the romance of train journeys

Published on February 21, 2018

After 14 years Royal Cambodian Railways re-opened a passenger train service that operates between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville with stops at Takeo and Kampot.

Like the train journeys of old this wonderful and unique trip is a slow, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable experience. The Train departs from the Grand old restored Phnom Penh train station, which is an iconic piece of colonial architecture built in 1931. There are two trains which both have different carriage configuration, this story is from aboard the train that has long bench seating as opposed to rows of seats that face each other. The allocated space for each seat is very generous and the actual seats are very comfortable. One of the great first experiences is the general happy upbeat of all passengers that are a delightful combination of adventurous travelers and Cambodian locals.

The beginning of the journey is a fascinating and insightful one as you very slowly start to depart Phnom Penh to the sounds of a chugging train engine warming up and passing through the communities that line the train track, the shanty style housing almost touches the tracks as you get up close and personal to these communities and both adults and children alike with sheer delight on their faces eagerly wave the train as it passes by. The further you head out of the city the juxtaposition of the old meets the new as the ever changing skyline of this burgeoning city becomes obvious as the new building and constructions stand tall against the old and small low lying dwellings and small family owned businesses.

With the bustling city of Phnom Penh slowly becoming more distant you reach some fields of large lotus ponds, both the magenta and white variety with larger than life leaves that hold water droplets that glisten in the morning sun. The train starts to pick up some speed but still travels at a memorising and almost hypnotic pace. On route to the first stop of Takeo you pass through fields where rice fields are separated by the tall and rather stunning sugar palm trees and you start to pass through quaint villages and ornate pagoda’s. You really start to feel immersed in the rich culture of the Cambodia of today. Takeo is a large province with a small train station, the short stop allows you enough time to look at and purchase some of the more local snacks that vendors have set up along the makeshift train platform. Selling everything from freshly cut pineapples, to dried river fish and crispy insects this is a culinary experience that has to be experienced to believe.

This journey was taken in late January during what is known as the dry season in Cambodia, iridescent green luscious rice fields of wetter season and the golden fields of harvest time were being nurtured and cared for ready for the next cycle, farmers were ploughing their fields with the most archaic and simple piece of agricultural machinery using the strength of Braham cows with water buffalo and their calves roll and frolic in the small remaining water holes.   The surprise of the trip was the amount of birdlife that was present and in abundance flying in flocks low across the stunning countryside.

As the train gets deeper into rural Cambodia and closer to Kampot passing duck farms the mystical and magical limestone mountains start to appear, mountains that from a road journey are only a distant backdrop on the horizon, the train travels and winds alongside and hugs these striking mountains and you get the magnitude and magnificence of nature’s beauty.

Pulling into Kampot station was like arriving to a place where time had stopped. The station is a remarkable piece of unrestored modern Khmer architecture.

In total the journey between Phnom Penh and Kampot takes between 5-6 hours but at no stage is the trip boring , the onward journey to Sihnoukville from Kampot is two hours.

Knai Bang Chatt offer a Royal Train Experience package that includes Phnom Penh train station transfer from Phnom Penh hotel, luggage transfer to Kep, train journey, train picnic basket including wine, Kampot to Knai Bang Chatt transfer, return transfer to Phnom Penh by air conditioned car.

Price* 160 USD per person based on minimum two passengers.

*Knai Bang Chatt accommodation prices on request and based on seasonality