[Sunset on the train to Hikkaduwa]
18 hours later, I finally made it to my destination. I was quite ambitious with the idea of heading straight to the Southern beaches of Sri Lanka. On the other hand, my travel companions that I met along the way made a wise decision to stay behind in Colombo for the night. In this case, it would have been smart to stick with the majority! To be honest, long travel days don’t phase me, but traveling alone in the dark is definitely not a smart move.
This morning, I left for the airport at 5am without much of a plan. My flight was an hour delayed, which still left me with a 4 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur to do some planning. I checked my Couchsurfing inbox to see if anything came up, but nothing too intriguing. Since I’m limited on time, I figured it would be best to chill out at the beaches down South and come back to explore the rest of Sri Lanka another time.
With that decision made, I flew another 3 hours to Colombo. When you arrive in Colombo, you have the option of taking a bus, taxi, or an airport arranged shuttle to your destination. As a backpacker, I opted for the cheapest option, the local bus. Local transportation is quite inexpensive in Sri Lanka, but the stops are not marked, making it hard to know where to get on and off.
From my research, I knew to look for bus 187 that takes you to Colombo Fort Railway Station.
Here are a few tips..
After clearing customs, take the exit in the far left corner of the arrival terminal. Walk past the parking lot and taxi drivers, they will lie and tell you there is no bus, just ignore them. There is an unmarked bus stand on the street corner. Look for people standing around like they are waiting for a ride. A old shuttle bus will drive by with the driver shouting in Sinhalese. There should be a sign on the back of the vehicle indicating Colombo, Colombo Fort, and 187. The trip will cost you 110 LKR and they will probably charge you twice if your luggage is taking up another seat.
Once you get dropped off, walk another 200 meters and you will see a white building on your left near a bunch of stalls. That is Colombo Fort Railway Station.
To get to Hikkaduwa, it costs 160 LKR for a second class train. Keep in mind that you are taking local transportation. There are no doors or air conditioning. You are lucky if the fans in your compartment work. Assigned seating does not exist, so be prepared to cram in between a bunch of locals if you want a seat. There isn’t much space, but there is an overhead rack for a small or medium size backpack. You will most likely see people begging on the train, including children and those with disabilities. I wasn’t too shocked when an old man with one leg crawled through the aisle next to me with a plastic cup asking for money.
The ride to Hikkaduwa took over 2.5 hours from Colombo Fort, which meant the sun had already set halfway through my trip. It’s best to have an idea of where your station is located because not all stations are labeled and the train only stops for 10-15 seconds at most. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, except that the hostel I wanted to stay at was less than 1 kilometre away from the station. I kept asking locals around me when my stop was coming up. Thankfully, the two men beside me kept reassuring me that we didn’t pass it and they would tell me when to get off. I’m not sure what I would have done without them! Once I got off the train, I didn’t really know what to expect. It was dark and foreign territory. As expected, you will be met with tuk tuk drivers trying to hustle you. Knowing that the driver was ripping me off, I rejected his price and he told me to walk, expecting me to give in. Little does he know reverse psychology doesn’t work on me. I approached two girls walking by who happen to be heading in the same direction as my hostel. They were super nice and walked me all the way since it was dark and I was alone. It’s amazing how travellers always have each other’s backs, no matter where you are!
After my long journey, I got to Hikka Train Hostel only to find out my booking didn’t go through and they were full. The owner called up a friend in a nearby guesthouse, Serenity Villa, who happened to have a spare room. The day didn’t even feel that long until it became a possibility that I would be without a bed or shower tonight. Thankfully, it all got sorted and she charged me the same price as the hostel, 650 LKR, but I got a private room instead. The joys of being back on the road and I couldn’t be any happier!
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travellers don’t know where they’re going” -Paul Theroux