I booked the Expo Rail semi-luxury train online and took it to Kandy. We spent about five hours there and came straight back. It’s pretty good, with a few bumps along the way. On the whole, it’s a nearly ideal way to take a day-trip to the city.
I just went to exporail.lk, chose Colombo to Kandy and paid online with a credit card. It cost Rs. 2000 per person round trip and I got an email receipt. That’s it.
To take the train, we showed up at Colombo Fort at about 6:30 AM and went to the front of the Inter-City line. This isn’t the main ticket counter, it’s to the left. There’s a line for people buying tickets there, but if you’ve booked an Expo Rail you can go to a separate window at the front. Me getting a printout is about as likely as me finding stone tablets from God. I just handed him the phone through the bars, and with the reference number we were fine. I think we could have just written that number down. They printed us a ticket and we were on our way.
Here’s the thing. Expo Rail doesn’t run its own train, they’ve just put a better carriage on the old train, which runs on the old tracks, and thus runs into some of the same old problems. We’ll get into that later. The train itself is quite nice, good seats, lighting, two TVs, air-conditioning. The windows don’t open and it was cold in the morning. On the way back, however, it was really hot and they had generator issues so the A/C was intermittent. That was uncomfortable. The TV showed tourist videos going down and kids shows coming back. I really wish they’d shown the cricket. That would have been perfect.
The bathrooms are pretty good, actual ceramic toilet. Oh, and major bonus, PLUG POINTS. If you give me a plug point I can basically live there. I was able to charge my pathetic phone, which was good, though the dodgy Kandy street charger disabled the touch screen. Dunno what that was about.
Food And Amenities
The food is pretty bad. Got the veg and breakfast was whatever the meat-eaters had, minus the meat. So, a two cheese and butter sandwiches, one cheese, butter and tomato burger, one vegetable patty. On the return the food was a veg pizza bread, which I didn’t eat, and a chocolate muffin, which I did. It’s a short trip and I’m honestly OK without food.
The tea and coffee, on the other hand, were welcome, except not. See, while the carriage is modern, the rails are not, and the thing still rocks like a roller-coaster (at times). In the morning the entire tray spilled onto my lap (no foul, was all packaged) and in the afternoon, for every gulp of tea I had, my shoes got two. Both times, I completely spilled tea everywhere, as I think did everyone.
They do give you enough bottled water, and a warm towel in the morning and a cool towel in the evening. The train is staffed by intelligent and courteous stewards.
On the way out, you can see where they’ve started construction on the next highway
Basically, as I was discussing, the ride is hella bumpy. Perhaps they could note where some steady track is and serve tea then, I dunno. The view is pretty good once you start climbing though, honestly, I was on my phone and didn’t really look out the window much.
The Kandy Trip
What we took was one roundtrip, arrive at Kandy at 9h30 AM, leave at 3h PM. This means you’re out of Colombo from 7-5h30, so a working day. I think this is good. We got out, walked to the Sri Dalada Maligawa, saw everything and had time to meditate. Then we went and had a beer at Helga’s Folly, then climbed the big Buddha statue, then ate at the Muslim Hotel, then walked back to the train station and out. I honestly don’t think there’s much more to do in Kandy, unless you go out to Knuckles or something.
It costs about twice the normal intercity and is troubled by some of the intercity’s usual track problems, but the ability to book online, charge a computer/phone, and basically arrive and leave in near seamless comfort makes the Expo Rail train service a win. I recommend.