After 3 crowded and uncomfortable train experiences in Sri Lanka, including two several hour trip where we had to stand, we decide to try the local bus for the rest of our travel in the country.
There are private vans that you can hire to drive you around the island, but the trains and buses are so cheap and we are traveling on a budget, so we couldn’t justify the extra expense even for the extra comfort.
From Kandy to Ella
This train route is supposed to be beautiful and a highlight of traveling in Sri Lanka, but we didn’t want to risk standing room only again, so we headed to the bus station to scope out the situation. The station isn’t much more than a gravel parking lot surrounded by some shops. The bus station workers in brown shirts assured us that a buses leave for Ella frequently, so the next morning we arrived with our packs ready to make the journey.
Bus stations in Sri Lanka are not well labeled, so our technique for finding the right bus was to walk up to anyone who looked like they work there and say the name of the place we wanted to go. Usually we were pointed in a direction that led us towards a bus going to our next destination. We kept doing this until the driver of a bus nodded when we said the city name. Then we got on the bus and hoped for the best.
Buses in Sri Lanka do not generally have space for baggage. We were giving a tip to stack your bags in a seat and then pay for that seat. We needed 2 seats for bags from Kandy to where we had to change buses on our way to Ella (sorry, I forget the name of the town, but the ticket taker told us when to get off), so we paid for 7 seats. Luckily, the bus fares are so cheap, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Sri Lankan buses are decorated with brightly colored paintings of Hindu gods surrounded by flashing lights. Loud rhythmic local music plays through the speakers.
I settled into my seat between Rand and our stack of bags and took in the interesting atmosphere. I can’t read on buses, so I eventually grew tired and somehow with the music blaring managed to fall asleep.
I awoke a while later when we had stopped at a station along the route. As I opened my eyes, standing above me was a man playing a tambourine and singing at the top of his voice. It was a hilarious way to wake up.
After we changed buses, the road became twisty and turny. Holding onto the handle on the seat in front to keep from jostling back and forth so much was an serious arm workout.
The buses seemed to be playing a game of chicken as they rounded the curves. The buses coming both directions would honk until one bus would divert at the last minute. It was pretty terrifying. So I looked out the window at the pretty scenery and tried not to think about it.
From Ella to Tissamaharma
There isn’t really a bus station in Ella. We asked around and figured out where to stand along the main road to wait for the bus to Tissa.
This bus seemed more used to tourists and opened a compartment at the back of the bus for luggage. By the time we got on the compartment was full, but we were guided to put our bag in an area at the front of the bus by the driver.
The bus was crowded and I thought we were going to have to stand, but we split up and all found seats.
The bus we took didn’t go all the way to Tissa, so we took a rickshaw from the bus station for the last few kilometers.
From Tissamaharma to Mirissa
We walked to the bus station in Tissa and asked around until we got on a bus to Matara where we could transfer to a bus going through Mirissa.
All 5 of us sat in the back row of the bus with our packs taking up the 6th seat. This time we weren’t charged for the extra seat for our bags.
After changing buses, we had to watch the gps to know where to get off. We wanted to get off on the road by the beach where we could find accommodation. There is a stop along the road right near the center of the beach area.
From Mirissa to Habaraduwa
We took the local bus from Mirissa to Habaraduwa to see the turtle hatchery. It was nice for once not to be traveling with our bags. We stood at the road side bus stop and watched for a bus heading towards Galle. We had to watch the gps again to know where to get off.
On the way back we stopped in Ahangama to see the stilt fishermen. Without gps and 3g, it would have been tricky, but with technology it was pretty easy.
All in all, our bus experience was better than our train experience in Sri Lanka. We never had to stand and the seat were relatively comfortable.