Having arrived in Sri Lanka late last night, we spent our midnight celebrations in the queue for immigration. Not the most exiting ways to see the new year in but one we’ll always remember. Anyway today was our first full day in Sri Lanka and our plans to get up super early and travel to our first destination of Dambulla failed miserably. It was gone 10 by the time we dragged ourself out of bed, I blame the fact our hotel room had no windows (and no hot water, sheets, or towels for that matter).
Getting to Dambulla wasn’t simple, it required us to get an hour long train into Columbo and then catch a 4 hour bus. Fortunately the train station was literally next to our hotel so we made it there by 11 and set off on our 15p journey. Unsurprisingly 15 pence means the train is pretty battered and doesn’t have any doors, but that’s just the way it is here, if you want to hang yourself out the door as you ride along you can do so. It was actually a really good experience and a great way to also see the local Sri Lankan people living in the towns along the train line. Two youngish boys came on board at the start of our journey and sang whilst playing the drums and tambourine for about 20 minutes, I had no idea what they were singing but it was pretty good and put the cherry on the top of our first Sri Lankan train ride. I was really surprised at how many people gave them money at the end, it must have been about a fifth of the carriage! You wouldn’t see that on the underground back home.
Getting off the train in Columbo was interesting. We were instantly pounced on by every taxi driver and couldn’t walk more than 10 seconds at a time before someone tried to sell us something. We’d become very used to Thailand by now so the busy, loud and chaotic streets of Columbo were a bit of shock and walking with our heavy bags in the humidity whilst being hounded by people wasn’t nice. We made it to the bus station though which is where we ended up making one of our worst decisions so far whilst travelling. We got on the local bus to Dambulla despite reading online that there was an express one with air con. We did ask about the express bus but was obviously lied to by a guy who wanted to get us on this one instead, he told us there was no such thing as an air con bus and the journey to Dambulla was only 4 hours on this bus.
Stupidly, we thought 4 hours would be ok and maybe the heat wouldn’t be too bad once we got on open road with the windows open. We was wrong, very wrong! We were both really struggling after about 30 minutes, it was ridiculously hot on there and we spent a good hour in stop start traffic whilst the driver tried to pile on as many passers by as he could. By the time we had made it out of Columbo we were both soaked in sweat and the bus was completely packed full of sweaty, smelly people. To make things worse, even when the bus driver did get some speed up, there was nothing but hot polluted air making its way in and we were starting to feel quite rough.
On Google maps we could track our progress towards Dambulla and after what was now nearly 3 hours we had only reached a quarter of the way. The guy at the station was obviously lying when he said 4 hours, this journey was going to be closer to 12 at this rate and there was no way we were going to last that long. So at 3 hours we asked to get off, this was followed by the drivers laughing for a while and telling us to sit down. Eventually they did let us off after asking 3 times and literally waiting by the door with our bags. I’m not sure what was so funny, probably the fact this bus is only used by locals and they could see we were having a hard time.
I have no idea where we was dropped but we made a beeline for the nearest restaurant with air conditioning. Ahh I love air conditioning! We cooled down in there for an hour and ate some crap food and then went to the nearest hotel to call a taxi. Apparently getting a taxi wasn’t possible so our only option was either a private driver at £50 or getting back on another bus of death. I think this was another rip off as the taxi from Columbo (3 hours ago) was also £50!
Begrudgingly we put our hands in our pockets and forked out for the taxi. If you know how stingy we are you’ll get an idea of how terrible the bus journey was! Our private driver turned up 20 minutes later and we was on our way to Dambulla in comfort and with the air con on full blast. Bliss.
This is the first and last time we will ever get on a local bus with no a/c in anywhere but the UK and maybe Norway 🙂