All inter-city services on the hill country route from Colombo to Kandy and Badulla carry a special carriage, the so-called observation car, with large windows and what passes for plush seating. All seats are reservable, and get snapped up quickly – you’ll be lucky to get seats anything less than a week in advance, especially on the popular Colombo to Kandy run.
Booking observation car seats is slightly complicated. They are available from fourteen days in advance of the date of travel. There are 24 seats in the observation car; twenty of these are sold in Colombo and the other four in Kandy. You can buy tickets over the counter at Kandy or Colombo (it’s possible to buy tickets in Colombo to travel from Kandy, and vice versa). If you want to reserve an observation car seat from other stations along the line, they’ll have to be ordered through either of those two cities, which obviously requires time and a degree of pre-planning.
As well as the traditional observation car, two independent companies – Expo Rail (t 011 522 5050, w exporail.lk) and Rajadhani Express (t 071 0355 355, w rajadhani.lk) – have recently started running special tourist carriages on the main hill country express trains, plus a few services to Anuradhapura, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Carriages are modern, comfortable and air-conditioned, with fares starting at around Rs.750 from Colombo to Kandy – about twice the price of a seat in the traditional observation car, but probably worth it. Tickets can be bought over the phone or online.