Hiring a car driver in Sri Lanka: our experience with Sarath “Shining Car”

This blog is in Italian, but a few pages (like this one) are translated in English.

This summer we had a fantastic one-week holiday in Sri Lanka. The smile of the local people is unforgettable.

Una raccoglitrice di the

A tea picker

Typically we do not organize our holidays much in advance, and especially we do not do let others (e.g. tour operators) organize them for us. The joy of discovery, and a pinch of adventure are the spice of an holiday, and its true essence.

This was our first vacation in South-East Asia. A first question was: how should we travel within Sri Lanka? Some friends of us have used buses and trains: beautiful, in close contact with local people, perhaps a little tiring, but our main problem was that it requires much more time, and a week is really short. Hence, it had to be a car. Reading a few comments on the net, however, we noticed that almost everybody advises NOT to rent a car, but to rather hire a driver with a car. The reason seems twofold: some difficulty in finding your way (road signs are not always present), and the traffic being a bit chaotic.

A car with a driver? That sounds odd… (in fact, it seems that the advice applies to many places in that geographic area, including e.g. India). But then, how could we find car and driver? Here is a short report of how we did, and how it worked out.

From what we read, it seems that at Colombo airport it’s rather easy to find the combination. Yeah, but suppose it didn’t work… I’m fine with “the adventure”, but surely I don’t want to spend the first half a day (or more) to solve our transportation problem …

After some googling, a few drivers e-mail addresses emerge. Should I trust them? I can’t find a social network with rankings, or anything like that. On forums people suggest to choose a “Ceylon Tourist Board approved guide”. But how do I know? Well, I try to write to the addresses I found, and I get three answers.

One looks better than the others: R.A.H.M.S.K. Chandrasekara responds quickly, with a professional tone and in excellent English. He has a website –  www.srilankantourguide.com (email: srilankantourguide@gmail.com) – where there are some excellent reviews of his former clients. It doesn’t look fake: there are the e-mail addresses of the recommenders. Unfortunately I do not have time to write to them to check – it’s almost time to fly there, I need to do my reservation asap – so I decide to trust this guy. The price is coherent with the indications I find on the net, and includes everything: driver, car, gasoline, drivers meals and accommodation. Except the tip, of course. Surprisingly, it does not cost much more than renting a car! So, the decision is taken. Let’s hope everything will be ok…

On our arrival at the Colombo airport, the driver (his “first name” is the “S.” in R.A.H.M.S.K. which stands for “Sarath”) is waiting for us. He’s a tall, good-looking, very polite person. He’s in his fifties, and works as a driver since over twenty years. The first impression is good: everything seems to have gone well… He speaks excellent English (much better than ours, even though we use it in our daily work). We get in the car and there we go!

Traffic is kind of “interesting”: roads are full of slow tuk-tuks (an ubiquitous presence in Southeast Asia), and a lot of passing is needed…

doppio sorpasso sulle strade di Sri Lanka...

Traffic in Sri Lanka.

Drivers honk a lot, and whoever is driving in the opposite direction is always ready to slow down and pull to the side to ease the maneuvering of the one who comes in front of him… In this collaborative way everything runs smoothly, and surprisingly we never see cars with the signs of small accidents. It may be because of the slow speed, which on those windy roads is unlikely to exceed an average of 40 km/h (and that’s an important factor to keep in mind when planning the transfers!). I start to understand why people advise not to rent a car… Sarath drives cautiously, allowing us to relax and enjoy the ride.

He gives us hints about places where to eat, or to drink a tea or fruit juices. All places are perfect, for both quality and price. We really enjoy local food (especially rice and vegetables: they’re spicy, but not terribly).



Since the very beginning, other suggestions are valuable: in Kandy he advises us to assist to a traditional dance show – we later notice that the dance is represented in the paintings of the temple of the Sacred Tooth. Having seen it helps understanding what we see…

We visit the temple at the right time, exactly when the tabernacle is opened. As “do-it-yourself-tourists” we’d missed it…

Danza tradizionale a Kandy

Traditional dance in Kandy

During the first day Sarath, with discretion, tries to understand what we like: in our case nature, historical sites, local food… So he’s later able to suggest the most interesting things for us. He acts like good genius that tries to satisfy your desires, and if possible to anticipate them. Without his suggestions, the list of misses would have been long. We would have not have:

  • been rafting in the location of the “Bridge on the River Kwai” movie,
  • seen Japahuwa, a “minor” but very fascinating historic site,
  • stopped to eat buffalo milk yoghurt with palm honey,
  • seen the “water monitors” (a kind of really huge lizard) under a bridge on our road,

and the list could go on…

Even though we have a car, we do not want to miss the fantastic experience of a train journey to the tea plantations. Sarath brings us to the station of Kandy, and helps us getting the tickets. We leave our luggage in the car, and when after two hours we reach the Hutton station, Sarath is there waiting for us… what a luxury!

Viaggio in treno

Traveling by train

After a couple of days, we decide to give him a nickname: we’ll call him “Sarath Shining-Car” because every morning his car is thoroughly cleaned in and out…

Sarath con Julia

Sarath with Julia

Time flies like an arrow (Groucho Marx would add: fruit flies like a banana…), and the week goes by in a flash. When Sarath drives us to the airport, we’re really sorry to leave this beautiful country, and this man whom we now feel to be a dear friend rather than a person who worked for us.


5 risposte a Hiring a car driver in Sri Lanka: our experience with Sarath “Shining Car”

  1. Nathalie ha detto:

    Dear Julia,

    Your information has been most helpful 🙂 Could you give us an indication of what you were charged?

    It would be most appreciated 🙂


    • ronchet ha detto:

      Sure! As of September 2013, the fee was on a day basis and it was 60$ a day (for 7 days and above).
      The rate included transport by air conditioned car, gasoline, insurance, guide fee, drivers accommodation and food, tax and unlimited kilometers.
      We paid the first half of the total amount on the first day, and the rest at the end.

      A tip (10%) was of course welcome.

  2. daniele ha detto:

    Ciao, hai un contatto diretto di questo driver? Il sito non sembra raggiungibile.

  3. Praveen ha detto:

    Great article about Sri Lanka. Seems to me within a week you guys covered a lot in the island withe help of your guide. Also looks like you guys enjoyed a train trip in mountains. It’s one of the best experience in the island in my opinion. keep these post coming cheers.


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