A sadness was felt throughout Cambodia when late last year Battambang’s famous bamboo train was halted to make way for the tracks to be put in place for real rail operations. While the government pledged to reinstate the service, doubts were high.
However, in early January, the bamboo train – or norry in Khmer – rose from the ashes, with six carriages once again trundling along a different set of tracks about 20 kilometres from the city.
The train was originally born as a logistical measure during the United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia (UNTAC) period – a UN peacekeeping operation, which ran in the early 1990s to help the country in the wake of the devastating Khmer Rouge reign.
The original train was used to help transport goods along the country’s battered northern rail line. It is made from a bamboo platform covered with a mat for “comfort” – which can incredibly seemingly fit a large family and their worldly goods on board – that is set on two sets of bogies with a motor at the back.
A wooden pole serves as the brakes and accelerator, and the train can hit bumpy speeds of 50km/h. The single track means if you come across another train heading towards you, one of you has to dismantle the carriage to allow the other to pass.
Since UNTAC times, tourists have jumped on board with the idea, with visitors taking the hair-rising historic ride through Battambang’s pristine countryside daily.
And now that the new track his been opened and operations are up-and-running once again, travellers can continue to enjoy the action in the train’s new location. Now the line starts near the base of Phnom Banan – home to a historic Angkorian temple – in Kanteu II commune’s Sang Village.
The track continues for four kilometres, before ending at Chhoeuteal commune. The cost for a ride is $5 and takes in stunning scenery, as well as giving visitors the opportunity to explore Banan temple and its surroundings.