The way of traveling in Sri Lanka
You have several way of traveling in Colombo city and out side the city. The main form of transport mode is bus and train which used by locals due to its low cost and wide availability.
Private vehicles could be hired too. Normally travelers go for a car or van. It is hired on the daily basis or for trip either one way or up & down. You can hire a private vehicle for daily basis with or without the driver. Else you can go for the famous three wheelers.
Please carry enough change cash when you are traveling in Colombo. Because you might find trouble changing your Rs.1000 & Rs.500 notes sometimes. Don’t even think about paying in dollars or travelers checks in the local transport modes.
As your new person to the country make sure that you get the exact prices from your hotel for not being paid more money for in hired vehicles by your self and in three wheelers. If you hire or travel in a vehicle for more than a half day he might ask you some advance payment for food and fuel. Be glad to give that and don’t forget to deduct on the end of the day.
In long distance journey the buses will stop in one or two places to buy small snack, for tea and toilet. Trains will stop in bigger station if they are express ones when traveling longer distances. Simply three wheelers and other vehicles will stop where ever you want or when ever you notify the driver.
If you don’t have a pre booked accommodation. The driver of the vehicle will help you to find accommodation for you. As he is a local guy he will take you to a place which is suitable for a traveler like you.
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Taxi Service in Sri Lanka
You can hire a call cab when it comes to taxi service in Sri Lanka. You can find metered cabs or none metered cabs which hires per by kilometers you traveled. If it is kilometer basis one don’t forget to ask the rate per kilometer which is Rs.21 to Rs.35 depending on operators. And don’t forget to see the meter as soon as you get in.
The best way is asking your hotel to hire one as you don’t know the telephone no & get tel no for later usage. You don’t find cabs or cars here as taxies but three wheelers instead. But disadvantage in call cabs is u have to give a call at least ½ hour before u leave.
And also if you’re staying in a good hotel they might have their own vehicles with or without drivers. You can go for a package (for days with or without drivers) deal with them. Some call cab providers do give vehicles with drivers on day basis. You can go for a good price deal with them if the price is not fixed in long distance journey. Normal standard in up & down journey is the cab operators will give a 10% discount if your going out of the Colombo city limits. If you are traveling inside Colombo in a taxi u can ask the driver to come & pick you again later.
When hiring vehicle, make sure what kind of vehicle you need, you can hire a van or car. But I think going for a van is best because of the seating capacity and the boot space you have for your luggages. The car sometimes does cost you more than a van and with less comfort when you’re traveling as family. If u are alone and going for a car just compare the prices between them. And when traveling in a van u can share the cost between your friends or the people you are traveling with.
When hiring a vehicle outside Colombo by your self make sure that u go for a better price as they are not metered and do not run on Kilometer basis. Ask the price before getting in. Make sure the driver knows the destination or hotel or what ever exactly. In case he doesn’t know make sure that the driver asks for the root, from the by passers or from the three wheeler guys.
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Bus services in Sri Lanka
The most common way of traveling in Sri Lanka and are owned by both the state and private sectors. The main bus stand is situated in Pettah next to main train station. U can choose an intercity, A/C or normal buses to take u ‘in & out’ of Colombo. Go for an A/C or intercity bus in long journeys.
If u want to travel don’t depend totally on the state owned buses known as CTB, as they are out numbered. The private buses are the best mode of traveling and only they have A/C buses, and other normal buses are found commonly.
The buses which run inside the city limit won’t be available after 9pm. Long journeys are mostly preferred to go in nights by local and u have to pre book them in advance.
The prices are fixed; you might find State Buses asking for Rs1-3 lower than the private buses in short distance and Rs10 to Rs15 in longer distance. My choice would be private bus than CTB bus as they could be found any where.
When traveling in short distance make sure you have coins with you. And also Rs10, Rs20, Rs50 notes will work smoothly with bus conductors. Avoid Rs100 or more when going for short distance.
When in longer distance, don’t even think about going for the Rs1000 notes for one ticket & it’s good in buying 2 or more tickets.
When paying in big amount notes bus conductor will say he’ll pay you later. This happens if you pay even Rs50 for Rs5 ride and Rs1000 for Rs100 ride.
how to avoid
Carry enough change with you travel will be useful when u even switch to another transport mode also u can avoid having trouble for change money.
If the bus conductor says he’ll give the balance later. You can do the tricks what I use.
1. Ask for the balance every 5 minutes as he finds you irritating he will pay the balance quickly in a short journey.
2. Bus will stop in at least 1 or 2 places in long distance journeys; then you can ask the balance from him saying that you want to buy water or other stuffs; he has no choice other than pay the balance, by any means.
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Three Wheelers are the best means
Three wheelers are the main and best way of traveling inside Colombo. Some do call them as trishaws or autos too. They could be found in any part of the country. They’re widespread in cities, roads, towns and every where. The three wheeler drivers will always stop & ask whether u want his service when they are vacant.
If you don’t hire a private vehicle and depending on the other transport modes this one of the choices that u can’t avoid or have to depend on. Normally you can hire them in the nights too, unlike buses.
When traveling in three wheelers always ask the price first and get inside before the journey. Normally they will say big price and you can ask them to reduce the amount for a better deal.
Even if they don’t reduce the price pretending that u are not interested will make him to reduce the amount. Else simply avoid him saying no, and go for another one. You can know the exact price by asking at the desk or reception in your hotel by telling them your destination.
In case when u don’t know the price for the journey ask him how much he wants for the journey. Then you negotiate with him to reduce the amount by 1/2 or 2/3 of the price will be a better deal.
The normal rate is for a kilometer is around Rs.20. There was a recent price hike in the fuels therefore u won’t be able to go on the same price if u had paid when visiting in the recent past.
Keep changes in Rs100 and Rs50 when u travel because by the end of the journey both of you will find trouble in changing the Rs1000 notes. And sometimes if u don’t have Rs50 then you end up paying Rs100 that’s another Rs50 extra to him.
How to avoid
If you don’t have change tell the driver on the way to your destination that you want to change money to pay him. So he can go to a shop or boutique and change it for you.
Else u can ask him to stop near a good shop and buy a cigarette packet or a big mineral water bottle, or a mega Coke or Pepsi bottle or something else to get the money changed.
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Train service in Sri Lanka
The train service is good for long distance traveling and it’s owned by the state. The main train station (Fort Railway Station) is situated in Fort which is next to the main bus stand. The train service has special coach prepared for travelers called “tourist coach” with the necessary facilities and luxury, and also you can travel in 1st & 2nd class by advance booking.
The 3rd class could be traveled by the without prior notice which is preferred by the most of the locals which always fully packed. The train fair is really very low either in tourist coach or in any other classes. The prices are fixed. You can get details on train, the tourist coach and do advance booking in the Fort Railway Station where there is a separate counter (Tourist Counter) to handle travelers like you.
I think the best ides is to going Kandy or Nanu Oya (the last station in hill country) by train and also using the tourist coach if you are traveler. From the above destination you can go in a three wheeler or hire van and go to your hotel or where ever you want to go.
You don’t have any trouble with them because they are state owned. But make sure that you have change money. The reason is during your journey you could get down to buy something (food or mineral water) and find trouble in changing the money. Because of that you either pay more or have to forget buying things if there is not a nice gentleman in the coach to change it for you. Changed money will be useful at the end of journey when you want to switch to another transport mode.
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From the airport to Colombo.
I always try to avoid airport taxis as even the official ones always seem to be a rip-off. I suppose they work on the principle that they have a more or less captive audience. As there is no train connection I had decided to take the bus. My guidebook (published late 2012) indicated that I would have to get a free shuttle bus to a nearby bus station and then a bus to Colombo. This is inevitably the problem with guidebooks, they are out of date before they even go to press. Such is the nature of travel writing. I should point out that the official website is similarly out of date and does not appear to have been amended since 2009. I found an information booth where a very helpful lady, resplendent in a sari informed me that there was now a direct bus to Colombo and pointed out the relevant spot across the road where it departed.
To find it, exit the arrivals area and turn left, walking to the end of the terminal building. Cross the road and you will see an area at the side of the road where the buses reverse in. If there is not one present, you will know the place by the people standing around. Again, a cut and paste from my blog will prevent duplication of effort.
"The bus backed into the appointed spot and then the scrum began again as it had at the baggage carousel. For people who are so incredibly polite and friendly the concept of the queue seems to be totally alien and it was made all the more unbelievable by the fact that there were clearly not enough people there to half fill the bus. I stood well back and then got on and easily found a seat. Compared to some of the old rust buckets that ply the Galle Road, this one was pretty modern with air blowers to keep you cool but it had the usual Asian problem of not being designed for a 6'5" Briton. Still, not too bad and a fairly uneventful run along the newly opened expressway deposited me in one of the three bus stations in the Pettah which is a typically manic market area in the old part of town."
The journey took slightly less than an hour and I do not remember the exact fare but it was very cheap as I remember thinking it was much less than £1 Sterling. This is definitely the option for those on a budget.
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This is only half a tip!
I am writing this tip whilst in Sri Lanka and so have only experienced the arrivals part of the airport. I shall complete the information whenever I sadly have to depart from this lovely country.
Unless you are arriving in Sri Lanka by cargo vessel or in the fortunate position of sailing in on your own yacht, you will have to go through Bandaranaike International Airport. The ferry service that briefly plied between the island and India has been discontinued due to lack of passengers.
Like many international airports, although it is called Colombo, it is actually some distance out of town to the North near the town of Negombo. It is the only international airport in the country and appears to serve both civil and military purposes. In the brief time I was standing outside, I saw three fighter planes flying overhead. In the interests of not duplicating effort, I shall cut and paste an edit from my blog here which is slightly more narrative than my normal tips but I hope will be of value.
"We arrived pretty well on time in Colombo and the deplaning was relatively easy. They rather cleverly funnel you through an arrivals duty free area, at least 90% of which appeared to be electrical and even white goods. Who in Heavens name buys a washing machine in the airport? Somebody must although the place looked generally fairly quiet. Still, it was early in the morning. I went to the appropriate baggage carousel and waited in the scrum, for such it was. Apparently, Sri Lankans don't have any social taboo against elbowing you in the ribs, dropping suitcases on your feet and so on. Well, I am used to that kind of thing in Asia so it doesn't bother me overly.
I waited and waited and then I waited some more. When I had finished doing that, I waited. The crowd began to thin a bit, although it did take an age for the baggage to arrive but it was not good. I got bored and went back upstairs to take a few photos of the scene and found myself engaged in conversation with a couple of young salesmen from the duty free shops who were obviously as bored as I was. I had a wander around, looking for a bar or coffee place to pass the time but there did not appear to be any (the website confirms that there are no refreshment facilities in arrivals). I watched the same few forlorn bags going round and round, evidently in totally the wrong airport and I knew instinctively what had happened. An overly-optimistic 55 minute connection in Doha had stranded my bag there.
After about 90 minutes or so, I was approached (along with the other half dozen or so bereft travellers) by a very personable young man with good English, winkle picker shoes and a totally improbable hairstyle who asked me a couple of questions and then directed me to the baggage handling desk which was run by Air Sri Lanka on behalf of all visiting airlines. A very pleasant young lady asked me some more questions, filled out a load of forms and checked her computer which singularly failed to locate the missing item. I thought these things were meant to be damn near infallible. Yes, I was totally hacked off. I was tired, feeling slightly grubby as I always do after two long flights despite a brief feshen up on the plane, and I literally had the clothes I stood up in which were getting a bit ripe. I was going to let rip at the young lady but what was the point? It's not her fault and she must have one of the worst jobs in the world listening to people like me screaming at her all day. Thankfully, I had all my important stuff in my carry-on and I knew I could buy whatever I needed locally if the worst happened." I was re-united with the baggage later that evening.
A few other things to note. There is no alcohol sold in the airport except in the transit lounge and there is no place to buy tobacco or alcohol on arrival although foreigners are allowed to do so. Should you need the information desk, exit the arrivals door and turn left, it is about 50 yards on the left with helpful staff who speak good English.
I shall finish this tip in a couple of months.
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To and From the Airport
The most cheapest way to get to the City from Airport is the BUS.
Turn left after coming out of the arrival lounge and walk until the end of the shades passing the TAXI Booking counters, and wait just few minutes, or you may find a red color shuttle bus already there, its free of cost and will take you to a nearby Bus Stop, take Bus Number 187 (This is not special Airport Bus and there is no Space for Big Luggage) if you take the second last seat on the left side there is enough space to put your luggage. Travel Time is around Hours and a half or little more.
This Bus will take you to Pettah (Fort Railway Station) the standard fare is SLR31.00 but but some time they charge extra if your luggage occupy another seat.
From Pettah to Airport or vice versa, there are Air conditioned VANS 22 seater (Same Number 187) If you have big luggage, yo may have to buy 2 seats, cost SLR 75 each, this Van will take you to the transportation center near the airport from there you have to get the Free Shuttle Bus (as mentioned above)
Metered Taxi's are non existence and what they call Taxi is rented automobile and may cost around SLR2000 to 2500 to get to the city which is just 35 kilometer.
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Riding the bus in Colombo - particularly out in the non-touristy suburbs - can take a bit of getting used to. Here are a few tips:
Buses are extremely crowded. Ideally get on at a starting point when the bus is empty so you get a seat. If not then you'll have to stand and put up with the countless sweaty armpits and swaying elbows (I'm so glad I'm tall!) I certainly wouldn't recommend it for single foreign women as it's a groper's paradise.
If you have to get on mid-journey, get on at the back entrance and the conductor will come and find you and collect the fare. If you're lucky enough to get a seat then expect numerous bags and even children to be dumped on your lap - it's the general rule that those sitting help out the people standing.
'Ladies first' is not much of a rule on a Colombo bus! But you should give up your seat for old people and women (or men) with young children. I once tried to be polite and offer my seat to a woman with shopping bags but the men just pushed her aside and jumped in my seat before her. Monks also get priority and the front two seats always carry the sign 'reserved for clergy' - even if the monks are young and healthy and the person sitting there is an 80 year old woman she'll be expected to let them have her seat.
Horrifically disfigured and disabled beggars are common on quieter buses (as on busier buses you can't move!) so you might want to keep some small change handy.
When the bus arrives the only place I've ever seen a queue is at Borella bus station. Anywhere else it's a free-for-all and you have to fight to get on. You can't bring out a sledgehammer and break people's legs but otherwise anything goes!
Finally if you're on a route where you're not sure where you're going then try hard to keep near the window or the exit. If you let yourself be pushed into the middle of the bus there's no escape and it can take ages to fight your way back through - by which time you're miles away from where you want to be!
Central Bus Station.
Rather confusingly, there are three main bus stations in central Colombo, all within close proximity at the edge of the Pettah (market area) just East of Fort train station. This tip deals with central Station which is the arrival and departure point for most suburban buses although the airport bus did also deposit me here.
It is situated to the Northwest of the junction of Olcott Mawatha and Saunders Place and is a typically South Asian bus station with all the attendant noise and fumes. The best thing about it is the Information Office (shown) where English is spoken and they are extremely helpful. Realistically, it would be very difficult to find the correct stand unless you have been using the place for a long time. Be aware that some buses (including the 100) actually leave from the broad outside the station proper.
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From Colombo to Popular Destinations
Kandy -------------> No: 1
Galle --------------->No: 2
Trincomalee -----> No: 49
Polonnaruwa ----> No: 48
Anuradhapura ---> No: 4, 15, 57
Kurunegala -------> No: 6, 5
Sigiriya -------------> No: 47
Badulla ------------> No: 99
Nuwara Eliya ----> No: 79
Matara ------------> No: 32
Ratnapura -------> No: 3
Batticaloa --------> No: 48
Ampara -----------> No: 98
Negombo --------> No: 240
Int Airport -------> No: 187
Main Bus Stop in Colombo is at Pettah/Fort Station
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The cheapest way to get around Colombo is by bus. But it's not a pleasant experience. Colombo buses - both official CTB and private ones - are generally old and decrepit with madmen behind the wheel and ten times as many passengers as the bus was made for. But they are very cheap - you can get right across town for about 7 rupees (about 4 US cents).
The buses are the only means that working class people have to get about so despite the low prices even the occasional half-rupee rise causes outrage and near-riots.
Buses always have destinations written in Tamil and Sinhalese, and occasionally English as well. They're all numbered in English though and the routes are fairly easy to work out. Several numbers go up and down Galle Road and to other main tourist areas for a couple of rupees. Although on these (especially Galle Road buses) you need to watch out for numerous pickpockets. Pettah and Borella are the closest to a central bus station, but most routes have their own separate starting and finishing points.
Drivers and the fare-collectors are paid by commission I think, so to make money they pick up as many people as humanly possible and drive as fast as they can.
Let the train take the strain.
If you are making any sort of train journey to or from Colombo, you will inevitably end up in Fort Station which is the hub of the entire system. The fabled hill line trains complete with observation cars depart here as do all the overnight sleepers. I am writing this tip during my trip to Sri Lanka and have been through here several times. I have no doubt I shall be through it many more times and so I shall amend the tip as necessary.
The station stands on Olcott Mawatha which is unsurprisingly in the Fort area of the city. Construction was begun in 1917 as part of an ongoing re-organisation of the railway system in Colombo. It replaced an earlier Fort station in a different location which dated from 1877 and replaced the now disused Terminus Station which now houses the Railway Museum (see separate tip).
It is a typically Asian main railway station with a lot of bustling activity and noise and is the kind of place I love. It has ten platforms and apparently serves 200,000 passengers a day although sometimes it feels like they are all in there at once!
The website states that there are cafeterias inside the station although I have yet to find them, or at least any that are open. It also states that there are facilities for disabled travellers but I really cannot see how a wheelchair user could negotiate this place. At time of writing (January 2014) the problems are exacerbated by construction work taking place on some of the platforms which makes it difficult enough for the able-bodied traveller. Hopefully, the images give some idea.
The ticketing system here differs from UK in that there is a different ticket window for each line and even different destinations on the one line and yet other windows for different classes of tickets. Your best bet is to always go first to the Information Office to the front of the main entrance as you look. The English speaking staff there are very helpful and will assist you as to departure times and which ticket window to go to.
The toilets are adjacent to platform one and are not as gruesome as some others I have seen in Asian stations. One thing to beware of is touts and scammers who appear to operate occasionally inside the station itself despite the large numbers of Railway Police who are always about.
If, like me, you love rail travel you will probably love this place and if not you will probably find it appalling.
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Train trip around the Sri Lanka
Train trip around the Sri Lanka it is a enjoyable way to see Sri Lanka. You can go and visit to all foremost traveler towns by trains, in the Railway Department has few first-class carriages, air-conditioning and dining cars are available.
The government to operate on the principal routes launches new fast services,
including an inter-city express service linking Colombo with Kandy, the histry of the Ceylon Railway was started 2 centenaries ago,
The Railway, then known as Ceylon Government Railways, was imagineed in the 1850’s as an device to expand and amalgamate the country. Service began in 1864, with the structure of the Main Line from Colombo to Ambepussa, it was expanded to the east. The first train ran on 27 December 1864 and the line was formally unlocked for traffic on 02 October 1865.
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Private bus to Airport
For Rs40, you can take the private minivan No. 187 from Pattah ( Bastian Mawatha Bus station) to airport. It leaves regualarly. However, the one that I took did not stop at the departure terminal. Instead, I had to walk about 100-200M from bus stop to terminal. Take note of this.
As you may note all minivan tends to be very overcrowded, even the stepway. Sometimes the bus may charge you extra for your lugguage.
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