We had tried to enter Cambodia last year at a quiet border crossing from Laos and were denied entry with the motorcycle, being told that before foreign registered vehicles can enter, a special clearance permit would have to be obtained and that permit was only issued at the capital Phnom Penh, a long ways inland. Could this unusual and complicated requirement be true?
Now we were about to find out if this border's officials mandated the same. So as we were making our way through the officialdom which involved running the gauntlet of "facilitators" of questionable status and fees, it was suggested by some that as there was no control at Customs, we could avoid checking in with them and just go on through and hit the road.
As we didn't want to skirt the law or encounter any future problems, we voluntarily went straight to Customs where it was confirmed that we DID need a permit and it was only issued at the capital. A kindly Customs official said we could leave our motorcycle (with no charge) behind locked gates at the Customs building as we would have to take a 6- to 7-hour bus trip to the capital Phnom Penh to get this permit.
Recent Cambodian history has been cruel (an understatement) to its citizens and even today they are struggling in penury in an underdeveloped country, unsupported and ignored by their civil servants. This was evident in the immediate scenes that hit us, where huge overloaded carts were pulled by hand on dusty, horn blaring streets or the hustlers trying to depart you from your dollars. But it's with empathy we say, it brings out the worst in some, and with admiration, the best in most others.
Once finished with border business and as it was still early in the day, we hopped on a bus heading towards Phnom Penh but with a stop for a day in Battambang, a place we wanted to visit. It was an older bus and didn't make very good time dodging all kinds of traffic on a 2-lane road that's muddy when it rains and dusty when dried. But 3 hours later (118 km), we finally arrived and took a tuk tuk to a cheap but adequate hotel room.
The next morning, we took a tuk tuk out into the country to the infamous Bamboo Train. It's actually a number of individual small flat cars with flat beds of bamboo slats, 3 m long, and they run on an abandoned rail line. Up to 15 persons can ride on the flat bed with the driver manipulating the motor. But we only saw 2 to 4 persons on each flat bed.
We were propelled down warped, misaligned tracks, hair blowing in the breeze, listening to the multitude of birds chirping and through small clouds of butterflies, through the ubiquitous rice paddies for about 20 minutes before stopping. We stretched our legs where the villagers offered drinks, snacks, and souvenirs.
Dismantled trains at rest stop
Click on our YouTube video to see drivers taking the trains off the tracks while waiting at the rest stop:
Then back on the train for the return trip of maybe 20 minutes. Maybe, because if 2 cars meet on the track, the one with the least number of people would have to dismantle and heft it off to 1 side letting the other train pass. Our car stopped to help several others get put back together so it was much slower to return.