Go from Kandy on the hills to the plains of the southwest coast, near Hikkaduwa, by train proved to be a long and arduous trip that lasted over 9 hours, to cover the 250 kilometers that separate the two sites, involving three trains and two short bus journeys trips… but “zero” tuk-tuks!!!!
Kandy is located at the so-called “Hill Country” a mountain area with lakes, forests and tea plantations that dominate the central-south part of the country. Around, in whatever direction is extend the tropical plains ending at the sea. But given the topography of the country, the inefficient road network and the structure of the transport system, to go to Kandy to the beaches located on the southwest coast is inevitable to go to Colombo, either to change trains or bus.
Although looking disorganised and be very slow the buses are a good mean of transport in Sri Lanka, with services covering the entire territory with high frequency, where is not necessary to wait more than 15 minutes for the “next bus”. The bus terminals are continently located in the city center, and never far from the Train Stations. The drawback of the bus is that there aren’t express services, i.e. direct buses, so the trips become long and tiring with multiple stops to pick up passengers, not only in the “official” bus stands but in any place where someone is waiting.
Buses of the state-owned company (SLBT identifiable by the red color of the buses) do not have this problem, but also don’t offer direct connections between major cities.
Roads linking the major cities are in good condition, but having only two lanes show up most often insufficient for the intense traffic, essentially dominated by buses, trucks, motorbikes and tuk-tuks, that constantly takeover each other in risky maneuvers that require quick accelerations and constant braking making any journey tiring and uncomfortable.
The busiest roads, such as Colombo to Kandy are flanked on both sides by houses, workshops, buildings, shops and stalls that cause a constant busyness of people and vehicles that often occupy the road slowing, even more, the traffic flow.
The train is a relic left by British colonialism and kept almost intact, with only a few newer wagons “made in china”. Stations, information boards, tickets took us to charming old times, but worst is the totally archaic operating system, where all lines radiate from Colombo, with trains to start and finish the service in the capital, always being necessary to change to another train if you wish to go to another line.
Keeping the same strategy doesn’t exist an “extra” service in the busiest section of a line, that makes the train arrive at a busy station already totally packed. The same applies to weekends and holidays, when the number of passenger increases, to visit relatives or religious sites, making the train runs always crowded in the 2nd and 3rd class.
Buy train tickets for 1st class, the only ones with reserved seats, have to be done over a month in advance what pushes tourists to travel agencies that book lots of tickets in advance and resell then charging high commissions. This means that for those who travel without an organised tour has no chance to have a reserved seat in Sri Lankan trains, make you strive for a seat or often just to get into the train.
Yet the price of a train ticket is extremely cheap, for a 250 km trip you pay 600 LKR (approximately 3.7 €) and with the train to do more interesting and charming routes than the buses, away from the noisy and polluted roads, and providing nice view especially in mountainous areas.
For train schedule and more detail information: //www.seat61.com/SriLanka.htm
How to go from Kandy to Colombo by Train:
For those who are lodged on the southern side of the lake along the Saranankara Road, just go down until reaching the main road that runs along the lake and waits for one of the many buses passing by. The ticket until the Bus Terminal costs 8 LKR, and bus stops within a walking distance from the train station. The alternative is the tuk-tuk, but they don’t charge less than 100 LKR.
Tickets for 2nd and 3rd class start to be sold one hour before the train departure. The early morning trains have always more demand, so if you want to start your trip early you better get prepared to face a big queue at the ticket counter.
Since there are no reserved seats it is convenient to arrive early to get a seat if the train is beginning in Kandy station, otherwise, it is most likely you need to stand most of the trip.
The train trip between Kandy and Colombo is quite nice, with much of the route between mountainous areas full of green, with superb views of valleys, lakes and highest peaks, if you are lucky to get a seat by the window, on the left side of the train, for who is traveling in Colombo direction.
Kandy Train station is small, easy guidance and without significant movement… and have toilets for foreigners?!?!?! Even if you don’t have time for a meal, you’ll find something to eat in one of the many hawkers sealing rotis, steamed corn, fruits and deep fry snacks.
From Kandy to Colombo the train takes close to four hours, arriving a little later than the scheduled.
Train ticket: 600 LKR (include travel to Kandy to Colombo-Fort and from Colombo-Fort to Hikkaduwa).
How to go from Colombo to Hikkaduwa by train:
Arriving at Colombo Fort, the main train station of the capital (and the most central) is necessary to find out which line pass the next train in direction to Matara, that stops in Hikkaduwa, and since there is no proper signals and it is difficult to find the station staff, there is no other option than to ask to other passengers, who will do everything to help.
As the first train that arrived at Matara was completely full, which is usual on weekends, the solution was to rely on the help of one of the passengers that were traveling in the same direction. So we take first a train in the opposite direction to Maradana Station (about 10 minutes away) where the train to Matara begins. There we just wait for the next train that stops in Hikkaduwa.
The journey until Hikkaduwa, after leave Colombo, is quite pleasant with the train making the most of the way along the coast overlooking the sea.
Reaching Hikkaduwa, exiting the small station, you’ll see in the other side of the road a small bus Terminal. To go to the beaches of Narigama or Trianagama, a little south of the busy Hikkaduwa, just catch one of the buses that pass on the main road next to the terminal bound for Galle.
bus Hikkaduwa -Narigama ticket: 8 LKR