We are heading for the beach. But first, along the way, we made a quick day-stop in the town of Battambang. The town is significant as it lays in one of the largest mine fields in the world, stretching from the Gulf of Thailand all the way to Laos. However, out main goal was to avoid all the mines and take a ride on the fabled bamboo train.
When the French were here, they laid down some stretches of railroad through the country. However, half a century of revolutions, a deadly auto-genocide, and a few civil wars made maintaining the railroads not a high priority. They are still around, but there is no passenger service in the whole of Cambodia. Well, not really.
Some time ago, a clever Cambodian saw the warped and rickety tracks and decided that this is better than a dirt road. He took two rail axles, made a flat platform out of wood, and plopped down a motorcycle engine on top of it. He connected the engine to the axle with a belt and took off down the tracks to the neighboring village for errands. Along the way others saw him and copied his idea, and all of a sudden a new breath of life entered the tracks and they were serving their original purpose once more. Not quite the TGV bullet train which takes you from Paris to Marseille in two and a half hours, but an innovative way of making the best of what’s available.
Somehow tourists learned of this and now everyone want to ride the bamboo train, present company included. So we took a seat on the open air wooden platform and headed a couple of kilometers to nowhere in particular. The ride was very choppy as there is nothing to shield you from the misaligned track joints as the wooden platform is propelled forward with its motorcycle engine. It was a scenic ride through fields and villages. The most interesting thing is what happens when two bamboo trains meet going in opposite directions. The problem is solved using the simplest method imaginable. The less full train is disassembled and taken off the tracks. Once the traffic passes, it is put right back together and it continues on its journey.