Lonely Planet Writer

Cambodia's famous Bamboo Train may be nearing end of the line

Cambodia’s Bamboo Train is a tourism experience that may soon be no more as the country – quite literally – tries to get itself back on track.

The famous Bamboo Train in Cambodia which is a great attraction for international tourists, may soon be coming to the end of the line
The famous Bamboo Train in Cambodia which is a great attraction for international tourists, may soon be coming to the end of the line Image by Benecee / CC BY 2.0

A relic from the infamous Khmer Rouge years of genocide, the gondola-like train was testament to locals’ ingenuity in providing travel during those disruptive years. The country’s railroad system was abandoned in the 1970s during the civil war. It was a decade later before proper trains began running again, though the persistence of guerilla fighting meant its infrastructure was in tatters. Later, it became more of a curiosity than a transport service, attracting thousands of international tourists who simply want to experience the Bamboo Train’s famous bumpy outdoor ride.

The BBC reports, however, that following work by officials in getting the country’s southern line from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville up and running three years ago, it was expected that work would begin on the northern route on which the Bamboo Train currently operates. It uses wooden platforms called norries with poles like gondolas pushing the train down the line.

Cambodians showed their ingenuity during the Khmer Rouge years by using the Bamboo Train to transport people and goods
Cambodians showed their ingenuity during the Khmer Rouge years of genocide  by using the Bamboo Train to transport people and goods Image by Chuck Moravec / CC BY-SA 2.0

However these norries have been dying a natural death as finally road infrastructures have improved. The doughy Bamboo Train has been maintained as a carnival ride for tourists, making itself relevant despite the need for a proper rail service to take pressure of the gridlocked road highways. Last year, the government unveiled a blueprint to rebuild 386km on the Northern Line between Phnom Penh and the Thai border. The deputy director of the railway department, Sok-Tharath Chreung, expects to have freight trains rolling by the end of next year. It seems that the era of the Bamboo Train will end whenever the new line reaches O Dambong Station.

However, drivers have petitioned the local government to keep the Bamboo Train alive, but at this stage officials think that is unlikely. For the moment though, the train will continue to travel… until someone tells the drivers they are at the end of the line.