Phnom Penh to Poipet
If you fancy a different mode of travel between Phnom Penh to Poipet on the Cambodian-Thai border, then you might consider the train. The route’s passenger service has reopened and offers an alternative to buses and taxis.
You will need to plan your travel-by-train from Phnom Penh to Poipet experience carefully. The service runs one way on some days and the other way on other days. It is also slow. The journey between Phnom Penh and Poipet takes nearly 12 hours; mind you, the bus takes about 9 hours. However, it is a great way to see the Cambodian countryside and meet some colourful locals.
How To Get A ticket To Poipet
This particular adventure started in Phnom Penh with organising a ticket. The ticket counter people had a map and schedule of the southern route to Sihanoukville but not one for the northern route to Poipet. Oh well, I did manage to learn that there were two departures north on Fridays and Sundays. However, this could change as the service picks up speed and gets more passengers. It’s cheap as well with tickets to Pursat, about 4.5 hours, $3; Battambang, about 8 hours, $6; Sisophon, about 9.5 hours, $6; and Poipet, $7.
There are many other stops along the way, but I couldn’t find out how tickets to these places work. Sometimes the train will stop at what looks like a station and at other times it stops at places in the middle of the jungle. There are some places that look like stations and the train slows down then picks up speed again. Perhaps at these places, if there isn’t anybody getting on or off then the train just carries on.
Leaving Phnom Penh
The train is scheduled to leave at 7am. The ticket had printed on it 7.15am. The train actually departed after 7.30am. It travels slowly through Phnom Penh and other built-up areas. People live right next to the tracks. There a men, women and children criss-crossing the tracks and oblivious to the oncoming train. There have been incidents of people sleeping on the tracks and getting run over. Drivers and motorcyclists seem to find the gates a delay and will skirt around them. Trucks and cars have been hit. But as the locals get used to trains then old habits will change too.
The train has the locomotive, two carriages and a freight wagon. It seems that the first carriage is occupied by railway staff, but it isn’t a problem if you want to sit there. The second carriage is for passengers. You get allocated a seat but sit where you like. Oh, there are toilets as well. If you want to take a bicycle or motorcycle, it is possible to put either one in the freight wagon for a small fee. So, with several toots of the horn the journey begins.
The beginning of the journey is slow as the train heads out of Phnom Penh. You can literally see into people’s living rooms. Once clear of the city the train picks up speed.
The first stretch of the journey is towards the old city of Oudom. The train travels through rice paddies and small villages. Oudom appears on the horizon and you can see the chedis. There is a stop where rides to Kampong Chhnang can be arranged. This Ton Le Sap town is an interesting side trip. The town has a Vietnamese community and a floating village. Ferries to other places can be arranged from the port.
Arrival In Pursat
The train heads further north with more stops until arriving in Pursat. This town is the gateway to the Cardamoms Mountains. Also known as the Krâvanh Mountains, this area is extraordinary, a vast blanket of tropical rainforest which remains one of Southeast Asia’s most pristine expanses of wilderness. Isolated by their remoteness and rugged terrain and forgotten during years of conflict in Cambodia, the Cardamoms have at their core a virtually undisturbed rainforest covering over 10,000 square kilometres.
The Cardamoms are mainland Southeast Asia’s largest remaining rainforest and wilderness area. It is also claimed to be the most pristine wilderness area remaining in Southeast Asia. More than enough reason to spend some time in Pursat. The town also has a few other places of interest such as Wat Bakan, considered to be among the oldest active pagodas in Cambodia and revered as one of the most holy sites of Cambodian Buddhism.
The train moves slowly out of Pursat but quickly picks up speed on the way to Battambang. This town is one of Cambodia’s hidden secrets. It has maintained a rustic atmosphere and a slower pace of life. French Colonial architecture is a notable aspect of the city, with some of the best-preserved examples in the country. Again, this is a place where there is a lot to see. There are several Khmer temples in the area and an impressive bat cave. The journey continues.
Is That A Cow?
Unfortunately, a little ways out of Battambang the train comes to a grinding halt. Railway workers start rushing to the back of the train. Apparently, they think they have clipped a cow. Farmers tether livestock very close to the track. Most of the animals panic when the train rumbles through. I had thoughts of a cow splattered on the train tracks. Luckily that wasn’t the case, just a close call.
The trip to the next big town is through mainly rice paddies and small villages. Eventually you arrive at Sisophon. This town is where the road from Poipet splits and travellers can either go to Battambang or Siem Reap. You can get off here and head to Siem Reap by bus. It is also the best place to access the Angkorian temple of Banteay Chhmar, just 70 kilometres to the north.
Arrival At Poipet
The last leg of the journey is to Poipet. This dusty border town has nothing much to see unless you like gambling. If there is enough time you can cross the border and make your way to Arunyapathet in Thailand. Failing that, it means a night in Poipet. There are plenty of guesthouses on the main street.
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