NEW Bamboo Train 2018 . Battambang, Cambodia.

NEW Bamboo Train is OPEN

New route 2018
 A reinvention of the famous bamboo rattler has been completed 500 metres from Wat Banan. The old track was closed in October 2017 to make way for the renovation of the state railway.
 Rails and sleepers from the original route have been used to lay a purpose built 4km track, running through some stunning scenic countryside alongside the Banan hills. Tickets are $5.
The new track is part of a larger tourism development project by a Khmer businessman.

The new route being built 2017

THE OLD BAMBOO TRAIN    “Roll up roll up for the magical mystery tour - step right this way”. For many travellers the bamboo train is a must experience of the bizarre kind when visiting Battambang
 The bamboo train (or Norrie as it's known locally) made its first appearance in the early 1980s inspired by the small rail vehicles used by the railway workers to carryout repairs. At the time having just emerged from the years of Khmer Rouge lunacy, Cambodians were struggling to rebuild their lives and the country was reestablishing its existence. With roads in disrepair coupled with few means of transport such as buses and motorbikes the Norrie was an ingenious and practical solution. With its launch the population now had an important albeit rudimentary transport system able to haul products produce and people at minimum cost. Although flimsy looking the bamboo construction is very strong. Cattle and pigs would be taken to market tons of vegetables and rice would be delivered people could get to clinics and in emergencies it would run at nighttime. To begin with Norries were muscle-powered using poles in much the same way a gondola small petrol engines were introduced after a couple of years. In its heyday during the 80s locals say there were more than a thousand Norries operating along the 600 kilometres of track in the country. Nowadays little more than a hundred are functional in a few provinces commonly running shorter distances than their glory days.


 A few kilometers south of Battambang is O’Dambang village situated at the side of the worse for wear railway line. Two of us took a tuk-tuk from the centre of Battambang for $4 return once there we were greeted by the Tourist police. They explained very clearly the itinerary of our twelve kilometre passage to O’Sralau village and the non negotiable fare of $5 each. The Norrie is a crude assembly of a bamboo and wooden platform with wooden struts resting on the axles of salvaged railway rolling stock wheels the engine sits at the back with a fan belt attached to a flywheel on the axle. We got on board and sat on well worn cushions at the front the driver cranked up the engine and with a farewell shout of “take care!” from one of the tourist police we trundled on our way. 


The sense of speed is heightened by the low centre of gravity but in less than a minute we were moving down the line at a fair pace with a velocity over thirty kilometres an hour. The noise from the metal wheels rolling along the uneven rails is quite simply put earsplitting making it impossible to have a conversation along the way earplugs or otherwise improvised earplugs are strongly recommended an mp3 would be a good idea. After a while we came across an abandoned Norrie on the single line tracks on which we were traveling incidentally Cambodia’s entire rail network is single track. Anyhow to the side of tracks was a large pond and our clue was a pair of flip-flops floating at the edge suddenly a man popped up from beneath the water. He was a fisherman who had come down from the next village on his smaller sportier Norrie to check his nets he was returning in the same direction as us so there was no need for him to let us pass. The Norrie protocol is that the lighter laden Norrie gives way to the heavier. In this case which happened a couple of times on our trip the drivers easily lift the platform from the Norrie giving way remove the axles from the tracks and replace the other side. The gentle clickity click sound heard in motion on older railways is more of a sudden clank as the present railway is in a dilapidated state. Work is under way to renovate the nation’s railway with the southern line having been completed and now running freight . The northern line project which includes Battambang is expected to be ripped up and repaired in the latter half of 2016 with a passenger service connecting to Bangkok promised for 2017. Once replaced the new track will spell the demise of the Norrie. In the past the few trains that ran were traveling at speeds of 15 kilometres an hour therefore giving the Norries time to dismantle and get out of the way. After renovation is completed and with the train expected to be able to travel up to 80 kilometres an hour the Norries will be prevented from future use at any time of the day. After an hour of jolting travel we returned to O’Dambang feeling like a couple of cocktails a little shaken and stirred. Article by Kevin Bolton.