There are a lot of things I was looking forward about Sri Lanka and taking the local train is definitely one of them. Though, experiencing the Kandy to Ella scenic train route as it navigates the Tea Country is one for the books, I know that to truly experience this magnificent country is to simply travel by train as much as possible, for it is a cultural experience on its own.
Travelling by train in Sri Lanka is safe, cheap, and easy, specifically if you are like me who prefer the 2nd or 3rd class unreserved car over the 1st class reserved class. Managed by Sri Lanka Railways, there is no advanced booking required for 2nd or 3rd class in advance, all you need is to simply show up at least an hour at the train station, head to the ticket booth to purchase. While purchasing the reserved class requires advance booking and for international visitors this could only be done via third party agent (www.seat61.com is a good source of information).
During rush hour or when taking popular routes, taking the unreserved train class can be a challenge. As the train pulls over the station, you should do as the locals do and run towards the train tiny open door. If you are lucky to be one of the first to board, you might find an empty seat, but if not, then you will either stand or sit on the floor for some part of the journey.
I love the energy and the chaos of unreserved seating- the shy smile of a fellow passengers as if recognizing that you both made it, when a while ago, you were both sprinting for the nearest open door, the short conversation with a local family about the country where I came from and the places I wanted to see in Sri Lanka, the people watching and witnessing the impressive local passengers practice of simply placing their bags on the overhead bin and trusting that that it will not be robbed.
I started my journey at this amazing country with a train ride from Colombo to Kandy and I am ending my travel with a train ride from Galle to Colombo. The first place I visited in Sri Lanka is the Colombo Fort station and its outside vicinity, it is the last place too, before I head to the airport to take my flight home.
Sri Lanka is truly one of a kind, it is a perfect destination for any kind of traveler- whether you are looking for cultural immersion or culinary discovery , whether you are travelling solo or family with young kids, whether you like the mountains or the waves. If you ask me if I will ever go back to Sri Lanka again given a chance, the answer will be, in a heartbeat.