Trip to Sri Lanka – 01 – Planning

Tropical Expat is just back from a trip to Sri Lanka.  My main aims were to:
  • See the country by train as much as possible
  • Enjoy the food
  • Talk to the local people
  • See some of the historical sites, ruins and buildings
  • Go to a beach or two


Here is my planning procedure for this trip.

1. Read Lonely Planet – notes I took relevant to me
– Take mosquito repellant,  earplugs,
– Checklist – beaches – Talpe – near Galle & Uppuvelli and Nilaveli in east, travel by train (even if have to stand), Uda Walawe National Park, Anuradhapura cycling, tea plantation, Galle Fort, Bundala Nat Park, spicy food, Horton Plains for walking, Kandy, Jaffna, Colonial bldgs in Columbo – fort and Dutch hospital, markets, durian and mangosteen if still in season
– SIMs are cheap
– Online newspapers – etc.
– Negombo good to stay if fly in (out) late. Negombo has a train station but trains not as frequent as buses. Hire a bike and ride along canal sides. Also Dutch  architecture.  Maybe better to book accommodation. Transport to and from airport: bus 240, tuk tuk about Rs500 from outside terminal or on the road, taxi double that. Hotels can arrange transport.
-Colombo Fort is the main train station. Has left luggage – Rs60 per day. In Colombo, there is a special ticket window for tourists in the 1st & 2nd class advance booking office at the east end of Colombo Fort station. Train – if you can’t reserve a seat ask the station  master if he can release any for tourists.
-Prepaid taxi from the airport is about Rs2600 for aircon bus to bus station = Rs130 – fast buses at far left as exit airport terminal.
-Ace Cabs, Budget Taxi and Kangaroo are good dispatch cabs. Or hail one. Use meter or negotiate. Tuk tuks cheaper, but hail moving one as parked more expensive. Meter or negotiate.
Bentota –  – south of Colombo – beach good
Hikkaduwa– west coast backpacker town – south of Colombo –
Galle – UNESCO site in Fort area – walk it.  Walking tour in guidebook – 3 hours. Accommodation in guidebook.  Food –  restaurants close around 9pm and many don’t serve alcohol. Plenty of ATM’s, and wi-fi in hotels and cafes.  10 express trains a day to Colombo taking 2 hours. Hundungoda Tea Plantation nearby. May may sense to go to beach at Unawatuna.
Kandy – Best to book accommodation ahead & thus avoid station touts – usually accommodation will pick you up from the station.
Haputale – cheaper (and nicer) place to stay.
Ella – walking and tea plantations. Catch train to Badulla for scenery – 1 hour.
Wellawaya –  staging post on route to south coast
Uda Walawe Nat Park
Anuradhapura – details in guidebook.
Trincomalee – most tourists don’t stay here, but rather go a little north to the beach towns – Uppuvelli and Nilaveli.
Jaffna – high season June and July. Convent wine, local tunics, islands
– Tipping – 10%. Bicycle hire averages Rs500 per day
-Can buy SIMs at airport – main companies: Hutch, Dialog, Mobitel – offers differ.  ATM’s also at airport.
Seat 61 isn’t so comprehensive on Sri Lanka.
Seems there are sleepers to Badulla, Trico & Batticolao, and Jaffna.

Sample trip times:
Colombo- Kandy 2 1/2 hours by train
Colombo  – Galle 2 1/2 hours by train; Galle to Matara 1 1/2 hours
Matara – Badulla by bus 5 hours

 3. Trip  Advisor – Best not to use credit card as cloning common – use cash. Night trains not recommended because of thieves. – Bus 187 and EX03 Expressway bus go to Fort station from airport. Both leave from same halt, on parking lot on far northeastern side of Arrivals. Bus stops for return from opp ation. 187 is hourly all night, Ex03 stops 8PM, starts 6am.
-Use the trip planner from, not the link which was originally on that site
– For Unuwatuna, use Galle station. U’tuna itself is mainly served by a few local trains hence you would need a lengthy transfer to those, and moreover the station is on the ‘wrong’ (non-touristy) side of town. From Galle take a bus or private vehicle.
– For the Cultural Triangle coming from Colombo, use Habarana station.
– And finally Kandy has a good station but one of the tree Hill Country stations does not attend to that but only to the curious triangular Peradeniya Junction station. It’s in Pendeniya suburb and has a good bus connection from/to Kandy (Clock Tower bus stand).
– If you travel from Colombo to South and have a non-reservable train, try to get one that starts at Maradana (2 km east of Fort station) and embark there. The chance for a seat is much higher there. Similarly, if you embark towards Colombo from Galle try to be there 20 mins before scheduled time – the train comes in that time from Matara and either the loc is moved to the other side or at least the driver has to change sides, when you come later all seats are often grabbed.
-Colombo Fort is not the closest station to the airport on the Northeast-Eastern bound lines (Anuradhapura, East Coast, Kandy, Badulla). Ragama, Gampaha and Veyangoda are all served by some of those long-distance lines. So people arriving from the airport, or taking an early train like the 6 AM one to east coast, might sometimes prefer to board here. Unless you have a reserved seat however be prepared to stand for quite some time, as the train fills up at Fort station already!
– If you want to reserve seats for a Srilankan Railway train, the only place with a special tourist counter is Colombo Fort. However normal counters at a few more stations also sell reservations on all reservable trains. The official list (from the SLR site) is Kandy, Badulla, Anuradhapura and Vavuniya. But tourists also reported success on a few other stations like Ella, so it’s worth trying at such places – including Trinco and Batti.  E.g. Ella allows reservations of trains of that same day only.
-Converting  Exporail and Rajadhani tickets bought over Internet can be complicated and done at limited stations- And finally the reservation info for SLR at Colombo Fort. 3 different counters sell/deliver different things. Same day reservations for some Express trains are sold from the normal counters (1-10 number windows) for 1st and 2nd class for these routes; solely for the trains departing from Fort. Any-day reservations (up to 45 days) are sold at counter 17 at the east front side of the station, with one queue per line. And finally conversions of Mobitel reservation numbers to M-tickets are done at the Mobitel counter, between counter 17 and the luggage depot.
4. Blogs – similar information
5. Local Library
6. Couchsurfing – hosts, groups – not so many who just want to chat. Air BnB.
7. Triposo on Sri Lanka – have on tablet, but didn’t get around to reading
8. Wikitravel and Wikivoyage – nothing so much extra, but read about visas and weather
9. Weather – West & South – monsoon till August, East –  dry but high season, far north – dry but high season
10. Visa – Sri Lanka – USD$30 online, USD$35 on arrival. What I gathered from a lot of reading online is that the government really wants you to get a visa online. (Then you do all the work and they get the money.)
11. School holidays & public holidays etc.  Sri Lanka – August
12. Flights – I flew MAS and Sri Lankan
13. Make a more detailed plan including route, schedules and choices, all contact and other info.
Currently as I plan – Columbo – Galle by train, then Uda Walawe National Park, Ella, Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Anuradhapura by train, then Jaffna, Trincomalee and Uppuvelli and Nilaveli, then train back to Colombo – last night maybe Negombo
14. Print out 13, E-Tickets, addresses, info
*** UL ***
UL CONTACT CENTER….94-77-777-1979 (24HRS)
Onboard baggage 7KG and another computer bag
KL +603 7843 3000
Columbo  +94 11 2344 322; CMB  +94 11 2251 600
No. 81, York Street Colombo 01 Sri Lanka

16. Pack *** See Below ***
17. Get cash & USD cash = $100 in small bills
18. Check all airlines and hotels for contact details (& schedules) locally & KL
19. Check latest news regarding safety; which mobile company has the best deal – 4G/LTE started on Dialog and Mobitel on 1800 MHz
20. Phone banks & say I will use credit / debit cards in SL.

21. Water plants
22. Check travel insurance cover – covered
23. Book taxi to airport
24. Fully charge phone, camera & empty SD card, tablet
25. Have reading material on tablet
26. Print out language for tourists
27. Polish shoes
28. Sync apps etc on tablet and phone
29. Check Skype working at home etc.
30. HOTEL plan – need air-con, hot water & wifi, and safety box  if possible


I travel light when alone.  With the clothes I chose I could mix and match to make different combinations.  I planned to wash every night in the hotel, so always chose a room with air-con. Socks are hard to dry unless you have a hair dryer in the hotel, so I wore them for two days and then threw them away.  I could always buy them if needed. With one pair of trousers and a pair of shorts I didn’t need to wash them during the trip – although I could wash off a patch that got dirty and it would dry.  And other things were chosen in part because they dry easily.

My luggage weighed a tad over 7KG – the MAS hand carry limit is 5KG, but Sri Lankan is 7KG – but neither bothered to check. If I put the tablet and all cords and adapters in my pockets I’d be under 5KG.  I didn’t bother with the driving licence.  And I used everything I took, with the exception of the utensils – as I could always get them at a restaurant,   passport photos, and umbrella, as it didn’t rain at all – even though it was the rainy season in parts. I used the jacket to sleep as hotels didn’t give blankets.

The only thing I could have skipped, and thus saved 1KG is the tablet and the charger. I used the tablet a lot, but I could have used the phone, although it would have been harder. The tablet has a keyboard so typing is easy, and I typed up my notes – on the phone it is not impossible with the on-screen keyboard, but much more time-consuming. I also used the tablet to read a novel, and to consult the guidebook – both of which I could do on the phone, but it’s not as nice on the small screen. I did use the phone to consult the guidebook when my luggage (and tablet) was at the hotel and I was out, though. And for browsing the Internet the tablet’s screen is easier. I copied my camera’s photos onto the tablet every night as a backup. It was easier to check and then delete unwanted photos from the tablet’s bigger screen. Finally, I could use the battery of the tablet to top up the charge on the phone, so the tablet was a kind of semi-portable spare phone battery.

This is my list:

Documents Clothes 4 electronics Toiletries
directions socks eBooks toothbrush
driving licence underwear music toothpaste
money -USD shirts UK triple adapter razor
debit card hat adapter plugs shampoo
credit card uniqlo jacket mobile charger hairbrush
glasses shoes mobile hair gel
umbrella t-shirts earphones perfume
passport swim cost cam charger soap
paper flip flops camera tissues
travel insurance card belt tablet towel – small
spoon etc. eye mask tab charger colloidal silver
wallet day pack mini tripod floss
money pouch trousers USB-micro USB cord laundry detergent
plane/train ticket shorts usb sd card reader universal sink plug
pen cam batteries wet razor
sunglasses USB-micro-USB cord laundry line
torch pegs
passport copy mossie repellant
passport photo toilet paper
ziplock bags








      1. Tropical Expat sir, A simple, quick off the cuff response will do, no need for a detailed analysis – you know, whether you yourself might feel about retiring in SriLanka. ( you did that for Queensland trip). Maybe, if you can, some comparison to your current Penang.
        I suppose I should have asked the question just after the trip when the images & experience was still fresh in your mind. On the other hand maybe time can give you a better perspective. Thankyou.

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