Thanks for all the fun and sorry to see you go. After a period of increasingly tenuous existence, Battambang’s ‘Bamboo Railway ‘has finally and officially ceased operations.
There are long-standing plans to actually upgrade the line and re-open the Phnom Penh to Battambang and Poipet (Thai border) line as part of a (we assume Chinese funded) projected Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) to Bangkok high speed link though up until now any signs of ongoing work have been conspicuous by their absence. What seems to have been the final nail in the coffin is in fact construction of a wide Battambang ring road at present butting up against the rickety old rails.
A bridge or underpass will be required should the projected new rail link go ahead though understandably Cambodia’s Ministry or Transport isn’t going to knock one up in a hurry just to let a few foreigners continue to ride the old norry, as locals call it. Typically the brand new multi-lane highway is coming on fast but don’t hold your breath for any Saigon – Phnom Penh – Bangkok train tickets in the immediate future.
After originally having been conceived as means to allow local farmers to get produce into markets, bearing in mind the traditional appalling state of rural roads, the motor-driven, bamboo ‘trains’ – kind of overgrown turbo-charged carts really – have been consistently Battambang’s most popular tourist attraction for a long time. (Well, ever since foreign tourists started visiting Battambang in fact.) Furthermore, between train and tuk-tuk drivers, souvenir or coffee stall holders and even a couple of friendly tourist policemen, it does employ a lot of people so not surprisingly the bamboo train will be relocated elsewhere.
We’ve not visited the site but plans are afoot to re-open a 3 kilometre or so stretch further out of town near Phnom Banan with a scheduled opening for January 2018. In so far as this will be a purpose-built line – not using existing tracks – but simply transferring old rails from the previous to new site, we’re a bit sceptical about the project and it will all be unavoidably very contrived. Furthermore, the new ‘station’ is around 25 kilometres out of town so perhaps good news for tuk-tuk drivers but not very convenient for visitors.
The charm of the original railway was that it was very much an organic attraction having evolved from genuine railway line to means of getting rice to market to tourist must-see. On the plus side, it can in the future be conveniently combined with a trip to the attractive yet little visited hill-top temple of Phnom Banan itself so we’ll reserve judgement for now.
Regrettably, then our upcoming December Cambodia tours will have to forgo the bone-juddering ride though as usual there are plenty of alternatives!