Have a cuppa in a Cambodian train to nowhere

Women walking into a train carriage that has been converted into a cafe at a railway station in Phnom Penh on June 5, 2021.
Women walking into a train carriage that has been converted into a cafe at a railway station in Phnom Penh on June 5, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

PHNOM PENH (AFP, XINHUA) - Train travel has largely ground to a halt in Cambodia due to the coronavirus but fans can still get their fix aboard a stationary carriage converted into a hipster cafe.

The country has more than 600km of track from its northern border with Thailand to the southern coast, but decades of war and neglect have left vast stretches damaged and the pandemic has shut many services.

A new airport link was closed last year and passenger trains to the seaport of Sihanoukville have been suspended since March when Cambodia was hit with the worst of its Covid-19 outbreak.

But a new train cafe - in Phnom Penh railway station - has become a hub for Instagrammers and Facebookers looking for a selfie location and cold drink.

As authorities relax restrictions following a three-week lockdown in the capital, patrons have flocked to the cafe.

Among them is Ms Chan Thol, a 19-year-old student, who, along with her friends, has made the outlet a regular haunt. It is a delightful change of scenery for her after weeks of boredom staying home.

"I come for leisure and to take pictures with my friends and enjoy the coffee," she said. "It helps reduce my stress."

Ms Se Sokunaphors, 27, said the concept was unique. "I have never taken a train before. And this is fun," she noted.

The carriage required only minor modifications including ripping out old sticky seats and replacing them with comfy chairs, said Ms Sak Vanny, manager of passenger operations for Royal Railway Cambodia.

People observing social distancing as they sit in a train carriage on May 31, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

"We had the idea to turn a train carriage into a train cafe in order to generate some income for the company and help staff members with work during the pandemic," she added.

"We did not make a lot of changes to it so that its original look wouldn't disappear... When guests come here, they can have the same feeling like they are riding a train."

Cambodia on Friday (June 11) confirmed 655 new Covid-19 cases, pushing the national tally to 37,321, the Ministry of Health said. A total of 311 people have died.

The country launched its Covid-19 inoculation drive on Feb 10. To date, some 2.8 million out of the 10 million targeted population have received the first Covid-19 vaccine dose. Among them, 2.33 million have been fully vaccinated with two doses.