Public transport in Sri Lanka is a choice between Buses and Trains. Both are cheap but often overcrowded. At least there's enough public transport to enable everyone to move around the island fairly easily. Trains are a bit slower than buses, but a seat on a train is preferable to standing on a bus.
The bus services in the main towns are fairly frequent. Long distance services are operated from Colombo at Pettah Central Bus Depot. There are two services, one operated by the Sri Lanka Transport Board and the other operated by Private Bus Companies. The private bus station is quite close to the Central Bus Depot . Bus services are more frequent in the Private Bus Station. Most of the buses and coaches have air-conditioning. Buses to the coastal town ply every 1/2 hour, To Kandy every 15 minutes. To other long distance destinations between 1 hour 1/2 hours. Both government and private buses and coaches carry the same destination numbers. Please observe the traffic plan which changes from time to time. All public transport gets particularly crowded around poya (full-moon) days and their nearest weekends, so avoid travelling then if you can. In long distance journey the buses will stop in one or two places to buy small snack, for tea and toilet.
The Sri Lanka Government Railway serves all important tourist destinations in the island. Town served from Colombo include Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Bandarawela, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Matara, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Negombo, Bentota and Batticaloa.
Train travel in Sri Lanka can be pretty good. Although the trains are quite slow, with badly deteriorated tracks in some places, Generally a train ride is a more relaxed experience than a bus ride, although trains can be packed at weekends and public holidays. There are three classes on Sri lankan trains. Third class is incredibly cheap but invariably crowded and you generally sit on benches. Although night mail trains have sleeper with fold-down benches. Second class at least has padded seats and sometimes the fans work, its generally less crowded. There are no 2nd class sleeping berths, only sleepers. First class comes in three varieties: air-con coaches, observation saloons air-con with large picture windows for viewing the scenery and sleeping berths also air-con. For groups of 20 - 25 people a diesel deluxe coach is available.
It's easy to buy tickets when you get to Sri Lanka. There is a special ticket window for tourists at Colombo Fort station. Reservations for trains with reserved seating such as InterCity Express trains open 10-14 days in advance. Other trains (shown as having 'unreserved' seats) don't require a reservation, you just buy a ticket on and hop on. Seats in the 1st class observation car from Colombo to Kandy can get fully-booked from time to time, so book a few days ahead if you can, but you may well find seats available on the day of travel.
There are three lines of most importance to travellers. One is from Colombo down to the west coast to Aluthgama, Hikkaduwa, Galle and Matara. The second is from Colombo east up trough Kandy, Nanu Oya (the station for Nuwara Eliya) and Haputale in the hill country to Badulla. The thirth goes north from Colombo to Anuradhapura and Vavuniya and there's a brach line from Anuradhapura to Trincomalee on the east coast.
Train Trip From Kandy To The Nanu Oya Railway Station Part 1
Train Trip From Kandy To The Nanu Oya Railway Station Part 2
Three Wheelers (tuktuk)
An interesting aspect of the street scenery in Colombo and the suburbs, and many provincial towns, is the three wheeler scooter taxi. They take you quickly trough traffic. They have no meters, so prior agreement on fare is strongly recommended. The three-wheeler is a good ride for the more daring and adventurous. These little machines zip around at 50km's per hour, their horn is heard everywhere, and the smell from a Tuk Tuk exhaust is unbearable. They're a two stroke lawn mower kind of engine and positively reek. These are the quickest and probably the cheapest way to get around to places.
Motorcycle - Bicycle
Motorcycles are a reasonable alternative for intrepid travellers. Distances are relatively short and some of the roads are simply a motorcyclist's delight - other drivers are sometimes the problem!
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