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
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.