Colombo came on us fast and furious.
Getting to the train station was easy. It’s a large building, colonial style, with tons of people flowing in and out. The three of us, Jackson, Annie and I, found ourselves bewildered and confused. Where do we get our tickets? I had booked reservations online through a 3rd party travel agency that was recommended by the blog Seat61.com (I HIGHLY recommend this guy: he has some excellent travel advice regarding train/bus travel in all sorts of countries!). The ticket booking took a few days and I booked well in advance because I’d read that the seats for the observation car sold out quickly. The tickets cost about $12USD for a first class observation car.
A man waved us into the “tourist office” and we followed, hoping to get an idea of what to do. This guy was so sweet. He went and got our ticket, then tried to get us to book a taxi driver for a week to drive us around Kandy “only $92USD each!” he said, sliding the written figures across the table. We decided to stick to trains and buses and see what happened. Instead of trying to sweet talk us into more, the guy backed off and even let us use his back apartment/room thing? As a place to leave our bags so we could walk around Colombo a little before our train took off. He didn’t charge us a dime, even when we offered to tip him.
Colombo put me right back in India’s crowded, stinky, hot streets and I can’t say I was happy to revisit that. I’d read on numerous blogs that Colombo was best kept for last or altogether skipped while in Sri Lanka and as a result, I booked tickets on the afternoon train to Kandy on our first day. It’s hard to “stroll” in Colombo. It’s hard to do anything, really. There are barely any sidewalks and the traffic zooms and honks around you. Street hawkers stare, catcall or try and get you to buy something and if they aren’t on you like flies on shit, the beggars are.
We found a stall on the “floating market” which was a lovely respite from the chaos that was now across the river from us. We had fried rice (LKR200) and sat in the shade of an umbrella as crows cawed around us. It felt like heaven after the inner city.
The train ride took about 2.5 hours and didn’t get good views until 1.5 hours in. Once we hit the hill country the sights were lovely: lush green hills, tea plantations, huge trees and nothing but our train chugging along. There were shrines and stupas along the way, but it was nearly impossible to take pictures as the train was rocking so much.
We arrived at dusk in Kandy and had to haggle with a taxi driver to take us to our hostel. Sri Lanka is a wonderful country, but be prepared to haggle for almost everything! We read that using Uber in Colombo was a good idea because it cut out the haggle and gave a fair price (which it did and we were grateful for! The airport is a good hour’s drive outside the city and the cost of a cab came to about $17USD using Uber, I shudder to think what they would have charged us otherwise…).
We got dropped off at our BnB: “26D Guesthouse” and after a cup of tea and some dinner, fell right to sleep.