Scared to drive on your own in a rented vehicle? No problem – rent a car with a driver (can be a lot of fun)! Or, use buses or trains as both provide cheaper alternative and will give you first-hand experience and insight into life of Sri Lankan people. Buses are noisy both outside and inside – music therein - if played - is loud, they can be pretty crowded but they are great for short distances. Trains, namely in high country will let you admire the valleys, tea plantations and beautifully located towns and villages at their best. Try all classes of the train, each will bring a different experience to you. And do not forget to look around in any train station as they are usually jewels! Check out the hand written timetables or uniform and seriousness of the train station staff. It is a must see and must experience... and in addition it gets you to places for peanuts. And last tip – also watch out for TATA trucks/lorries and their decoration as they are amazing.
1 Wooden Timetable in Galle train station. Information gets changed every time a train departs, smaller table on the floor provides a list of all routes. Up means north, down means south (of Galle).
2 Elephants are useful mode of transport - these giant working animals transport logs and trees from dusk near Habarana. Their daily job is over around 11 am and then their mahout - keeper -takes them for a bath or just to rest somewhere in the shade for the rest of the day. Their pads must be pretty hot on the high noon tarmac, though it may be bearable after 2 hours bathing in the stream.
3 Moto taxi - tuktuk - is a traditional mode of transport in towns in Sri Lanka. For locals it is the transport, though for tourists city buses do come cheaper. It can fit up to 6 Sri Lankans, but only about two Europeans (adults).
4 "Trying to photograph from a tuktuk is not that easy, apart from side empty ""doors"" that is not covered, there is only a little space through windscreen - usually plenty of advertisement, family or temple pictures and other tokens. Tall people find it difficult to see anything - covered on the side and too tall to see in the front."
5 Every train station is meticulously taken care of. 3 languages, directions, benches, shade. Very good service and a lot of fun to explore the island. From wooden 3rd class with open windows to 2nd class with more comfortable chairs to air conditioned luxury in exclusive expresses.
6 Waiting to depart from Badulla towards Colombo. Badulla is the terminus station in the highlands, train rails end here. It takes about 50 minutes to go here from Ella and about 10 hours to go to Colombo. The distance Ella-Badulla is only about 30 km, but train climbs and descends in scenic bends of valleys,through few tunnels and crosses many bridges. Lots of fun to experience this trip.
7 "Sometimes slow trains need to give way to express and fast trains in opposite direction as some bridges are only ""one rail"".Longer stop in the station gives the street vendors opportunity to bring in sweets, fruits as well as hearty dishes."
8 Sri Lankan trains are not as full as their buses, but lot of passengers prefer fresh air to the indoors and therefore travel exclusively on the steps of the car, though there are places to sit.
9 Highlands in the train is the best way to enjoy vivid emerald green tea plantations on rolling hills, winding valleys and ever changing scenery. This train runs between Badulla and Colombo.
10 This is real hard job. In tropical almost 40C, in uniform and huge plastic gloves to direct traffic in rush hour in Galle. Hords of buses, cars, tutkuks and people, exhaust fumes, heat and noise for hours.
11 Highland plateau in Sri Lanka is 1000-2000 m above sea level and it takes a good 2 hours drive to climb from Tissamaharama to Ella.
12 Bus is ideal mode of transport for a half day or day trip. It is much easier to go with a simple day pack, as the space is fairly limited.
13 It is important to reach the desired destination safely. Therefore some drivers have their transport -travel observing god - Ganesha with them all the time. And if not in vehicle, then they stop at a temple to give offering at the start of the journey. We had that in Kataragama as well as in Matara with our bus drivers and our taxi drivers did the same each day.
14 Reaching home in the rush hour may be a challenge. Dirt roads sometimes, full bus and people almost falling off the vehicle is something must be seen to believe.
15 Tata truck is the most common cargo vehicle in Sri Lanka. It is always joy to watch the colors, decorations and publicity it disseminates on the way.
16 They may be slow when they are fully loaded, but they bring joy, colors and a lot of valuable information to all passers-by.
17 Safari in national parks is a very comfortable trip. Up to 8 people in a jeep with open sides but with roof and seats elevated by each row as in the cinema allow anyone big or small to enjoy unhindered view of the nature and animals therein. These run in Yala and Bundala national park and it was a very comfortable ride on bumpy roads of both parks.