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Back on track in Cambodia


For me, the sight that most encapsulated the rebirth of passenger services in Cambodia was the two young children, travelling on a train for the very first time, accompanied by their grandfather or great-grandfather. The looks of awe and excitement on their faces make all the hard work of the team at Royal Railway more than worthwhile.

But then again, that awe and excitement was also on the faces of many of the adult Khmers too. Once we had boarded the train at Phnom Penh , including my scooter in the freight car, my partner, at 37, had that same ‘Xmas morning’ look as those two young children.

While there have been intermittent services over the last few decades, the reality is that it has been 40 years since regular and reliable trains have run here. Before this year, the last passenger train to run was the Phnom Penh to Battambang service, which experienced frequent derailments, in 2009.


To many observers here, the reality of passenger trains returning here seemed a distant hope, and few expected any sort of service before the end of the decade. But Royal Railway, with a 30 year concession to operate the Cambodian Railway Network, has surprised everyone, relaunching the southern railway line passenger services in April 2016. In addition to coaches, there are flatbed cars on which you can load your vehicle for a very small price.


For those of us who have regularly travelled between the capital and Kampot or Sihanoukville, we’ve all experienced those ‘life flashing before you’ white-knuckle moments as the minivan driver overtakes a truck while another lorry hurtles towards you at breakneck speed. We’ve all closed our eyes and offered silent prayers to multiple deities as we see a dog/buffalo/child on bike come rushing onto the road with no awareness of the busy traffic ahead. And we’ve all stretched our legs wearily at some ambiguous halfway point and breathed in the wonderful dust clouds created by passing trucks.

It may only have been operating for 6 months but in that time the service has already improved dramatically. While the schedule still advises that Sihanoukville is a 7 hour journey, the reality is that due to better average speeds now, the train often arrives earlier. Kampot is only around 4 hours’ journey by train which is very comparable to the same trip by road.


Inside the carriages are comfortable enough – and this will also improve as new rolling stock arrives and refurbishments continue – and the passenger areas are air conditioned too so are nice and cool for those expat and tourist sensibilities. Staff have refreshments for sale, and when you reach the first station (Takeo) there are vendors with everything from a hot meal to a toothbrush.

For safety reasons – something that is high on Royal Railway’s priority list – the train goes fairly slow as it leaves Phnom Penh. Many people still live beside the tracks and still haven’t lost their curiosity and excitement even after 6 months. Adults smile, children wave, and tourists get a little glimpse of a side of Phnom Penh they might normally miss.


Once we escape the city the locomotive picks up speed – these days they can get to 65km/h on some stretches; hardly world record levels but given they were only managing around half of that when they started, it is testament to the hard work put in by Royal Railway in improving the tracks and the rolling stock while still prioritising safety. But for me the main highlight – other than the avoidance of road travel – is the chance to kick back and watch the stunning Cambodian countryside as you meander along at a relaxing but steady pace.

We arrived in Kampot on schedule – and that was despite a slight delay in leaving due to adding on an extra freight car to accommodate passengers who turned up with motos but no moto tickets.

With services on the Northern Line (Phnom Penh to Poipet) due to start sometime in the next 12 months, the railway network in Cambodia is truly back on track

18 thoughts on “Back on track in Cambodia

  • docsalvage

    Yay! Hope the improvements continue, and maybe this will reduce a bit of road traffic. : – )

  • The author of this article is a big fast nasty fuckface who talks shit on Facebook when he sees others jumping on someone for one thing. Then when he gets told off and has a few memes made about him, he will block people off of all the local groups he happens to be admin of. He has a dirty mouth, probably a dirty everything else, and is only in Cambodia so he actually has/had a slight chance of getting a girlfriend. What a pathetic loser, and a good example of why Cambodia should tighten its borders to screen out mentally unstable and angry losers such as Iain.

    • “Cambodia should tighten its borders to screen out mentally unstable and angry losers”

      You had to have been chomping down on a huge chunk of irony when you wrote this. As someone who has managed to alienate all around her at home, then flee to Cambodia and alienate the entire expat community, scare children, and find herself unemployable, you must see how funny this is. I do actually worry about you and urge you to move somewhere that you can access the mental health services you are desperately in need of.

      • You don’t even know what you’re talking about, and I think half of the bullshit all you sexpat pedos make up to try and make me look bad is simply a sad reflection of your own pathetic existences. Be a hypocrite more, you’re not convincing anyone but yourselves.

      • FYI; I have a job, and I don’t need one, if I didn’t. LOL @ you thinking you’re affecting me. You know what’s sad? Stalking poeple’s profiles and trying to get them not hired all over an entire city because of your butthurt on Facebook. You and Simon are peas in a pod, buddy. I know about his hatred of blacks and Paki bashing, so like I said, keep being a hypocritical shit faces! lol. I love it.

        • Should have been you that fell off a railing. Too bad.


      • I can’t help but ask, what children have I scared? I was just sitting here thinking about that, and well, all the ones I know here love me. So, what did you do, take a picture of hitler, go around saying THSI IS ANN SNOW AND SHE HATES MUSLIMS. SHE WILL COME AND GET YOU!!!!RAWRRRRR!! LMFAOOOOOO

        • Iain

          To be fair, you have hardly crossed my radar at all. In fact, I have begun to have a lot of sympathy for you – which I know you will hate. Though I think a lot of what has been aimed at you has been self inflicted, there have been elements of a pogrom against you which just makes me think of villagers, burning torches, and pitchforks. So I’m ceasing any nasty comments towards you, but will leave it up to you whether your own comments continue. Glad to hear you have a job and sincerely hope none of the online crap affects it. Take care. 🙂

          • Yeah RIGHT. You “know” I will hate some feeling you may or may not have. Ok man. Whatever. You are right about one thing; the mob mentality took over and went full retard. Have a good one, bud.

          • Hey buddy old pal, why don’t you delete that post on the Cambodia Scammers page eh? It’s a bunch of hypocritical shit, and just cost me some money. So if you want to start taking money form me over your butthurt that it came to light that I don’t like Muslims thanks to Simon Bird at the Garage Bar getting his panties in a wad, then I will have to start building web pages and groups to counter it. I’ve not wanted to waste my time on it but now that it seems as if you have personally given me some free time, I figure why not. Please the the group “The Phnom Penh Expat Report”. I’m going to start digging on all of you to see what I can find here and at your home countries. I bet you’re ALL squeaky clean though, right?

          • Excuse my typos, sir

        • The general rule of the scammers page is that once an issue has been resolved or is no longer an issue, then the post can be removed. So in this case your request is valid and the post has now been deleted. Typos excused as is a sunday and I can’t be doing with all that on my day off 🙂

  • Pepper Nimitz

    Does the child in the top photo have blond hair?

    • He did appear to have almost blondish colouring and looks more Eurasian than 100% Khmer

  • Geofflorimer

    Can’t wait to return and try it

  • For me, I have never traveled by Cambodia train because it is not a popular transportation yet in Cambodia. However, I will make a new experience soon to make sure I can bring some friends from abroad to do it after.

  • Many people still live beside the tracks and still haven’t lost their curiosity and excitement even after 6 months


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