Not only did the train cost the least in all of our travelling, but it was certainly the most relaxing and undemanding. No, I’m not referring to sitting in a fully air-conditioned first class carriage, we travelled in style all from the comfort of 3rd class. A typical train journey in 3rd class will cost a maximum of 400/500 rupees for a reserved seat, however you are able to arrive 30 minutes before and get unreserved for even less. Incredible value for up to 6/7 hour long journeys! Not only do you have the flexibility to move around, stretch your legs and go to the toilet, but you can also have some incredible food.
Some of my favourite snacks were discovered by locals jumping on to sell their cooking. At each train station local vendors would board hustling all kinds of snacks like freshly cut pineapple and mango with cinnamon and corn with salty butter. I will remember the man selling king coconuts to the anonymous, with arms waving through train windows. Jumping from each panel, giving and receiving food and money, running to the next window to do the same before returning to give correct change. It must be a challenging and captive market to sell to, one man amongst many trying to make his way and provide for his family. If you are travelling whether Sri lanka or anywhere else, buy the street food, not only is it exceedingly good value, but it is sure to be traditional, local, and fresh. Apart from the obvious selection of cool drinks and variety of fruits, crispy Vadai or deep fried spiced up channa dal are just two of the amazing things I tried and highly recommend. You can pay anything between 50/150 rupees for a large snack bag, and I can assure you will not be disappointed.
No train journey is more beautiful than the train leaving from Ella to Kandy. A long 7 hour journey sounds daunting but do not let it discourage you. The amazing scenery makes the time fly by! A little tip if travelling from Ella to Kandy, is to book a seat on the left hand side of the train. The views are particularly spectacular on this side as you approach and leave Nuwara Eliya. As reserved seating does fill up, don’t be upset if you can’t get the seat you want, I spent the entirety of the journey sat in the train doorway. Health and safety isn’t a huge issue in Sri Lanka, but if you are careful, it’s a good alternative to a window seat.
Take the time to stick your head out of the window or doorway, to not only have the wind blow through your hair, but to watch the dissecting train curve along the side of the hills. There is something about the trains themselves that are inherently beautiful. Whether you catch a typical Sri Lankan mainline train in elderly brown and red coaches, or the newer built Chinese trains that are a vibrant blue, the views remain the same. Depending on your time of travel, a journey on a typical day will see you cutting through a misty-mountain atmosphere blanketing tea plantations and undulating hills and yes, more tea plantations. The landscape is ridiculously picturesque and that wouldn’t be giving the justice it deserves. There is a rich mix of colour combinations, starting from the clear skies, multitude of greenery, tea plantations all dotted with occasional properties belonging to the residents.
If you have the time and availability, I recommend a little journey up to Badulla. Although there is not too much locally within the town, the train journey crossed over the 9 arch bridge and for 40 rupees it’s an absolute steal! Although you can walk 2km along the track to reach the bridge, we found it a little populated with tourists especially when a train is due. Unless you know the timetable, trains are far and few between, so you could be there a while! Badulla was very busy with a lot of traffic and tuk tuks, however it seemed strictly for locals. We found an incredible food market just next to the station however, filled with fresh fruits and fish.