Riding the Bamboo Train in Battambang

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Just outside the Cambodian city of Battambang lies a set of railroad tracks.

These tracks have long since seen real train carriages running on them, however.

Bamboo Train in Battambang, Cambodia

Though it's rumored that Cambodia‘s train rail will eventually get back on its feet, for now these tracks are populated by a different sort of vehicle.

Bamboo Train in Battambang, Cambodia

This is a norry, colloquially known as the “bamboo train.”

Made up of a bamboo/wooden pallet set atop steel wheels and two axels, the “bamboo train” is anything but a train. Powered by a whiny lawn motor engine, these “trains” began being used to transport goods and livestock once the real trains stopped running.

Today, though, the locals make more money by ferrying tourists to and fro on the one-way tracks.

Bamboo Train in Battambang, Cambodia

 

Riding the bamboo train is not, in fact, a leisurely jaunt through the Cambodian countryside. It may seem like it will be that way when you first settle in for the ride on a cushion atop the bamboo frame.

Bamboo Train in Battambang, Cambodia

But then the motor starts sputtering (perhaps after a few pulls and a bottle or two of gasoline), and soon you're gripping at anything you can get your hands on as you zip along the uneven tracks at 30 miles per hour (see the video below to get a sense of the speed).

Bamboo Train in Battambang, Cambodia

Yes, the bamboo train can MOVE.

But, since this is only a one-way track, the bamboo train also has to make frequent stops.

Bamboo Train in Battambang, Cambodia

Because the “cars” run all day between the starting point near Battambang and a village about an hour up the tracks, that means that there are always people traveling in opposite directions.

So what happens when two cars traveling in opposite directions meet?

Well, basically a big game of chicken, with the “winner” being whichever car is holding more people or whichever group has the most number of cars in a row.

If you don't win in this game, it means climbing up off your car so that your driver can dismantle it (yes, by hand) to let the other car(s) pass.

Bamboo Train in Battambang, Cambodia

Bamboo Train in Battambang, Cambodia

 

Rumors are that this last vestige of the bamboo trains that used to populate all of Cambodia's disused train tracks will also be shutting down soon.

How soon, of course, nobody knows.

But if this is one quirky travel experience you'd like to have, my advice would be to do it soon.

 

**Note: I rode the bamboo train with my Cambodia tour group, and since we went at the end of the day, we decided not to go all the way to the village that most tourists are taken to. I've heard unfavorable tales of this village — of tourists being made to buy drinks and snacks that they didn't want just so they can turn around and go back the other way. We turned around before making it to this village, and I overall really enjoyed the bamboo train experience!

——

Would YOU want to ride the bamboo train in Cambodia?

 

 

*Note: I visited Battambang as part of a complimentary tour of Vietnam and Cambodia with Intrepid Travel, however I paid for my own extras, such as a countryside tuk-tuk tour and a ride on the Bamboo Train.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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36 Comments on “Riding the Bamboo Train in Battambang

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  1. So bizarre! I could definitely see how it’d quench the thirst for random adventures though… sign me up!

      I’m glad we did it, random as it was!

    I did this as well with Intrepid last year – It was so much fun! Something everyone should do. The tuk tuk tour was lots of fun – especially sampling the sticky rice. Did you do the cooking class in Battambang as well? I think that cooking class (for $10 US) was one of the highlights for most of us. And I discovered I liked Angkor beer that night – and I am not a beer drinker normally!

      Yes, the tuk-tuk tour was cool, too! It was interesting to see so much of the countryside and the people who live there.

      But no, I didn’t do the cooking class in Battambang! I did one in Vietnam, though, which was also really great. Cooking classes in general when you’re traveling are usually a good idea!

    This is so cool! I would def try it!

      If you like speed, you would definitely enjoy it!

    So unique! Never seen or heard of such a ride! I am sure it must be fun. Isn’t it?

      Yes, definitely fun!! Really random, but fun.

    I didn’t realize they had motors like in the video. My friend did this about 4 years ago and his was manually propelled. Looks cool nonetheless. I only made it as far as siem reap when I went to cambodia.

      Yes, I think traditionally they used to be self-propelled, kind of like a gondola on land. But now they all use small motors – I’m assuming so they can accommodate more people.

    Wow! Looks pretty speedy from the video.

    I’m not great with heights – is it not a little scary being so exposed on a rickety pallet going over the bridges?

    Looks fun though, and definitely a great unique travel experience. 🙂

      Haha, yeah, it was definitely a little scary at times! You have to try to forget about the rickety tracks and the fact that the train “bed” is barely connected to the wheel axels below…

    That looks like something fun to try; it goes faster than I thought it would be. Cool video.

      Yes, it went a lot faster than we all expected, too!

    The bamboo trainride was a lot of fun. Like the way you describe it; brings back memorys. Too bad you didn’t make it to the village. Behind the foodstalls lies a little community and the people there are very friendly. We visited also a brickfactory were the clay from the fields by hand is made into bricks. http://www.momamundi.nl/fotoboek/-azie-2013/-cambodja

      I’ve heard that the village pretty much only exists to sell things to the tourists who come through, so I wasn’t really too upset to skip it. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your experience, though!

    What an experience! It’s great to take part in different things during travel that might not be around in a couple years time. I’m currently in Siem Reap, Cambodia – check out what we’ve been up to here: http://www.aloraandjosh.com

      Yes, and from the sounds of it, the Bamboo Train won’t be around for much longer!

    I’ve read about the “infamous” bamboo train before but am glad you had a more positive experience than some others. In travel it can only take a moment for an experience to be completely marred.

    Sometimes one of the best things about travel in a developing country are those “quirky” experiences!

      I’ve read about some not-so-great experiences, too, but most of those dealt with going to that village at the end – so I’m glad we skipped it! I think going in a bigger group helped, too.

    I loved this experience. Ah, Cambodia! It is a place where my heart is really happy. Crossing my fingers for an opportunity that would bring me back towards the end of the year!

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it, too! Cambodia has been through so much – I can understand why people fall in love with it. I didn’t quite make it to “love,” but traveling there really made me think about a lot of things.

    Sounds like a lot of fun- and something I can drag my sister to do, too!

      Definitely! It would be something fun to do together.

    We are going tomorrow.Excited to give it a go. 🙂

      Have fun! It’s definitely an interesting experience.

    What a shame you didn’t go all the way to the end because of someone else’s miserable interpretation of a travel experience. The Cambodians are lovely gentle people who have overcome an incredibly tragic history and the people from the village are no different. For $4US, we had 3 cold coconuts to drink, a couple of handmade bracelets to take home as souvenirs and some time talking to very friendly and warm local children who taught us some Khmer, told us about the upcoming Buddhist celebration and made us a grasshopper out of coconut palm leaf. Another traveller I came across didn’t buy anything, he was still warmly greeted and respectfully treated. How that could be interpreted as a bad experience is beyond my comprehension.

      It wasn’t up to me in this case, but I’ve read plenty of contradicting experiences about the village. Some people have perfectly fine experiences, others feel pressured, harassed and unwelcome if they don’t buy anything. It could come down to the guide or “train” driver, I don’t know. All I know is we didn’t ride that far!

    No one forces anyone to buy anything at the remote village. Just say “No thanks” and walk on. There are two abandoned kilns near the village that are worth exploring, though.

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