Battambang and Beyond….traveling in Northern Cambodia

Commercial Street in Battambang, Cambodia

Commercial Street in Battambang, Cambodia

Busing it up to Battambang proved much easier than expected.  My friend Barbara and I had made reservations the night before through the hotel and the bus company sent a tuk tuk to pick us up in the morning and take us to the bus terminal ( included in the price).  The 291Km trip took us 5 hours along reasonable good roads for the nominal fee of  $6.

We had made no hotel reservations before hand and found a place about a block from where the bus dumped us off…The Asia Hotel…which turned out to be quite nice and very reasonable. My room which was large had all the amenities one would need including AirCon and WiFi.  The only drawback was this four story hotel had no elevator and I was on the third floor…but it was only $13 a night. Good thing I’m traveling light these days or it could have been heart attack city.

The Bank of Cambodia in Battambang

The Bank of Cambodia in Battambang

The town was a sleepy old place of about 140,000 people and with much of the commercial area left over from an early 1900’s French Colonial building boom. Most of the buildings along the river are old French shop houses in various states of disrepair.  The one exception is the Bank of Cambodia which has a jewel of a building along the river front.  Just like small towns in the US, it is always the Banks and Funeral Homes that have the nicest buildings.  One of the most interesting buildings in town is the restored governor’s mansion which dates from 1907 and is a prime example of French Colonial Architecture.

Upper floor of an old French shop house in Battambang

Upper floor of an old French shop house in Battambang

As I walked around the town I found it difficult to develop any great affinity for Battambang…there just was not enough to engage one for more than a couple of days.  Having said that, my friend Barbara really liked the town and even considered coming back and staying for a few months. For me this is one of those places you would come if you had a terminal illness and the doctor told you that you only had 3 months to live……because 3 months would seem like three years.

Bamboo Train Driver Outside Battambang

Bamboo Train Driver Outside Battambang

While there we did go on the Bamboo Train (known locally as “Norrie”) which is a rudimentary rail system that emerged after the madness of the Khmer Rouge.  It was ingenious really…homemade flatbeds made from bamboo with self fashioned wheels and a small engine about the size of a lawnmower engine for power.  With the roads in total disrepair and no bus system the people developed their own rudimentary transport system.  Using the existing narrow gauge rail lines left over from the French these flatbeds hauled products, produce and people at a minimum cost.

Dismantling a Bamboo Train car so another could pass

Dismantling a Bamboo Train car so another could pass

Today it is a tourist attraction and for $5 one gets to ride down and back on a 12Km stretch of track between  O’Dambang and O’Sralau villages….both of which consist of no more than a handful of buildings.  Cars run both ways on the track, so often times you have to stop and the car you are riding on is disassembled and taken off the track till the other cars pass and then your flatbed is quickly put back together and you are on your way once again. It’s a nice ride through the countryside past rice fields and pastureland dotted with palm trees but it can be a bit jarring. The cars move along at about 30Km and hour but because of the low center of gravity one gets the sense of much greater speed.  The noise from the engine along with the sounds made by the metal wheels on the uneven tracks makes it impossible to have a conversation.

Refreshments at the end of the Bamboo Train ride

Refreshments at the end of the Bamboo Train ride

Construction is underway on a new rail line using this old right of way that will haul freight up and down the country.  In its hay day in the 1980’s there were supposedly more than a thousand of these Norrie’s operating on 600 Km of track and the one in Battambang is the last of the lot and their days are numbered.

The Bamboo Train Heading Home

The Bamboo Train Heading Home

I enjoyed the experience a great deal.  It was one of those things that could go either way….from terribly boring to great fun…on this one the needle on the experience-o-meter is leaning towards great fun.

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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5 Responses to Battambang and Beyond….traveling in Northern Cambodia

  1. Claudia Hammer says:

    I just love getting pictures and commentary from the other side of the globe! Love the picture of the bank, the contrast of the yellow building against the blue sky is wonderful. How smart they are to make their own rail system.

  2. Daniel Kerkhoff says:

    Thanks Larry for your photos and writing! I have a high school friend who survived the killing field of Cambodia and is now a social worker in Massachuetts and I really appreciate the experiences you’re having there. Keep adventuring!

  3. Gordie cleland says:

    Another great post! Keep em coming Larry.

    You sure you didn’t work for National Geographic at some point?..
    Cheers for Canada

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