On Sri Lanka's south coast are a number of oceanfront cities, each projecting a different vibe. Our first stop on our coastal explorations was the gorgeous Galle, home to some of the most intriguing little streets and alleys. Galle entices visitors with boutique shopping, history, delightful cafes and stunning backdrops.
How to Purchase Train Tickets in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan train tickets cannot be bought online at this time. Reserved tickets (where you are assigned a seat) can be bought in advance of the day of travel at the railway station. Be aware that during peak season, reserved tickets often sell out weeks early. Unreserved tickets can only be bought on the day of travel. If you're taking a particularly busy route (such as Colombo-Galle or Ella-Kandy), always aim for reserved seating. If they're sold out, arrive at least an hour early before you plan to leave in order to get your tickets from the ticket counter.
Note: unreserved tickets hardly ever sell out. This can result in crowded trains with more people standing in the aisles than are sitting. But hey, at least you're always likely to get on board!
If you are able to, always aim for 1st class reserved seats in what is known as an Observation Saloon Carriage. Tickets are a little more pricey in comparison to other classes (Colombo-Galle 1st class is 800 Rs per person, about $6.60 CAD) but you'll have much more space, plus fans in the ceilings.
How to Get to Galle
The best way to get to Galle is by train. The train from Colombo takes 2 hours, 20 minutes and whizzes along the coastline, sometimes right on the edge of the lapping ocean. Traveling by train is the best way to see the country, as your view will be unobstructed by traffic and roads. Oftentimes, the tracks are built straight through towns, villages and jungles, allowing you to absorb as much as possible.
On the inland side of the tracks, slums are the norm. People don't wear shoes, and they work hard to maintain their livelihoods in shacks that often lack in solid walls. Lush vegetation, and palm trees as high as the eye can see, surround the local hamlets. On the water side, the glistening Indian Ocean stretches far away toward the gleaming horizon line. The doors of Sri Lankan trains are never closed, and a common way to travel is by hanging out of these doors to feel the rushing wind whipping through your hair as sights rush past.
A Walking Tour of Galle Fort
Both travel guides we had with us have excellent walking tours of Galle Fort with clear maps detailing the best route: the DK Eyewitness Travel, and the Lonely Planet which has an online map too. We mixed both together to come up with a route we felt encompassed all the wonderful parts we wanted to see.
From the Galle Train Station, turn left along Colombo Road, then cross the road to turn right along Esplanade Road until you reach the Main Gate. This gate replaced the original gate in 1873 because the old one was simply too small for the fort's needs. At the roundabout, turn right along Rampart Street and stay on the outer road until you reach a rampart which you can clamber up. The heat will be significantly less up on the ramparts thanks the ocean breeze that will roll over you. The first featured building you'll walk past, at the intersection of Rampart Street and Parawa Street is the Sudharmalaya Temple, an impressive all-white building with a large dagoba outside.
At the southernmost tip of the ramparts you will come across the majestic Point Utrecht Bastion, also known as Galle Lighthouse. This incredible structure towers high above surrounding beach and grassy surrounds. Locals come to this area to swim and cool off in the shade, while tourists come to gawk at the beautiful view.
Continuing to walk along the ramparts will bring you along Hospital Street, where the Dutch and Portuguese had their hospitals, as well as Akersloot Bastion. This bastion is named after a Dutch Commander who led the capture of Galle in 1640, resulting in a switch from a Portuguese claim to a Dutch one.
Turn left along Front Cross Street, left again on Leyn Baan Street, then right to Leyn Baan Cross Street until you reach Church Street. Right across from you will be the glamarous Fort Hotel home to a sweet little cafe called Church Street Social. A blogger's dream, the floor tiles complement the chevron-patterned table tops, and refreshing drinks will cool you down while a quaint archway views onto the street.
After you are properly refreshed, leave the Fort Hotel and head right up Church Street to Pedlar Street. Pedlar Street is the main street in town, and is where the majority of boutiques, rooms to stay, restaurants, cafes, jewelry shops, souvenir shops and artisan stores are to be found. By this time, you're probably pretty hungry; Pedlar's Inn Cafe has a fantastic rice and curry.
Following your Pedlar Street explorations, return the way you came and walk nearly to the end of Pedlar Street, turning left on Leyn Baan Street. This will bring you straight to the Old Gate, the Fort's original entrance. The large building through which the gate goes is the National Maritime Archaeology Museum, featuring historical artifacts of ships and cargo that frequented the area.