What is a trip to Sri Lanka without leaning blissfully out the open doorway of the famous blue train, hair casually billowing in the wind and looking effortlessly beautiful and all smiles? I thought the exact same which is why, day three of our itinerary was dedicated solely to this beautiful train journey to take us from Kandy to Ella, winding through the hill country and experience the local culture.
The train journey we set out on started in Kandy and ends in Ella but you don’t have to do the full journey, or you can go even further! The most common journey is Kandy to Ella or the opposite way round or from one end and get off around Nuwara Eliya which is where you’ll find the tea plantations and is a good way to split up the long journey. The full journey to Ella is around 6.5 hours, or at least it should be…
So our story goes a bit like this; we got to the Kandy train station early as we did not pre-book tickets. You have two options when it comes to the tickets, pre-book and hope you can get your allocated seat or roll up early on the day and get an unreserved seat. I popped down the day before just encase there were any tickets left but there weren’t so we arrived at 8am for the 9am train, got our ticket and waited on the platform. We paid 620LKR for two second class unreserved tickets, circa 2.74GBP.
The train was late, it arrived around 9:30am which was fine, the longer we waited the busier the platform became until it was quite literally rammed with people, suitcases and travel backpacks bigger than the sun. As the train came into the station, it literally did not come to a halt before the carnage began. I had no idea what was about to happen so calmy stood back but others clearly got the memo! All of a sudden everyone ran to the doors, people threw their bags through the windows and started climbing in and I couldn’t believe my eyes!
We waited in a line to get on the right carriage and it was looking less and less likely that another body could fit on. Luckily, someone came down and grabbed a few of us and said the carriage further up was quieter so we ran up and managed to squeeze on. Eventually the train left the station and we were sardined on this train thinking what the hell happens now!
A few hours passed and slowly people shuffled around and a few locals got off so one or two seats became free but there were still a lot of people stood up. You’re thinking, why not make your way to the doorway and enjoy the breeze? chance would be a fine thing, the doorways were the busiest and were heavily guarded by those who felt most entitled.
Eventually we reach a station and the train stopped. We sat for a good half an hour before asking a local ‘what is going on?’ and they replied that the train had broken down. What! Everyone was off the train frolicking on the tracks and initially we just thought it was taking a break. Soon everyone was ordered off and we waited on the side of the tracks and the next train came past. We then had to climb up onto the new train, luggage and all, and the carnage began again – I couldn’t believe it, just as the train was emptying! A few more hours passed and we both eventually got a seat and I was absolutely thrilled to have a window seat. The rest of the journey was long, dry and tiresome but the views were incredible. When we began to reach Ella, I managed to squeeze to the door and for 2 minutes experience the sitting with my feet out the door, it was wonderful but I just wish it lasted a bit longer.
Overall, the experience was just that, an amazing experience. I think the dissapointing thing was what I built it to be in my head, I pictured the whole journey to be blissful, quiet and photos in abundance but it’s not. Just remember that those incredible photos are just a second in time and you have no idea how much they had to fight to get it.
Those scenes though! The landscapes you drive through are breathtaking, the rolling hills, the tea plants and the farmers at work. Forget your Insta shot of you in the doorway, have your lens pointed on the views and the beautiful locals. When we eventually reached Ella, we were so tired and so dry. Do remember to take lots of water with you on the train, we only had a small amount and quickly went through it. They do bring snacks around, something that gets so annoying when you’re all ready squished in!
I am very glad we did it but I also wish I knew what I know now before hand. I planned my outfit and did my hair thinking it would be a great photo for the album but my best advice to you is to dress comfortable, you’ll be pushed and pulled around and although there are fans, it gets hot in there. Wear comfy shoes, you may get your toes stood on and if you’re climbing on and off the train, you want to be able to do so without a flip flop binging off. And if you can, travel light. We had suitcases which was fine in the end but my word, it would have been easier if we hadn’t.
I hope this is useful and don’t be put off, just be prepared!