The slowest train in the world

Most tourists think Cambodia doesn’t have a train network. Which isn’t completely true as there are some tracks and there are even some trains circulating on it. But it is true, that it cannot be considered a serious mean of transport for visiting Cambodia. Although… We read the opinions of different guidebooks and this was what they said: “Taking a train in Cambodia is for hardcore travellers or very poor ones…” or in another one “Seriously considering taking a train in Cambodia is only for masochistic travellers…” Ok, fair enough! :-) Now we aren’t poor (or at least not very poor), neither masochistic. It’s just pure curiosity that makes we want to judge with our own eyes! And for this time it wasn’t different… So off we went on a train from Phnom Penh to Battambang. Or at least, that was the initial plan…

At 6 in the morning, still dark outside, we climb into the windowless train, that looks a little shaggy. Well this is as far as we can see, as there aren’t any lights; not in the train and not at the station which looks like it just got taken out of a Hitchcock film. While we slowly advance into the train, we soon get to the second surprise: there are not only holes where the windows should have been, but also in the floor! And no small ones, no they are huge! Some are that big that you could easily loose your complete foot in and touch the tracks underneath!

Before we sit down we have to take care that our wooden bench is not missing any parts (holes making it impossible to sit or making us wonder if the “metal thing lying there” is a bench at all???) and if it is well attached to the floor (most of the benches aren’t and you can move them around as it suits you, which sounds nice, but isn’t too practical really, which you’ll understand below) or isn’t with its “leg” in a hole touching the tracks… This sure is promising! ;-)

And then the journey starts. Slowly but steadily the train starts moving. Faster and faster… until the incredible speed of 18 km/h (in words: eighteen) !!! What a speed! The landscape literally flies by! ;-) Luckily for us the train stops every 15 minutes or so at some small village where we can put our hair back into shape (remember, no windows and then with that speed!! ;-) ).

Now in Cambodia the train doesn’t only move forwards, but it also moves for an important part to both the right and left side making it impossible to stand up or read in silence as every other minute your head will bang against the wall, or, if you’re lucky, against the non-existent window. If the latter is the case, don’t think you’re better off: in exchange for not banging your head, you will get some premium treatment of badly maintained (or shall we just say “not maintained”) plants/bushes growing next to the track and whipping anybody sitting at the window side…

What else shall we say. The ride was long. Very long. After 9 hours (in words: nine) we covered 160 km (Yes, that definitely beats the Lao buses!) and we finally reached Pursat. Somehow the locals seemed to have been better prepared: most of them had installed hammocks making this the more comfortable way to survive this trainride (lesson learned for the next time: always take a hammock into a Cambodian train). At Pursat, we hesitated a moment to go on all the way to Battambang (maybe we are a little bit masochistic after all), but when the train attendant told us it would be 9 hours more to cover the 100 km to Battambang (meaning we would arrive at midnight or even later) we rapidly got out of the train and took the bus to cover the last kilometers.

But we don’t regret having taken the train: it was a nice experience being in something so slow and folkloric! And as we are doing Cambodia a little bit in “express mode” (lack of time) it’s the closest to the real Cambodia we have been so far. :-)

Vera & Jean-Christophe


  1. Posted February 17, 2008 at 11:03 | Permalink

    With this peed your wo0rld trip will takes years! But nevertheless it must be an exciting experience.

  2. Vera
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 16:49 | Permalink

    If it could take years, I would be happy! :-)


  3. Posted February 18, 2008 at 5:42 | Permalink

    oh my–your entry made me seriously regret not taking the train in Cambodia! I’m glad you guys survived, especially at those speeds!
    P.S. Love the Angkor photos–don’t know how you captured the amazing but subtle colors.

  4. Vera
    Posted February 20, 2008 at 14:41 | Permalink

    @Kristi: It was quite funny, but it shouldn’t be considered a serious means of transport though. And you need time, time, time… :-)
    Thanks for the comment on our pictures. We actually went there quite late in the evening to get the nice light (and hence the nice colors).