Saturday, February 26, 2011

Battambang Bamboo Train

Battambang's bamboo 'train'
It may not figure as one of the great railway journeys of the world, but a trip on Battambang's Bamboo Train should be on every visitors itinerary while visiting Cambodia's second largest city.

The bamboo train is a single platform open-topped contraption built of bamboo within a light timber frame. It is powered by a motor not much bigger than your average suburban lawnmower engine. In the past, and still to a certain extent today, the trains (there were more than one) were used to move people and goods along Cambodia's almost non-existant rail network. Today, that network is still pretty much non-existant (although there are plans to change that), and while the bamboo train at Battambang now seems to carry tourists rather than locals and their goods, it will probably disappear forever, once real trains begin running again.

My brief 30 minute journey (15 minutes each way), cost $10, although if there are two or more people taking the ride the price drops to $5.00 each. The state of the rails the train rides on leaves much to be desired in terms of smoothness and comfort, with severe jolts, noise and constant rattles along the route's length, which takes you past small villages, vast rice paddies, banana plantations, and provides some great views of the countryside near Battambang.

Once passengers reach a local village about 7-8 kilometres along the track, the train is disassembled (see image) and turned to face back in the direction from which the ride began. Passengers then reboard for the return trip.

The whole experience, though brief, was a lot of fun, and given that the bamboo train may eventually disappear altogether - once Cambodia's rail network is repaired and running again - it is well worth adding the ride to your list of 'great' rail journeys.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cambodia

The temple at Ta Prom, Cambodia
Just for the record, I'm happy to announce that I am alive and well in Cambodia.

I'm now just over two weeks into a month long stay, and my first foray into a third world country has been an exciting, exhilerating, saddening, life-affirming, eye-opening experience.

It will take me a long to time to absorb the lessons and process the experiences this amazing country has showered on me since my arrival here. From Phnom Penh, to the amazing temples of Angkor Wat and numerous others around Siem Reap; from the eight hour boat trip across Tonle Sap Lake to Battambang, to the experiences, sights, sounds and smells I am still to encounter, this month long visit will certainly turn out to be one of the highlights of my eight month travels, and I am delighted to have added it to my itinerary.

The resilience, friendliness and hope for the future shown by even the poorest of Cambodians has been one of the greatest joys of this trip. I have much to write once I return to Australia, and literally thousands of photographs and numerous video clips to go through before I can share my observations through this blog.

Right now I am in Battambang, Cambodia's second largest city - after Phnom Penh - where I will stay four or five days, before heading down to Sihanoukville for my final major Cambodian stop. If you have ever considered visiting Cambodia, I urge you to do so as soon as practicable. I'm sure you will not be disappointed.

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