Back on track: A journey along Cambodia's revamped railway

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Back on track: A journey along Cambodia's revamped railway

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Pleasant article by a train fan checking out Cambodia's rail services.

Back on track: A journey along Cambodia's revamped railway
Words : Alex Robinson | 13 September 2019
After more than a decade out of service, Cambodia’s railway lines are ready to take you on a journey of rebirth through the country’s rural heart and buzzing capital...
Off the rails...

I picked myself off my cushion in semi-panic, grabbing my camera almost as an afterthought. Mr Tin and his friend whipped the bamboo platform off the old tank wheels and then pulled them and the outboard motor off the rails.

We were just in time. A shrill Klaxon sounded around the bend and a heavy diesel train clattered into view out of the trees, swinging on the rails, carriages and rice wagons clanking after them. With bulldozer momentum it lumbered past us – a few feet away – leaving a trail of dust in its wake.

I thought of the tourists further down the track towards Battambang, snapping selfies as they whizzed along on their bamboo-platform trains, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead of them. I hoped they’d got off the track as swiftly as we had.

I asked Mr Tin if there’d ever been an accident. “No. Everyone know the train coming. No one ever get hit - only one time a truck on a road crossing near Phnom Penh. “

I believed him. Trains in Cambodia seldom run on time. Yet, like pets waiting for their owner to come home, everyone seems to know when they’ll arrive.

It’s a mystery how, yet locals herald a locomotive’s arrival like a gusty breeze before. Empty stations begin to fill just before the trains pull in, even if it’s long after the scheduled departure.

I had made the trip to Cambodia for the trains. Not only the Bamboo Train, but the regular rail service too, which after more than ten years off the rails, had begun to roll again – all the way from the Thai border across the steamy Mekong in Phnom Penh, to the golden sands of the island studded south.

The line cuts through the rural heart of the country and bisects the busy capital– both places most tourists rushing between Angkor Wat and the Indian Ocean never visit.

I took the train to find the real Cambodia – from the sleepy rice paddy landscapes and local towns to the booming city.

I’d discover forgotten temples, hidden Thai and French colonial towns, pepper plantations, steaming rivers and beach-fringed islands.

I began my journey at the start of the line – rumbling out of the scruffy Thai border town of Poi Pet, past parked trucks and untidy market stalls covered in cheap Thai and Chinese goods.

The carriage was almost empty – just me, an old man with a chicken, and a black bin liner for a suitcase, and a young Finnish couple with shiny new backpacks and the latest iPhones.
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