Brav­ing Cam­bo­dia's bam­boo train

Away from the tourist Mec­cas of Angkor Wat and Ph­nomh Penh, Cam­bo­dia has plenty of lesser known at­trac­tions that still set the pulses rac­ing. In Bat­tam­bang, thrill-seek­ers can ex­pe­ri­ence the buzz of a bam­boo rail­way, fol­lowed by an ac­tion-packed trip down

Outlook - - CONTENTS - By Mel Phadtare

Away from Angkor Wat and Ph­nomh Penh, Cam­bo­dia still has plenty to of­fer. In Bat­tam­bang, thrill-seek­ers can ex­pe­ri­ence the buzz of a bam­boo rail­way, fol­lowed by a crazy trip down the Sangkae River.

There's a rea­son Bat­tam­bang is emerg­ing as Cam­bo­dia's fourth most-pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion. Tucked into the north­west coun­try­side, it's a small city that packs a punch and is grad­u­ally be­ing dis­cov­ered - it also al­lows ac­cess to Siem Reap via the Tonle Sap Lake. A five-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh and a three-hour bus ride from the bor­der town of Poipet, Bat­tam­bang steals at­tributes from a fron­tier town on the precipice of a vi­brant boom ca­ter­ing to both lo­cals and tourists.

This dy­namic shift is hinted at through the sprout­ing of very cool ini­tia­tives. Take the food-lov­ing cafes, sprin­kled non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) like The Co­conut Wa­ter Foun­da­tion and Cam­bo­dian Chil­dren's Trust, as well as the fab­u­lous Amok-rich cook­ing schools like Smokin' Pot, and the many tuk-tuk tours show­cas­ing lo­cal co­conut wines and brandy, Angko­rian tem­ples, killing caves (ev­i­dence of Pol Pot's Kh­mer Rouge night­mare) and the bat caves.

Down­town at the Back­packer's Royal Ho­tel, I fought off pleas from the boys at the front counter who in­sisted there was more to ex­plore. I stuck to my sched­uled three days for one rea­son only: the famed bam­boo train. This type of lo­cal eco-in­no­va­tion was some­thing I had to sam­ple. And I was not to be let down.

Af­ter fol­low­ing bumpy vil­lage roads full of life amongst the stilted dark homes, we ar­rived in 20 tuk- tuk min­utes. Be­hold! The bam­boo train, or lo­cally known Norry (Kh­mer for the French word lorry). A plat­form of bam­boo poles with a built in gasoline en­gine set atop two metal bar­bells with wheels. It was a delight! Run very or­derly by the tourist po­lice, who un­doubt­edly get the lion's share of the US$5 fare, we were given a grass mat for com­fort and we were off.

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