December 2015. During my wanderings around Cambodia I met plenty of fellow travellers who didn’t even bother stopping in Battambang! I can’t help but feel they really missed out, from the kooky city itself with its excellent café and restaurant scene to the amazing beauty and history of Phnom Sampeau and the immense fun of a trip on The Bamboo Train! The latter is one of the world’s most unique rail journeys, but you’ll only need to part with five Dollars of your hard earned cash for the bumpy twenty-minute ride from O Dambong out to the tiny settlement of Sra Lav.
December 2015. The so-called trains are little more than long wooden frames around three meters in length and powered by a 6HP gasoline engine. Cranking down the single-track line at fifteen kilometres an hour is actually far more thrilling than you’d think, especially as our driver took great delight in making the journey as bumpy and twisty as possible.
But the genius part of the system is the amusing solution to the issue of what happens when a train is coming right at you from the other direction. Basically, the vehicle with the fewest passengers has to stop and is quickly disassembled by its driver, who then sets it down in the grass by the side of the track!
December 2015. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sra Lav turned out to be little more than a dozen or so tacky tourist shops manned by a frenzied collection of in-your-face locals. They descended upon us the moment we stepped off the train, with desperate pleas for us to buy something… anything! There were Bamboo Train teddy bears, neon-lit snow globes, Hawaiian shirts, key rings, faded postcards and an inappropriate number of woollen scarves. You name it we didn’t want it! The woman pictured here was the only one who left us alone.
December 2015. We also had a gaggle of local children to contend with. The girls were brutal, vociferously demanding money for no particular reason and stomping their feet and hissing at us when we refused to comply. But I did take a shine to this guy, who carefully set about crafting a handmade grasshopper from the leaf of a nearby plant. “It’s beautiful!” he claimed matter-of-fact-ly, “And very cheap!” The grasshopper was cool, but I still had no use for it, so I agreed to pay him a Dollar just for the for the courtesy of this photo.
December 2015. My one Dollar charity act got me into BIG trouble with the girls. “You are a bad man!!!” one of them screamed in a fit of jealousy, as the other danced around me furiously, her face screwed up, bottom lip pushed out. In the end I told Angry Girl 1 I’d give her some change for a photo. She quickly agreed, but just as my mate Daryl hit click, Angry Girl 2 threw her arm in front of the lens in a petulant act of sabotage. Happily the joke was on her, as she ended up making a vital contribution to what is probably my favourite photo from my entire Cambodian trip! Karma.
For more on my time here check out my other articles on Battambang.
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