While doing research for our trip to Sri Lanka, the Kandy to Ella train journey came up as one of the finest in Asia and even as one of the world’s greatest train rides. We read that the carriages would slowly creep up into the mountains, scattered with tea plantations. It might be obvious that this made us add the train into the Sri Lankan hill country onto our travel plans. Our expectations were set.
Upon arriving in Kandy on a Wednesday morning in early November (which is still supposed to be off season), we quickly found out that we were not the only ones. The kind staff of the Clock inn hotel informed us that the Friday train was already fully booked. Ai, we were looking to take the Thursday train. They advised us to go to the train station as quickly as possible to try and get first class tickets.
We immediately changed our plans for the day and went to the railway station. The train tickets became our first priority and the temple of Tooth and Kandy Lake had to wait a little longer.
After about a 15 minute walk through the busy center of Kandy we arrived at the railway station. The man behind the ticket counter informed us that the first class tickets for Thursday, Friday and Saturday were sold out. A bit disappointed we were deliberating what to do, when we realised…. Why do we need to travel first class? We actually never travel first class!
With a smile, the same man at the same ticket counter mentioned that 2nd class tickets would go up for sale at 8am each morning. He also added the best news of the day, we would probably not have any difficulties to get on the train. Happy and relieved we spent the rest of the day in Kandy at the beautiful temple of Tooth and around the lake with splendid views.
Thursday morning 7.30 am we left the hotel to walk to the railway station. This time the walk to the station was a bit more strenuous, due to the already warm temperatures and a heavy backpack. It was not really busy when we arrived at the station, some people were waiting in line for tickets and some other tourists were also just arriving. While I waited with the luggage, Marcus went to get the tickets. 5 minutes later he showed up with a big smile on his face and two first class tickets to Ella for the 8.20am train in his hand!
We had about half an hour to spare. Enough to get some breakfast and for Marcus to walk around the station while I read a book. Just before the train arrived a man started to ask for tickets and pointed everyone to where the right carriage would stop. This was great as the usual last minute run to the right door was eliminated and everyone was able to board in a very relaxed way. The train arrived in time and left the Kandy station at exact 8.20am! Wow, good start.
It was a bit disappointing and maybe even strange, that we and everyone in our carriage were travelling backwards…. until a guide traveling with two American Ladies pointed out that the chairs could be turned! What a luxury! It was quite funny to see how the whole carriage started to turn the seats.
When all the fuss around the seats was settled, I started to get some attention for the surroundings. First there was the surprise about the life going on around the tracks. People walking along, waiting to cross, woman doing the washing at houses built very closely to the track and people just standing there to watch the train go by.
Soon after, the train started to ascend and the tracks got really bendy after the small town of Nawalapitiya. The views from the train started to change to beautiful manicured tea plantations and every now and then we saw a waterfall. In one word stunning!
One of the major advantages of travelling by train is that you can walk around and stretch your legs. I appreciated this extra during the 7 hours this journey took. I walked up to the front of the train where the conductor had his ‘office’. He was happy for me to come in and stand next to the open window. With the wind thru my hair I could see how the whole train was following the track.
The majority of the distance the train goes over a single track rail. Somewhere along the way we stopped and waited for the train from the opposite direction to pass. Both trains stopped alongside for a minute. There seemed to be a lot of friendliness going from one train to the other!
The steepest part was yet to come, just west of Ella. And there was more to come! From clear stunning views the weather all of a sudden changed and the train went into the clouds. The surroundings changed into a beautiful mystic fairy-tale scenery.
Where the train was doing 30 km/h (20 m/hr) close to Kandy the speed was now reduced to 15 km/h (10 m/hr). With the tracks being steep and wet, the train seemed to lose grip on the tracks every now and then. But not to worry, slowly but surely we reached Ella station.
In the evening over a nice dinner at Chill bar and restaurant, we looked back on an exciting train journey with amazing views! We both still felt that seven hours on the train is in general long and I cannot deny that upfront I was looking forward to the views, but certainly not to the length of the trip. To our own surprise, we didn’t get bored at all and time flew by quickly as there was so much to see! Definitely a must-do when you are heading to Sri Lanka!
Facts and Tips:
- The train journey from Kandy to Ella takes around 7 hours
- The views are marvellous, stunning and breath taking!
- If you want to travel first class, you need to book ahead. If you don’t mind to travel second or third class (still good seats, no aircon, can be a bit more crowded) you are most likely good to go to the station in the morning. Ask locals for the details as things change quickly
- Information about prices and timetables can be found on the Sri Lanka Railways website
- We might have been unlucky that there were not a lot of food sellers that came to our carriage. Bring some of your own, would be my advice!