Feature: Cambodia's "bamboo train" on brink of disappearance

CAMBODIA-BATTAMBANG-TOURISM-BAMBOO TRAIN

Tourists enjoy their journey on a bamboo train in Battambang, about 291 km northwest of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, on Sept. 13, 2017. Bamboo train, which has delighted tourists for nearly two decades, is on the brink of disappearance as Cambodia has started to restore the rail line for a train service. (Xinhua/Mao Pengfei)

by Nguon Sovan

BATTAMBANG, Cambodia, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- Norry, a home-made bamboo train which has delighted tourists for nearly two decades, is on the brink of disappearance as Cambodia has started to restore the rail line for a train service.

UNIQUE EXPERIENCE

"It felt more like a roller coaster, but it's really nice, and I think it is a good way to transport really heavy things from one to another place, so yes, it's nice," German tourist Theresa Kessemeier said after she completed a ride.

In Battambang, about 291 km northwest of capital Phnom Penh, Norry was first invented in the 1980s by railway workers who used it to check and repair train tracks; later local people had used it to transport goods and to travel along the tracks.

Until 1999, local people have used bamboo trains to carry tourists to see bucolic scenery along the dilapidated railroad in Sangke district of northwestern Cambodia's Battambang province and the bamboo trains have gradually become a popular mode of transport for foreign tourists since then.

Canadian tourist Lisanne Lacroix said, "I really, really enjoyed it. You get to see the (rice) fields; you get to see just everyday's lives, so it's a very great experience."

Norry provides a thrilling 7-km ride to tourists for 5 U.S. dollars per tourist, or 10 U.S. dollars for renting a norry for a single trip, and a norry is capable of carrying six passengers. It can be assembled or demolished in only a few minutes.

Two axles stripped from old vehicles were laid on the train tracks, and a bamboo platform was set on top of them. A small petrol engine was wedged into a hole that is cut out of the platform and tied to one of the axles with a rubber strap.

Another German tourist Arian Rathmann said before seeing the bamboo train, he imagined that it was like a real train, but it was different from his thought when he saw it.

"It's different from what I thought of because when you hear about the train, you think it's like a big train with big wagon ... I didn't think it is just like a small platform, and you go like on a roller coaster, very interesting, I like it," he said.

BRINK OF DISAPPEARANCE

Currently, some 40 bamboo trains are serving tourists along the 7-km stretch of the dilapidated 388-km rail line which lies from Phnom Penh to Banteay Meanchey province and Thai border.

The railway overhaul had begun from the Thai border for years and reached the place where the bamboo trains operate earlier this month, Chan Samleng, director of the Railroad Department.

He added that the norry operators were told to stop plying the rail track, but they defied the ban.

"According to the law, they have no rights to operate norries on the railways," he told Xinhua.

Chan Samleng said the restoration of the rail line from Phnom Penh to Thai border is expected to be fully completed by the end of 2018.

Bamboo train operator Ngul Nguon acknowledged that the bamboo train drivers were told to stop operation on the railroad, but they defied the ban because they did not have other jobs to do.

"I'm really concerned when this railroad is closed because I'm a bit old and don't know what to do," said the 56-year-old father of three children.

Nguon said that he could earn between 5 and 15 U.S. dollars a day.

Another driver Sokun Koeun, 36, said operating norry is the only skill that he has to feed his wife and two children.

"I'm very worried about the ban on norries from running on the railway, I don't know what to do next," he said.

Tep Tin, 52, an English-speaking tour guide said the ban on norries would directly affect drivers and snack and souvenir vendors around the unique attraction.

"It will affect their daily income because tourists to Battambang are to ride on norries," he said, predicting that without norries, tourists to the province would decline.

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