There are several ways to get around in Sri Lanka. Buses, trains, and tuk-tuk are the most common means of transportation. Cars are good as well, of course, but too expensive. And you definitely need a driver who’s familiar with the Sri Lankan way of driving.
Tuk-tuks are loud, uncomfortable, not particularly good-looking, and extremely bad for your hairstyle. But, apart from that, they’re quite fun, really cheap (tuk-tuk drivers usually don’t try to scam you), and can get you pretty much everywhere. They also are everywhere and unless you have a car and a driver there’s no way you can avoid them. And you shouldn’t, even if your doctor says they’re too dangerous. True story; I got an information sheet from my doctor with a crossed-out image of a tuk-tuk on it – apparently it’s the most dangerous vehicle in the world. Seriously.
Then there are the buses. State run buses (the red ones) and private buses (all colors except red). The good thing about Sri Lanka’s buses? They’re incredibly cheap. And that’s about it if you ask me. The drivers use the horn at least as much as the gas pedal and with the deafening sound of the horn, the loud music blaring from the stereo, and the bus’ roaring motor a bus ride is a very nerve-wracking experience. It gets even worse if the driver decides to have a race with another bus driver. Not fun. We did meet some people though who thought bus rides in Sri Lanka were great fun. Either we are weird or they are or, maybe, just maybe, we’ve been traveling too much already and had more than our fair share of bus travel.
Last but not least, there are the trains. Sri Lanka’s railway system is pretty good (by Asian standards). Trains are not necessarily faster than buses but way more comfortable, even third class. The bus is like fourth or fifth class. Seriously.
From Anuradhapura to Jaffna we took a first class train and it hopped and bounced on the railway so much that it was like riding a horse, but with comfortable seats and A/C.
Jaffna wasn’t really worth the trip but it was interesting nevertheless. The city seems far away from the rest of Sri Lanka (and technically it is, lying on a peninsula in the far north of the country and only connected by few roads), and much closer to India. It’s loud, chaotic, and there’s much more garbage lying around than in the rest of the country. The cows roam free; this is common in other parts of Sri Lanka as well but in Jaffna they’re everywhere, in the hardware store, on busy roads, in the market, the bus terminal…
Take the train from Ella to Kandy!
The most beautiful train ride was the (third class) ride from the mountain village Ella to Colombo. The journey takes 9 long hours but it’s an amazing ride, especially the part between Ella and Kandy. The train winds its way through the mountains, along steep mountain sides, over bridges, through (short) tunnels, and along uncountable tea plantations. The scenery is fantastic and if looking out of the window isn’t enough for you, you can stand in the open door and enjoy the wind and the landscape to the full.