Battambang is a confusing place.  It is the second largest city in Cambodia with a population which exceeds 250,000 people, yet it feels like a sleepy town or a very quiet village.  If one reads about things to do one finds writings about a French quarter, an art center, a local market, and a bamboo train as a highlight.

OK, the bamboo ride is fun and different; not because it is comfortable but rather the contraption one calls a train and its history. Originally, the train tracks was built by French colonial settlers and later largely abandoned since the Khmer Rouge regime effectively shut it down.

A norry is an improvised rail vehicle from Cambodia. Norries have low fares, are frequent and relatively fast, so are popular despite their rudimentary design, lack of brakes, the state of the rails (often broken or warped) and lack of any formal operating regime. Simple construction and light weight mean that the norry may be simply removed from the track – if two meet on the line, the one with the lighter load is unloaded, lifted and carried round the other, and at the end of the line the vehicle is lifted and turned.

Originally propelled by hand using punt poles, power is now provided by small motorcycle or tractor engines with belt drive direct to the rear axle, delivering top speeds of 40 km/h or more. Fuel is bought from villages along the route, supplied in glass jars and the flat-bedded vehicles will carry any load that will fit, including people, livestock, motorcycles and rice.

Now that I have the bamboo story behind me I can tell you why I really like the place.  As always – the local people their everyday life, their professions – skilled or unskilled, fish factory workers, rice plants, ice making, roadside stands and so much more. It is a the suburbs of a sleepy town, so on the surface it looks like nothing is happening, while in a fact people run their life working hard in a world where there are no utilities like running water or electricity, supermarket or swimming pool.  A different world!!!

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