station (the main railway station in Colombo) to Kandy; arrived a bit after 11am.
  • I got to the Colombo Fort Station at 6:50am to buy tickets in person and there was a decently-sized lineup
  • I got a 2nd class non-reserved ticket for 190 LKR ($1.5), but I didn't have a seat the entire time
  • The view was pretty amazing along the way

User submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Kandy (day 2)

  • After I arrived in Kandy, I just walked around the town a bit and relaxed. Nothing crazy
  • The area around Kandy Lake was very nice


Kandy Lake: nice and chill place to walk around a bit

User submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Kandy view point: highly recommend this place. Amazing view over the city

User submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Train from Kandy -> Ella (day 3)

  • I had a reserved ticket for this leg as this train ride is very scenic so I wanted to make sure I had a seat. I took the 8:47am train leaving Kandy, arriving at Ella at around 3:15pm (train 1005)
  • I bought my ticket over 1 month before this trip through this website for about $17USD. You just submit your booking request, pay by PayPal, and follow the instructions in the confirmation email regarding ticket pickup after you arrive in Sri Lanka
  • Tip: get a seat on the right hand side of the train you have an open view looking downhill (left side is uphill)

User submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Ella -> Colombo (day 4):

  • I reserved this ticket ahead of time as well
  • The train runs along the same route I took coming from Colombo to Kandy and then to Ella, just in reverse. So I napped through most of the ride, which took pretty much the entire day


Train from Colombo -> Galle (day 5)

  • My last full day in Sri Lanka!
  • Caught the 8:35am train leaving Colombo Fort, arriving at Galle at 10:50am. Train number 8040. Cost was 180 LKR (~$1.5USD)
  • Only 2nd or 3rd class tickets and no seat assignment on any of the trains on this route
  • Walked around Galle and chilled at the Fort Galle area a little bit. Had lunch. And then took the 2:45pm train back to Colombo
  • I didn't go but if I had more time I'd more time I'd go to Unawatuna Beach, a laid back beach about 15 minutes taxi ride away from the Galle train station (or 1.5 hour walk)

User submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri Lanka


Fort Galle:

  • It's a really walkable neighborhood 10 minute walk away from the Galle train station
  • I walked around, took photos, had lunch, and chilled at a cafe there

User submitted photo of Sri LankaUser submitted photo of Sri Lanka