Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka, Colombo being the first. But it seems so much smaller, I don’t know if that’s because we didn’t explore too much other than around our accommodation or that they cities on this little island are already small to begin with. According to Google, so who knows when this data came about, Colombo’s population is right around 750,00 while Kandy is 125,000 so I guess the smaller feel makes sense.
Anyways, our train ride was painless and once we got to the station we double checked to see if we could get our third-class tickets exchanged for second or first class from Kandy to Ella, but no dice. Like I said, those specific tickets go on-sale 37 days in advance, no matter the season they always get snatched up relatively fast (we are here on shoulder season, just after monsoon and just before the holidays). It is said to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. We haggled for our tuk-tuk to our accommodation at Perfect Getaways, something we found on Booking.com for cheap, and were once again on our way.
It was midday when we arrived and our host met us at the door, helped us with our bags, and of course offered us a cup of tea on their rooftop patio. While we sipped on our tea, they got our room ready. The place was a combination of a hostel, hotel, and restaurant. The floor we were on had a common space with a kitchen and three hotel rooms. On the floor above was hostel bunks and a bar/restaurant overlooking the valley of Kandy. Unfortunately, someone had just started building directly in front of our place and was obstructing some of the view. Regardless, it was still beautiful.
Scott found a gym a short walk away that only charged two dollars a day and was well equipped, maybe not the best maintained but it had everything you could need. He went and worked out while I did some research on what we should do in Kandy for our day or so we had there. We found that Uber Eats was incredibly cheap and had a lot of good food available, so each day we ordered some chicken curry and roti to our place for only $3 including delivery! Scott also surprised me with pizza hut one afternoon when I woke up from a nap, he really knows the way to my heart. A few other foodie things we got from the supermarket were an assortment of Sri Lankan chocolate, a roadside popcorn, and some fresh fruit juice. We were also sure to get water anytime we could from the store because you can not drink the water in Sri Lanka.
Kandy had a few touristy spots that you could go to such as a few temples and tea factories. We had seen our fair share of temples, so we opted for a tea factory tour. Sri Lanka is famous for their tea. They ship it all over the world, and even part of Lipton’s tea leaves were founded in Sri Lanka. Tea is sold absolutely everywhere, and they have different qualities. During our tour at Embilmeegama Tea Factory we learned about the picking, processing, and packaging of tea leaves. Sri Lanka is known for their black tea, but they also produce white and green tea varieties. A lot of their machinery to process the tea comes from Europe and Tokyo, which I thought was incredibly interesting because I had no idea the technology that went into the processing of the leaves. At the end of our tour we got to sample some traditional tea and purchase some tea bags from their boutique shop.
The tuk-tuk ride to the tea factory was about 30 minutes outside of town on windy, partially paved roads with a lot of traffic. Unfortunately, on our way home we saw a motorcycle accident. Many people don’t wear helmets and drive rather recklessly, so we believe that the man was struck by a bus while on his motorbike. I said a quick prayer and hoped his death was quick and painless. The reasons I write about this is to add some reality to what seems like a dream adventure. It’s not all rainbows everyday and I hope I do an okay job at portraying that. But, like most complex things it’s hard to think about mortality until it is right in front of your face. Moments like this reaffirm our thoughts on trying to live life the fullest and document as much as you can because you don’t know how short or long you will live.
We spent that night hanging out on the rooftop, eating and chatting about our journey. Feeling incredibly fortunate and lucky to be able to travel like we do and experience the things we have. Our hosts were especially kind at Perfect Getaways, and we indulged in both dinner and breakfast on their patio before leaving the next day.
Our last morning in Kandy we headed to the train station early because we had no idea what the traffic was going to be like. We arrived an hour early (Scott thought I was too worried about being late, he was right) and it turned out our train was 30 minutes late anyways. We were a little be worried about the process to get on the train because we had watched at the previous station people jump on the third-class cart and fight for their seats. There was no way I was going to stand with all our luggage for 7 hours, so I was trying to prep myself to run onto this moving train to get good seats. Fortunately, we found out our seats were third class reserved, so there was a specific spot for us! There was even room for our bags. Scott got laughed at by a local family as they saw him fight with our massive bags to get them in the overhead and bump his head because he is much taller than the average Sri Lankan. Though it was not a plush as the train cart before with A/C, comfy chairs and freedom to move around, it was much better than we thought. We were on the correct blue train headed to Ella and that’s all that mattered.
The journey was long. But absolutely beautiful. One downside of third class was that they locked you into you cart on both sides. So, you were unable to walk freely amongst the train cars, and you were unable to hang out of the train while it was moving. Scott asked me if this was also a safety hazard, I told him it for sure was, so let’s hope a fire didn’t break out because our only exit would be the window! Safety aside, the train ride was spectacular. We chugged up into the mountains, tea farms abound, a cloudy drizzle, and warm chai and biscuits in our tummies. It felt like fall back home, but with tropical scenery.
We stopped for an hour delay, assuming that it was because another train needed to pass on the tracks. Not a problem, it was lush and green all around and we were able to watch pups wander around and wave to kiddos in the carts in front of us. After that delay we traveled about another hour and then the train stopped in the dark in the middle of the tracks. We didn’t know what was going on, but the conductor told us we needed to get off with all our stuff in the middle of the tracks and walk in the dark to the next station. I’m telling you, you cannot make this stuff up. So everyone with suitcases, bags, children, and so on had to climb down the five feet from the train, on to the tracks and then walk in the marshy grass all the way to the next station (luckily we weren’t that far from the tracks and we had backpacks not suitcases).
Once we got to the next station we were told to just get on the train. No seating by classes anymore, it was a free for all. We hoped that we would get lucky and walk all the way down to the last cart to get a seat. We fumbled our way in the dark and got lucky with two seats across from each other with a nice German couple and a kid sitting next to us. There was even space for some of our bags. As we waited for the rest of our train to join this one, people piled on, again it was completely dark, so we tried to assist with phone lights. People were placing kids on random peoples laps and stacking bags and humans anywhere they could fit. Once we were all packed on, the lights turned on and random people started offering cookies and snacks to each other (another moment of Sri Lankan kindness). Many sang or slept all the way to the final station in Ella. We just smiled and took in the adventure; these are the stories we can tell for the rest of our lives.
Nine hours after we left Kandy, we arrived in Ella. A bit late, but there’s nothing you can do about that, and we had nothing but time. We hopped off the train and into a tuk-tuk to our Air Bnb. We had been looking forward to this place, a bamboo cabana in the forest right off the train tracks. There is no road directly to the home, so we took the tuk-tuk as far as we could and then met the host at the train tracks and walked along them all the way to our place. An experience we will remember forever.