one of the things i was most looking forward to during my time in sri lanka was travelling by train. i love taking the train, and i have read so much about how picturesque the rides are in sri lanka, so i knew it would have to be a part of my itinerary.
as luck would have it, the cheapest way to get from colombo to galle is by train. there are highway buses as well, and you can always hire a cab if you have a group of people, but the train is easy and cheap and provides some great views of the coastline as it travels between the two cities.
the trains between colombo and galle only offer second- and third-class compartments, so there is no advance booking. it’s good if you are flexible with your travel days and times, but i imagine it can get crazy during peak travel season, when there are even more people vying for seats.
i decided to take a late-morning train, departing colombo at 10.30am and scheduled to reach galle around 12.45pm. i reached the fort railway station around 10.15, purchased my ticket, and headed in to the platform. the ticket checker at the entry pointed me to the correct platform, and i set out on my way.
there was a large group of people at the beginning of the platform, and being me, i decided to walk a little farther down to where it was less crowded. as a result, when the train arrived – 30 minutes late – i found myself boarding a very crowded third-class compartment. two things i hadn’t counted on: 1. that colombo wasn’t the starting point and there would already be people on board; and 2. that i was travelling on a sunday, so there would be a large number of locals in addition to all the travellers.
so when i fought my way into the compartment, rucksack and all, i found myself in a wall of sri lankans. luckily for me they were friendly and fairly good-natured about all the room i took up with my stuff, and after about 45 minutes i managed to snag a spot on one of the bench seats. i also got semi-adopted by the family i was sharing the bench with — they bought me a snack, kept me updated when the galle stop was approaching, and made sure i got off the train at the station. it was really sweet, and in a way i’m glad i ended up in the wrong compartment. i just wish i hadn’t had all of my stuff to deal with.
the ride itself was fine. there were a lot of glimpses of the coast along the way, even if i did have to lean down to catch most of them. we also passed through some beautiful villages that looked like they would be nice and peaceful [other than the train roaring through, of course]. i enjoyed it very much.
the journey back from galle was more pleasant, as i managed to land a seat in a second-class compartment — the seats were much more comfortable, and it was significantly less crowded. but it’s nice to have had both experiences and to have navigated the journeys successfully.
route: colombo fort railway station to galle railway station.
train timings: there are numerous trains throughout the day; i opted for the last morning train, scheduled to depart at 10.30am [it ended up being half an hour late]. the journey takes a little over 2 hours.
fare: 180 sri lankan rupees // approximately $1.40 for a second-class ticket.
a few tips:
give yourself time. the queues at the colombo railway station were really long when i arrived, but luckily i found a short line and snuck my way in. give yourself some time to get your ticket and find your platform.
stick with the foreigners. the reason all the tourists are standing on one end of the platform is because they have been told that is where the second-class compartments begin. if you want to be smart like me and avoid the crowd, just be careful how far down the platform you walk — those third-class benches aren’t as comfortable, and you might end up with someone’s armpit over your head.
you’ll have to return your ticket. the train tickets in sri lanka are printed on this purple card stock and are kind of adorable. i was really sad when i had to hand mine over in galle to get out of the station, partly because i wanted to keep it as a souvenir and also because i didn’t take a photo of it and i was kicking myself for my lack of forethought. i got lucky in colombo and the guy let me keep it, but just in case, take those photos at the station while you’re waiting for the train.
fight for your seat. i’m not saying elbow anyone or inflict any physical harm, but be warned that if you want to snag a seat for the journey, you’ll have to fight for it. since the seats are unreserved, there are more people than there are seats. if you are too passive, you’ll be standing the whole way. it’s not a terrible ride, but you’ll miss the views.