Andrew & Angelica - Thailand 2012 travel blog

Local Transport!

Bamboo Train

What happens when you meet another train!

Our whistle-stop tour of Cambodia continued today with a 7 hour bus journey to Battambang. It shouldn't have taken that long but, the bus was old, the driver was, mercifully, cautious and we had countless stops on the way. One was for the driver to get out to have a pee at the side of the road, and half of the male population on the bus took the opportunity to do likewise. The ladies had to wait for the official stops. I had done some internet research about bus travel in Cambodia before booking this journey and in 2011 there were 41 bus accidents with many killed which seemed to be a shocking enough statistic to raise alarm bells. 2012 was apparently heading for a higher number in the report. Night buses should be avoided as the drivers tend to sleep to a normal pattern and expect to stay awake the whole of the following night.

On the way an old lady got on (contrary to what I was saying yesterday about there not being many elderly). She sat next to me in the back row as the bus was nearly full. A while later I offered her some cashew nuts which I was eating and she accepted one carefully and proceeded to crumble it up with her fingers and popped a bit in her mouth. Evidently she wasn't used to eating cashew nuts as she couldn't chew them up as she had no teeth which she proudly showed me by opening her mouth wide! Anyhow she gallantly ate the nut somehow and I then offered her a small lady finger banana which I thought she could manage more easily and it would help her to swallow down all the bits of the cashew nut I could see scattered around her mouth! She gratefully accepted. She was probably about 70 years of age and if I could have spoken to her I would love to have asked her about her time during the Khmer Rouge regime but communication was impossible.

The parts of Cambodia we have seen so far have been flat with only one or two distant hills. This opens up all kinds of transport opportunities with motor bikes. Around Phnom Penh the local transport in place of buses is a long trailer with wooden planks laid across as seating and towed by a motor bike. There can often be as many as 12 or 15 people on the trailer so the motor bike has to work really hard to pull its load but it works due to the flat terrain.

Trains for the public to travel on don't yet exist as the line was closed during the Pol Pot regime and has not yet been re-opened.

That said there used to be a stretch of track near Battambang on which the Bamboo Train ran. This used to be a public service and people used in for transporting all kinds of goods after 1979 as there was no other public transport widely available at that time. In recent times it has become a tourist attraction on a stretch of track about 10km long between O'Dambang and O'Sralau villages. It is threatened with closure as the line will eventually need to be relaid to form the new rail-link across the country and there are reports on the internet that it is no longer running. To my surprise on our arrival the tuk-tuk driver we used to take us to our hotel told us it was still open so we asked him to take us there. What a sheer delight! The Norries as they are called consist of a bamboo platform on wheels with a lawn mower engine type of arrangement operated by a driver. The line is single track, and as you do a round trip to and from O'Sralau invariably you meet other Norries coming in the opposite direction. The rule is that the one with the heavier load gets priority and the lighter one has to be removed from the track to let the heavier one pass. At least that was the rule when they were transporting goods. Now it is almost entirely tourist traffic. If you meet several coming in the opposite direction yours has to give way and be removed from the track. This can cause disputes as while they decide who should have priority more Norries can come along from either direction and the direction with the least number have to be removed from the track. The procedure is simple with the bamboo platform detaching from the wheels and even the engine is detachable all in a matter of seconds. Quite a laugh and anyone coming to Battambang while it is still open should give it a go. While we were bowling along there were some small line side fires burning right up to the track and the Norrie has to pass over it. I could feel the heat as we passed.

At O'Sralau there are the usual tourist stalls selling anything they can to you but also a brick factory around which we were given a guided tour by a boy of about 12 called Pi, who enjoyed practising the English he was learning at school. It was really touching how right down to almost as soon as they can talk they are exposed to the tourist industry and try to engage with you (very often trying to sell you something). There was also a small girl who was learning English at school and engaged me in conversation so I gave her an impromptu lesson to help her along a bit in colours with the things we had around us.

Battambang is an odd city (second largest in Cambodia). It is dry and dusty at this time of year and after dark you get the distinct impression that electricity is in short supply as the streets are not well lit and there are few lights shining from the buildings giving and overall gloomy effect.

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