A Tragedy Beyond Comprehension

Thursday 25 November 2010

The past few days have been so dreadful for all of us here in Cambodia. There was a feeling of numbness on Tuesday morning as many of us awoke to the terrible news of over 300 people perished at the end of the annual ‘Bon Om Thook’ (Water Festival), in our capital city of Phnom Penh.

As I write this during a national day of mourning here, the death toll has risen to over 450 and is likely to rise further.

What has made this tragedy so much more difficult to accept, is the knowledge that so many people from the villages and provinces, look forward to this event as the highlight of their year. They save a little money each month, so that they can travel to the cities of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and take in the sights and sounds of this wonderful festival. For many, it’s their only visit of the year.

For some, it was their first – and only visit to Phnom Penh. I read an article of a 53 years-old mother who lost both daughters – aged 15 and 23 along with her son-in-law. It was their first time in the capital. I’m sure there are many more heart-rending similarities. As a parent with children of similar ages, I can and yet at the same time, can’t imagine what that lady is going through.

I did intend to write an article and post photo’s of the festival here in Siem Reap, but today doesn’t feel the right time.

So, I’ll finish by expressing on behalf of Peace of Angkor Tours and our staff and friends, our sincere condolences to families affected, wherever they are in Cambodia.




Latest news about The Bamboo Train

Tuesday 2 November 2010

I’d been hearing rumours that Cambodia’s famed and unique Bamboo Railway at Battambang had ceased operating at the end of September. This was to make way for the new and upgraded railway line being laid between Phnom Penh and the Thai border near Poipet in N W Cambodia.

Well, Battambang is a favourite place of mine and I hadn’t been there in almost a year – so decided on a weekend away with some friends – purely in the interests of research, of course!

Cambodia’s railway network is a broken shambles. Years of war, neglect and indifference have resulted in no passenger trains operating at all. The last weekly service between Phnom Penh and Battambang finished almost two years ago.

Of course Cambodia’s immensely resourceful people are undeterred. Over the years they have developed their own transport system on the disused railway. Frequently termed the ‘Bamboo Railway’ or Bamboo Train’, they have created a simple, but effective and speedy way to transport locals, goods and now an increasing number of tourists.

So, take two axles, weld on some small flanged wheels – fashion a raft made from bamboo, ‘acquire’ a small petrol engine from UN supplied generators and water-pumps, attach a simple drive belt – and you’re good to go!

And ‘go’ they certainly do! They’ll whizz along at around 40kph (25mph), and certainly clatter along the warped, twisted and often broken tracks.

The wonderful part of the journey is when meeting another train (nori or norry) coming in the opposite direction. The nori with the least people or goods is dismantled, the other goes past and then the dismantled one is re-assembled on the tracks. This whole procedure takes less than two minutes!
It’s an absolutely exhilarating ride of around 14km round-trip.  It’ll cost tourists around US10 for ride – that’s per nori, not per person – and it has to be up there with the other Great Railway Journeys of The World.
Oh, and I did check with some locals about the state of affairs regarding when it’ll stop running. They tell me ‘one year more’. Given that a Cambodian ‘please wait five minute more’ can be any length of time – it’s difficult to say exactly how long ‘one year’ is.

But I would advise visiting it sooner rather than later. Once it’s gone – it’s gone!

Safe travels!


Ps. here’s a link to the world famous magazine ‘Railway Gazette International’ which has more on developments.

I’ll admit I read the mag – go on, click the link, you know you want to…

Me - ready to ride

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