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readers' submissions

 

The Battambang to Phnom Penh train

The train is leaving Battambang at around 6:00 am. It consists of a couple of passenger compartments and one that is supposed to take cargo. The train is not very full, but it is remarkable that almost everybody is sitting on the same side of the aisle. We sit of course on the other side, to have two wooden benches all to our big European backsides. Not so much later we find out why everybody was sitting on the other side: The train has no windows, and the sun is stinging in, and when you sit on 'our' side, you get half roasted. Never mind. We are still excited, long time since we last travelled by train in SEA. The last one was a 2nd class sleeper in Thailand. We had also taken the 3rd class train to Kachananburi. This here is worse. But, we are on holidays and we are lovin' it.

The German travel guide says the journey would take around 12 hours. So we figure that we would be in PP by 6pm, just before the sun sets --- perfect!

With around 20 mph we wobble through the countryside, through villages and over endless rice paddies. Most stops are veeeery short, so the guys with the huge planks of wood have a hard time getting on. Some stops are longer, and people jump off the train and come back a while later, sometimes with wet hair.

After about 6 hours ride and countless short and one or two longer stops, the train gets fuller. We do not have the wooden planks to ourselves anymore, but have to share them :(

After about 8 hours I want to go to the loo. I hate train toilets and I send my husband ahead to check out how bad they are. Well, we cannot really tell if they are bad, as they are LOCKED. Locked from the outside with little padlocks.

OK, just don't start to panic, only four hours to go, I can handle that…. The train wobbles on. For the past two hours or so we are sharing our bench with a young Cambodian couple, and we start talking to the guy (she does not seem to speak any English). By now it's about 4 pm and I am convinced that I have just two hours to go.

At one of the longer stops we notice that everyone seems to start getting quite busy. We see a guy in a uniform supervising that all the wood that has been loaded onto the train is unloaded again. We ask the guy who sits with us what this is. Well, he says, this is illegally cut tropical wood and that is a police check, so they need to unload it.

When they are finished unloading, the policeman turns his back and walks off. This very minute, the train guys start reloading the wood onto the train and when they are finished, the journey continues. We ask your chap how much longer we will take until we reach PP. Well, he says, that really depends on how many more 'wood checks' we will run into, but we should reach PP between 10 and 11 pm.

WHAT???????????????????????????????

By now it has got dark, and if I did not dare leave the train for a pee during one of the longer stops in broad daylight, I certainly don't any more now. The train wobbles through the dark. There is no electricity in the train, thus no light. Cambodians with obviously more train experience than us start lighting a candle in a plastic bottle and put it up on the luggage rack. I watch and wait for the plastic bottle to melt and burning plastic to drop on the heads of the people below, but it does not happen (amazingly enough). We keep wobbling through the amazing dark Cambodian countryside, only occasionally lit by a little fire or gas lamp. Not even the small villages and their train stations have electricity, so it is really out of the question to leave the train there, although by now I start becoming quite desperate.

We reach PP at 10pm, and not only am I desperate for a loo, but also are we now really quite scared because of all the warnings not to wander the PP streets alone after dark. Especially with all your belongings.

We wander the ever smaller becoming streets until we find a GH that still gives us a room. With a toilet. Where I find out that my backside was not itching and sore from the wooden planks I have been wobbling on for the past 16 hours, but because it was eaten by red ants.


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