Yo Yo and the Bamboo Choo Choo
Trip Start Aug 11, 2011
108Trip End Sep 08, 2012
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Where I stayed
What I did
The hotel is an eight story, Chinese-style marble edifice with an interior of entirely over-the-top Khmer wooden decor throughout
When we emerge onto the street at 10am, there is Yo Yo waiting for for us with his big, oversized tuk tuk, a typical Cambodian set-up comprised of a motorbike towing an open-sided coach. Our first stop is an ATM followed by the bus station ticket office where we buy our onward ticket to Bangkok, due to leave Battambang at 11am the next morning. With that business attended to we leave it to Yo Yo to show us around his little city in the heartland of Cambodia.
Having already visited the country's major attraction - Angkor Wat at Siem Reap, we chose Battambang as a rest stop on the long road to the Thai Capital. Battambang is near the south western end of huge, Tonle Sap lake, much evaporated at this time of the year
We bounce along a rutted dirt road for several kilometres until we arrive at the "railway station". I think this train once ran right into town, judging from the remnants of narrow gauge track that we see, but nowadays, the terminus is about 15kms away. The Bamboo Railway is the most basic of train systems. Two sets of wheels and axles placed on the track, upon which is laid a square bamboo platform with a bamboo mat to sit on. Then, a simple petrol engine is placed over the rear axle, a drive belt attached and off you go along 7kms of dead straight but terribly warped and twisted, narrow gauge tracks. Passengers sit on the mat and hang onto a small handrail as the contraption rattles and rocks down the track at over 50kmh. When it meets an oncoming "train", both stop and by some unwritten rule of etiquette, one of the trains is quickly dismantled by the two drivers, the other train then passes, stops and the two rail jockeys then put the other one together and off it goes too. The whole operation takes less than five minutes
At the end of the line we stop, climb off, and are led by a posse of waiting children to a rough, bamboo café where we buy drinks. The Cambodian kids must be among the most precocious and charming of children any where. The two little girls and their younger brother that entertain us can rattle out sentences in several languages, make little gifts of bamboo jewellery for us and even take us on a short walking tour of the nearby rice mill where their whole family works.
After half an hour it's time to ride the Bamboo caboose back to the terminus, so we tip the kids a few riels then hop on board for the return trip. Yo Yo is waiting for us and we are soon bumping down dirt roads past peaceful villages, nestled amongst groves of palms and stands of Bamboo. What Yo Yo's tour really shows us is the everyday life of typical midland Cambodians - poor, but seemingly happy and peaceful. We trundle along for an hour or so until we come to an ancient, Angkor era temple. Here there is a giant, rendered and painted brick Buddha, a lake full of water lillies and the huge tumble of brown, aged stones of the ancient edifice, more resembling a half toppled set of Jenga than a place of worship. Yo Yo tells us that the Khmer Rouge tried to destroy the temple back in the 70s - they did a good job, although there is still enough of it left standing to wander about in for half an hour or so
That evening we wander about the old town for a while before stopping to eat in one of several trendy Khmer restaurants that the town posseses. There is nothing left for us to do other than retreat again to our room, write a blog and mentally prepare for our trip to Bangkok tomorrow. There is one possible, alternative plan that might happen on the way. An old friend of mine from Canada, Ed, and his wife Ruth, are at this moment staying at a ministry in the Cambodian border town of Poipet. Using Facebook to correspond, we have tried to set up a brief rendezvous in the notoriously poor and depressed town - we will have about an hour's window to make this happen when we arrive at the border around 2pm the next day - then for us, it's the long walk across no-man's-land and into Thailand.
At noon the next day, as we are about to board our bus to Poipet, we see yo yo and his fellow tuk tukers milling around a newly arrived bus, he sees us, waves, then zeroes in on a potential customer as she descends from the bus. You can bet Yo Yo will still be there next year, and the year after, but no so the Bamboo Railway - that a little slice of old Cambodia is soon to be dismantled once and for all; we feel fortunate that we can add it to our list of illustrious train journeys that we have made on this trip so far.