Tag Archives: tuk tuk

Transport in Sri Lanka

In my two weeks in Sri Lanka my approach to the means of transport available in the country was a bit of mix’n’match, partly because I wanted to try different options (in general choosing the cheapest available) partly because on certain routes you have no choice!

So let me share here my experience and comments on all options I tried:

#Plane. Only to get into the country and back out again. The Bandaranaike airport is 35Km north of Colombo and can be reached by public transport. 2-bandaranaike-international-airportThere is an airport bus that leaves from a small car park on the left as you exit the airport – if you ask the airport staff they will point you in the right direction.
Rs 200 is what I paid for a single trip to Colombo but the fare seems to vary, depending on your bargaining skills. Alternatively you can catch a taxi and pay extortionate prices.

#City buses. I like them so I used them most times, even when carrying my suitcase. Buses are very crowded and never stop for more than a couple of seconds so you often have to jump on/off when the bus is still moving. Not many Westerners semed to travel like this but I think that everyone should try. And the locals were always helpful (I was offered seats, given directions, etc). Bus fares are ultracheap, for example I paid Rs 15 for each few Km ride within Colombo. You buy the tickets on board and the ticket guy never has much change so make sure you have small notes and coins on you.

#Long distance buses. The “standard” ones look like city buses and have no a/c. They get very crowded and very hot. My journey from Colombo to Palavi – just under 4hrs – wasn’t overly pleasant in the tropical heat of a late morning/lunchtime but it only cost Rs 150 (less than £1!!!). I wouldn’t do it everyday but it’s an interesting experience. Just bring lots of water and don’t expect toilets on board or toilet breaks. Minivans with a/c are available on most routes and are a much more comfortable option, at only slightly higher fare (Rs 180 for Anuradhapura-Dambulla, Rs 200 for Dambulla-Kandy).

#Trains. I travelled 1st class between Kandy and Colombo, and 2nd class between Colombo and Galle (and back). 1st class had a/c and seat reservation, very comfortable although not comparable to a Western-style 1st class. I bought the ticket at the station two days before travelling and had no issues whatsoever.

The 2nd class train had no a/c and the seats were grubby but ok. No seat reservation (you buy the ticket on the day) so get on the train quick and sit by the window to get some breeze! Trains can get very crowded too, though, and while my journey from Colombo to Galle was fine, the return was a bit cattle class. Yet I cannot complain: I sat the whole time (ok ok, it was on the floor next to the toilet!), I had fresh air coming from the open door and made friends with some backpackers who were sharing the floor space with me. Much luckier than those people standing in the middle of the aisle!

#Tuk tuks. Also called “three-wheeler taxis”, they are good for short-to-medium distances, cheaper than standard taxis and the favourite choice of many locals and tourists. As for me, I used them only when there were no buses available. In Colombo tuk tuks have meters, everywhere else you’ll have to agree a price before starting your journey. My advice is: have an idea of what distance you are going to travel and haggle accordingly. In Colombo I shared a tuk tuk with a fellow traveller for Rs 50/Km, the standard rate. In the countryside I negotiated Rs 1,200 for a 17-Km ride.

#Private car with driver. Not something I would usually go for, as too expensive when you travel on your own and also it lacks the character of catching public transport. But I used it once as I joined a couple who was travelling in the same direction as me. The 2-hr journey from the Kalpitiya area to Anuradhapura cost us Rs 12,000 in total, superpricey compared to my travel standards, but in 36C heat it was a welcome change!

Overall I found it easy to travel around Sri Lanka by public transport but be prepared for slow journeys and not the maximum of comfort. If you are in a hurry or cannot do without comfort, choose the private car option. I will meet you at destination when I arrive by bus :-).

Around Kandy

When I booked my few nights’ stay in Kandy, I was planning to use this city as a base to explore central Sri Lanka and especially the “postcard-ready” tea plantations. You can imagine my disappointment when I realised that the distances involved were a little too much for this poor plan…
Still keen on making the most of my time there, I visited the local tourist office to see what the nearby area had to offer.

The following morning at 7:30am I got picked up at my guesthouse, having arranged a half day tuk tuk tour (Rs 3,000) aimed at covering some of the main tourist destinations (or should I call them “tourist traps”?) located within easy reach from Kandy.
So this is where I went:

#Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
I was given a choice between this orphanage, about 40Km from Kandy, and the Elephant Millenium Foundation located nearby. I chose the former for no particular reason. But while this was once an orphanage, I gather that nowadays all new elephants are born on site. The whole thing seems to have become mainly an expensive tourist attraction (Rs 2,500 the entrance fee for foreigners).
The bottle feeding of the baby elephants is similar to what you see in zoos, feeding fruits to the adult elephants cost you extra money. The walk to the river and the opportunity to watch the elephants bathing were more interesting, though. And on the way back to the car park I stopped in one of the shops and learnt how elephant dung can be turned into paper (of course they then tried and sell me souvenirs made of “elephant paper”…).

#Geragama Tea Factory and Plantations
As a surrogate for a visit to the main tea plantations of Sri Lanka, which I didn’t have time to reach, I went to see this tea factory and annexed plantations. The tour of the factory showed us the various machines involved in the process of turning tea leaves into the little bits that end up in our tea cups. I was surprised to learn about the differences between the various types/grades of Ceylon black tea. Golden tips and silver tips being the best ones, apparently. The tour finished with a free cup of tea and the opportunity to buy some freshly packaged tea, something that my tuk tuk driver didn’t miss out on.

#Spice Garden
There are dozens of these dotted along the road between Kandy and Pinnawala. Guides will show you around the garden, give you some information on the health benefits of various plants and herbs (“this is like natural insulin”, “this plant is good for headaches when you work on a computer all day” and so on), then sit you down and start their sales pitch. It all ends in the shop where you can buy some of the products derived from plants. While it’s certainly interesting, I found the whole thing once again mainly a tourist trap. But I bought some chilli powder as souvenir.

Despite my general comment on the sights above being a bit of tourist traps, it was still good to get out of Kandy and see more of the country!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

A dialogue between two cities (London and Luang Prabang) via their most common forms of public transport and places of worship.

Featuring in the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.

A trip to the Kuang Si waterfalls

Getting to the Kuang Si (or Kouang Si) waterfalls, 30Km south of Luang Prabang, was an adventure in itself.

27 of us from the same hostel were booked on the “minivan option” to get to the waterfalls. Only to find out that ‘minivan’ meant ‘tuk tuk’ and that we had to cram into only three tuk tuks…And that was just the beginning!

Roads in Lao are very bumpy and badly maintained, potholes are the size of a buffalo, and drivers are as mad as those in Vietnam…To add to this, the road to the Kuang Si waterfalls is quite winding and hilly. When the engine of the tuk tuk I was in stopped working as we were on a steep road, the driver didn’t beat an eyelid.

He engaged the emergency brake and put two small rocks behind the rear wheels as extra safety measure.  Then tried to start the engine again. It started but the tuk tuk didn’t move. After a few times we started sliding backwards (small rocks can’t hold a tuk tuk!) and I pictured myself in a newspaper article titled “Backpackers accident in Lao”.

But no, that didn’t happen. The second tuk tuk reached us and 3 of us were told to get on it. That meant 12 people plus driver! After a few more failed attempts everyone had to leave the broken tuk tuk and redistribute between tuk tuks and minivans driving past.

This time I got the minivan!

Eventually we arrived to the Kuang Si waterfalls.

These falls are made of a succession of beautiful pools and waterfalls, with turquoise blue waters. It really is such an amazing scenery!

It is possible to swim in most of the pools, and trails and walkways allow for easy walking between them.

The biggest waterfall is at the very top and a slippery climb to the highest pool seemed the favourite for dozens of young monks (novices) who were there to swim and dive in the pools. Whenever they saw us along the trail, they encouraged us to join them to the top!

I did not make it to the very top but I could still see (and hear) the monks having  a great time :-).

The journey back to town didn’t involve broken down tuk tuks. But the driver decided to entertain us with some Formula One racing down the hill, overtaking trucks on bendy roads and ignoring any plea to slow down. Thankfully we made it back safely .