We had hoped the train to Ella would be quieter, and on arrival at the train station there were very few there. Great! Then the train was delayed by 2 hours and arrived virtually the same time as the next train – so by then the platform was packed with 2 train fulls of people and the train was already bulging. Shite journey to Ella and not even a door view this time….. With Sri Lanka getting more and more popular, and this route being the “one to do” – its going to be worse in the future unless you can reserve….. Again – this leg was full of backpackers and travellers…..
Ella is (was) described in guidebooks as a small quiet town, not many restaurants, and best to eat at your guesthouse. And yep, it used to be not many years ago. Now though, it’s a zoo and totally overrun by backpackers. Its like Pubstreet in Siam Reap; Ko Phi Phi, Vang Vien in Laos, Pai, or Kho San Road. Its absolutely packed with busy bars, restaurants, guest houses, bling’d up tuk-tuks, and overpriced everything. 99% westerners and pretty much party capital. Not great and ruined by the masses. That said, getting cold beer is trivial so its not all bad!!
We do wonder, where these 1000s of other backpackers were having seen only a handful in other places…. Very odd.
Ella has become a must-see destination due to some amazing scenery from mini Adams Peak to 9-arch Bridge which is an old British built railway bridge. As ever, lots of tourists around them. The scenery though is well worth the visit – and indeed – the Bridge Over The River Kwai was filmed near here – and not in Kanchanaburi in Thailand where the actual bridge is. (Lots of artistic license for that film).
Our guest house was well chosen on a quiet road outside of town with easy access to the sites – much better than in town which we’d not recommend.
Our next stop is Tissamaharam (AKA Tissa), and getting there is a bit of a nightmare with busses and hopeful connections. Apparently the internet says there is a direct bus (10) – but we saw no evidence of this at all. We had a plan B of a “pickme” car/taxi which would be under 5000LKR (£23) for the 2hr jorney.
Whilst loitering and keeping an eye for the bus whilst getting some fresh rotti – we chatted to some people eating there and they were going to the same place, on the same day, and at roughly our ideal time – and they were sourcing a minivan taxi and had a couple of spaces! So some whatsapp chat later and managed to share the ride for 1500LKR each. All being well…
Our final day in Ella we decided to climb Ella Rock – and the internet says to walk along the railway for 1.5km to the start of the path (yep, walking on live mainline railway track is normal).
The internet said “the locals keep blocking the paths so you get lost and then hire you a guide”. We have GPS and a good map – so we thought we’d be fine… Walking along the track there was a drinks stall and they pointed you the tight way. But, the internet was true and many paths were blocked and we saw evidence of this, but once blocked they grow over quickly with 2m+ tall high density jungle plants. The GPS had all the trails so we tried every combination…
Met another British couple looking around, and we told them which ones we discounted, and let them go their own way. Eventually we made it out near a “café” and headed to the top. Excellent views, and possibly the most challenging climb/descent of all our climbs in Sri Lanka. Not difficult, just lots of loose ruts. Well worth the visit up. On the way down we took another route back to the railway which was easier – but still never saw the other British couple – who knows if they are still lost. Top tip: Don’t listen to the stall holders, just keep going along the railway and there I another path, near a mini waterfall, and that path is easier.
Leaving Ella our shared van turned up and was issue free getting to Tissa
For next instalment, click HERE