We arrived late into Sri Lanka after a bit of a delayed flight out of Dubai. We had less than 24 hours in Colombo and were a bit exhausted from a day of travel, but we tried to make the best of it. From the airport we got an Uber to our Air bnb. The location of our air bnb was really the only important factor for us when booking because the next day we had a train to catch and we wanted to be close to the station.
The Air bnb was actually much more charming than we presumed. It was off the main street in a little alley and our host guided us in. His place was massive, and he greeted us with famous Sri Lankan tea. At the bottom level of his house where we sipped on tea there was a large open room with a koi pond to the side. Above the koi pond was open air through the two-story house, so when it rained it went directly into the pond. A very cool feature, but maybe not the most practical during monsoon season.
We hadn’t eaten much that day so our host recommended a few food spots and was incredibly helpful when it came to what we should do in Sri Lanka. On our way out to dinner at Upali’s by Nawaloka we spotted a dog in the house and asked if we could pet him. His name was Simba and he was the fattest golden retriever I had ever seen, definitely a high point of Colombo for me.
There was no shortage of tuk-tuks (small three-wheelers) for us to catch to the restaurant, but our driver seemed a bit lost. It’s difficult when you get an older guy as a driver because he usually doesn’t know what you are saying and can’t see your Google map… Usually we opt for the younger ones, who are a bit more tech savvy, but sometimes you just don’t get to pick. After going to the hospital and telling him it was the wrong way multiple times, he finally got help from a younger driver and we were on our way to dinner.
Upali’s was nothing short of delicious. We order ice-cold watermelon juices, roti (our favorite type of hot flat bread) and a chicken curry. The service was really upstanding, and the food was super fresh. It cost a bit more because it was a nice restaurant, but still at $10 it was a deal for us. As we wandered through the rest of Sri Lanka, we did realize it was the cheapest place we had been, even cheaper than Nepal.
After dinner Scott really wanted to check out the casino, Bally’s. It wasn’t too far off from our air bnb, so off we went. When we arrived, we were greeted by security and men in nice suits; it was a whole production. We had to go through a metal detector and because Scott wasn’t wearing long pants, they brought him a pair a red sweats with “Bally’s” adorned on the corner. He even received a player’s card and joked with the reception. While I giggled about the pants issue the security guards told me how nice it was that we were both so tall, and then of course asked if Scott was in the military. That started a whole different conversation and they all had a boy’s moment bonding about their ranks and such.
The casino was much like any other casino we had been to. It was really nice on the inside, but the standard men gambling, women trying to dress to impress, a buffet, a smoking section and so on. The only big difference is everyone was so incredibly nice here. Offering help, food, drinks, anything we needed they were there with smiles. We came to find that a lot of Sri Lanka is like this, very, very friendly people who just want to chat. After walking around a bit, we took our journey home. No money lost, thank goodness.
Our host prepared us a wonderful breakfast the next morning of dahl (lentil curry) and some fried rice. It was delicious and was accompanied by some Sri Lankan tea that we couldn’t get enough of. Then we packed our things up and headed on our way to the train station. Yet again, we got an older gentleman in a tuk-tuk, who didn’t speak great English, got lost, but eventually found his way to the train station with a little bit of time to spare.
From the train station we wandered around trying to collect our tickets for the next three trains we were to take. Scott booked them in advance because one of our trains (Kandy to Ella) books up 37 days in advance. You can only book them in person, unless you go through a travel agency which jacks up the cost, but what else are you going to do when you’re not in the country. Scott was a little bit late to the game and booked the tickets 3 days too late, for two of the train we were able to get first class a/c but for the longest, most beautiful ride, there were only tickets for “cattle class” aka third class. We still got the ticket because we weren’t going to miss the ride, we’d just have to wait and see how that all turns out.
After collecting all our tickets and double checking them (you have 15 minutes from your pick-up time to declare if your tickets are wrong or else you get no refund) we headed toward the platform where the famous blue train was supposed to come. A deaf man was kind enough to guide us to exactly where we needed to go and even placed us right where are specific train car was to arrive. He checked on us continually, it was nice to know someone was looking out for us.
Scott left me with the bags at the platform and went to search for some water for the ride. I saw him standing at a counter for too long to be just purchasing water, and sure enough he was sampling things and letting a Sri Lankan man sweet talk him into buying more snacks. About ten minutes later Scott comes bumbling over with a giant grin and hands full of popcorn, random crunchy snacks, and water. Telling me that he couldn’t just pick one thing (in true Scott fashion) so he had to get them all.
Our train arrived right on time to platform 2, Colombo to Kandy. The blue train is the iconic Sri Lankan train that you see all over social media. We were ushered by our deaf friend to our seats and he even assisted us with our bags. Before the train took off, the man showed us some papers and tried to explain his connection to the Sri Lankan school for the deaf, we decided to donate to the cause. It may have just been a scam, but I like to think not because his kindness was over the top and he did have official looking documentation.
The train traveled through the tropical rainforests of Sri Lanka with small towns and stations doting the way. People selling things out the window at stops, children waving as you cruised by, and lots of smiles the whole way. We sampled more spicy, creamy, sweet chai and munch on our snacks. Scott and I even took advantage of hanging out of the open doors of the train cars, taking pictures, feeling the breeze on our faces and through my hair. It was a bit of adrenaline rush.
Just from our short time thus far in Sri Lanka we have learned that the people are so kind and even more thankful for tourism. Their civil war ended just 20 years ago, and they are still rebuilding. Many people even thank tourists for coming to Sri Lanka because after the terrorist attacks this last Easter it left the country devastated and with a bad reputation. A few people have asked since we’ve been in Sri Lanka if it is safe. I can tell you without a doubt, it is one of the safest places we have been, much safer than many places in Europe and America.