Train Travel - Sri Lanka

Feb 8th, 2013, 04:23 AM
  #1  
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Train Travel - Sri Lanka

Three friends and I are planning a week trip to Sri Lanka in late April. Having read about the problems with traffic, poor roads, not to mention trying to ensure that a safe driver is engaged, I have suggested we travel by train as much as possible. This seems a no brainer to me however most people in this forum seem to choose to engage a driver - why so? We are planning on visiting Kandy, then going up to the cultural triangle - possibly staying in Polonnaruwa.
Has anyone had any experience with train travel? Any tips? We would travel First Class. (I know about the website seat61.com.)
mollymia is offline  
Feb 8th, 2013, 05:13 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Lots of information about train travel in Sri Lanka on Trip Advisor:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/SearchFor...ain+travel&s=D
JaneB is offline  
Feb 8th, 2013, 06:21 AM
  #3  
 
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We never used the train in Sri Lanka. We found having a car and driver to be easy and convenient. Trying to take the train was not. Also, of course, trains don't go everywhere you will want to go, so you will still need to engage drivers short-term.

The roads were ok, certainly better than in many places I've visited, and traffic, while heavy, was less scary than many places (like India). Getting a good driver seems pretty easy - use an agency to hire the driver. Then if there are problems of any kind, the agency will change out the car or driver or both.
Kathie is offline  
Feb 8th, 2013, 12:54 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
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if you are willing to pay for first class, you might like to explore the option of using the air-taxi service.

http://www.srilankan.com/en_uk/flying-with-us/airtaxi

they use "float-planes" which land on the many lakes - in kandy for example. we met some people at our hotel in nurewa eliya who had used it and were very happy with the service - it was about U$50 pp from colombo airport to Kandy.

certainly worth thinking about.

We had a good experience with out driver, but we could have managed without the very long drive to Dambulla from the airport at Colombo on the day we landed.

good luck with your trip!
annhig is offline  
Feb 9th, 2013, 01:05 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: May 2004
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We travelled by train twice during our month in Sri Lanka from Hatton to Haputale and Kandy to Hatton. Once in first class and once in standard. The first class journey was more comfortable but the standard class was much more fun. If I had my time again I would go standard class. The trains are slow, at times, walking pace,but that is part of the charm. The views are incredible , particularly as you climb into the hill country and you get a unique perspective on Sri Lankan life as the train passes slowly through the countryside.

We went with an agency ( reluctantly) and for train travel, if you want first class, this is probably the only way you will get tickets as they are only available for sale two weeks in advance ( we had to collect ours at the stationd from a 3rd party ticket fixer! Train travel is really cheap and a great way to get around but the convenience of having a driver/ guide will, undoubtedly make things easier. Ours dropped us at the station each time and then drove to the next station. There didn't seem to be many taxis around to pick up passengers at the stations. For the last two weeks of our trip we travelled independently using taxis and tuk tuks which wasn't that difficult but do be aware that accommodation can sometimes be difficult to find. We found it impossible around Yala and when changing hotels in the cultural triangle few rooms were available ( in March).
crellston is offline  
Feb 9th, 2013, 01:06 AM
  #6  
 
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We travelled by train twice during our month in Sri Lanka from Hatton to Haputale and Kandy to Hatton. Once in first class and once in standard. The first class journey was more comfortable but the standard class was much more fun. If I had my time again I would go standard class. The trains are slow, at times, walking pace,but that is part of the charm. The views are incredible , particularly as you climb into the hill country and you get a unique perspective on Sri Lankan life as the train passes slowly through the countryside.

We went with an agency ( reluctantly) and for train travel, if you want first class, this is probably the only way you will get tickets as they are only available for sale two weeks in advance ( we had to collect ours at the stationd from a 3rd party ticket fixer! Train travel is really cheap and a great way to get around but the convenience of having a driver/ guide will, undoubtedly make things easier. Ours dropped us at the station each time and then drove to the next station. There didn't seem to be many taxis around to pick up passengers at the stations. For the last two weeks of our trip we travelled independently using taxis and tuk tuks which wasn't that difficult but do be aware that accommodation can sometimes be difficult to find. We found it impossible around Yala and when changing hotels in the cultural triangle few rooms were available ( in March).
crellston is offline  
Feb 10th, 2013, 05:51 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: May 2012
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Hi --

Traveled solo to Sri Lanka over December. Best destination I've been to yet.

I hired a car and driver for 10 days for $600: and was so glad that I did.

1) After traveling all that way and having limited time I didn't want to spend any of it dealing with logistics in a country where the logistics can be tricky. As one person mentioned above -- there are not taxis waiting for you at the stations.

2) Also, I would not have been comfortable using tuk-tuks: they're slow and tiny and in Sri Lanka, the bigger your vehicle the more safe (or I should say, less in danger) you are.

3) The boutique hotels at which I stayed (loved them) were located int he middle of nowhere: I would have been stuck at them without a driver.

4) I changed my mind a couple times and was so happy I had the freedom to do so. (Showed up at Adam's Peak and chickened-out: we made a last-minute detour to Kandy). I had the luxury at stopping at odd temples and monuments that I would not have seen had I taken the train.

That being said...based on the advice of the manager at the Ellerton, I took the train from the tea country to the Adam's Peak station and it was really fun: the view was stunning (first class was about $20: pretty cheap entertainment for three hours). I enjoyed it immensely, but then again I had a driver to drop me off, negotiate my ticket, and pick me up...
Esme_Travels is offline  
Feb 11th, 2013, 05:40 AM
  #8  
 
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Also, I would not have been comfortable using tuk-tuks: they're slow and tiny and in Sri Lanka, the bigger your vehicle the more safe (or I should say, less in danger) you are. >>

we loved tuk tuks; we didn't get the chance to use them that often, but when we did we really enjoyed the experience. you get really close to the things you are passing, AND there was a very refreshing breeze which was extremely welcome. we asked at the hotel beforehand how much it should cost, and tried not to pay too much more than that, but got rooked once or twice.

i agree about the flexibility having a driver gives, and the very reasonable cost.
annhig is offline  
Feb 12th, 2013, 10:28 PM
  #9  
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Thanks so much for the info. We have reluctantly decided against using the trains and are investigating a private driver with mini van to give us more flexibility.

Annhig - thanks for the referance to the taxi planes. They look great and are certainly worth considering.
mollymia is offline  
Feb 13th, 2013, 01:15 PM
  #10  
 
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good luck, mollymia.

let us know what you decide to do.
annhig is offline  
Feb 17th, 2013, 11:35 AM
  #11  
 
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Esme: did you hire your driver after you arrived Sri Lanka or before? Do you have contact information for him or the agency you used? it seems like having the right driver can make or break a Sri Lankan vacation. There's so many tour agencies online it's hard to know which one to use to help put together a trip.I think I read annhig said she wouldn't recommend the one she used.
susiesan is offline  
Feb 17th, 2013, 11:53 AM
  #12  
 
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We used Boutique Sri Lanka. They were excellent and we had an excellent driver. You really do want an agency backing your driver. That way, if you need a new car or a new driver, they will take care of it. We will use BSL again for our return to Sri Lanka.

If you only want a point-to-point driver, set them up as you go. If you want a driver for your whole trip, do pre-arrange it.
Kathie is offline  
Feb 18th, 2013, 02:02 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: May 2004
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We used Reddot and had more than a few problems ( click on my screen name for my trip report) so I would not recommend them but some of the others we met en route that had used them had different experiences, some great, some not so good. I think a lot depends on the guide you are allocated. We ended up with two different guides, the first was inexperienced and although friendly, was, in retrospect, pretty lazy. The second, Namunu was excellent, friendly helpful and great fun to be with. He was also a professional photographer which was really useful and was always coming up with suggestions for places to go that neither we, nor the operator had thought of. There is a lot to see in SL and you really do need a good guide.

In selecting a tour company in the first place, I had big problems getting a reply form anyone . No one responded to emails or phone messages. Once I established contact however, the communications were very good. Do check out which guide you will be getting, their experience, profile etc. and be very specific on your exact requirement as I am sure this will help smooth your trip.

PS even if you do use a driver to get around , I would still try a train ride as they are very cheap and you can just get your driver to drop you at the station and collect you at the other end - it is a great experience.
crellston is offline  
Feb 24th, 2013, 10:39 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
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what Kathie said. We followed the recommendations we found here [both for and against] and they were spot on.
annhig is offline  
Feb 26th, 2013, 01:56 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Nov 2010
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All information of Sri Lanka Railway Journeys
http://podimenike.blogspot.com/2010/...travel-on.html
podimeniketrain is offline  
Mar 19th, 2013, 03:23 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: May 2012
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susiesan:

I did hire a driver in advance using information that I found on this site and the Tripadvisor forum. He was mostly good, but there were some issues. If you email me at [email protected] I can provide his contact information and more detail.
Esme_Travels is offline  
Mar 20th, 2013, 08:32 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: May 2004
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I personally don't get the need for a driver for most destinations in Sri Lanka, certainly not in the tea country.. The trains are an amazing way to go.
offwego is offline  
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