I was looking for a short getaway for a week and decided on Sri Lanka.
If you wish to see it on google map, here is the link : https://goo.gl/maps/7CDjXjzhYU82
This was my Sri Lanka 1 week itinerary.
For a more detailed breakdown, please visit the individual days of my trip. You could also read my tips and guide on how to travel on a budget in Sri Lanka.
My exchange rate was 1 USD for 151.35 Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR). The following will give you an estimate on how much you spend on items in Sri Lanka. My budget was around 500 SGD in total, so I did exceed budget by 26.5 SGD if I convert the USD to SGD and add in my flights.
We took a direct flight using Sri Lankan airlines. Flight costs should average 300 dollars or less to Sri Lanka. As we booked our flights pretty close to the date, we did not get such a good price. I met some Singaporeans who got a 2-to-go deal with Singapore Airlines for 280 SGD.
Return flight from Singapore – Colombo = 327.5 SGD per person.
Within Sri Lanka Expenses
Accommodation : 30%
1 overnight train ride + 5 nights in guesthouses + 1 couchsurfing night = 6800 LKR / ~ 45.67 USD.
Transport : 13%
Lots of buses + trains = 2822 LKR / ~ 18.65 USD
Food : 31%
Wow, I didn’t expect to spend so much on food, but I guess the dinners all do add up.
Guesthouse + outside food = 6913 LKR / ~45.67 USD
Admission : 16%
Pidurangala + Dambulla Cave Temple + Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic = 3600 LKR / ~23.78 USD.
Others : 10%
Sim card + Souvenirs + Sunblock = 2175 LKR / ~14.37 USD
Total : 22,310 LKR = ~147 USD
Getting out of Bandaranaike International Airport
The itinerary was based on skipping Colombo on the first night and taking the night train to Ella.
The idea was to do it on the last day before we fly back to Singapore but in the end we were able to be hosted by our couchsurfing host Ruwan who was actually closer to Negombo than Colombo.
Our flight landed at 5pm Sri Lankan time. From my research, we could take a fast city shuttle bus from the airport to Colombo. I did not want to stay in Colombo for one night and spend half a day travelling to Ella. Our best option was to take an overnight bus or train out in order to save time.
One such option was to take the 8pm train to Ella. Would I make it? There are a few pre-requisites.
- The shuttle bus from the airport to the city departs every hour. The last bus is at 6pm. I have to hope my flight doesn’t get delayed and we make it out of immigration in time.
- We have around an hour to reach Colombo. From there, I need to hope that there are still seats on the train and we are able to buy our train tickets to Ella.
We landed and immediately rushed to the front. The queue for immigration was short, we quickened our steps. A few stamps and a smile later with no questions asked, we were through the immigration. It was 5.30, the flight was delayed.
“Go change the money and get the sim card first”. We split, like Batman and Robin, it was a tag team to be efficient.
I spotted both backpacks and carried them out. I saw Siangyee waiting for the simcard. Using my One Plus 2 with a dual sim, we got connected quickly. It was 5.50. We asked the sim card guy and he directed us to the bus, sort of. The airport is a small airport, so once we exited the airport it will be right across the road.
It was literally just across the road. This big yellow bus stood imperviously.
“Bus to Colombo?”
Yes, they replied as they continued smoking. There was nobody on the bus, we were the first ones there. This E03 bus cost only 130 LKR.
The bus did not leave at 6 as it waited for some time for some passengers to fill it up. I wondered what determined how long they would stay for? The length of the cigarette stick?
The bus revved its engine at around 6.20. I was anxious, what if the journey takes more than an hour to get to the city?
The bus sped on the expressway, it was a good sign. This looked like a new road. The shuttle bus from the airport was really comfortable, smooth and efficient as it took the new road from the Negombo to Colombo.
We reached the Colombo Central Bus Station within an hour. It was 7.20. I felt as though we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere.
Tick, tock, tick, tock.
Luckily I had paid for a simcard and was using Google Maps to navigate. It was quite confusing to be dropped off at the bus station at night. I had thought the bus station and train station was at the same location, but I realized the train station was 10 minutes away. We had to exit the bus station, cross the road and brisk-walked quickly to the Fort train station.
The Night Train from Colombo To Ella
The ticket counter was nondescript till we saw the queue at the entrance. There were many people buying train tickets with different counters for different locations. We squeezed our way ahead to get the ticket to Ella. There were no first class seats yet, but we could get on the 2nd class. We bought the tickets without a second thought. Who would take a 10 hour night journey to Ella? I had faith that there would be some empty seats for us after a few hours.
Phew, we breathe a sigh of relief and walked in calmly to the platform. We were in time.
Then the train came and I almost choked.
It was full, there were totally no seats.
I walk up and down the platform trying to find a way to enter, every gap, every door had people standing up. This 10 hour train ride, was going to be a standing journey.
As the train prepared to go, we found a door with some space and forced ourselves in with our big backpacks apologetically. The train starts moving. We stand in between bodies as perspiration drips down my strained muscles. I feel like I am in a crowded club without knowing when and how I can leave. The only space we had for us to stand was gap in between the carriages, but the door kept closing and opening as the train moved. I put my arm against the door to prevent it for moving. Do I have to hold it for the next 10 hours?
This was going to be a long journey.
We talked to some locals along the way. It made sense for it to be this crowded because many people stayed just outside of Colombo and went back home in the evening. It must be quite crazy and tiring to be traveling 2 hours to and fro into Colombo for work everyday on this crowded train. I could only keep my respect and admiration for the perseverance and determination of the people while my brain was complaining about this measly 10 hour ride.
I asked Siangyee to shift into the carriage instead of staying at the doorway, in case there was some chance for seats. After half an hour, I did not see her standing so I got slightly worried. I entered the cabin, only to find out that she simply sat down in between the seats and slept because it was too tiring to stand all the way.
It got slightly better after a few hours, marginally. There were no seats still but at least it wasn’t sardine packed. I managed to sit down on the floor at the doorway. Siangyee joined me after awhile.
There were some empty seats in the reserved sections and some people went over there. I was too lazy to try as I wanted to keep my precious “seat” at the doorway.
The incessant movement of people at every station, as well as the people selling snacks and water meant that neither of us could catch any sleep. Every time I was about to sleep, somebody needed to move in between carriages. I started to feel really annoyed at the people selling the water even though I knew they were working really hard to get a living.
It started to also get really cold once we started moving towards the hill country. My feet was shivering as the cold wind blew through the gaps.
As it slowly reached Ella, our hopes and energy rose with every chug of the train. Our torturous night was about to end and our day in Ella was about to start.
On hindsight, would I do it again? I would try to ask a local to get a reserved seat, or stayed a night in Negombo. Also, I might have tried asking the conductor if there were any empty reserved seats, and if there was to try to pay for it instead of sticking to the unreserved carriage.
It was certainly not fun not sleeping on the first day of the trip.
What is the morale of the story? The trains are really full, especially the night trains, so make sure to book your tickets in advance if possible ( it is really difficult if doing it from overseas). If not, consider taking the bus which might be better.
Although it was a tiring night, it did help steel us for the rest of the trip! Afterall, without sleeping, we simply continued our day in Ella and hiked on! Do read on about Ella Hikes and the scenic train ride there!