The best way to get train tickets is to get them at the station a day or two before your intended travel day, especially if you want to travel first class. Getting the tickets online isn’t always reliable. Make sure you are set to go by getting the tickets at the station you plan to get on the train from. Second class and third class tickets can be bought just half an hour before the train leaves, usually without a problem.
Trains in Sri Lanka have three classes. First class is air-conditioned, has comfortable cushioned seats and numbered seating. Unfortunately, some trains only have one First Class carriage. Second class has cushioned seats, no air conditioning but the windows are always open and there are fans to keep passengers refreshed. Second class is the busiest! Third class is not as terrible as it sounds if you can handle a sore bum and the heat. The benches are un-cushioned and they fit three people instead of two. There are no fans but the windows are open. Choose the right class for your comfort and remember that if you want to first class, to get the tickets a day or two before.
Trains have no food carriages so it’s best you take your own snacks. All train stations have a little shop on the platform but the prices are really high. Try and get snacks before you get to the station or be prepared to pay double for juice boxes and cookies. Take a bottle of water as well, the only thing you’ll get on the train is sweet milky tea or prawn vaddai.
All carriages have overhead luggage racks, they fit backpacks and small suitcases quite well. But it is not a good idea to travel with more than one big bag. Getting on and off the train can be a bit of a climb (or jump) so travel with the amount of luggage you can carry easily. If your luggage has wheels and doesn’t fit the overhead carrier, put it on its side and at your feet or else it will roll away.
Try and go to the toilet before boarding the train. You can probably imagine the state of the toilets on the train. If you really must go, have your wet wipes and antibacterial lotion handy!
When you arrive at main platform gate and show the guard your ticket, he will tell you what platform that train will leave from. Sometimes they get it messed up so make sure you ask other people at the station what platform your train will leave from. If taking the Kandy to Colombo Fort train, it shouldn’t be too complicated to find the right platform since that train is always full. Some platforms also have two sides, so make sure you are on the right one.
The train ride from Kandy to Nanu Oya is one of the most scenic train rides on earth. Make sure you have enough battery on your phone or camera to take plenty of photos and videos. Going first class, the views will be through the closed side window unless you manage to get a seat in the train that has the big window at the front. Going second or third class you can put your head out the window for those awesome shots of the train taking a bend.
All carriages on the trains have the doors open. People tend to sit on the steps or hang out the door for some fresh air. Be mindful that the doors are ALWAYS open. If you are traveling with little ones, don’t let them wander off between carriages as they can easily topple. If you are careful and mindful of the bends, then sitting on the step at the door is a great option for some awesome footage.
Depending on the time of year, the highlands can get really chilly. If it’s raining it can be colder still. If traveling in first class you will not feel the difference but if you are second or third class, things start to get chilly when you get to Hatton Plains in the colder months. Take a light jacket with you for the ride. It can also be used as a pillow if you want to lean on the window.