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Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Bamboo Railway

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Cambodia is an amazing country, packed with kind, friendly people, and amazing places. One of those places is Battambang, which is south of Siem Reap, and we went because of a TV show or youtube video I had seen and vaguely remembered from years prior.

In Battambang there is a railway system that is unlike any other in the entire world. Prior to the Khmer Rouge destroying the entire country's economy and people, there was a rail network connecting much of Cambodia. Since the Khmer Rouge and their fall, the only remnants were and still are the tracks.

The people of Cambodia, being ever resourceful, needed to get supplies from town to town, as most people need to. Having only tracks, they adapted them to their personal use, making a form of train car, what is actually more of a flat bamboo platform on old tank wheels, powered by a motorcycle or lawnmower engine.

The track is a single track that has become quite the tourist attraction. The beginning is on the outskirts of Battambang, and run by the tourist police, or something. The driver of the "car" does this for the owner, who gets the $10.00 a person fee, so it is good to tip your driver. There are troves of these cars at the beginning point.

Pay the ten bucks, and you start zipping down the track, probably close to 25 or 30mph, only a few inches above the rickety track. A symphony of click-clacking plays the whole ride.

When meeting another car, proper etiquette dictates that the lighter load remove themselves from the tracks. Somehow at our first meet-up we had to get off, even though the other car only had one passenger. The cars lift off the wheels, and then the wheels off the track. Usually the incoming driving and your driver do this, I helped, which really boggled them, I suppose it is not common. 

After we were back on the rails, away we went. Zipping to our final destination, which is a few miles down the track, a small town, or village would actually be a better description of this location. Kids sell shirts, beverages, and little grasshoppers and the like made from straws or grass or what is around.

The whole ride takes an hour or so, unless you want to stay in the village a little longer, and which point I believe the driver would be happy to wait for you. Of all the things that I have done on my travels, this might be the coolest. It is a real sign of ingenuity and the need of people to get a problem solved. 

If you're ever in the area, stop by, take a ride, and really enjoy yourself, it is not to be missed. 

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