Bata Bang, Battambang

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Oct 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hotel Royal Battambang
Read my review - 4/5 stars
What I did
Bamboo Train
Phare Ponleu Selpak

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, July 16, 2012

With no intentions to revisit Angkor Wat, it seemed pointless to return to Siem Reap this go around. Instead I went directly from Phnom Penh to Battambang in pursuit of taking a ride on the Bamboo train.

Upon arrival to the recommended Royal Hotel I met Jessica, a female American flying solo and happy to share a room. Lucky for us it was a Monday evening, one of the two nights of the week that the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus performs. An outstanding cast of talented children impressed us with their learned acrobatic and artistic skills, making this a highlight of my visit to Battambang.

The next day was dedicated to seeing the other tourist sights via tuk tuk. Jessica and I, along with an Austrian couple from the same hotel started the tour with a visit up the mountain of Phnom Sampeu. We were easily entertained by the monkeys as we wandered around the temple before entering the killing caves where two boys stay stationed awaiting tourists such as ourselves. In exchange for pointing us to the stairs they have mastered the art of requesting money upon exit.  

Next stop was to Cambodia's one and only winery. Unless you are dying for a sweet ginger juice, this is a miss. Skip it and go to a cute café, where unlike Thailand you can get a decent imported wine on a backpacker budget.

The driver ended the tour with a bumpy ride out to the much anticipated bamboo railway. I wasn’t’ quite sure what to expect but had visions of a small toy train you might find at the zoo. Far cry from my imagination the "train" is more like a 3’x 8’ platform, made of a metal frame and some wooden slats that rests on two axles with wheels on both ends. The Cambodian name is “norry.” Not surprisingly, but this once cheap and convenient way to transport commerce, now functions merely as a huge tourist-trap. Based on four passengers we paid $5 a head to the police, who have a monopoly on this operation.

So we sat two and two facing forward with nothing to hold on to, as our weathered and uninterested conductor pushes from behind until the motor kicks in. Soon enough we were speeding down the single track, watching the farmland whip by until confronted with oncoming traffic. Here is the novelty of the experience, calculating which of the two “flying bamboo carpets” will be required to dismantle so the other can pass. Lucky for us, our four outnumbered the opposing two person car. This meant the oncoming train would be asked to dismount, assist with lifting the plank and wheels off the track making room for us to cruise by. This routine occurred twice in each direction.

The side show at the end of the 15 minute, white-knuckle ride is a rice factory and small village. Here, we were greeted by a swarm of children whose lives depend on our arrival.

It’s hard not to feel both taken advantage of and sad for them as they pull at your limbs, guiding you through the nearby factory. In our case there must have been at least 10 kids showering us with rings and ornaments made of bamboo leaves, all the while fighting for our attention. In their best English they explained how the rice is milled and then separated into various sacks; human vs. livestock. Without fail the tour ends with the leeches retracting ONLY when handed what they consider an acceptable amount of money.

Tired of being seen as a walking ATM, we succeed in declining drinks or scarves from the stationed families before remounting the rickety contraption back.
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