Order Tara's Bicycle Touring Cookbook Today!

Cambodia's Bamboo Railway: Part Two

by Tara

Tyler is standing behind me, next to the conductor, holding our bikes upright – I'm scrunched on the platform in front of them, trying to maneuver myself off the broken slats and onto some of the strong-looking wooden beams beside me. With so little space to move around, this just isn't possible. Thankfully, our makeshift locomotive is sturdier than it looks.

Feet on Bamboo Railway

As we chug slowly along the track, I also secretly hope that the bridges are more stable than they appear.

Cambodian Railway Bridge

After twenty minutes of rolling along, about as fast as we would on our bicycles, a collection of bright orange specks appear in the distance. They grow in size as we approach, and eventually I can make them out. They're novice monks, and they are hailing us! While everyone scoots even closer together to make room, our wooden platform slows to a crawl.

Monks Waiting to Board Bamboo Railway

The boys climb aboard, and I wonder where they've come from. How did they get out here? What are they doing? Where are they going? Which sparsely populated village do they come from?

Riding on Cambodia's Bamboo Railway

While we're chugging through neon green fields of rice paddies, and passing the sun-faded stilted homes that have become iconic of the Cambodian landscape for me, I spot a few people toiling in the sun and a child or two riding bikes along the train tracks. Apart from these sightings, the land is mostly open and empty and quiet.

Cambodian Landscape Cambodian Kids Biking along Train Track Cambodian Landscape Cambodian in Field Cambodian Rails

In the distance, I can see what looks to be another bamboo train headed right for us. Nobody seems particularly concerned, and neither car is traveling fast enough to get me worried, either. In response, the conductor calmly cuts our engine, and we drift slowly forwards, surveying the situation.

Supposedly, the more heavily loaded bamboo train car gets the right of way, while the lighter of the two must completely dismantle their platform, and carry everything off the track, allowing the other to pass.

I feel pretty sure that with a dozen people and two loaded touring bikes, we'll be the ones who get to sit on our laurels and watch. However, as the other group slowly draws nearer, I realize just how wrong I am. Wood pile beats touring bikes!

Bamboo Railway Car w/ Wood & People

Off go the bicycles, and the people, and everyone's bags and purses, too. The platform is moved out of the way, and the barbells are placed in the grass. As we wait for the other car to start its engine once more and pass us by, the men congregate to smoke, while the women head out to the brush to pee. Then, they come hang out with me.

While I wait by the bikes, the worried, clucking women motion for me to cover up, pointing at the sun, and then at my arms. I reluctantly do as I'm told, to see if another layer will help block the intense heat of the sun, and graciously accept the enormous shady leaf a lady picked just for me.

Tara & Cambodian Woman Shading Themselves with Leaves

The sticky heat of sleeves is unbearable on this 90 degree day, so I quickly shed my shirt, secretly marveling at how these people decked out in long sleeves and gloves and hats and face covers and pants aren't passing out, dropping like flies from heat exhaustion.

As the afternoon wears on, more cars come our way. We're beaten by a pile of bricks, but our bikes manage to trump a monk-carrying car, which disassembles to let us through. It's not the most efficient form of travel, but it sure is fun!

Monks on Cambodian Bamboo Railway Car Bamboo Railway Car w/ Bricks Tara on Cambodian Bamboo Railway