Cambodia’s bamboo train back on track

BATTAMBANG (THE PHNOM PENH POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Tourists missing Cambodia’s beloved ‘bamboo train’ in Battambang can now board a replacement service that has been set up on a different set of tracks.

The improvised rail vehicle, often comprising a small motor and a bamboo platform on wheels, was shut down in October 2017 to make way for a proper train service.

The new bamboo train is located more than 20km from the city and began operations on Sunday (Dec 31).

“We have six lorries to operate and provide service to the national and international tourists visiting the Banan temple area,” said Soy Bora, a representative of the new train’s operators.

Originally conceived as a logistical fix during the United Nations’ peacekeeping operation in Cambodia from 1992 to 1993, , the original bamboo train was a lorry system that operated on Cambodia’s rarely used northern rail line.

However, tourists soon discovered that the improvised rail vehicles were a thrilling ride through the countryside, and a cottage industry sprang up just outside the provincial capital. But with plans to redevelop the railway for other traffic, the bamboo train had to go.

Provincial tourism authorities arranged a new home for the train, with the original operators still running the business.

According to Battambang native and Butterfly Tours founder Moth Pheap, the old train was steeped in history, with the old tracks giving it a quirky charm that made it an important stop on his company’s bicycle tours.

“It was the main thing. I got a lot of visitors who came to try the bamboo train,” he said.

The new track is “too far” from the city, he said, and loses some of its gritty authenticity in its new more manicured and “bland” form.

The line starts near the base of Phnom Banan, on which sits an eponymous Angkorian temple, in Kanteu II commune’s Sang Village, before ending 4km down the line at Chhoeuteal commune.

“The tourists can experience the spectacular landscape around the Banan temple, ancient carvings and fruit orchards,” Mr Bora said. Cambodians pay 10,000 riel (about S$3.30) per ride while foreigners will pay twice that.

Banan District Governor Chum Nhor, noting the beauty of the community forests in his district, said he hoped the new location would spur tourism growth in the area and improve local livelihoods.