Psychedelic Buses & Hectic Trains; Local Transport in Sri Lanka

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Now if there’s one thing we always preach about budget travel it’s that there is no better or cheaper way to travel around a county than on local transport! Luckily, it just so happens that local travel in Sri Lanka is easy peasy and always an adventure! We saw may people being ferried around in taxis or private cars which is tempting with the relatively short distances between destinations but it really does cost an extortionate amount compared to the very cheap local buses and trains! Don’t be shy and take the plunge!


The trains in Sri Lanka connect most of the major destinations and are quick and punctual although generally extremely busy!

Unless booking first class tickets you do not need to book ahead of time, simply turn up at the station and queue in the right line; there are different windows and counters for 2nd and 3rd class tickets. There are no reserved seats in these classes and as many tickets as needed will be sold – which is usually a hell of a lot. Obviously this leads to a lack of seats and one almighty scramble to get onto the train! There’s us standing patiently and queuing like true Brits on the station platform only to be completely barged out of the way by, its has to be said, mainly Sri Lankan women with their ten HUGE suitcases and kids in tow. The first few times we were left looking outraged on the platform and had to squeeze on last, undoubtedly, always ending up right next to the toilet. A few train rides later and we soon got the knack of it becoming true pros in the elbow scramble. Don’t let this put you off, however, as despite the sometimes stressful jostle onto the train, it does usually empty up after just a few stops and you can slide into a seat, relax and enjoy the scenery. Plus, for the price and money saved you’d probably be happy sitting on the floor!

*Top Tip* 2nd and 3rd class seats are basically the same; the only difference is that in 3rd class the seats are joined together in a bench like format! Oh and the price of course! 3rd class is ridiculously cheap – the 6 hour train from Kandy to Ella cost us only 80 SLR which converts to about 60p!

You can check the train times online at http://www.eservices.railway.gov.lk/schedule/homeAction.action?lang=en


Ohhh Sri Lankan buses you crazy crazy things! It has to be said the buses here are an adventure in themselves – when you jump on you will see what we mean. Decorated in the most garish of colours, patterns and huge images of Shiva which light up and flash every time the bus breaks they are like nothing you’ve ever seen! Not to forget the very loud trance music blaring out of the speakers (even at 5am!) as you hurl down the highway, sliding around on your chair trying not to end up in the lap of the person next to you. As we said…a real adventure! Please don’t be put off by the insanely fast drivers, they do, we think (and often prayed) know what they are doing!

If you’re beach hopping around the south coast or hitting all the spots around the cultural triangle in the north then buses are definitely your best transport bet. They run very frequently and conveniently drop you off wherever you tell them (on their designated route of course). More expensive than the train but more direct it’s definitely worth jumping on and off these as much as possible.

Remember, you pay when you get on the bus so don’t hang around too long or they WILL just drive off without you! It’s easy enough to check with the conductor where they are going and if all else fails hold up a bit of paper with your destination and someone will tell you if it’s going to the right place!

The buses don’t generally stop other than to let people on and off but, if like one of us, you can’t hold your bladder in any longer don’t be afraid to tell them to stop! They will normally speed up (if this is even possible!) and stop at the next toilet (or covered bush)!

Tuk Tuks

Coming from India we were surprised at the price of tuk tuks in Sri Lanka. Although they are still cheap, relatively, they are a bit of a rip off. Expect to pay 100-150 SLR minimum for anything over a kilometre.

As a general rule of thumb if you can get 80-100 rupees per kilometre in Sri Lanka your doing alright! However, always haggle hard and don’t be afraid to walk off and find someone else if your not happy with the price. Like we always say, there will always be someone willing to take you!

So there you have it; don’t be afraid to jump aboard, enjoy the scenery, the speedy rides, chatting to the locals and saving a whole lot of cash while you’re at it!




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