Battambang: Barreling Down the Tracks on a Bamboo Train
// September 22nd, 2010 // Cambodia
This bamboo train described in the guidebook sounded like a thing of the past. Locals use it to take goods to the market, yet it has become an increasingly popular tourist attraction. I couldn’t quite picture it. There is only one track in Battambang, so when one is met head on with opposing traffic, both parties must hop off, disassemble one of the bamboo trains, slide the other train forward, and reassemble on the other side. The train is essentially made up of two axles, a bamboo platform, and a little motor. I was immediately intrigued and boarded a bus from Siem Reap to go check it out. We got into Battambang around noon, where our tuk-tuk driver K was waiting for us. Our driver in Siem Reap had set us up with his friend so we avoided the hassle of doing it ourselves. K took us to our hotel, we washed up, and he picked us back up an hour later to check out the much anticipated bamboo train.
After haggling on price, they called over one of the ‘drivers’ who proceeded to set up his train on the tracks. To start the engine, the driver wrapped a string around the motor and yanked it just like you would to start a lawnmower or a boat. It sputtered unsuccessfully, so the driver had to wrap the string around to try again. We started rolling down the tracks, and before you knew it, we were barreling along at a high speed. The track isn’t exactly straight; it looks like a wriggling snake. The wind was whipping our hair and every time we were jolted from a chink in the track, we couldn’t help but laugh.
Not only was the ride exhilarating, but also the scenery was beautiful. It was so green and lush. There were people working out in the rice fields, and we observed them when we paused to pass another train. The ride ends in a little village where you can hop off to grab a cool drink or a snack before heading back. We passed several other trains during our trip and were fortunate to only have to hop off once.
On our way back to the starting point, we slowed down to pick up a farmer after a hard day’s work. The bamboo train was one of my favorite things I’ve done in Southeast Asia. Although it’s hard to imagine Battambang getting rid of it since it’s such a tourist attraction, it’s rumored that the city wants to replace it with a new track and a modern train. If you get the chance, take a ride on the bamboo train before Cambodia loses this special experience.