Travel Report: Battambang Bamboo Train, Cambodia.
December 2015. During my wanderings around Cambodia I met plenty of fellow travellers who didn’t even bother stopping in Battambang! I can’t help but feel they really missed out. The city itself has an excellent café and restaurant scene. And if you venture out, you’ve got the unmissable beauty and history of Phnom Sampeau. And then there’s the immense fun of a trip on The Battambang Bamboo Train! This is one of the world’s most unique rail journeys, and you’ll only need to part with $5 of your hard earned cash for the bumpy twenty-minute ride. The journey begins from O Dambong and takes riders out to the tiny settlement of Sra Lav, before a twenty minute break and the return leg.
The so-called trains are little more than long wooden frames around three meters in length and powered by a 6HP gasoline engine. Cranking down the single-track line at fifteen kilometres an hour is actually far more thrilling than you’d think. Especially as our driver took great delight in making the journey as bumpy and twisty as possible.
But the genius part of the system is the amusing solution to what happens when a train is coming right at you from the other direction. Basically, the vehicle with the fewest passengers has to stop and is quickly disassembled by its driver! He then sets all the loose parts down in the grass by the side of the track!
I loved the Battambang bamboo train experience! It’s a fun and unique attraction, the drivers are friendly and love to thrill, while the countryside of rural Battambang only adds to the drama. So look out for farmer’s fields, rivers and groups of fisherfolk flashing past your eyes as you rattle along the tracks.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the village of Sra Lav turned out to be little more than a dozen or so tacky shops manned by a frenzied collection of in-your-face locals. They descended upon us the moment we stepped off the train, with desperate pleas for us to buy something… anything! There were Bamboo Train teddy bears, neon-lit snow globes, Hawaiian shirts, key rings, faded postcards and an inappropriate number of woollen scarves. You name it we didn’t want it! The woman pictured here was the only one who left us alone.
We also had a gaggle of local children to contend with. The girls were brutal, vociferously demanding money… for no particular reason… and stomping their feet and hissing at us when we refused to comply. But I did take a shine to this guy, who carefully set about crafting a handmade grasshopper from the leaf of a nearby plant. “It’s beautiful!” he claimed matter-of-fact-ly, “And very cheap!” The grasshopper was cool, but I still had no use for it. So I agreed to pay him $1 just for the courtesy of this photo.
My $1 charity act got me into BIG trouble with the girls. “You are bad man!!!” one of them screamed in a fit of jealousy. In the end I told Angry Girl 1 I’d give her some change for a photo. She quickly agreed. However, just as my travel buddy Wonderboy hit click Angry Girl 2 threw her arm in front of the lens. It was a petulant act of sabotage. Happily the joke was on her, as she ended up making a vital contribution to what is probably my favourite Cambodian photo! Karma.
For more on my time here check out my other articles on Battambang.
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