Of course you have many alternatives to buses in Sri Lanka: you can hire a taxi, a tuktuk or take the train. Although the bus is not the most comfortable option I highly recommend it! As a backpacker I’m always keen on new experiences and I love to gain a little bit insight on the life of the locals. So taking the bus is a must-do! There are several good reasons for it. With the following tipps I try to make it more relaxed for you.
Prices & bus routes
- Bus rides are incredibly cheap! For a one hour bus ride you pay around 60 LKR (sri lankan Rupee) which is not even 0,50 €. When you travel with luggage they charge you another 100 LKR for longdistance sometimes.
- There are bus routes with numbers but not all of them have a number or a sign with the destination in letters we can read. Just ask the ticket seller before entering the bus. Sometimes the bus route is written on the windows at the side. This can be very helpful.
- You need to wave and make the bus stop when you are not at a main bus stand. Sometimes they don’t stop for you. This is normal. When there are locals around they can help you to stop a bus. There are blue and white bus stop signs along the road. The white and yellow road markers on the sides show a rectangle where the bus should stop. Watch out for it, it helps.
The bus ride:
- Don’t expect to get a seat! When you enter the bus at a big bus stand there is a chance that you get a seat. If the bus is too crowded, let it pass and take the next one. A sri lankan bus is never full when YOU think it is full! And yes, the ticket seller will ALWAYS make his way through the crowd standing in the bus!
- When you feel a little bit insecure ask the ticket seller kindly if he could tell you where to get out. This helps you to relax and enjoy the ride.
- You depend pretty much on the ticket seller! He will tell you where to put your luggage, he hopefully tells you where to get out, he decides how much you pay. In some buses there are regular tickets, in others not. You have to pay the price he tells you, even if it’s too much. If you think you pay too much,try to tell him and ask why it is so expensive; it’s good to make people aware that you have limited money because they often think you don’t. It happens from time to time that the ticket seller is a little gangster but most of the times he takes care of you and helps you.
- The music! Sri Lankan buses are often party buses which means they have big speakers and listen to music! It is sweet when you travel short distances by bus. You can learn about Sri Lankan culture watching the music videos they sometimes show in the front of the bus. But when you travel more than 3 hours by bus the loud music simply stresses you out. I recommend to have earplugs ready to use.
- In the front there are often seats reserved for clergy (monks, in orange robe), old people or women. Pay attention to the signs above the window. You can take on of these seats but maybe need to give it to someone else later.
Where am I?
- In Sri Lanka almost every shop in town has the adress at the bottom of the shop sign! This is so helpful when you travel by bus; you can check in which town you are just by reading the shop signs.
- I recommend to download googlemaps on your smartphone. Sometimes it is helpful to check where you are. It happened to us once that we sat in the wrong bus and we realized it by checking googlemaps.
- Luggage: There is always space in the front of the bus next to the driver. Backpacks and other big luggage must go there! When you enter the bus with luggage take the front door! The buses are very narrow. Every bus also has a trunk at the back. Some bus drivers or ticket sellers want you to put your backpack there. You don’t have much of a choice. The ticket seller will open the trunk for you and help you with the luggage. It’s not the nicest place for your backpack, sometimes dirty, and you can not really keep an eye on it. But this is what travelling by bus is like here…
- Before you enter the bus consider what you need during the bus ride; water, maybe some snackes, your valuables, maybe earplugs, maybe a scarf. As you don’t know where they make you put your luggage and as things in the bus are a little bit hectic it’s good to be prepared.
- Longdistance buses drive 3 to 5 hours without a break! This is good to know in advance. Normally it is so hot that you don’t need to pee. Sorry, that’s the way it is! You can ask the bus driver when there will be a break. He will leave the bus then for 5 to 15 minutes at a place with a toilet and where you can buy some snacks and drinks. But these breaks are never really relaxed and many people want to buy something. I recommend you to go to the toilet in the break very quickly and have your snacks and drinks already with you. Now and then there are snacks and drinks sold in the bus; the seller hop on and off.
The best tipp I can probably give you at the end is: Enjoy the chaos! It makes life much more colorful! When things don’t work out as expected you often make the best experiences!