31st July 2012 10:10
Health and safety freaks need not apply. Or, just avoid the bamboo train.
Locals have taken it upon themselves to build 'trains' out of bamboo, which they run on disused railway lines. The trains consist of a small bamboo platform plonked ontop of two sets of wheels, powered by a motorbike engine. The rails have seen far better days, so you're in for a bumpy, noisy unsafe, uncomfortable ride... but great fun all the same!
It's a single line track, so if you meet another train coming towards you, the train with the lighter load is dismantled and reassembled once the other has passed. It turned out to be a smart move loading the moto and driver I'd hired for the day onto the train then, as apparently they always take precedence and the other train needs to be taken apart.
We had forced about three other trains off the track before we reached the end of the line. My arse was pretty sore by that point so I was glad to arrive. I'm definitely planning on building my own bamboo train when I get back to London though, it would certainly save me money on train fares.
Sadly the future of the bamboo train looks bleak. There are plans to establish proper rail connections between the major cities in Cambodia, which would use the existing track and force the bamboo trains to stop operating. It can only be a good thing to have that kind of new development, but it's still a shame something so quaint has to be sacrificed as a result.
After the bone shaking experience on the bamboo train, came the more sedate temple exploration of Ek Phnom, and Phnom Banan. I'd read that these were the poor relations of the Angkor temples in Siem Reap (where I was headed next), but were still worth checking out. I found them impressive to say the least, so I was really looking forward to what Siem Reap had to offer.
There wasn't an awful lot else to do in Battambang, and having spent longer than I'd intended to in Sihanoukville already, I pressed on to Siem Reap to try and make up some time.