This was to be one of my highlights of this trip - catching the train from Kampot to Phnom Penh.
We finally managed to get tickets for this service, which only runs 3 days a week. It took a couple of attempts at the station, a few phone calls and some help from Mr Bun. We had established that the station was open Wednesday to Monday to buy tickets, and the train runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The station being open, does not necessarily mean that there is someone there to sell you tickets, however, what we eventually figured out, was that you first need to call and see if someone is there, then you go out to the station and buy your ticket. Therefore with the right phone calls in English and in Khmer, we got it sorted and had our tickets in our hot little hands.
Saturday arrived and we were ready to go. It was a 9AM train, we were advised to be there at 8.30am, so we arranged a hotel pick up by Mr Bun at 8AM, (we weren't going to miss this train....).
Saying farewell to each of the hotel staff, including the GM - Mr Pen and with Mr Bun on time, we boarded our chariot for the 10 minute run to the train station.
Our previous trips to the station saw a deserted building with almost no signs of life, except a couple of odd stray dogs and a couple of kids, who probably should have been in school. However, today the station is a hive of activity. There are station staff in high visibility vests, there are people waiting to board, and there are the inevitable food stalls that set up on the platform. The food stalls comprise of fruit, cold drinks, home made rice and snacks as well as other other odd things.
Excited now that there is activity, we say a fond farewell to Mr Bun and have a chat with people, and enjoy the wait.
A local fellow wanders into the station from up the road, I watch as he buys some bananas and some other weird fruit and he says hello to us in quite good English. Low is this gentleman's name and we spent the next 15-20 minutes chatting. Low calls himself an Aussie, he picked up on our accent and we picked up on his Khmer/English accent with Aussie slang thrown in. His story was that he left Cambodia before the war and was granted citizenship as he couldn't go home. He went to Uni, graduated and worked as an industrial chemist in the petroleum industry and he lived in Footscray, Melbourne. His children still live there, he is now retired and has moved back to Kampot. He is a lovely bloke, we got his phone number and said if, and when, we come back to Kampot, we would give him a call.
A few moments later, there was a hive of activity, the food venders woke up, more shifting and moving of tables and food, and the train was upon us. It arrived with its locomotive churning out smoke, pulling 2 passenger carriages, one flat top with cars and a freight car with generators and motor cycles. We climb aboard with our luggage, find a place to store our luggage, find a spare seat and settle in for the 5 hour journey.
A little about the train...
This is a refurbished 60's era passenger train, that has only recently been brought back into service.
There are two trains, a yellow and blue - ours was the blue one. The seating on this one is like any other old train, with seats facing each other, they were re upholstered and fairly comfortable. The train was not full so we were able to spread out a little, the carriages have air con and toilet and for the sum of $6 was great value. It was a wonderful, 4-5 hour ride (some journeys 5 hours but ours was 4). Some of the charm of yesteryear was evident in the original finishes, such as — pull-down windows, French language plaques, and stencil punched seat numbers. You can get up and if you like, you can stand between the carriages and watch the tracks below fly past.
The train stations, shabbily delightful hangovers from Cambodian history, are old and run down, but unique.
There is no doubt that the journey to Phnom Penh seems to be an excuse to eat, people get on and off at stations and buy food, just as we did.
On the way, we pass towns and villages, watch the cattle, chooks and ducks, we go past some amazing countryside, including spectacular mountains, while the hours dwindle past. We pass the train going to Sihanoukville, along with the odd freight train and before we know it, we are rolling into Phnom Penh.
Arriving at the station, we haul off our bags and wheel them up the platform to the exit, where there are a hoard of awaiting Tuk Tuks. We flag one down and we are off to our Guest house, with a little instruction and a bit of google mapping. Even though we end up in the middle of a thunder storm and a torrential downpour, we arrive safe and well.