Our experience of taking the train from Ella to Kandy: Sri Lanka

We arrived in Ella three days prior to our planned train travel from Ella to Kandy. As we had devised a strict itinerary and our time in Sri Lanka was short, we had to travel on this day. The trip was for Mum’s birthday and she had her heart set on the train journey through the beautiful hill country.

As soon as we arrived in Ella, I went to the train stations’ ticket office and planned to book tickets for three days’ time. The ticket office advised me that there were no tickets available for reservation- they were all sold out! But that there would be more than enough time and room to arrive at the platform and buy an on- the- day ticket.

So, on the day, we bought a second- class ticket and stood in the designated section on the busy platform, with our backpacks and Mum’s suitcase, eager to jump on and get a section of three seats together for the journey.

When the train arrived, we knew this would not be the case. The trains’ first stop was in Ella, but it had come from its starting point of Badulla, where presumably, all the locals board, knowing that Ella will be very busy! There was one seat free in a carriage. We told Mum to sit down and off the train went. We managed to stow our bags in the rails above the seats and Mark and I set up camp sitting in the open doorway of the train, with our legs dangling out.

Getting comfortable in the doorway of the train

We hopefully stood up and gazed around the carriage every time the train stopped at a station, but after three stations of no body getting off and in fact, many more people getting on, we became protective over our doorway space, as otherwise it appeared we would be standing for the 8-hour journey! Every hour or so, we all swapped around so that we occasionally got a comfy seat to sit on. It appeared all the Sri Lankan people were travelling all the way to Colombo or Kandy and were not going to budge! The train was buzzing with food vendors, selling everything from onion- bhaji type snacks to fruits and nuts, which we tried most of!

The views were spectacular, and I felt like no pictures I took of this train journey do it justice. The tea plantations, the rugged hills, the misty mountain scenery was so beautiful. Once in the hill country proper, the rain began, so our final 4 hours were spent sitting on the floor but with the door closed, but windows wiiiiiiiide open(!) so we still got quite damp and very cold.


I just found it very hard to understand why there were no tickets available for reservation on that day. As far as we were aware it was not a public holiday and it was not a weekend. When I had been reading on TravelFish and in the Lonely Planet, it definitely indicated that three days in advance would be adequate. I was also under the impression that tickets could only be purchased directly from the ticket offices. What we should have done in hindsight, is gone to a train ticket office in Galle or even Colombo and brought our onward travel tickets there, but as we didn’t pass them, the thought did not cross my mind. It makes me a bit anxious for our anticipated sleeper- train travel in Thailand and Vietnam, where in Vietnam especially it is advised that you book in advance. Has anyone got any handy tips for us regarding booking train tickets in these countries? I wonder if you could leave a comment, that would be really helpful!

When we finally arrived in Kandy, we were pretty grumpy, cold, stiff and tired from travel, but it could have been much worse I suppose.

At least we knew our final three days would be spent in luxury at the fabulous Ashburnham Tea plantation!

If you find yourself in Ella and tickets are not available for reservation, like our situation, then I would consider getting a taxi or tuktuk to Badulla – if you are interested in getting a seat and being comfortable if you are going all the way to Kandy. At least then, you will have a better chance of getting a seat as Badulla is the trains’ origin.

At least we had this perfect fire and glass of wine after the very long days travelling. Ashburnham tea estate in the Knuckles Range outside of Kandy was the perfect end to our Sri Lanka trip


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