In Battambang, Cambodia, tourists and locals alike are being taken in and taken on a ride by a one of a kind train system. The “Bamboo Train” as it’s called quietly rumbles through the countryside. The “train” is a wooden platform rigged to a small engine. The flat trolleys, lined with bamboo, is a testament to the creativity of Cambodia’s people. Sadly, it’s days are numbered as the country plans to overhaul its railway system. The trains were invented as part of a local and homegrown effort to make use of the country’s long abandoned train system from the colonial era. However, once tourists caught wind of the train system it became a popular attraction.
Tourists from the far reaches of Europe come and are delighted to feel the breeze on their face as the rickety train rolls along. However, the train system in northwestern Battambang province is under threat of being discarded. A government project to refurbish the country’s rail system inches closer and closer. This is of great concern to the community of drivers, ticket takers, and snack vendors that use the bamboo trains as a source of revenue for their families. The workers of this track have come to regard the trains as life and livelihood. The track is seven-kilometre long and rides for foreigners cost upwards of $5.
The train tracks were built under French Colonial rule. The country’s railroads once ran from the seaport of Sihanoukville, to the capital of and north to the Thai border. Decades of civil war and neglect left large stretches of the track in ruins. Cars being a richman’s commodity, people started building their own bamboo trolleys in the 1980’s to ferry people and goods down the tracks. Early versions of the hitched onto the tracks and pushed along with a bamboo pole instead of an engine. Roads eventually improved and the carts, known as “norries” Savvy operators quickly realized there was a market for tourists looking for a unique type of transport across the country.
Railroad administration is currently in the process of closing down bamboo train operators. They say that the operators no longer have the right to use the tracks that are being restored by the state. Cambodia is a fast growing country and the government is hoping that a revitalized rail system will help to continue growth in one of the poorest countries in Asia. Bamboo operators fear that the new train systems will push them out of the only skill they really have. Time will tell how long the trains will run, but if you’re looking for a fun trip in Cambodia, you might schedule a trip sooner than later.
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