Bamboo Train, Battambang

The Battambang Bamboo Train Has Stopped Operating – For Now, Anyway

The Battambang Bamboo Train has stopped running – for now – much to the disappointment of locals and tourists alike. While it may lack the authenticity of the original, local authorities say that tracks will be laid at another location in Battambang for a new dedicated tourist train.

I’ve just returned from Battambang here in northern Cambodia, where we spent three nights as part of one of our ten-day creative retreats, so I can confirm – having seen the tracks pulled up with my own eyes – that much to the disappointment of local and foreign tourists alike, the iconic Bamboo Train has stopped. For now, anyway.

I rode Battambang’s bamboo train earlier this month with participants on my culinary tour on what we were told by the tourist policeman in charge of ticketing would be the last ride before the wonky old tracks were removed to make way for a brand spanking new railway line that when finished will eventually connect Bangkok to Phnom Penh.

They were bittersweet gin and tonics that we savoured on the sunset bridge that afternoon. Yet there was almost a festive spirit, with as many Cambodian tourists as foreigners relishing the experience of their last hurtle through the jungle and rice fields on this most quirky of rides.

Yet the Battambang bamboo train continued to delight passengers for another week during the city’s boat races and subsequent holiday to mark the end of Buddhist Lent and the monsoon season. I think people were secretly hoping that it’s closure might be delayed yet again and it might never stop.

The beginning of our final ride on Battambang’s original bamboo train…

View this post on Instagram

We were told by the tourist policeman that we could be some of the last people to ride Battambang's Bamboo Train, which is due to stop service today or tomorrow, he said. We had to wait for work to finish on the track before we could enjoy a final sunset ride. Much of the jungle skirting the line has already been cleared and the track now stops after a couple of kilometers where a new four lane highway is currently under construction. We walked across the new road and hopped onto another norry to get to Sunset Bridge where we usually take guests for sundowners on our Cambodia Culinary Tour. Locals are apparently protesting the closure so let's hope they keep it open a little longer. #battambang #cambodia #asia #travel #traveller #travellers #travelwriting #travelwriter #travelblogger #traveblogging #travelphotography #travelgram #culinarytravel #culinaryjourneys #food #foodie #foodies #foodietravel #foodwriter #foodphotographer #foodblogger #foodblogging #foodwriting #foodiesofinstagram #foodlover #cambodianfood #cambodiancuisine #grantourismotravels #bambootrain

A post shared by Lara Dunston & Terence Carter (@grantourismo) on

Battambang Bamboo Train Has Stopped – No, Seriously

The Battambang bamboo train has stopped after almost a decade of rumours that it was going to cease operating so that a new railway line from the Thai-Cambodia border to the capital, Phnom Penh, could be constructed. The Phnom Penh Post reported way back in 2008 (and again in 2010, 2011, 2015, and…) that the end was near for the unofficial ‘train’ service ran with bamboo trolleys powered by motorbike engines, known as norries.

These makeshift vehicles were cobbled together in the post-Khmer Rouge period to fill gaps in Cambodia’s devastated single-track railway service, which had been built by the French colonial administration in the 1920s but badly damaged by war and neglect.

Random ‘services’ of bamboo trains trundled the least warped tracks on random sections on the Battambang to Phnom Penh line, conveying locals (and their goods and livestock!) who didn’t have other means of transport to move them between their hamlets, villages and towns. As the economy slowly improved and people upgraded from foot to bicycle to motorbike and dirt tracks to widened and roads sealed, the bamboo trains were utilised less frequently.

While the Battambang bamboo train has still been used to transport locals, over the years it has increasingly become a popular touristy activity, attracting both Cambodian and foreign travellers. Since we took our first ride back in 2012, we’ve seen everyone from Buddhist monks to extended families riding the norries.

Cambodian tourists enjoying one of the last rides on the original bamboo train.

View this post on Instagram

Locals enjoying the last days of Battambang's Bamboo Train. It was a festive spirit when we visited a few days ago with more Cambodians taking a ride than I've seen before. And it's not only foreign tourists who complain about the price. These folks thought the 3,000 riel (75c!) they paid was too high. Foreigners pay $5 per person 🙄 They also thought the ride was too short ☺️🚂🙏 #battambang #cambodia #asia #travel #traveller #travellers #travelwriting #travelwriter #travelblogger #traveblogging #travelphotography #travelgram #culinarytravel #culinaryjourneys #food #foodie #foodies #foodietravel #foodwriter #foodphotographer #foodblogger #foodblogging #foodwriting #foodiesofinstagram #foodlover #cambodianfood #cambodiancuisine #grantourismotravels #bambootrain

A post shared by Lara Dunston & Terence Carter (@grantourismo) on

Why The Battambang Bamboo Train Will Be Missed

A journey on the Battambang bamboo train may have been one of the most touristy of things to do in Battambang – and in fact, for many visitors it was the only thing to do in Battambang – but it was great fun.

If you had a driver who liked to go fast, it could be positively exhilarating, holding on for dear life as the rickety contraptions hurtled through the jungle and rice fields at hair-raising speeds. Juddering and clunking over crooked tracks, fear of derailment was always in the back of one’s mind as shrubs whipped our arms, bugs flew in our eyes, and the picturesque views blurred by.

While it was the novelty of the Battambang bamboo train experience that lured most – with its cushions scattered on a colourful mat on a bamboo and wooden platform, it felt a little like a double-bed on wheels tearing along on train tracks – the quirkiness of the rituals of the ride also appealed.

I wish I had an image for every facial expression I’ve observed over the years as one ‘train’ rapidly approached another on the single track in what could have resulted in a head-on collision in less experienced hands. The looks ranged from the sheer shock and horror of a recent Japanese couple to the squeals of delight of small kids.

Then came bemusement as passengers on the norry with the least number of people alighted to watch the drivers disassemble their vehicle, laying its parts on the grass, moving the other norry a little way down the track before reassembling the bits, and both continuing on their way. On a busy day, this could happen numerous times and tourists would often get a kick out of helping the drivers.

The ritual of removing one norry to make way for another to pass on the single track line.

View this post on Instagram

One of the delights of riding Battambang’s single track bamboo train was observing the process of removing one norry (‘bamboo train’) – and protocol dictated it had to be the norry with the lightest load – to let the other norry pass. Forgive the dreadful camerawork – I was distracted by our driver’s cute kids who foraged for flowers and grass to give me. I couldn’t have wished for a more fun final ride. #battambang #cambodia #asia #travel #traveller #travellers #travelgram #culinarytravel #culinaryjourneys #grantourismotravels #train #transport #localtransport #beautiful #beautifuljourney #beautifulplace #beautifulride #touristtime #tourist #beingatourist #sightseeing #bambootrain #bambootrainbattambang #video

A post shared by Lara Dunston & Terence Carter (@grantourismo) on

Where The Battambang Bamboo Train Move To and When

Local authorities have said that a new official Battambang Bamboo Train line will be laid, starting near the bat cave at Phnom Sampeau, 12kms out of town, and extending all the way to Ek Phnom, as part of a new tourism plan, although there’s currently no scheduled launch date. Hopefully it won’t take as long to install a new line as it took to pull up the old one.

While it won’t have the history and authenticity of the old bamboo train, which unexpectedly became Battambang’s major tourist attraction, it will still give visitors an insight into what everyday life was like for locals before the country’s increasingly rapid development. And for Cambodians it will serve as a reminder of a simpler way of life that appears to be fast disappearing.

Lush rice paddy views from our final ride on the Battambang Bamboo Train.

Did you ever ride the Battambang bamboo train? Was it a memorable experience or was it one that you could have done without?

There are 2 comments

Add yours
  1. Cathie Carpio

    Lovely post, Lara! 🙂

    I know that it seemed like I didn’t enjoy the ride (judging from Mr Ol’s video). I’m very reflective and the experience has much more meaning to me the more I think about it. Wish I made an earlier trip to try the old bamboo train.

    Battambang is a lovely province and you get to enjoy the scenic views with nothing but the sound of wind by riding the bamboo train. The interaction I had with families of drivers and vendors during a 10-minute stop made the experience more local and unforgettable.

  2. Lara Dunston

    Hi Cathie, you did look a bit serious – I just guessed you were hot and tired after a long day. I’m so glad you got to experience the old train when you did, even if the track was already shortened. Better than nothing, right? And at least it was still an authentic experience on tracks that have so much history. I agree on the interactions with the locals, too – whether it’s the driver and his family or the folks at the sunset bridge. I’ll miss those kids! I can’t help but think the new train, whenever and wherever they build it, will just be an artificial tourist attraction with no soul. But as I said, above, perhaps it’s better to experience a replica and at least get an insight into what life was like than not experience it at all.

Post a new comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.