Bamboo Train, Battambang

Quick Facts:

It is a fact that Battambang isn't the most well - known destination in Cambodia, but it will be a great pity if you don't drop by the northern part of the country without experiencing in this notorious bamboo train.The bamboo train is one of the world's all-time classic rail journeys. From O Dambong, on the east bank 3.7km south of Battambang's Old Stone Bridge, the train runs southeast to O SraLav, via half an hour of clicks and clacks along warped, misaligned rails and vertiginous bridges left by the French.

During the second half of the 19th century, Cambodia was a part of French Indochina and the French colonists dotted its rainforests with plantations. They grew coffee and banana, among other things, and needed a way to transport this produce from jungle to market. So they built a small-gauge railroad complete with miniature steam engine specifically for this task.

In fact, the trains seldom ran. When they did run, the warped, gapped, sometimes missing tracks provided a ride that maxed out around 20 mph and could easily double the time of any other form of transportation. Once again, in 2009, all services were suspended. However now, with the Trans-Asian Railway making headway, Cambodia is looking to have their new, improved national railways up and running once again by 2013.

The bamboo trains have been a source of transportation, commerce, and communication for those living in parts of Cambodia during a long time. Unlike other modes of transportation of the national line, the bamboo trains are a much tinier, simpler thing. The body of a norryis formed with a single queen-size platform, often made of bamboo, which lies on a metal undercarriage. Steel wheels on a pair of axles lie underneath. A belt wraps around the rear axle and is connected to a lawn mower or boat engine mounted on the rear of the platform. The driver yanks a cord to start it up, the engine emits its mosquito-on-steroids whine, and down the tracks it goes. Nearly a dozen passengers, livestock, or produce and other goods (or any combination thereof) can come along for the ride. The bamboo trains connect small villages and provide a means of transport for both people and goods in areas otherwise unserved.

As it is a single line of parallel rails, with travelers going in both directions, a little etiquette is called for. When two noory meet on this single line of track, the lighter train stops, empties its load, the drivers and passengers disassemble the entire operation, removing it from the track so the other noory can pass. Then, they reassemble it, re-start the engine, and on their way they go, once again. It all takes about a minute.

Experiencing the funniest and most challenging moments on the bamboo trains, sometimes even with a chicken, some dogs, and fellow Cambodians, is a great way to see some of the back country and to get a feel for just how bad the train tracks once were.

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