>> Off the Rails

Battambang station

Old train sheds, built by the French, are crumbling behind Battambangs railway station.

Apart from the bamboo train, there has been no Cambodian train service for over six years. On the old station clock in Battambang it is always two minutes past eight, the rails have been overgrown and the space between them reclaimed by villagers to play volleyball. But things are about to change. The Chinese are rebuilding the country’s decrepit railways (with a lot of Australian money) and within the next few years trains will be riding again on the south line between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. In a later stage, service on the west line to Poipet will also be restored for the first time since the Khmer Rouge destroyed it. One day, it might even become possible to travel all the way from Bangkok to Saigon via Phnom Penh, the missing rail link between Singapore and China.

But until then buses are the only option. Our route runs along the south coast of the Tonle Sap River, past Battambang and Kompong Chnang, a part of the country we’d skipped on previous trips. As always we enjoyed Cambodia, for its countryside that is dotted with buddhist temples, its warm people and that frontier feeling one gets while traveling here.

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