7 Tips For Traveling Sri Lanka By Bus!

There’s no question that the cheapest and best way to see Sri Lanka is to travel the country by public bus.  The frequency, infinite number of routes, and willingness of locals to help out in times of need, make traveling by bus an absolute must for anyone wanting to really get into Sri Lanka.  That being said, we had our fair share of bus adventures, and below are 7 tips for traveling Sri Lanka by bus!

  1.  Travel light or pay double the price – Unlike busses in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, the busses in Sri Lanka don’t offer storage for your luggage.  Backpacks are a must, because there is no chance you’ll be wheeling your bag down the miniature sized aisle.  And, the smaller the backpack the better, because unless you want to pay for an extra seat to park your bag, you’ll be stuffing it under your feet.
  2. Cure your claustrophobia before boarding – There is absolutely no limit as to the number of people allowed to board the bus.  While locals are continuously boarding and getting off, there will definitely be a moment when you ask yourself, “can they actually fit another person on this thing?”   And the answer to that will most definitely be, “YES!”.  So, cure your claustrophobia and be prepared to rub shoulders with some locals.  And, look forward to some “interesting” conversation!  :)
  3. Ask, ask, ask! – Unless your sense of adventure includes literally getting lost, get in the habit of asking anyone and everyone at the bus stations for help, advice, and directions.  Many of the buses have signs in English, but of course, many do not.  The English buses are easy to figure out.  It’s the ones with signs strictly in Sinhala and Tamil that will mess you up!
  4. Plan short journeys – Any journey longer than 5 hours is too long in Sri Lanka!  The roads are bumpy, the exhaust is headache inducing, and the heat is stench producing.  Up to 5 hours and it’s an adventure.  More than 5 hours and it becomes sadistic. :S
  5. Be brave – We’re used to some pretty crazy driving in South East Asia, but nothing prepared us for the suicidal bus drivers of Sri Lanka.  Despite courteously stopping for pedestrians, cows, and chickens, bus drivers in Sri Lanka insist on risking their own lives and the lives of all 100+ people aboard by passing cars with the smallest of margins.  A close-call in Sri Lanka is incomparable to any close-call we’ve experienced.  And the key here is, they happen as frequently as a Sri Lankan head-bob.  Trust us, that’s a lot!!  :)
  6. Board at a bus station, or be prepared to stand – Boarding a bus from the start of its route is your best chance at getting a seat.  So, plan your routes accordingly, and avoid hitching a ride from the side of the street, or you and your bag are in for one crazy adventure.  On the plus side, your calves and arms will get a killer work out as you try to keep yourself standing amidst the suicidal driving mentioned in tip #5.
  7. Save your $$ – Just kidding!  Traveling by bus in Sri Lanka has got to be the next cheapest thing to purchasing a bottle of water.  A 3 hour journey might cost you upwards around Rs. 100 ($0.75 USD).  Shockingly cheap, really!  So, in the event you don’t follow tip #1, you won’t exactly be breaking the bank.  And it makes tip #2 completely worth it!

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Categories: Destination Guides, Sri Lanka, Tips For Travellers

Author:Thomas & Katherine

A love for travel, adventure, and photography. We just can't help but write about it!

4 Comments on “7 Tips For Traveling Sri Lanka By Bus!”

  1. November 12, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Reblogged this on Tuan Shehan's Blog and commented:
    The country I live, through the eyes of a foreigner….


  2. ming lee
    November 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Good to know if I ever decide to travel there. ML


  3. chathura
    November 18, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    for me as a Sri Lankan, travelling by bus is a terrifying experience too.


    • November 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      Hi chathura! Glad to hear it wasn’t just the foreigner in us being scared…we feel your pain! :)


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