Monday, January 15, 2007

The Bamboo Express: Battambang

August 2006, Battambang Day 3: Kosul, Ratha, and my fellow passengers on Battambang`s Bamboo train.

Known affectionately as the norry to the Khmers, the "Bamboo Train" is the result of Khmer ingenuity in the face of necessity. It is 100% pure Cambodian, and one of the coolest rides that I have ever been on.

With nothing more than a rickety wooden frame, thin bamboo planking bending beneath the weight of its buren, a four-stroke, upright engine and, appropriately enough, reused military tank wheels and axles, Bamboo Trains haul passengers and cargo between the rice bowl (Battambang) and the capitol (Phnom Penh).

A young conductor pulling into the "station".

As you might imagine, Bamboo Trains are quite illegal, wreaking havoc whenever they cross roadways. The 'real' train only comes along once a day, making it sluggish way up to Battambang or back to Phnom Penh at a pace that makes it possible to hop on and off at any time. In the meantime, the old, neglected track is practically begging to be used.

Ratha and Kosul enjoy the ride.

And used they are, with an unknown number of these Cambodian contraptions rumbling up and down the bumpy, disjointed track. There is, ofcourse, only one track, which begs the question: What happens when another Bamboo Train comes chucking along?

Another bamboo train chucking along in our general direction.

With a real train, this would pose a problem, but with the bamboo train its a bowl of amok (weak attempt to Cambodianize the western 'piece of cake' expression). Bamboo Trains can be disassembled and disappear into the bushy Cambodian countryside in the blink of an eye. Off comes the frame, followed by the Honda moto engine, axles and wheels. Proper Bamboo Train etiquette states that the norry with the least amount of passengers must give way to the one carrying more, with the conductor of the latter helping the former to disassemble and remove it from the tracks.

Having disembled our train so that the other might pass, I note that we are being watched. A spy for the anti-norry authorities, perhaps?

To be finished in between classes...

1 comment:

Kala said...

Oooh, I LOVED the bamboo train. I have some great video a friend took when we were there. I'm so glad you got to see so much of Cambodia when you were there. Hope you're having a great New Year! :o)