Day 52 | Riding the bamboo train in Battambang

We made the best of our one and only full day in Battambang today by packing it with fun activities. After riding the bamboo train between two small villages in the morning, we took a guided tour to the ship mountain that included visiting the killing cave, bat cave, and a couple of small temples.

After getting breakfast at our hotel, we wanted to go check out the bamboo train, one of the activities we were the most excited about for our entire trip. The bamboo train was built with bamboo, a lawn mower-type engine and other scrap materials by villagers in the Battambang area to easily transport goods and people using the railroad built by the French (but no longer used by actual trains these days).

We asked the staff to call a tuk tuk for us. Conveniently, there was a tuk tuk driver already parked right outside the hotel. He agreed to take us to the bamboo train, wait for us there and drive us back for just $5 round trip. We were pleasantly surprised by how cheap it was. So there we were riding our first tuk tuk in Battambang. We first took a major paved road and passed in front of some local temples. After about ten minutes, our tuk tuk turned onto a small dirt road which led us to one of the villages with a bamboo train station.

There were a handful of bamboo trains on the tracks, ready to go. Our tuk tuk driver called one of the locals who then pointed to the first available bamboo train and told us to come over. We hopped on, super excited.

Ready to ride on the bamboo train

Our guy then started the engine and jumped onto the train as it started moving forward on the tracks. We immediately loved it.

The unique track goes through rice fields and small remote villages. A few minutes into the ride, we became confident enough to take a few selfies while the train was moving.

Selfie from the bamboo train

The train actually went pretty fast, reaching a top speed of about 50 kilometers per hour. And given how close we were to the tracks, it was very impressive!

Because we know some of our readers never want to click on YouTube videos we also prepared an animation.

Riding the bamboo train at full speed

After a while, we finally encountered a bamboo train coming in the opposite direction. Since there is only one track, when that happens, the drivers need to unmount one of the bamboo trains, put its pieces on the side of the track, let the other bamboo train go and then remount the bamboo train on the track. It sounds difficult but it’s actually pretty easy and takes less than a minute for experienced drivers. So how do they choose which bamboo train should take priority? Simple rule: if there are multiple bamboo trains going in one direction they have priority over the bamboo train going in the opposite direction (or if there are also multiple trains in that other direction, it depends on the numbers of trains on both sides: simple math). Otherwise, I think the bamboo train with the most passengers riding it gets priority. In our case, there were at least seven bamboo trains coming against us and just one other bamboo train riding in the same direction so we had to unmount.

Two of the bamboo trains carried many school kids wearing their school uniforms. Those kids must be so cool at their school bragging about the way they get to class every morning! “I am sorry I am so late, my bamboo train had to unmount four times to let tourists pass!” Best excuse ever for being late to class.

Finally, after we let all the bamboo trains go, it was our turn to remount our bamboo train on the track. Our driver was helped by the driver of another train. It takes two people to lift the bamboo frame itself so they always help each other.

After riding for half an hour, we arrived at the next village where the bamboo trains for tourists stop. There was not much to do or see at that village. Kids and adults were trying to sell us all kinds of souvenirs that we were not interested in. A few of them told us that it was OK if we didn’t feel like buying anything but that if we did want to buy, we should only buy from them and nobody else. That was the first time we heard this and we thought it was a little weird but funny. Eventually we left the area next to the train track where all these souvenir shops were located and walked around for a little bit. The only cool thing we saw there was this completely destroyed truck that once belonged to the French army and remained there for several decades.

In front of an old dismantled army truck

We came back to the track and told our driver we were ready to go back to the starting village. Well, almost ready!

Posing on the bamboo train

On our way back, we again had to unmount the train a couple of times, and other bamboo trains had to be unmounted for us to go as well. At some point while the drivers were busy with the trains, I asked Mimi to take a picture of me doing my new favorite pose. It took some convincing until she reluctantly accepted. After the road in Laos, the train track in Cambodia!

Danger on the tracks

She preferred to have her picture taken in a slightly safer pose.

Riding the bamboo train

We passed by several bridges over small rivers.

Crossing a bridge on the bamboo train

It was almost time to say goodbye to the bamboo train so we took one last selfie video before we reached the village. The video is actually surprising stable given how shaky the train was.

Back at the station where we started our ride, there were still many bamboo trains available.

Bamboo trains at the station

We were curious to see whether we could lift the metal axle used to support the bamboo train on the track. We figured it was probably heavy but all the drivers seemed to carry them without trouble (including one young female driver). We improvised a weightlifting competition with only two participants. I won.

Our tuk tuk driver took us back to the city center. Rather than dropping us at the hotel, we asked him to go to the riverfront street that has cafes and restaurants. We each got a refreshing bubble tea at Chatime in the comfort of air conditioning (it was extremely hot that day). We then walked back to our hotel and decided to take a few daytime pictures inside it. Despite not being our original choice, we found the hotel beautiful and classy.

The main alley that leads to the swimming pool.

Main alley inside the Vimean Sovannaphoum Resort

Plants carefully shaped like bulls.

Plants shaped like bulls

Pond inside the resort.

Pond at the Vimean Sovannaphoum Resort

The swimming pool which we did not end up using.

Swimming pool at the Vimean Sovannaphoum Resort

In the morning we had booked a bicycle tour for 2 PM with a local guide from a student organization called Butterfly Tour. Two young men showed up in a tuk tuk at our hotel. One was the driver and the other one was our guide. Both seemed to have good English. They said we first needed to pick up two other customers from different hotels in town. So a few minutes later, we were joined by two unrelated British people that had already met each other on a different tour from the same company yesterday.

The tuk tuk then drove for a while. The tour included the ship mountain, killing cave and bat cave, all of which are located in the same area pretty far out of town. We soon realized that there was no bicycle involved and that the tour was going to be by tuk tuk and on foot. We were not particularly upset since it was extremely hot and dusty outside and our main interest was to see the mountain and caves, not to ride there and back. On the way, we made a stop by a street food cart selling a very exotic type of grilled meat: rat. As much as our guide encouraged us to try it, we all respectfully declined. He on the other hand seemed to genuinely love it.

Tasty grilled rat for our guide

We arrived at our destination and climbed the ship mountain. There was a small temple at the top that we visited quickly. Then we went to see the killing cave. This was yet another place where the Khmer Rouge brutally executed prisoners. In this case, the mode of execution was to push the prisoners head first from the side of a hole that was in the ceiling of the cave. The ones that did not die immediately due to the impact were left agonizing in the cave. The cave had a stupa containing skulls and other bone fragments from some of the victims that were found when the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed. According to our guide, the old man sitting next to the stupa was a survivor who came to honor the ones that were not as fortunate as himself every single day for the past 37 years.

Stupa inside the killing cave

We followed our guide inside the cave as he took us to spots where we could see bats. Nothing to compare to the actual bat cave that we were going to see later in the day.

We left the cave and walked back up the hill. Next to the temple, there were these really creepy statues depicting hell for human beings that misbehaved during their life. At first we thought they were related to the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, but our guide explained it had nothing to do with them.

Statues depicting hell

After that, we continued our tour by hiking to another nearby mountain called sail mountain. As we reached the top we started seeing more and more monkeys that reminded us of our climb of Mount Popa near Bagan. Just like in Myanmar, these monkeys were spoiled by food and drinks given to them by locals and tourists alike. We saw one female monkey with her tiny baby attached to her belly. The baby remained asleep the whole time even as she started moving around.

Monkeys eating banana

These two other young monkeys were fighting over a banana left on the floor.

Finally, we got to witness this moving scene of another female monkey and her little one sharing a banana.

Mom and baby monkey enjoying bananas

With all these monkeys distracting us, we almost forgot the temple that was right there in front of our eyes.

Temple on top of the ship mountain

We took a few pictures of the breathtaking view from the top of the mountain. In addition to ship mountain and sail mountain, there is also crocodile mountain and a few others named after other animals. Our guide told us a famous Battambang folk story about the crocodile and his sea battle against an enchanted woman, which resulted in the formation of these mountains.

View from the mountain

View from the mountain

The sun was about to set so we did not have time to visit the temple as we needed to head down to the bat cave soon to not miss the millions of bats coming out of the cave half an hour before sunset. This is another one of the top attractions of Battambang.

Sunset over the crocodile mountain in Battambang

As we finished hiking down the mountain and returned to the road where people observe the bats come out of the cave, we saw yet another female monkey with her child. However unlike the previous one we saw on the top of the mountain, she did not want to share her banana with the little one! What a bad mom!

Finally around 5:30 PM we started seeing bats coming out of the cave. At first, it was just a handful, then the number started increasing more and more until a few minutes later there were probably hundreds of thousands of them coming out of the cave every minute.

We watched them come out of the cave for some time and then left. As our tuk tuk drove back towards Battambang, we could still see a thinning cloud of bats above our heads. They were starting to disperse but the density was still high enough for us to notice them in the sky.

We got dropped in the center of town and went to grab a large dinner at Buffalo Alley, a restaurant popular among local students and backpackers alike.

Buffalo Alley

As we only had a bubble tea for lunch we ordered cocktails and quite a lot of food. Soon after we sat down, we were joined by the two British people that we had spent the afternoon with while on the tour. We had a fun dinner socializing with them and exchanging travel tips for Cambodia. We then walked back to our hotel for our second and last night in Battambang.

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