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Bamboo train ride: Battambang, Cambodia


It was a unique experience. When we got there, the only thing I could think of was: Oh gosh, we are such a tourists! A village in the middle of nothing, a couple of wooden sheds on piles, made of anything that the local people had at hand and a few kilometers of rail tracks used to transport… tourists mainly. Around there was a couple of tuk-tuks that came here from Battambong and it doesn’t seem like the tracks are being used for anything else. The railway network in Cambodia is in a deplorable condition and even attempts to reconstruct a section of track between Battambang and Phnom Phen failed practically immediately.
I was ambivalent about taking part in this attraction as I wasn’t sure how positive this was for the locals. I looked around and I saw a small group of men working by the tracks. Working… well actually it seemed like the only thing they did was picking up and moving the carriages. Carriages is too much to say. Bamboo train is fact a bamboo platform maybe 3×2 meters long, with two axles and a small engine. Thank to this simple construction the train can go both ways on only one set of tracks. When there is another train coming from the opposite direction, the carriage with fewer people has to be taken of the tracks and put on the side, so that the other can pass. If the number of passengers is equal apparently, the drivers play paper, scissors, rock.

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At the initial “train station” we were welcomed by a very kind policeman, who explained us the “rules” of the bamboo train and promised to take care of our bike and helmets. He said that the ride will take 20 minutes each way and that in the middle we will have a 20 minutes break in the other village. I thought then that if nobody is hurt, and the job doesn’t seem very arduous, maybe by paying this 5 dollars per person in some way we are helping the local community. Let’s hope so.

So, we entered the bamboo platform, our driver started the engine and we left. Considering the simple construction, the train went quite fast, the platform was shaking and skidding to the sides and there was nothing to hold to except for the floor. After a couple of minutes we noticed another carriage coming in our direction. Quick calculations and oy, we lost. 4 to 3. We had to get up and put our carriage to the side. Few minutes later we were back on track speeding through empty green fields. The moment we got to the final station, a group of small children surrounded us trying to sell us some bracelets. Sweet little kids, asking to promise them, that we will buy a bracelet from them and nobody else, committing yourself to it with a special gesture with small fingers. There was a small boy, maybe 5 years old that approached me. I fell under his charm and exchanged the finger grip with him.

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I know that children should not work, that it takes away their childhood. This and other slogans immediately passed through my head, but in a way it seemed that they are happy, that is just one way of spending their free time. One smiling lady with a baby on her hands invited us to a table to have some cold drink. We accepted it right away. It was midday and it was starting to get really hot. The same small boy, Tee sat next to asking if I want to play paper, scissors, rock. The person who loses has to fan the opponent ten times. We played for ten minutes roaring with laughter, when another girl asked to join us and we continued playing, the four of us. I was surprised that even though the bracelets were laying on the table and hanging on a roll over their arms, nobody asked me again to buy one. Only when we finished and I called Tee to buy a bracelet from him, there were two more girls around trying to sell more. Eventually, I bought two, one from Tee and the other girl that played with us. Poor Renato, he didn’t buy anything and the second girl was nagging him to buy one for him…

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Little Tee spoke English quite fluently, which surprised me, as I’d already went through many conversations when I speak English and the people answer me in Khmer. It turned out that at school he doesn’t have English classes yet (foreign languages, French or English start only in high school), but in the afternoons he attends extra English classes for 10 dollars a month and he learns the language from tourists.

When we paid for our drinks, the woman told us to tip our driver. It wasn’t the most polite thing to do, but we were already used to it. “One dollar” of a tip will do us no harm and the locals with pay back with a charming smile.
I would have never thought that such a touristy attraction can bring so much fun. Well, part of the fun was arriving to the village, admiring the local people and white cows and then finding the way back home, as the bamboo train is not signalized by any signposts.

Video here.


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