Forever under threat of extinction, this unusual, and thrilling, way of catching a glimpse of the gorgeous Battambang countryside is known locally as a norrie, or nori, or nory. It’s a “train” made of a bamboo platform set on two sets of bogies with a small motor stuck on the back. They used to be powered by long poles (Venice-style), but that was clearly simply not terrifying enough.
A wooden stick does serve as brake and accelerator though. There’s a mat laid on the wooden platform — the ‘deluxe’ versions come with cushions (tuk tuk drivers may let you use the tuk tuk cushions) — and passengers sit cross-legged on the mat.
When the road to Phnom Penh was upgraded, making it a five-hour or so ride, the 16-hour (on a good day) train services more or less ceased operating but locals continued to use the existing tracks for goods and passengers as a means of accessing Battambang town and its markets from outlying villages. Locals quickly caught on that they had an excellent, ready-made tourist attraction but plenty of villagers do still use it.
Tourists tend to favour early morning and late afternoon ‘departures’ when it’s not so hot (the trains have no roof) — the latter time can get very busy in high season. Rides usually take you to the first ‘station’ down the line where drinks and T-shirt vendors await or perhaps to a strategically located bridge for watching the sun set over paddy. Your ride will take 10 minutes or so each way and drivers are happy to wait for you for a dollar tip. Note the line heads southeast out of town, so you more or less have to do the return trip since there’s not anything to combine it with. It may look like an accident waiting to happen but we must have done it over 30 times without seeing any incidents — so while it’s not as bad as it looks, it’s still a good idea to ask them to drive slowly.
There are definite plans to upgrade the old railway line eventually to link Phnom Penh to Bangkok, but as of time of writing in mid-2015 the bamboo train is still operating. Since the old line to Kampot has been upgraded there are, to our knowledge, no other bamboo trains as tourist attractions in Cambodia.
The trains are limited to a maximum of four passengers and currently charge $5 per person.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 24th August, 2015.