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!

Warren

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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Moat Khla ovenight and Sky Burials

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Alison giving

Alison giving a mosquito net to a needy family

Middle of May 2010 I had a request for a family to go to several Tonle Sap villages including Kompong Phluk, Kompong Khleang and a homestay overnight in  Moat Khla.  Requests to visit this isolated lake community of Moat Khla are rare and overnight stays by tourists; unheard of.

Moat Khla is a floating village in Kompong Thom Province, two hours by boat from Kompong Khleang; where we base our Lake tours.  We ran this lake adventure on the 17th and 18th August. I had been here only a handful of times before.

Kompong Khleang

Kompong Khleang a wide view in flood season

The stilt village of Kompong Khleang is itself an unusual destination. Peace of Angkor has been operating tours there since the end of 2004. Over 20,000 people live here in a fishing community which until 2008 was virtually untouched by tourism.

In five years I have seen big changes due to the improving infrastructure, road links, power supply and cell phone network. In the last two years a modest number of tour boats have been organized as a co-operative by the villagers themselves.  From an eco tourism development point of view; the concept of the local people managing their resource is something to be applauded.  Money generated by this goes into the local community and not big corporations. The relatively small numbers of visitors that do come here have not yet caused the negative aspects of begging and scams which have plagued the Chong Khneas boat port.

Moat Khla is a very different place; being a floating village which has no road links. Its waterborne existence is totally dependent on fishing and the flow of the Tonle Sap Lake system. The 1500 population are relatively poor and forgotten.

grey haired woman

Grey haired woman at Moat Khla

Allison Allen, her partner John and family kindly donated blankets, mosquito nets; books pens and toys for over 30 needy families. Mt Hok arranged for some of the poorest villagers to come to his home and distribute these items.

Tom and Natasha giving

Tom and Natasha giving to poor villagers at Kompong Khleang

His home is transformed into a clinic when the Tonle Sap Lake Clinic boat (TLC) visits. Poor families in remote areas are unable to get to doctors; so the TLC boat which is run by the Norwegian charity IMPACT travels around the Tonle Sap to give free treatment to lake villagers.

On a previous visit by me in 2008 the TLC Boat staffed by two Norwegian Doctors Mette and Stein were here. They had been called out on the way to a family with a dying teenage boy. Tragically they were unable to save him. Sadly his illness could have been treated had it been diagnosed earlier.  There is no cremation site here; so the old practice of Sky Burials, where the bodies are placed in trees and letting nature take its course is carried out.

This time we were staying at the home of Mr Hok the Commune officer; so we were hopeful to  be able to get the chance to see one of the few places in Cambodia where sky burials area still carried out

Mr Hoks home is a large but simple floating house open on 3 sides with a sleeping room for the family at one end and a kitchen area at the other.

Mr Hok told us that n tourists have come to Moat Khla this year(and probably none since our last visit at the end of 2008).

I asked about Sky Burials. He told me they are still carried out. Families place the corpse in the trees in a wrap made from a rattan mat. Wealthier families have a wooden coffin covered in plastic sheet. These are left for at least 1 year and the remains are cremated, some of the poorer families wait up to three years before they can afford a decent cremation

The government wants to stop the procedure. This can only be achieved if a cremation platform is built.

Mr Hok accompanied us in the boat to the sky burials place.  The area was less than a kilometre from the main village. We could only get a short way into the mangroves as our boat was too big. We could clearly see a new coffin wrapped in plastic and a small rattan wrap of containing the remains of a child. There had been several more here until a few weeks ago, but these remains had been removed for cremation.

Sky coffin

A coffin of one of the wealthier families waiting for cremation when the water levels drop.

We returned to Mr Hoks home and then returned to Siem Reap via Kompong Khleang.

It was a rewarding two days and the generosity and kindness shown by Alison and her family was very touching.  Thanks very much. You are very special people; myself and the villagers remember your kindness for a long time!

Return of Greg Fitzgerald

Saturday 29 May 2010

Oxcart in countryside

Greg Fitzgerald on an Oxcart in countryside

It was our pleasure last week to have Greg Fizgerald stay with us for a week. Greg and his wife have stayed with us a few time before and  are actively involved with Child trafficking support, or to be more precise preventing it. Greg was here on his own as his wife could not make it this time.  Greg tried out our Village and Countryside tour.

Here is a picture taken by Ta Elit of Greg on a Buffalo Cart!

Angkor National Museum Siem Reap

Thursday 6 May 2010

We get a lot of websearches and other enquiries about the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap. I had a dig through our archives and came upon this article written by Dave Perkes, when the museum opened in 2007. It’s still relevant today and the pictures give a good insight.

As one who has more than just a casual interest in the Angkor Temples. I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of this Museum for years.  To be able to view some of the spectacular artifacts which have been hidden away in the Angkor Conservation for decades; was  very exciting. So did the reality live up to expectations?

Peace of Angkor Tours Siem Reap Cambodia National Museum image

Reflecting Pool outside

To start with; the building is impressive; with plenty of architectural references to Angkor’s past heritage.  The style is simple, unlike like many of the surrounding ornate hotels which ape Khmer Architecture.  On entry to the lobby, you get a sense of space and light with glimpses of the circular stairway and the blue pool in the courtyard beyond.

Peace of Angkor Tours Siem Reap Cambodia National Museum image

Concourse (Atrium)

The visit commences on  the upper floor, where a short promo film describes the Museum and what you are likely to see there.   The first gallery is a spectacular display of 1000 Buddha images. The Buddha’s are set within niches; the lower ones were easy to see; but the upper ones were practically invisible.  As yet there are no detailed descriptions of the artifacts. I was assured by staff that labels will be added later.

Most of the upper floor is given over to the Pre-Angkorian period with well presented text descriptions in English and Khmer.  The overviews of Hindu and Buddhist religion and Khmer Culture are concise; easy to read and understand.

Inner Pool

The lower floor covers the golden age of The Angkor Empire; centered on Angkor Wat. Some of examples of the finely carved Nagas and Lintels are spectacular  with descriptions of where they came from. The cutaway model of Angkor Wat illustrates the construction and  is well detailed, even down to the bas relief’s on the outer galleries. The Foundation Steles with their Sanskrit inscriptions were of particular interest and the  Ancient Costume Hall with the Apsaras was another highlight.

Peace of Angkor Tours Siem Reap Cambodia National Museum image

Bayon style heads in Upper Lobby

I am usually terminally bored by statues in museums; preferring to see these in their locations.  I spent nearly a half a day ther in my last visit in October 2008.The museum have selected a well balanced range of artifacts; selecting some spectacular pieces and giving plenty of space. I quite like this approach as it is not overwhelming or cluttered like many similar museums.

The multi-media presentations on LCD video screens and multiple projectors are professionally  done; are of a sensible length and like the text; not over wordy. The Designers have thought very carefully about the intended audience; which are probably those who have a general interest and want an overview of Angkor before a visit to the Temples.  Academics would want more information.

Coffee shop

The Cultural Mall is  open ; but  the  Arts and craft or clothes shops  have nothing you  cannot  get elsewhere cheaper most likely . There is a Coffee Shop on the first floor which serves decent coffee and snacks and the inevitable gift shop which you pass through on the way out.

Peace of Angkor Tours Siem Reap Cambodia National Museum image

Sophisticated (if expensive) Gift Shop

Overall, the Angkor National Museum provides a good introduction to Angkor; has some spectacular exhibits. The pricing at $!2  is far too  high compared to what you would pay in neighbouring countries.

A tour company with a difference!

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Well – many differences actually! But I’d just like to share the news about our new tour office here in Siem Reap.

Peace of Angkor Cafe Bar Siem Reap Cambodia

Travellers in Siem Reap enjoying refreshments and swapping tales!

Not only is it the admin hub for tour planning and operations, our forward-thinking owner Dave Perkes has created what must be Cambodia’s first travel office combined with a cafe bar!

Now travellers can just call in, find out about information on travelling in Cambodia, photography or maybe even book on one of our tours!

Here’s what the ‘Canby Publications’ Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide’ has to say:

Created by travellers for travellers, Peace of Angkor café bar is a cool and airy meeting place, where you can research, plan and select places to visit, while enjoying a hot or cold drink or a snack.

The café bar also has local and national tour and destination advice for solo travellers, couples or groups. The owner is a renowned location photographer, who is always ready for an exchange of ideas or discussion on any aspect of photography.

Open from 9am to 10pm every day, it’s an excellent venue – the photo gallery alone is well worth the visit. Situated on Street 20, off Wat Bo Road , next to the New Apsara Supermarket.


So, while you’re in Siem Reap – please call in and see us!


Video Trials

Saturday 24 April 2010

While we’re having a week of testing, analysis and feedback – I thought I’d try my hand at movie-making! I’ll be adding these into our main website www.peaceofangkor.com at some point in the future.

The movies have been shot on a small Cannon Ixus 70 photo camera and edited in Microsoft Moviemaker.

Movie editing isn’t really our scene (yet!!) – we’re best at still photography and operating tours .

So – please have a look at the movies and if you have time – we’d be really grateful for some feedback – good or bad.

I guess my concern is that a bad movie is worse than no movie on a website. Or do these ‘amateur’ movies really capture things in a more natural sense? Please let me know your thoughts.

Thanks!

Wozzer

Village Market:

Bamboo Train:

On the Tonle Sap:

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