Inside Asia Tours: Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos

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Wednesday, 8th June 2016

Trains are the name of the game in Cambodia

Trains have begun running again in Cambodia after an absence of 14 years. Visitors and locals can now travel between the capital city of Phnom Penh and popular destinations in the south by rail. The coastal town of Sihanoukville is one such stop, but there are a wide range of others, opening up the region for all sorts of adventures.

Two refurbished trains are working the route, which offers services on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and additional ones during national holidays. Each train has the capacity to transport 200 passengers 266 kilometres to their destination.

At present, the journey time comes in at six and a half hours, but this is expected to be slashed by two hours later this year. If you’re not looking to travel to Sihanoukville, then you can experience the wonder of watching the Cambodian countryside go by for just two hours and disembark at Takeo.

Here there are some Angkor-era temple ruins that are not widely visited, but well worth checking out. Alternatively, continue on for another two hours and you’ll reach the riverside town of Kampot, with its laidback vibe and crumbling shophouse architecture.

Cambodia’s rail network consists of 612 kilometres of track across two lines, which were originally put in place during French colonial times. Mainly due to the country’s civil war, it became neglected and by 2009 there was a single service between Battambang and Phnom Penh running once a week. Then this also stopped running, leaving Cambodia without any rail provision.

Work began in 2011 to start restoring some of the track and the plan has finally come to fruition. Tickets to travel from Phnom Penh to Sihoukanville or in the other direction can be bought at the train stations. Alternatively, they can be booked via Royal Railway’s phone line.

The Phnom Penh Royal Railway Station was originally constructed in 1932 and its style reflects this era. Over the years it saw much history, with 21 leaders of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP) holding a secret congress at the station in 1960. Then in 1975, the first important meeting of the Khmer Rouge leadership was also staged within the building.

It was renovated in 2010, but with no public train services running, access to the station was limited. Now, passengers are returning to the edifice, which is a recognisable landmark in Phnom Penh and it is once again being used for the purpose in which it was originally built.

Plans are afoot to restore a number of additional train lines in Cambodia, assuming the newest proves to be a success.  By February 2017 it could be possible to travel to the border city of Poipet, which is the gateway to Thailand, by train. Prime minister Hun Sen has also put forward proposals for a rail link to Siem Reap. As it’s the jump-off point for Angkor Wat, it would likely be popular.

Related news stories:
5 things you didn't know about Cambodia (12th July 2016)
Six books you should read before travelling to Cambodia (5th November 2015)
Top tips for taking the Reunification Express (19th February 2015)
Enrich your stay in Cambodia through charitable ventures! (20th November 2014)