Tag : bamboo-train

post image

THE BATTAMBANG BAMBOO TRAIN RIDE…PAST & PRESENT

Let’s ride the bamboo train (again)!

The Battambang bamboo train was an institution for many years. However, as Cambodia’s rail infrastructure grew the original location stopped offering rides when a train service started. A local entrepreneur set up an imitation ride on a purpose-built track elsewhere in Battambang that had more the feel of a fairground ride, rather than an authentic method of transporting goods that was adapted for tourists. Though the old location is once again offering rides at the original location…

Western guests enjoying a bamboo train ride.

HISTORY

The bamboo train ride began in the early 1990s in the O’Dambang area, a few kilometres outside of Battambang. It was not conceived as a tourist attraction. Rather it was a way of transporting goods and villagers into areas with poor access by road. As bridges were build and roads upgraded the bamboo train almost finished. Though somewhere along the way in around 2008 tourists found out about a quirky local form of transport in the countryside. Thanks to word of mouth, the likes of Lonely Planet guidebooks and online forums it became the ‘must do’ when visiting Battambang. The train continued with more tourists than locals enjoying the ride.

Tourists enjoyed riding the train or ‘nori’ which consists of a wooden platform placed on 4 wheels and connected to a gasoline engine that powers the device. I would describe it as rattling along the tracks like an oversized skateboard. It offered a little adrenalin flow without ever being close to dangerous. The very attractive route thorough rice fields and over a couple of bridges offering great views in the early morning before the heat built up and again later in the day for some memorable sunsets. A few guests brought along drinks to enjoy the sunset ride.

Often two trains would meet with one carrying a motorbike and goods placed on it. What to do? Well the train with the least number of passengers/goods was quickly disassembled allowing the other train to pass. And then in a few second reassembled again. All fascinating stuff for tourists to see happening!

Reassembling a bamboo train when two of them meet on the same single line track.

END OF THE RIDE AND A NEW BEGINNING

As train tracks were laid the locals were told to stop officially on 1 October 2017. This of course affected the nori drivers, villagers who sold t-shirts and drinks to tourists and of course tuk tuk drivers who would bring them out from the town. A couple of months later a brand new bamboo train ride circuit started at the Banan Temple area passing around the mountain. At first this seemed like an ideal replacement. However, the new location lacks authenticity and is best suited to children and local tourists that want their bamboo train ride adventure. With a parking lot, snack shops and replica tribal houses it is definitely a poor imitation. I think the nicest thing about the new location is seeing Cambodian tourists of all ages enjoy themselves. The new ride at Banan is shorter, though also in a scenic location, even if it passes next to a quiet country road at times. Visiting Wat Banan is easily combined with the bamboo train ride of course. Though the families from the original location were not used to drive these trains, instead new staff were recruited.

The rather bland new bamboo train circuit at Banan Mountain.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

A new daily train started earlier this year from Phnom Penh to the border at Poipet, going up one day and back down the next. That’s an adventure we want to try but the ride is slow (11 hours on a good day!). In October the new route was put on hold for more track upgrades to be undertaken with an estimated return to service in January 2019.

Though this has not stopped the original bamboo train drivers restarting the rides. ‘Same, same but different’ – they just have newly laid tracks on which to run making the ride smoother than before. One by one they started operating the bamboo train ride at the original location. When we visited this October the head nori driver said ‘no problem with the police’ but said business was down when comparing to the past. However, 30 noris are available to ride. Is it dangerous? Well the drivers know the train time of the one train that passes daily. And operating on a straight track it is quite easy to see something approaching. As speed is not that quick there is plenty of opportunity to get off and move the whole nori off the track in time. It is not a ‘chicken run’ game otherwise we would not consider sending guests there.

For the moment we prefer the old location that supports about 30 families. It is authentic, a 6km ride and in a beautiful location. How old will it last? Well we can’t say. It’s Cambodia after all and things can change overnight. However, we will be hoping that both bamboo train ride options can be available for a long time to come….

Barefooted monks on their morning alms collection in Battambang.

P.S. We should also mention there is plenty more to see and do in Battambang. High on the list is the original Phare Circus (Mon/Thur/Sat throughout the year and also on Wed Nov-Mar) and their campus where you can see circus students learning new tricks, music students practicing beneath shady trees, and watch an animation film made by the students.

Temple sights include Wat Banan and Wat Ek Phnom. Don’t forget to visit Wat Sampeau which has a tragic history. Also to see the amazing sight of millions of bats exiting a cave at dusk and heading out to feed.

Active guests will enjoy cycling tours through local villages. Kayaking is also on offer. Foodies will love the local villages and the busy markets. Fans of heritage will love the small city streets which has many preserved buildings and also the ancient village of Wat Kor.

All in all, Battambang is a fabulous destination for something for all. It is easily combined with Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on overland journeys. Also for some of the year there is a beautiful boat ride from Battambang to Siem Reap. Last, but not least, there are many boutique hotels that make a stay in Battambang unforgettable. All of these are highly recommended.

Bambu Hotel http://www.bambuhotel.com/

La Villa Battambang http://www.lavilla-battambang.com/

Maisons Wat Kor http://www.maisonswatkor.com/

Battambang Resort https://battambangresort.com/

Bric-a-Brac http://bric-a-brac.asia/

And the nights have become longer in Battambang recently with the continued success of Jaan Bai, a training and development restaurant run by the Cambodian Children’s Trust which is working to break the cycle of poverty in Battambang by empowering underprivileged children. After dinner it’s just footsteps away to the town’s newest and best bar, Miss Wong Battambang.

rfwbs-sliderfwbs-sliderfwbs-sliderfwbs-sliderfwbs-sliderfwbs-sliderfwbs-sliderfwbs-sliderfwbs-sliderfwbs-sliderfwbs-slide