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Riding Cambodias bamboo train (called norry by locals) was one of only a few specific activities I had in mind when starting my travels in June. Today I did it! I found out about these trains while researching cool things to do in Cambodia. It turns out the Lonely Planet Cambodia travel book has a small blurb of information on these trains as well. None of the information Ive found online or in the travel guides seems especially detailed. Hopefully, the Google map Ive included will help anyone else trying to find the trains for free.
Cambodia has one rail line. It is not well built, not maintained, and generally unsafe. For that reason, Cambodia no longer operates heavy trains. The people, however, have created an inexpensive and lightweight system to travel safely on the rails. These bamboo trains are pushed by small gasoline engines, and roll on two axles. They can be removed from the railroad or assembled in about a minute flat. Locals are charged about $0.25 (1,000 Riel) for a lift, but foreigners (me) get a huge markup. Despite what sounds like a $1 negotiation in the video, I ended up paying $5. That is the low end of what I was expecting to pay for a private ride. Fortunately, I got my moneys worth, learning how to operate the things. For the typical train ride from Ou Dambong to Ou Sra Lav, foreigners can expect to pay $8.
You can see in the video how the train is controlled. A foot pedal provides friction to the rollers, slowing the traincar. The stick held by the driver is pulled back to increase fan belt tension between the rear axle and engine, speeding up the traincar.
I was unsure exactly where to go or how to set up a train ride. I had no idea if the trains even existed anymore, since nearly all of the available information talks about their impending extinction. Like many of the things Ive done while traveling, I enjoy figuring it out for myself, without the help of a tourguide, taxi driver, or anyone but regular locals. This keeps things more adventurous and a can be a little chaotic, in that I might not have an accurate read on a dynamic situation.
Yesterday, I went searching for the trains without a map, knowing only that I needed to follow the dirt road running along the Stung Sangker river, South of Battambang. I found the point where the railroad tracks cross the river, but no trains were there, nobody in the area spoke English, I was unsure if perhaps there were other rails, and the tracks werent easy to walk. I crossed the bridge on foot and then wandered back South on the tracks to see if I could find any clues. There was nothing. With the sun beating down on me, I gave up for the day, but resolved to find it the next day no matter what.
With a little more research, and the help of Google Earth, I figured out that I might need to walk the poorly maintained railroad all the way to Ou Dambong. Ou Dambang has a train station and seems to be the Northern bamboo train hub. Well today, I went back, taking the same path along the Stung Sangker to where the rails meet the river. I was all set to walk the tracks to Ou Dambang, but lo and behold, there is a bamboo train with two guys ready to work. They were at the exact spot I had visited yesterday! I guess its all about timing.
To make a long story short, I jumped on the train and rode to Ou Dambang, but didnt want to pay $10 extra requested by another railroad engineer to reach the normal destination of Ou Sra Lav. My ride ended up being an hour long, and covered a good amount of territory, including the river crossing at the end. Best of all, I figured out how these things work, and successfully assembled, disassembled, started, and operated one. I believe this video is the most detailed of any Bamboo Train material youll find on the internet. Watch it and let me know what you think!