Taking the train in Sri Lanka
Getting to know your new destination can be done in many ways. We think one of the best ways is to explore “on the road”. Sri Lanka has a well functional railway system and is also one of the best ways of transportation in the country.
Taking the train in Sri Lanka allows you to get close to the everyday life of the Sri Lankan people and you also get a better understanding for their culture.
We traveled along the west coast from Negombo to Hikkaduwa and back and made a short detour to Kandy and stoppped at places like Colombo and Kosgoda along the way.
Train tickets can be bought directly at the train station on the day of departure. You can arrive as late as a couple of minutes before departure and still get tickets to where you need to go.
At the stations there are given counters for every destination and the timetables are often displayed on big boards above them. It really has that old vintage charm feel to it.
We usually travel very cheap and in Sri Lanka we wanted to experience the train first hand.
So we went for third class tickets.
When you walk up to the counter as a tourist and ask for third class tickets they will give you a questioning look, almost disliking, and ask you if you are sure about it. You really want to travel third class or did you say second class?
We didn’t really understand why the first time around. Maybe many like to travel first class since the tickets for third class are only from 60 Rupees and first class from 90 Rupees, we thought.
Handed a couple of miniature cardboard tickets we headed straight to the platform.
The trains are almost always fashionably late in Sri Lanka and as we stood on the platform the crowd of people got thicker and thicker until it was almost impossible to move.
After waiting on the platform for a good 45 minutes the train finally arrived. And it hit us straight in the head why the man in the counter asked us so disliking if we where sure about those third class tickets.
In first class and second class you have the option of choosing a seat. That way you are ensured a comfortable chair during the whole journey. Third class do not have the option and it is truly a fight until last man standing.
As the train rolls in the people with third class tickets start to move. It’s like animals are being herded to the back of the platform. Everyone is trying to predict where the doors are going to stop. And when the train slows down, the chaos explodes.
The train has not even come to a halt when people flow out from the doors of the train. And the people on the platform take no chances on missing out on a seat and tries to get on board the train as the passengers get off.
If you stand in front of the train and the doors end up close to you you’ll need to be prepared for a fight. We had our arms scratched, bitten, pulled. Charlie got her hair pulled and although we were closest to the doors, we ended up with no seats and had to stand in the middle of two carriages and sitting in the open doors.
Yes, it truly is a chaos unlike any other. But that is part of the fun. We are not really used to this type of behavior and for locals it seems odd that tourists would even attempt it.
Along the ride you will see so many different cultures. Saris blends with suits and office skirts, beggars blend with office people going to or from work. Tourists are rare in third class and are usually an amusement for the locals riding in third class. Some will approach you and ask where you are from and have a nice conversation with you. You can really get to know people on a short train ride in Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans are very friendly people in general and likes to talk.
As we pass lush forests and deserted beaches and approach the next station it feels like we are in a Wild west movie. The trains usually have wooden carriages with open doors and as the train slows down people starts to jump out of the train onto the tracks or jump between trains onto the platforms.
A train ride in Sri Lanka is not like taking the train else where in the world.
We will never forget Sri Lanka because of the hospitality of the people and the adventures we have had on the trains of Sri Lanka.
The Colombo Fort train station, which is the main train station, you will most likely be approach by a man or two. Maybe three. They will ask you where you are from and where you are going. When you name your destination they will tell you about an amazing hotel that they or some friend have for a really good price. Never go with anything they try to sell. Many agencies have hired scouts to walk around the train station looking for tourists to send to their hotels. The prices are more expensive than if you would find one on location on your own. They get commission for every room they sell. They will casually ask you a lot of questions and they might even ride on the same train with you if you are not persistent and clear about the fact that you have accommodation (even if you might not have any yet).