The Last Ride (on the Bamboo Train)

Ale’, what’s on the schedule for this afternoon?

A ride on the bamboo train, and we’ll visit to a small village, and we’ll capture sunset across the rice fields, maybe see a water buffalo.

At the station, selecting a carriage

The Bamboo Train

Sitting on a simple bamboo woven platform I marvel at  the speeds at which we are traveling. The wind is blowing through my hair as we race along the grass covered tracks at speeds that are beyond safe. The noise is loud. Clicky clack, clicky clack. There is no OSHA here or government safety regulations.  This is more exciting than a roller coaster, and much more dangerous. I feel alive. 

There is little between me and the tracks. At 30 mph or more, it is a bit unnerving.

Ahead there is a dark spotted opening in the tracks. I muffle a scream as we pass over an open waterway.  Jolted back to reality with the misaligned tracks, we continue on to the next village.

Our driver was good. The tracks? Not so much.

The Pit Stop

At the next village only a few kilometers into our ride, our carriage comes to a stop. There are no more tracks – long since removed. A dirt pathway of 300 meters takes us to the next section of workable tracks where a new carriage is assembled.

Re-assembling the train

Two axles are placed on the tracks, a bamboo platform is added, then a lawn mower type engine. Somehow the engine is connected to the axle. A wooden brake appears below – a wooden slat that when a lever is applied, puts pressure on the wheel component of the axle. A little gas is added to the engine. The final carriage assembly includes a few token pillows to cushion our bottoms. Faster than a race car pit stop we are off again, quickly picking up speed. Overgrown brush whips dangerously close to our faces. Rice fields extend out in all directions. A local walks along a path near the tracks and waves.

Playing chicken

Suddenly, appearing ahead is another carriage. There is only one set of tracks and it is coming straight for us. There is no where to go. Both carriages slow and come to a stop.  An assessment is made by the drivers.

The other carriage races towards us

There is another carriage behind us so the carriage in front of us must move (two against one).

A lower priority carriage is dissembled and lays in wait

The passengers on the car ahead jump to the side of the tracks while the drivers lift the bamboo carriage off the axles and set it aside. They then pick up and drop each axle to the side. The track is now free and clear. Clicky, clack, we are moving again.

The end of the line

We pass through villages and by villagers. Clicky, clack. A few more times we play chicken with a carriage coming towards us, but we always win (our guide must have tipped the driver). Finally, we come to the end of a line. A small refreshment café with souvenir  t-shirts, “I rode the Bamboo Train” in  a color of your choice. We rest in the shade of the café sipping from a coconut.

Souvenir of the last ride

Cows now graze where the the old train had passed. This one came up to check out my camera.

The end of an era

For close to 30 years the bamboo train has served locals going from village to village and from the city to the countryside.  It is an enterprising way for locals to use the tracks after the disrepair of the regular train forced it out of existence. It also provides a means for an income as tourists want to experience this unique method of travel.

Reassembling the train after we have passed by.

It is set to close at the end of the holiday week making way for a new modern train. Work can be seen on sections of the tracks, the time is not far off.

The end of the day

The sun is getting low in the sky and the train only runs during daylight hours. We board a carriage for the trip back to Battembang. We race towards the setting sun – the rice fields are aglow.

Rice fields are glowing with the setting sun

As the sun sets, motorcyclists roared up the dirt road (patch?), kicking up plenty of dust.

Jeff and I are two of the last tourists to experience this historical method of local travel.

It is the last ride.