This is a guest article from Agness, a Polish vagabond who, after graduation, left her comfort zone and set off for a journey of her lifetime to China in 2011. She has been constantly travelling the world since then (slowly, but surely as she says), living like a local for less than $25 a day. She became a photography passionate and adventure blogger sharing her life enthusiasm and travel experience with everyone around. Read up on more of Agness’s adventures on her blog E-tramping. Follow Agness on Twitter and Facebook.
Sri Lanka, often called the Teardrop of India, is a fantastic budget travel destination. It attracts attention not only with its stunning golden beaches, charming scenery, and smiling locals, but also with low priced local transport and delicious spicy cuisine on a budget. Cheaper, cleaner and friendlier than India, Sri Lanka is becoming more and more occupied by backpackers.
However, there are few Sri Lanka travel tips that you should be aware of before you head there. One big thing you should be aware of is the local transport scams, which are extremely popular across the country. You can easily get ripped off by local travel “agents” and members of train and bus station staff . Here are some general tips on what to expect and how to avoid overspending while using local means of transport in Sri Lanka.
#1 Be aware of the crowd
Sri Lankan train and bus stations are often overcrowded. It gets really busy early in the morning and late afternoon when people go to and from work. People will push each other to pass by, run like crazy when they see trains coming and try to board as soon as possible. In this case, you should be extremely careful and keep an eye on your belongings. Don’t leave your luggage or backpack unattended. Keep an eye on your bags and wallet and don’t let people distract your attention. It’s very easy to get pick-pocketed in Sri Lanka.
#2 Get a seat at the window
The view from a train window will take your breath away. You will pass by exotic beaches, stunning parks, forests and mountains. You simply can’t miss it. This is one advantage of travelling by trains and buses in Sri Lanka – You see beautiful landscapes everywhere, so get your camera ready for some nice shots!
#3 Know the price before you buy the ticket
Before you buy a train or bus ticket, ask a few locals around you how much they have paid for their tickets. The reason being, you might easily get ripped off by the ticket cashier. This is what happened to us. We were buying two train tickets from Pinnawala to Galle and we were quoted a much higher price than a Sri Lankan man standing in front of us in the queue. We really got angry and refused the price. At the end we were asked to pay normal price, but we will never forget the cashier’s cheeky smile.
#4 Don’t buy your ticket online
If you are staying in a hostel or a hotel, don’t let the staff purchase your train/bus ticket on your behalf. You might get quoted a much higher price. It is a very common rip off in Sri Lankan hotels nowadays. The staff promise to get you a seat in a first class compartment with air conditioning, you pay more and then end up standing in a smelly and dirty compartment squeezed in with local riders. Most Sri Lankan trains have no air conditioning and 1st class doesn’t differ much from 2nd class (except the higher price, of course). Even if you buy a ticket on your own, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll get a decent seat, even if you have overpaid. We met a couple who paid $30 for their tickets online. We paid $2. We had seats and they didn’t.
#5 Bus vs. Train
Buses are fast and convenient, and they’re definitely more expensive than trains. However you’re more likely to get an air-conditioned bus than an air-conditioned train. Trains are super slow, but they’re cheap and the view is always worth it. Most Sri Lankan trains have toilets, but you might be scared off once you see one. Personally, I get a bus for nearby destinations nearby and take the train if I’m heading to a different province.
# 6 Avoid tuk tuks.
If you don’t want to overspend on local transport, don’t take tuk tuks. They are very expensive and the drivers will do everything to get your last Sri Lankan rupee out of you. Most tuk tuk drivers are pushy and greedy. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for directions and get on a bus instead! Make sure you bargain before you get on, and don’t forget to find out the exact price you’ll pay. Some drivers have been known to change their minds about the price once you’re on the road.
#7 Ticket prices
Although there is not much difference between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class tickets (except the price), tickets are still affordable. You shouldn’t pay more than $1 to get from Colombo to Pinnawala and no more than $2 to get from Pinnawala to Ella. Check out the prices online to know what you can expect.
If you want to travel in Sri Lanka for nearly free, keep these tips in mind when you start traveling through one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Sri Lanka is easy on the wallet, eyes and soul!