Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hop on Cambodia’s (very) light rail

September 24. 2009
Stephen Kurczy
The National (United Arab Emirates)

The flight
Return flights from Abu Dhabi to Phnom Penh on Singapore Airlines ( cost from US$815 (Dh2,995), including taxes
The ride Roundtrip journeys (about 20km) on the bamboo train cost between $6 (Dh22) and $10 (Dh37), depending on your bargaining skills

The guide
While technically illegal, most hotels and tour operators in Battambang still organise trips to the bamboo train lines. Gecko Trails offers guide services and rents motorbikes for $8 (Dh30) per day, for those who wish to travel on their own to the station, which is situated about four kilometres outside of town. Thy Racky, a private guide (00 855 17 829 450) is knowledgeable, and speaks English fluently
Their driver winds a rope tightly around the motor and pull-starts the engine. As they accelerate away, Soung and Vat reassemble our car. Soung climbs aboard the rear railing and wraps a fan belt over a motor gear – the other end of the belt is already looped around the axle through a hole in the bamboo platform. He pull-starts the engine and we’re off. The breeze cuts the humidity and clouds of multicoloured butterflies flutter past.

As we hurtle down Cambodia’s decrepit train tracks on a bamboo platform the size of a billiards table, another car rushes in our direction, crammed with 17 passengers returning from marshy rice fields after a day of labour. Their trouser legs are still wet.

Green rice fields stretch out on either side. This is public transportation in parts of Cambodia, and it has become one of the the biggest tourism draw in Battambang, a town a few hours south-west of the temples of Angkor Wat.

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