Riding the bamboo train

They were building the train before our eyes. A bamboo tray as big as a queen size bed, four steel train wheels, and a simple motor that might have belonged on a motorbike. In less than a minute, our ride was ready. Cindy and I boarded and sat in the tray. We turned, and our tuk tuk driver gave a wry smile. “Have fun!” he encouraged.

A single ribbon of railway shimmied into view before us. The direction was dead straight, but the imperfect steel tracks zig-zagged and wobbled like a hula dancer. The wacky vehicle served as a former workhorse for the people of Battambang, Cambodia, transporting goods between villages. Once upon a time the train was powered by a stick, ‘rowed’ like a gondola. Now the Bamboo Train was motorized, a darling tourist attraction.

The train moved slowly at first, it’s wheels click clacking gently against the rails. Before long, the turtle was a cheetah, and the click clack was replaced by a deafening, metallic CLACK CLACK CLACK. The small carriage chased the rails with hair-raising speed. When the carriage hit one of the gaps between rail joins, the wheel connected with a shuddering CLANG! We sat cross-legged in the tray, swaying with every zig-zag, cringing with every rail gap. In no way was this activity safe, but fun…oh my, yes. Indiana Jones minecart chase scene, eat your heart out!

Two carriages coming in opposite directions signaled by torch and slowed to a stop. There was, after all, just one bidirectional track. The solution; ingenious. One carriage would disembark, and the drivers disconnected the motor, lifted the lightweight bamboo frame from the wheels, and placed it beside the track. The wheels were next, steel barbells, moved aside in turn. Train 1 would carry on it’s way, whilst train 2 reassembled itself again, behind train 1, ready to go. The carriage picked up speed again and we held on tight. CLACK CLACK CLACK!


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