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


The snake that tried to eat my camera

Wednesday 20 October 2010

The snake that tried to eat my camera!

The snake that tried to eat my camera!

This we have been running a tour for photojournalist Karl Grobl of Jim Cline Photo tours. Its always a pleasure to meet  Karl,  he is a humanitarian photographer we have be  working with on tours for 5 seasons now . We took his group out on the Tonle  sap lake to Kompong Khleang.  It was good opportunity to try out a new lens, which I bought a few days before, to replace my Nikon 17-55 F2.8 which a managed to break  in Bangkok.

I thought Nikon pro lenses were pretty well indestructible; but due to a total carelessness on my behalf I smashed it against a post in Bangkok  while walking on a narrow path. If I  had the lens shade it on it  would have broken, but would have taken the impact. Anyway I now have a Sigma 17-70 F2.8  which was less than half the price of a replacement Nikon and under the $600 to repair my 5 year old heavily used 17-55 .

We approached a fishing boat and could see  the boatman had just caught a 2 metre long  python. He held it up for us for photos.  I have no fear of snakes but will not mess with any venomous species. Pythons have no venom, but kill their victims by giving them a nasty hug!  I climbed aboard the boat and took a few close up shots. It suddenly lashed out at my camera striking the lens. Maybe it saw it reflection in the glass?

Anyway I have discovered my new Sigma lens has an ANTI SNAKE FILTER!!

Snippets and news at POA

Saturday 4 September 2010

Dave and Colleen Allen

For a few days we had another Colleen at Peace of Angkor Colleen Allan the Namesake of Colleen Allan-Burns who is looking forward to her return in October .

Colleen from Australia had a great time here. She really liked the countryside tour. Like most of our guests she wished she had more time here. We do hope she can return with her husband in the not too distant future.

Colleen Allen and Mong

Colleen Allen and Mong

She is pictured with me and Mong our night  security man

(For those who do not know, the first Colleen Allen-Burns started up Peace of Angkor Villa with me in 2003. Coll  has been actively helping us  us in UK  with finance since leaving at the end of 2009.  Coll is really looking forward to having a party with the Peace Of Angkor Crew when she returns.

I will be off to Bangkok and Laos on Sunday researching more tour ideas for other places in SE Asia . (its not a holiday honestly!). We have had one tour to Laos already and are planning more.  Some will be starting from Bangkok taking in Cambodia and Laos in a circular route. As many of our guests have been to Bangkok;  I will be looking  at unusual places in the City that will be of interest to photographers.

Den monkying around

Den monkeying around at Cambodia Culture Village

Den (Doun Raden)  is going to be celebrating 5 years working for us at the end of September so party time when I return.

12th August 15, 2010 the start of a very busy week after a quiet few weeks. I took 3 of our guides on  a day of photography around Angkor. There is something of an irony here that I a westerner should be driving and taking 3 guides round the temples for a change!

Sorm Thet and Dave at Angkor

A photo training session at Angkor

There was a purpose for this; to brush up on their photographic knowledge of course. Ta needs no introduction to photography as he is often using my digital cameras.  However photography is a complex subject and even experts have something to learn   The opportunity of handling pro cameras is not something the other guys get very often.  Sorn has a small compact camera so leapt at the chance to use my D300. Thet cannot afford a digital camera; well he does have a young family to support nowadays. He started off with my Fuji S5 Pro which would be a daunting task for  many beginners. He was soon taking some very nice images as below.

Angkor Thom South Gate by thet

Thet took this beautifully composed shot of the South Gate of Angkor Thom framed by trees

Compared to a point and shoot an SLR looks complex; however the guys soon understood the main controls and I was taking them onto the territory of exposure compensation, white balance ISO and depth of field etc.

One of the main objectives was to gain a better understanding of composition which can sometimes be overlooked in favour of the technicalities. The weather was disappointing, cloudy in the morning turning to drizzle in the afternoon? We did get the odd patch of sunlight; enough to demonstrate the use of a polarizer a get some light on those enigmatic Bayon faces.

Vishnu by Sorn

A great shot by Sorn: well composed and lit with perfect positioning of the figure, parasol and the sweep of the 8 arms.

Bayion face from lower level

Ta found us this unusual view from the lower level of Bayon.

Bayon reflected

A shot by Sorn of The Bayon and geese on the pool that forms in the wet season

The areas we covered were Angkor Thom and Bayon and Angkor Wat. It was very rewarding to so some nice shots from all three of them!

Bayon shrine

Thet took this nicely exposed and balanced shot of one of the shrines at the Bayon.

It seemed very strange to me with no camera round the neck; but It was probably a good ideas to  have a few shots of my ugly mug for a change. The end result was very positive.  I have included some of Ta  Sorn and Thets best shots from the session here.

Craig and Chanthas Engagement

Friday 30 July 2010

Regular guest and friend Craig Soden from Melbourne is marrying Chantha our ex assistant cook. This will happen later in the year. On 26th July it was their engagement.
We welcome him into the Peace Of Angkor extended family and were all at the celebration at Chanthas family home near Damdek 37kms from Siem Reap.
Khmers take weddings and engagements very seriously with a Buddhist celebration with blessing from the priest. Rings are exchanged, family and friends join in for an important celebration and breakfast afterward. A Khmer wedding photographer ad dresser prepared Craig and Chantha for the photo session where they dress in their pre wedding finery. Craig was relived to know they had clothes big enough to fit his 2 metre frame.
The event went well and it’s so greet to see the two lovely people get together.

Other things happening!

Woz  is still in UK for among other things his daughters Graduation He will be returning to Siem Reap on 8thb August

Housekeeper Salat is expecting a baby in 6 months time.

Hun has joined the team on a full time basis as Daves  Photo assistant. He has been invaluable in helping  Dave prepare images for the web site and managing a vast image collection.

Den has just stetted a computer maintenance course. Hes tech savvy so the additional skills will  be a help.

students digging

students digging

I spent Wednesday at Steung School near Roluos. looking at the latest project from the Singaporean education organization Lifeworks which Peace Of Angkor have been coordinating.

Lifeworks are an international organization which take parties of schoolchildren and high school students to Cambodia volunteering and funding development projects for schools in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap areas.

painting the slide

painting the slide

The current project involved the Students from Yuhua Secondary School in Singapore. They were  working on the construction of playground equipment and helping with the assembly of new desks for the school. You can see here the students digging sand, finishing off the desks and painting a slide and seesaw which the Lifeworks organization had made for the school.

Finishing off new desks

Finishing off new desks

This work benefits the students who live a totally different lifestyle to the children they are helping. Most of these students have never been exposed to poverty; so its a valuable experience for them. The families and friends of the students have been generous in donating clothes and toys for the children. You can see our guide Ta Elit Supervising the distribution of clothing with one of the secondary school teachers.

Ta and teacher sortinf clothing donations

Ta and teacher sorting clothing donations

Peace Of Angkor have been arranging these school projects in the Siem Reap area since 2007. The groups range in size from 20 to 40 students and teachers for between 2 and 7 days taking in a mix of Angkor visits and volunteer projects. Ta Elit and his brother Aung has been doing a lot of ground work for this project; coordinating materials and aliasing with local suppliers to ensure this project and all our previous projects run smoothly.

Completed see saw

Completed see saw

One of the most exciting things about this is the way the relatively wealthy kids from Singapore interact, play and get on with the Cambodian village kids. They may come from different worlds and backgrounds but they share the same sense of fun and enthusiasm.

The school group

All the school and Yuhua Secondary School students at final meeting

Ta Elit is passionate about helping those less fortunate than himself. Ta has been involved with the planning and coordination of these events. he has taken a lot of his personal time looking for suitable schools,organizing building materials and local craftsmen. Is is a labour of love which is rewarded in  the faces of the children  and the long term benefits and relationships with the local village communities.

Its taken a while but after 6 weeks work by Dave with the invaluable support of Woz is now on line.

The site has been totally rebuilt from the ground up with new information and photos, keeping the best of the old ones of course.  The emphasis is on information on Cambodia and  the temples in an easy-to-read form; with the best photography on Angkor you will find anywhere.

The look is very different and much simpler to navigate and use!

The original Peace of Angkor website was started  soon after Colleen and Dave arrived here at the end of May 2003 . Web design has moved along since then; so it was time for a change, as the old site was too complex to update.

By something of a coincidence it was published yesterday 28th May exactly  7 years to the Day that Coll and Dave Arrived here.  Sadly Coll is not here at present but does plan to be here later in the year.

Peace of angkor Photo web header

Peace of Angkor Photo web header

Further to the Dengue Fever photos I took on 3th May.  I had a shot of the band published in the Los Angeles times (the one of all the band on stage),on 20th May.

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