The boy with tiny crescent shaped dimples and round eyes glanced up at me. His smile was the shape of an orange peel, and he radiated with happiness and intense interest .
“Hello!” I said, smiling back.
He shyly looked at his mom and turned back to me, his grin bigger than before.
“Selfie!” He said, holding up his mom’s iPhone. I leaned over and grinned, trying to match his massive smile. He snapped the photo and we exchanged a few giggles before he left the train with his mom, waving goodbye.
Riding the train in Sri Lanka is one of the best ways to see the country, chat with locals, and travel around for dirt cheap. Most of the train rides offer spectacular scenery, and one in particular, the one between Kandy and Ella, is one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. The train rolls past lush, green landscape, gushing rivers, and local villages.
Oh, the tastes of train travel in Sri Lanka. Vendors walk up and down the aisles selling various treats and traditional Sri Lankan snacks. Relish in the samosas, peanuts, apples, donuts, prawns, and random other snacks that make your taste buds tingle.
The snacks are dirt cheap, too! You’ll spend anywhere from 20-200 rupees (10 cents to around $2) on loads of delicious snacks.
I took the train from Kandy to Ella, from a bustling city to a quiet hill town. I could sense the immediate change from cloudy exhaust to fresh, clean air tainted with the sweet scent of rain, mist, and earth.
The rumble, tumble, rickety motion of the train is soothing. I ended up falling asleep for an hour or so as the train comfortably rocked me back and forth. You’ll hear the quiet murmur of locals engaged in conversation, the sporadic, questionable yelling of a vendor selling snacks, and the occasional giggle from a nearby child.
Rolling green hills. Local villagers. Construction men in white hard hats in a collective group smoking cigarettes on the side of the railway. Children running next to the train, waving with toothless grins. Locals munching on various snacks, smiling at each other with giddiness in the air.
There’s so much to see on the trains in Sri Lanka, that you could spend days riding them and always see something new. The trains pass through local villages and major tourist towns, allowing for a more well rounded perspective of life in Sri Lanka.
How to Buy Tickets
You can book first class tickets up to 10 days in advanced. Some of the routes sell out quickly, so if you really want first class, I recommend booking at least a few days early.
We tried to take first class from Kandy to Ella, but ended up sitting in third class, which I can’t recommend enough. We spent 8 hours sitting next to locals, taking selfies, eating snacks, and hanging out the train door. It was well worth the experience and about a fifth of the price!
For second and third class, you can buy tickets minutes before the train leaves at the train station. Keep in mind that seats are not guaranteed in second and third class, and you may end up standing for a majority of the ride.
Check train times here.
What to Bring
There are overhead compartments for your luggage and decent toilets on the train, even in third class! I recommend bringing water and snacks, however, if you don’t, there are plenty of opportunities to buy some on the train ride!