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It was with an open heart that I took public transportation in Sri Lanka. I clambered onto those buses with curiosity and a keen eye. I scrambled onto the trains thirsty for a glimpse into Sri Lankan life and I was deeply rewarded.
Eye contact, knowing smiles, taps on the arm, shimmering saris, and chatter in Sinhalese, Tamil and Arabic created a sense that I was connected to these strangers. There was an invisible thread tying us together. Was it merely the common experience of getting from point A to point B?
I believe it was a reciprocal curiosity about different cultures and humanity. I was the recipient of inquisitive glances in equal proportion to my seemingly subtle observations.
There were offers to share food, a request to explain my hand sanitiser, a man who found me a seat on a long trip and countless smiles and waves. Those journeys made me feel alive, they filled my soul with delight and paved a way for Sri Lanka to steal a piece of my heart.
Don’t get me wrong. Public transportation in Sri Lanka is not for the faint of heart. There was the train ride where the man’s pot belly behind me was literally propping me up in a sea of people crammed together.
There was the train trip that began at 5 am. I was still standing three and a half hours later. I might have sworn to never take another train. Good thing I already loved Sri Lanka by then!
Public transportation in Sri Lanka. This kind of travel is a microcosm of real life. There are jostling crowds, monks, newborn babies, and grocery bags. A hot wind blows through open windows. You are momentarily stepping into their world. Soak up what is offered.
On the buses, there is a silent dance up and down the aisles making room for everyone. There are endless amounts of schoolchildren. Backpacks stacked upon laps. You sway as one as the bus careens at warp speed. Buddha or Saraswati rides with you every time.
On the trains, it is similar yet different. This public transportation in Sri Lanka has the soothing clickety-clack of the rails. The views are spectacular. There is more leg room and everyone loves hanging out the windows.
Sit back (or stand!) and enjoy the ride! The most fleeting of connections and conversations will transpire, some that will stay with you forever.
Transportation In Sri Lanka: Bus Tips
- The final destination is on the front of the bus. You might not recognize the name. Confirm before getting on the bus that the bus stops at your destination
- Buy your ticket from the conductor on the bus, usually after the trip has begun
- Hold on to your ticket. Sometimes the supervisors board the bus and ask to see your ticket.
- Be prepared to stand.
- Often when the bus arrives at the station, it is already full.
- Go early. If you are at the beginning of a route you may get a seat.
- Your large backpack goes at the front by the driver. Do not even consider making your way down the aisle with it.
Transportation In Sri Lanka: Train Tips
- Know your train’s final destination. The front of the train states the final station.
- Buy your ticket at the station.
- Look for different lineups for first, second, and third-class tickets.
- Hold onto your ticket. You may be asked to show it on the train.
- You need your ticket to exit the station.
- Be prepared to stand.
- Second and third-class tickets don’t sell out which results in crowds and people standing.
- Often when the train arrives at the station, it is already full.
- Your backpack goes on the rack above the seats.
- Seat 61 is a great site for more train travel tips
“Travel is an art, and one must practice it in a relaxed way, with passion, with love.” Tiziano Terzani
I hope these tips on transportation in Sri Lanka are helpful.
Until next time,
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