Some travelers have heard about the Cambodian bamboo train but few have experienced it. The Cambodian railroad is due for serious repair. The service has degraded to a once per day freight service chugging along at 20-30km per hour. Entrepreneurial Khmer families have opened their own (illegal) services on sections of the track and built contraptions out of old rail cars and wood to shuttle local people back and forth between certain points on the track.
As Amie and I were moto-exploring one afternoon, we stumbled across one such service and decided to bring some friends back and make an adventure of it. We got up early one Saturday morning and rode out to the start of the bamboo train, negotiated our passage to Phnom Baset, strapped our motos onto the platform and off we went. This particular bamboo train was powered by an old engine, set in motion by a rubber belt stretching from the engine to the wheel axle. The conductor's tools included a grooved stick for controlling the tension of the belt as well as a battle club shaped braking device.
As we zoomed along at 20km/h, the nature of our unscheduled journey resulted in others not respecting our control of the tracks. For example, a cow slept peacefully in between the tracks at a certain point in our journey. The conductor's assistant was quick to leap off the train, shoo the animal, and rejoin the group while the train was still in motion (don't want to stall the engine). Intersecting dirt roads caused some tension. The train had to come to a crawl while traffic paused to let it through. Trucks parked near the tracks or temporary markets across the tracks are other obstacles to overcome on the bamboo train.
After reaching an intersection with a road towards Phnom Baset, we reclaimed our motorbikes and explored the various temples in the area. One in particular had an amateur film crew making a television program set to air later in the month. Let me emphasis the 'amateur' part. The crew and actors consisted of 4 people – a charismatic director, a hand-held camera man, some other helper, and an actor dressed in pink with a power amulet around his neck. This character had somehow transported to the future (our present) and basically the film involves him having a set of shocking futuristic experiences. As we sat to have a snack and watch, the director asked if he could use our motorbikes as props. At this point the script must have been re-written to include these futuristic devices, sure to scare the time-traveler.
Near a different temple, a makeshift carnival style balloon dart toss was set up to entertain temple guests. Prizes consisted of various Chinese made plastic housewares – much more practical than stuffed animals. The ride home through the small dirt paths was scenic and peaceful. The recent rains presented some challenges but we were lucky to avoid getting our motorbikes stuck. On our way into the city, we found a new suburb construction project. It was abandoned so we did some drag racing down the main streets of the future complex.