Black Market Train Tickets in Sri Lanka

Kandy

If you have been to Sri Lanka you will know that buying train tickets for reserved seats is quite complicated as they go like hot-cakes.

The only way you are going to manage to buy the type of train ticket you want, with reserved seating, is if you are super organised and know where and when you want to travel a good week in advance. Plus you have to be able to get to one of the bigger train stations where they actually sell reserved tickets.

Train from Kandy to Hatton

Travelling through the hill country from Kandy to Hatton

For the regular happy-go-lucky, make-it-up-as-you-go-along backpacker like me, who doesn’t want to be bound by train journeys for way in the future, this creates a problem:

You still want to enjoy the wonderful train journey through the Sri Lankan countryside from the comfort of your own seat while you munch on your wadi wadi rather than standing in a crush in the aisle with someone’s armpit in your face, getting thrown all over, watching other people relax and enjoy the view as they smugly munch on their wadi wadi… But you don’t want to commit yourself to a particular day, when you don’t even know yourself what day you want to travel.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Kandy? Read here.

Black Market Train Tickets in Sri Lanka

You will have already gathered from the title of this post that sometimes, if luck is in your favour and your budget allows it, there might be another way: you can buy your train tickets on the black market instead.

Here’s my story of how we found the black market for train tickets in Sri Lanka and how consequently we ended up standing up in 2nd class for the entire journey from Kandy to Hatton…

Meeting Anas

When we arrived in Kandy at the Goods Shed, Kandy’s zoo of a bus station, we were accosted by Anas the tuk tuk driver.

Don’t all great stories start with a tuk tuk driver?! Read another of my stories about Sri Lankan tuk tuk drivers.

We agreed that he would take us to our guesthouse via the train station where we needed to pick up tickets for our journey to Hatton in two days time.

After the ease at getting 2nd class reserved seats for our journey between Colombo and Habarana, it never really occurred to me that the tickets we wanted now would be sold out.

black market train tickets sri lanka

Magnificent tea plantations between Kandy and Hatton

Kandy Train Station

Toni stayed with the bags and the tuk tuk and I went and elbowed my way to the front of the ticket queue (if you don’t elbow your way to the front, someone else will elbow their way in front of you).

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Two tickets to Hatton 2nd class reserved for two days time on the 11:10 train please.”
Ticket clerk: “Sorry madam, all full.”
Me: “Oh, well what about 3rd class or 1st class?”
Ticket clerk: “Sorry madam, all reserved seats full for this train.”
Me: “Okay, what about the 8:47 train?”
Ticket clerk: “Sorry madam, this train is also fully booked.”
Me: “How about the 12:30 train?”
Ticket clerk: “The 12:30 train doesn’t go from Kandy, it goes from Peredeniya and, ah [pause to check computer… drama… tension] sorry madam, same answer.”

At that point, the guy behind me that had been inching closer, could wait no longer and I was elbowed out of the way. Well, I had my answer anyway: it couldn’t have been clearer.

I made my way back to the tuk tuk where the driver was engrossed in showing Toni photos of his family on his phone.

When I filled Toni in, the colour drained from his face. He thought it meant we wouldn’t get on the train at all.

“No,” I told him. “We can still buy non-reserved tickets but not until the same day and it’ll probably mean we have to stand.”

That’s when the tuk tuk driver piped up.

“Don’t worry madam, I have a friend. I call him.”

And with that we were off, joining the chaotic Kandy traffic, Anas on the phone.

When the train station runs out of tickets… Ask your tuk tuk driver!

Later we pulled over so that Anas could turn around and talk to us.

“My friend in the train station can get 1st class tickets for in two days 1,500rs,” he said.

Wow! 1,500rs was a lot of money. That was 10€ for a two and a half hour journey. Still, it was first class. And it was supposed to be one of the best journeys in the world. We only had one chance. What was 10€ to us anyway when you put it like that?

Of course we tried to barter but he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, budge. He told us that he would get the tickets and we would pay him when he gave them to us.

We decided to go for it.

Train from Kandy to Hatton

View of Sri Lanka’s lush countryside from the train

He told us to call him the next day and he would tell us what he could get and then if we agreed he would buy the tickets.

As it happened, we needed to see him the next day anyway. So we called him and he came to our guesthouse. Good thing too because he was almost impossible to understand on the phone.

Read here about the tuk tuk drivers we had in Sri Lanka.

When he turned up he said he could get 1st class tickets for Kandy to Hatton on the 8:47.

Damn, we’d wanted the 11:10.

“All full madam,” he said. Where had I heard that before?

“Okay,” we agreed. “Get the tickets.”

What we agreed… And what we got

We’d arranged that the next day Anas would come to collect us at 8am. As a result we hadn’t been able to have breakfast at our guesthouse as they couldn’t do it so early.

Anas was prompt at 8am. After we’d been driving two minutes he pulled over and looked around. He was so cloak and dagger! He produced the train tickets…

They were for the 11:10.

They were 3rd class.

“It’s all I could get,” he said. “But cheaper, only 1,000rs.”

We weren’t prepared to pay 1,000rs for 3rd class.

“But it’s cheaper,” protested Anas.

“Yeah, but it’s third class,” we pointed out. And it’s a different time. Why would you pick us up at 8am for a train that leaves in three hours? Why didn’t you just call us?”

Because he knew we wouldn’t want it, that’s why.

Something weird was going on here, we knew.

We set off driving and after a few minutes pulled over again. And then came the punchline.

Anas said: “You were willing to pay [he pointed at me] 1,500rs and [pointing at Toni] 1,500rs for two tickets so I’ll take you by tuk tuk to Hatton for the same price and I’ll just sell these tickets at the station.”

Haha nice try!

We had him take us to the train station. We bought two 2nd class non-reserved tickets for 110rs (less than 1€) each and stood all the way to Hatton.

The views were pretty good when we could see them but this was no way the nicest train journey in the country. That ride was still to come…

To continue with the story, read the next installment of my Sri Lanka trip here.

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About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....

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