Trincomalee to Polonnaruwa: the impossible journey?

So, you’ve just spent a few special days relaxing on the beaches of Uppuveli or Nilaveli and are readying yourself for taking in the sites of Polonnaruwa. Only one thing stands in your way: the journey there!

This was a conundrum we faced and we’re afraid to say there is no easy way to get from one city to the other. We had heard that there might be a bus, but our internet searches and questioning of locals revealed no such option.* Instead, we were advised the only public transport available was the train.

No strangers to Sri Lanka’s train system, we were very happy to trundle our way there via a rickety railway. However, when we turned up at the station to book our tickets – always best to do this in advance if you’d like a seat – the vendor flagged that we would have to change at Galoya Junction and that we would only have 13 minutes to do so. Being seasoned travellers, we knew there was about a 1% chance that we’d make this connection. Every train we had taken in Sri Lanka thus far had been at least an hour late and, even if this one was going to be the exception, we weren’t confident that we would be able to run fast enough to make the change nor successfully board the crowded train with our humungous backpacks.

So, our only option was to hire a taxi. We were incredibly reluctant to do so as we knew it would blow our daily budget to smithereens; at approx. £50 for a 1 hour and 45 minutes journey this was a huge leap from the £2 journeys that had taken us around the country thus far. However, out of options and not fancying a night by the tracks at Galoya Junction – there’s only one chance to make a connection to Polo a day and absolutely nothing in the way of accommodation or facilities nearby if you get stuck – we succumbed. It was a very comfortable journey, complete with air conditioning!

Somewhat rubbing salt in the wound, at one point in the car journey we actually crossed over the train tracks at Galoya Junction… Only then did it dawn on us that we could have just taken a taxi for one leg of the journey, thereby halving the expense. What numpties!

So, for those of you brave enough to try and make the 13-minute connection, make sure that you take the number of a private driver as there didn’t appear to be anyone/a single vehicle at the station when we crossed the tracks. Also, you can check the latest train timings here.

For those of you who are less laissez faire, we’ve just found out about two great Facebook pages for backpackers in Sri Lanka that could help cut your taxi costs: Sri Lanka Taxi Share and Backpacker Taxi Share Sri Lanka. As we did not use these ourselves, we cannot vouch for them and would, of course, encourage you to exercise the usual caution that comes with such forms of communal travel.

*We’ve since discovered that you can in fact take the bus, but that you’ll need one bound for Kaduruwela bus stand (approx. 10 mins drive from Polo). It’s anyone’s guess as to how often and what time these leave from Trinco. We found the Routemaster website helpful when planning our bus journeys, but couldn’t find the route there either. If it does materialise on the website, it’s worth taking the timings as rough indications rather than rules of thumb.