Cambodia's bamboo train nearing end of the line

The bamboo-lined flat trolleys of Cambodia’s iconic train are a testament to creativity in an impoverished nation with little infrastructure. But its days are numbered as the country plans a railway overhaul.
The bamboo-lined flat trolleys of Cambodia’s iconic train are a testament to creativity in an impoverished nation with little infrastructure. But its days are numbered as the country plans a railway overhaul. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BATTAMBANG • With a wooden platform jerry-rigged to a small engine, Cambodia's one-of-a-kind "Bamboo Train" delights tourists as it clatters through bucolic countryside - but its days are numbered as the South-east Asian nation plans a railway overhaul.

The bamboo-lined flat trolleys are a testament to creativity and enterprise in an impoverished nation with little infrastructure.

They were first invented as part of a homegrown, unofficial transport system to make use of the country's abandoned French colonial- era train tracks but later morphed into a popular tourist attraction.

"It was good to finally have some breeze (on) my face," exclaimed 25-year-old Swedish tourist Josefin Strang, after completing a ride on the rickety cart under a blazing tropical sun.

"I'm actually happy that it was the bamboo train and not an ordinary train, because that track was not in good shape," she laughed.

But the hallowed site in north- western Battambang province will soon be no more as a government project to refurbish the country's dilapidated rail system inches closer.

That is especially worrying news for the community of drivers, ticket-takers and snack vendors who live off the proceeds from the unique tourist attraction. "We are very worried about how we will make a daily income good enough to feed ourselves," said 49-year-old driver Soy Savuth.

He is one of several drivers who spend their days shuttling a trolley up and and down the 7km-track, charging the foreign riders US$5 (S$6.80) a ride through rice fields and over small creeks.

Mr Chan Samleng, director of the Railroad Department, said the train operators will soon need to leave the area so that builders can start restoring the line for a train service.

"They have no right to run on the railroad anymore," he said of the drivers. "They can look for other jobs."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2017, with the headline 'Cambodia's bamboo train nearing end of the line'. Print Edition | Subscribe