Lonely Planet review for bamboo train
The bamboo train is one of the world's all-time classic rail journeys. From O Dambong, on the east bank 3.7km south of Battambang's Old Stone Bridge, the train runs southeast to O Sra Lav, via half an hour of clicks and clacks along warped, misaligned rails and vertiginous bridges left by the French.
Each bamboo train - known in Khmer as a norry (nori) - consists of a 3m-long wood frame, covered lengthwise with slats made of ultra-light bamboo, that rests on two barbell-like bogies, the aft one connected by fan belts to a 6HP gasoline engine. Pile on 10 or 15 people or up to three tonnes of rice, crank it up and you can cruise along at about 15km/h.
The genius of the system is that it offers a brilliant solution to the most ineluctable problem faced on any single-track line: what to do when two trains going opposite directions meet. In the case of bamboo trains, the answer is simple: one car is quickly disassembled and set on the ground beside the tracks so the other can pass. The rule is that whichever car has fewer passengers has to cede priority, though motorbikes pull rank, so if you bring one along - or have a convincing inflatable moto decoy - you'll get VIP treatment.
What happens, you may ask, when a bamboo train meets a real train barrelling down the track? First, Cambodian trains don't barrel, they crawl. Second, bamboo train conductors know the real train's schedule. And third, the real train can be heard tooting its horn from a great distance, providing more than enough time to dismount and disassemble.
Hiring a private bamboo train from O Dambong to O Sra Lav costs USaround US$8, though it's much cheaper to take a share-norry with locals transporting veggies, charcoal or wood to market.
Sadly, rumour has it that bamboo trains will soon be banned, especially if the rail line to Phnom Penh is - as planned - upgraded.