For many years, the railways in Cambodia have been sinking into oblivion, with the tracks damaged beyond repair and the buses cheap and convenient. It is just about possible for true train enthusiasts to travel on one of the cargo trains, but at a maximum speed of 20km an hour, they are still some of the slowest in the world.
However, a few months ago a regular rail services started running again between the capital Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, with two stops in between at Kampot and Takeo. Cambodian and foreign backers have been working to bring the railways back from the dead, and this is just the first of a whole network of services that will crisscross the country.
At the moment the trains are only running on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with the 266km journey taking six and a half hours, although this is hoped to be reduced by two hours in the near future. A ticket costs US $7 and gives you access to the novelty of a truly retro train experience.
There are pull down windows and some original French signs, as well as silent Charlie Chaplin movies showing on big screen TVs. A conductor with a portable karaoke machine will make announcements in English and Khmer. With regular stops to pick up snacks and iced coffee, and no kamikaze traffic to worry about, this sounds like a new way to travel Cambodia in style.
The easiest way to get tickets is just to go to the station in person. The attractive French built station in Phnom Penh is being renovated and is open from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Otherwise check on the unofficial site or Seat 61.