Getting Sri Lanka Around by Bus, Train and Three Wheelers

104 - A local bus
A local bus

Getting around Sri Lanka is a bit tough, especially when you leave the bigger cities. The primary method of transportation is what can best be described as a public bus from 1981 with the remains of the same seats it was built with.

There are luggage racks that hang from the ceilings, but they rarely big enough for our small day packs, let alone our large backpacks. At times there is room under the seats for our bags, but they usually wind up propped against a door or some in an aisle against an unfortunate Sri Lankan’s legs. At times, they even share the same space as the driver’s gear shift.

Rickety and shock-free, the buses go barreling down the road while passing cars by heading into oncoming traffic. However, this is no different from India and actually seems normal by now. For a slower and more tranquil ride, coach mini-buses are also available with air conditioning for about five times the price of the public bus. These usually go express with far fewer stops and have more comfortable seats, although they still find a way to cram them in there.

105a - This is how much room there is in the overhead compartments. Barely enough to fit my chap stick, let alone a bag
This is how much room there is in the overhead compartments. Barely enough to fit my chap stick, let alone a bag

If buses aren’t your thing then all aboard a Sri Lankan train. However, unlike in India where the railroad is the most efficient method of transportation, a ride here often takes a few hours longer.

This is especially in the hill country where it must chug up and down mountains, but the views are usually more stunning and the ride much smoother.

As for the trains themselves, the cars are quite small: usually four seats wide with an aisle in the middle and have no sleeper sections. There are first, second and third classes, with second being Carrie and my section of choice.

Once in a town, the fastest, though not cheapest, way to get around is a three wheeler (aka auto-rickshaw, tuk tuk or taxi). All prices start out at least double what locals pay and we always have to negotiate to as close as we can get to a fair price.

Even once we arrive the driver often tries to get a few extra rupees out of us and we have to stand strong and let them know they can’t change the price after we agreed on it.