Sri Lanka transportation – a guide to how to travel the island

Traveling to Sri Lanka? Landing in Colombo can be overwhelming but doesn’t have to be.  Travel in Sri Lanka can be stress free if you know how to get around.  Whether you are headed for your next big surf trip or just to soak up the beach sun, study our ultimate Sri Lanka transportation guide to best enjoy this Indian Ocean island paradise.

Sri Lanka transportation – a guide to how to travel the island

Train:

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The Sri Lanka train system is old-school and can range from dreamy rides through the mountains with a whole car to yourself, to being packed in like sweaty sardines, unable to sit for hours.  The most iconic ride is between Ella and Kandy, which takes you through incredible mountain and tea plantations views and Horton Plains National Park.  It is perhaps the most beautiful train ride in the world.  You can start east of Ella if you want to ride over the Nine Arch Bridge, or just hike there from Ella town to get your picture.  Trains are separated into first, second, and third classes.  First class tickets can be bought online and you get a guaranteed seat.  Second and third class are similar and you can purchase them at the ticket office no more than 15 minutes before the train arrives.  You might get a seat, you might not.  Once on a packed train we sat in the doorway with our legs out the side of the train the whole journey.  Despite sore butts from sitting on the floor the whole way, it was a great way to enjoy the scenery!

Bus:sri lanka bus transportation

Local buses go everywhere in Sri Lanka.  If you are traveling for a long time and/or on a budget, this is your best bet.  Find the blue signs along the road which signify stopping points; they are every few hundred meters.  Be prepared to jump on while the bus is still moving!  The ticket sellers will sometimes try to over-charge you.  Once inside hold on for dear life, as the drivers are notoriously psychotic and get paid by the trip, not by the hour.  Bus fare in Sri Lanka are around 20 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupees) for a short trip or near 200 LKR from Colombo to the south coast (~5hrs).  For busing to/from Colombo, check out the special section in the bottom of the page.  Throw your backpacks in front by the driver or in the storage space in the rear, depending on how helpful/hurried the ticket guys are at the moment.  Buses are by far the most popular form of Sri Lanka transportation with the locals, so ride them at least once for the experience.

Tuk tuk:

Tuk Tuk sri lanka

These three-wheeled motorized rickshaws are a Sri Lankan transportation staple and you will find them all over the island.  They are fun to zoom around in, but the drivers are pushy and you always have to ask the price up front and negotiate; just please don’t be a dick because the price is 50 LKR higher than you’d like.  A good tourist’s tuk tuk fare is 75 LKR per kilometer, but expect to pay more late at night.  They have room for three people but will sometimes let you take more (for a tip) and generally have room for your luggage.  Check out the Tuk Tuk Safari that we did, which featured the nicest tuk tuk we’ve ever seen!  In Colombo there is a great app called Pick Me that you can use to summon your tuk tuk rides.

Motorbike:

motorbike sri lanka transportation

Buses and tuk tuks get old fast, and sometimes you just want t stop and get a coconut (or an ice cream).  Renting a motorbike is a nice change of pace and lets you explore more remote and off-the-beaten-path destinations.  Prices range from 800-1200 LKR per day.  In our opinion, this is the most fun type of Sri Lanka transportation.  Technically you need an international drivers license, along with your home country’s ID, and a special permit only obtainable in Colombo.  Most tourists who rent motorbikes do not have all or any of these documents, so just expect to pay a fine if you are stopped by the police.  Watch out for police roadblocks in every town.  We generally see them coming and hide behind the car in front of us.  The police aren’t trying to work too hard, and won’t chase you.

Taxi:

Taxis are useful in Colombo, or if you are on a quick trip/higher budget.  A trip from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport to the south can cost between 7,000 and 12,000 LKR so be sure to do some negotiating.  If you have a hotel reserved, have them arrange a taxi for you, as they will get a better price and your ride will be waiting on your arrival.  If you need a ride to/from specific places, post sometime on one of the Sri Lanka traveler Facebook groups and many taxis will message you with deals.  Uber is a good option, but only works in Colombo.  Taxis don’t normally have signs in Sri Lanka, because they are usually are just some dude with a Prius.

Getting to/from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport:

Keep in mind that Sri Lanka only has one international airport, located in Colombo.  Most travelers choose to skip Colombo or leave it until the end of their trip, after getting more comfortable with the country.  Leaving the airport is one of the most expensive parts of travel in Sri Lanka.  There are several options to get you where you need to be:

Bus – When walking out the main exit during daytime hours, you will see a blue bus directly in front of the exit.  This takes you to the main bus station (150 LKR – 1hr) near the Colombo Fort and train station.  This main bus station is for local buses which depart to all parts of the island for a very cheap price.  However, if you’re headed to the south we’d recommend taking the highway bus to Matara (500 LKR – 2hrs) which is air conditioned and gets you there in half the time of the local bus. These nicer buses leave from a different bus station called Maharagama in south Colombo.  They depart every 15 min or so when full.  There are also highway buses directly to Galle, although they leave less often than the Matara buses. To get to Maharagama either take a bus from the local bus station, or taxi/Uber straight from the airport (45 min, recommended).

Taxi – If you are only in Sri Lanka for a short time and your first stop is outside Colombo, we recommend just taking a taxi straight from the airport to your destination.  Set it up with your hotel in advance to save money and have someone waiting for you.  Keep in mind that if you are arriving late at night or early in the morning, taxi or Uber might be your only option for getting anywhere.

Tuk tuk – if you are spending the night in nearby Negombo, you can take a tuk tuk to your destination.  The tuk tuks are not allowed into the airport pickup area but you just need to walk across the street to flag one down.

Sri Lanka transportation is easy, however sometimes it can be crowded and hot.  We call it “character building” as my favorite athlete Alex Honnold would say.  Just keep your cool and everything will be fine!  What’s to worry, if all else fails while traveling Sri Lanka, you’ve still got your Chevrolegs and your thumb!

Don’t want to worry about anything while traveling in Sri Lanka?  Check out our upcoming Sri Lanka Surf & Yoga retreat through Bigger Life Adventures!  We take care of everything so you can focus on the fun!

Enjoy this post about Sri Lanka transportation options?  Check out our archives for other guides and helpful advice for travelers all over the world!  And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our Youtube Channel!

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How To Get Around Bangkok, Thailand – A Guide For Travelers

Figuring out how to get around Bangkok, Thailand can be overwhelming at first.  Navigating the big city can seem impossible, until you figure out the different transportation systems.  The options are many and all have their time and place and ideal use.  Taking advantage of the right method can save you time, money, and headaches.

HOW TO GET AROUND BANGKOK

how to get around bangkok

1 – Taxi

Metered taxis can be the cheapest way to get around the city.  They are best when the roads are less busy (before 7 am), midday (10am-2pm) and after 8pm.  Taxi’s should always be running the meter.  If the driver offers you a price upfront then move on to the next driver because he’s trying to rack up the price.  They usually will only do this during rush hour when the meter price isn’t worth it for them to drive you.  At these times it’s best to take another mode of transport anyhow because it could take you hours to drive a few miles.  Sometimes the taxis around the very touristy areas will also refuse to use the meter.  If you just walk a couple blocks out of the super touristy area you should be able to find a taxi not trying to scam you.

Uber is another decent option.  They are usually a little more expensive than the meter taxis but you get a set price in advance.  You need a Thai phone number to do this, as the drivers usually like to call you in advance.  Set yourself up in front of a 7 Eleven to make it easy for the driver to understand.  Just say “Farang 7 Eleven” and they can usually find you.  Your hostel can usually help you talk to the driver as well.  You can use the code zackm5528ue to get 50 Baht off of your first ride.

Grab is an app like Uber, but more popular in Asia.  Most of the metered taxis also run this app.  It is usually a little cheaper than Uber and a good option during busier traffic times when the drivers don’t want to run the meter.  Same as Uber, they will usually call you so be prepared to communicate with someone who has rudimentary English skills.  Most taxi drivers at least know basic English though, so don’t fear.

how to get around bangkok

2 – Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuks are little motorized rickshaws that are on every street corner in Bangkok.  Slightly more expensive than the metered taxis, tuk tuks are SUPER FUN to zoom around town.  The price starts at about 100 Baht for a 10 min ride and you always have to negotiate to get a decent deal.  Ask your hostel before you start for a fair price.  They hold three people comfortableyand up to six if you want to get super cozy with your friends after a night out.  They are best to use at night for bar hopping when it’s cooler and you care less about the lack of A/C.  Keep in mind that you will get wind in your hair and the dust from the street may irritate your eyes a little, but it’s totally worth it for the experience.  Everyone who comes to Thailand has to take a tuk tuk at least once.

There is also a really cool app called Tuk Tuk Hop.  It’s like Uber for tuk tuks, and takes you around the historic temple area of the city.  You pay a set price and get unlimited rides for the day.  It’s really nice because you don’t have to negotiate or search for vehicles.  Check out our article HERE for more information about this app.

how to get around bangkok

3 – Moto-taxi

Mototaxis are the scariest way to travel in Bangkok.  The drivers are crazy and you might spend the whole time praying that you live to see the next day.  However, during rush hour this is sometime the ONLY WAY to get places because the mototaxis will cut between the traffic.  Look for the guys with orange vests and the price usually starts at 50 Baht and foreigners usually have to negotiate.

how to get around bangkok

4 – BTS, MRT, ART (Skytrain, Metro, Airport Rail)

The train system is by far the easiest and safest way to get around.  It goes to most of the most popular Bangkok neighborhoods and get your their fast.  You can pay as you go or purchase a re-loadable card for 100 Baht.  The hard part about the trains is that there are three different systems and each has it’s own top-up card.  Also when transferring between lines you usually have to leave one station and navigate around a corner to the other.  Use the trains during rush hour or on weekends when the roads are clogged up.

how to get around bangkok
Bangkok BTS, MRT, and ART Map

how to get around bangkok

5 – River Boats and Canal Boats

River Boats – The best way to get to the temples from central Bangkok.  Just take the BTS to Saphan Taksin station and walk down to the Chao Phraya River.  There are several options of boats that can take you across to Wat Arun for around 50 Baht as well as a free boat at night to the Asiatique Market.

how to get around Bangkok map
Chao Phraya River Boat Map

Canal Boats – These boats cruise through the small canals in central Bangkok.  This is the best way to get from the BTS to the Golden Mount and Khao San Road.  The boat is a 9 Bahtt flat free and cuts your travel time in half over the bus, even more at rush hour.  Buuuuuut, the downside is that these boats stop running at 7pm.

how to get around Bangkok map
Bangkok Canal Boat Map

how to get around bangkok

6 – Bus

Public buses run all over Bangkok and are the cheapest form of transport.  They are pretty much useless during rush hour, so keep that in mind.  They also are not air conditioned but have open windows.  Just wait at the bus stop, get on and sit down.  Someone will come around to collect your money.  The best way to figure out which buses go where is with Google Maps– it’s usually accurate enough.

how to get around bangkok

7 – Songthaew

These are pickup trucks with bench seats installed in the truck bed.  Less common in Bangkok, they are very popular in Chiang Mai and other cities throughout Thailand.   They usually have a set route and a cheap price.  Just flag them down, hop in, and pay at the end.

how to get around bangkok

8 – Bicycle

Bicycling in Bangkok can be downright scary when traffic is crazy.  However, cycling around the temples at night can be an amazing experience.  Check out the Bangkok Night Bike Tour put on by Grasshopper Adventures.  Also, biking is the best way to get around Bang Krachao, the “green lungs” of Bangkok.  Take a whole day to explore this neighborhood and escape from the grind of city life without going too far from the urban center.

how to get around bangkok

9 – Walking

Walking is always our favorite way to get around.  You see more and interact more with the local people.  Some nice places to walk in Bangkok include Lumphini Park, Chatuchak Market, and Khao San Road.  Use the maps.me app listed below for nice downloadable maps to show you how to get around Bangkok by foot.  There is also a free walking tour by Take A Walk BKK once a week.  Check their Facebook page for more info.  Note that if you walk more than two blocks by choice, Thai people will laugh at you in a lighthearted way.  The concept of walking by choice for exercise or sightseeing is pretty foreign here.  Thai people jump on moto-taxis to go two blocks!

Other Useful Advice

Maps.me – The most useful app for world travelers.  Just download the country map of wherever you are going then you are all set once you arrive.  It navigates you around without using data.  The app picks up location data from pinging WiFi signals, giving you constant location updates in towns and cities.  It’s very handy to make sure the taxi driver is taking you in the right direction, or just for general exploring of a new city.  This is the app we use the most while traveling, don’t skip it.

Sim Card – Get yourself a Thai number.  You can pick one up at any 7 Eleven for 49 Baht then just top it up 100 Baht at a time to keep yourself connected in case of emergency.  If you phone is locked you can get it jailbroken at many phone repair stores for a cheap price, or just buy an old used phone to use as a travel phone.

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Crossing Into Peru – Huaquillas Ecuador Border Crossing

In getting from Ecuador to Peru, our goal was to avoid spending a night in Guayaquil altogether, as we had heard it was just a big dirty city. Instead of staying in Guayaquil, we stopped for the night in Puerto Lopez, about one hour north of Montañita. This was our last night in Ecuador and we wished we had more time to explore Puerto Lopez because we really enjoyed the town during the few hours we explored. But we decided to go to bed early, and after a good nights sleep we woke at six a.m. and embarked on what was to be the most difficult day of our trip thus far. We headed for Peru and the Huaquillas Ecuador border crossing.

Journey to Huaquillas Ecuador
The view from our hostel room in Puerto Lopez

After hauling all our stuff to the main drag in town, we found a bus headed to Guayaquil, but it was first going through Jipijapa (pronounced “Hippy-Hoppa”), a town with nothing but a great name that was back in the northern direction. The bus driver assured us it would only take four hours–a little longer than traversing directly down the coast, but he gave us a good price so we were on board. After about five hot hours we were in the Guayaquil bus terminal, which resembles a United States shopping mall, minus Starbucks which we (shockingly) have yet to find in South America. We quickly were on the next bus to the edge, the Huaquillas Ecuador border crossing into Peru. Another hot and sweaty trip during which we spent five hours staring at millions and millions of banana trees and taking detours off the highway to stop every tiny village along the way. It was just about as boring as driving through the cornfields of the midwestern United States, only our ears were blessed with Latin beats not only from the bus stereo but also from two other passengers who had not yet discovered the magic of headphones.

In Ecuador, usually every time a bus slows to let off a passenger, someone climbs on selling stuff to eat. They bring on anything imaginable and to write the list of foods we have bought from these people would take up a whole blog entry in itself. Since the bus never stops for very long, the only way to eat is to buy whatever cheap amazing nonsense is hauled aboard (or pack something, which would just ruin the fun of the whole thing). This bus, however was the most crowded long distance bus we have taken yet. The aisle was packed full so that some people stood for over 3 hours. This unfortunate bus-stuffage meant the food vendors could not squeeze onto the bus, leaving us ravenous. We are not nice or happy people when hunger sets in…being hungry inevitably leads to being “hangry” (props to whoever coined that term) and speaking nicely to one another and our fellow passengers becomes more and more difficult. Finally we were able to throw some coins out the window at a man who passed us some ice cream sent straight from heaven.

We thought we would never make it to the border but out of nowhere, before we reached the last town in Ecuador, the bus driver yelled for us and told us this was were we needed to get our exit stamps. So we got off the bus, the agents stamped our passports and yelled “Ciao!”. We knew from our guidebook that it was 2km to the actual border, so we grabbed a taxi which dropped us off in a huge mess of confusion. The driver pointed to a ditch full of burning trash, telling us that that was the border and what we needed to do was walk across the bridge, on top of which people seemed to be having some kind of a country fair, and we would be in Peru.

There was no fence here at the Huaquillas Ecuador border crossing, no men with machine guns, no customs with stupid questions; you just walk across the bridge. There were such a crowd and everyone was bumping us and we we worried about warding off pickpockets and such. New Peruvian taxi drivers were following us telling us it was 3km farther to the Peruvian immigration office where we had to get our entrance stamps. We never like to go with the first guy who bugs us so we followed the second driver, who seemed more polite, through the mess to his car. The guidebook said to only take “official” taxis in Peru but none of the taxis looked very official so we just let him drive us to the immigration office. The entrance process was the same as entering Ecuador: write all your information on a form, then the officials type it in a computer and pass out stamps as fast as they can, no questions asked.

Our eager-beaver taxi driver was still there waiting to take us to the bus station in Tumbes (which we thought was close) so we changed what little American money we had left for Peruvian Soles. The money changers tried to rip us off the first time, giving us a horrible exchange rate, but as soon as we questioned them they gave us the proper amount. We threw our stuff back in the taxi/guy’s car and asked how much it was going to be to take us to the bus station. “20 dollars,” he said “Because it’s 40km away and there are no buses from here, no other way. Come with me and we will ask the police if there is another way. They will tell you the same thing!” The police were all his friends so of course they told us the same thing, but it was getting dark and we needed to get a move on; we didn’t know who to trust and didn’t have time to investigate before the sun set. (Border towns are not good places to be after dark, we’ve heard.) So after we acted like we were going to leave, Eager Beaver told us he would take us for $10 if his policeman-friend’s son could ride with us also. We passed busses headed to Tumbes from the border that “didn’t exist” according to the taxi driver and the Policia, but we were just happy to finally be away from the hectic border and on our way to the last bus of the day.

It was just two more hours to beach paradise, Máncora, where we would spend Christmas. But of course, this wasn’t the end of the fiasco. After what seemed like a lot less than 40km we entered Tumbes and the taxi driver stopped, directing us across the street to his friend’s van that was filling up to go to Máncora. We expected a nice cheap ride for say six Soles ($1= almost 3 Soles) but this van was super classy and wanted 40 SOLES EACH!!! Of course. Now we were stuck, exhausted; the sun was setting and we had no idea where to go but were refusing to pay almost $15 for a two hour ride. Eventually, after looking lost for a minute, a nice lady told us that since it was the holidays it might be hard to catch a bus at this late hour, but we would surley be able to find a cheaper van. This we did, for 25 Soles each and they even said they would drop us off right at our hostel. They actually dropped us off nowhere near our hostel and we had to take a mototaxi (motorcycle with an attached rear bench for two people) but WE MADE IT!!! The relief of finally being there was almost as strong as our frustration with all the scammers of the day. We already missed Ecuador. Not exactly happy with our first impression of Peru, we resolved to enjoy the beach for a few days and hoped for better luck in our next travel experience!

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Quito Chaos

Quito, the capitol of Ecuador, didn’t exactly get on our good side right away.  What happened was a typical episode of traveling-into-an-unfamiliar-huge-city hassles.  We got off the bus from Otavalo and grabbed our backpacks.  We wandered over to look at a wall of maps in the rapidly-emptying bus lot.  While we found maps detailing the routes of all, say, six different bus systems in Quito, somehow none of these maps seemed to indicate WHERE WE ACTUALLY WERE AT THE MOMENT.  We knew we were somewhere in the northern part of the city since we hadn’t driven through much of Quito before stopping, but we were clueless as far as how to get to the Old Town.  (Thanks, but no thanks to Lonely Planet also, for having next to no details on this.)  Eventually we asked someone and he waved vaguely over at a waiting area for a couple local buses.  We headed over there, determined to figure it out and not take a taxi since we were still around 20km from the city center and it would have been expensive.  At least we have enough sense to always ask several different people for directions, and luckily caught ourselves right before we got on the wrong bus!  We lugged our packs into the aisle, getting in everyone’s way, and settled in for a ride to the centro.  But no, this bus was not actually going to the city center, only to the Trole station, where we had to get on one of Quito’s new dedicated-lane cable-car type buses.  The Trole station had about six different options and we had to ask someone again.  Once on the correct Trole, I grabbed a seat and Zach settled in a standing spot in the corner.  This turned out to be a grave error, as the Trole stopped practically every block and every time more and more people crammed into the bus until it was packed tighter than a mosh pit at a rock concert.  Again, I had to ask someone to find out where to get off, as we had no idea.  The actual prospects of getting off though, seemed slim.  I was crammed into a seat I wished I hadn’t taken, with about 20 people glued together in the aisle between me and the door.  Zach was slightly closer, but also faced a hard elbow-throwing battle to get out.  There was no way I could even stand up and start making my way to the exit in advance.  My plan was basically just to push as hard as I could with my huge backpack, scream “¡Perdón!  ¡Pérdon por favor!” over and over again, and hope I made it.  And it worked!  But barely!  In the mad crush for the exit door at our stop Zach recalls making it, then looking back to see me still far away and fighting as the doors started closing.  Honestly, I don’t know how I got out of there alive and with all my stuff, but after I did I was cursing Quito and swearing to never ride the Trole again.  Thinking the hard part was over as we had made it to the right neighborhood, we tried to hail several taxis to get to our intended hostel.  Surprise, surprise, not a single driver recognized the address.  We wandered up and down the narrow streets receiving vague directions from shopkeepers like “Walk uphill two blocks and then ask someone up there.”  Finally, finally, after asking about 5 different people and wandering on foot for half an hour, we stumbled upon the correct street ourselves.  Who needs you, taxis?  Huh?

The lessons in all of this?  I’m not sure.  Probably number one would be:  Take a taxi if you can afford it!  This whole crazy mess kind of left us wondering if it would have been worth it.  Also, we always try to arrive at our destinations before dark, as it’s much less stressful and safer to find your way around public transportation in the busier daylight hours.  We definitely, definitely would have taken a taxi if it had been dark outside.

Up next…find out if Quito can reverse our initially bad impression!

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