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Cambodia’s Rickety Bamboo Trains

Although Cambodia has a fine network of railway tracks dating back to the French colonial days, there are hardly any trains running these days. Real trains, that is. The locals get by perfectly well with their own indigenous invention – bamboo trains.

The Cambodian railway system never really recovered from the horrors of war and the Khmer Rouge genocide that happened decades ago. They have just one proper train line in service and the rest of the tracks were covered for years by homemade trains called ‘norrys’. These weird contraptions aren’t exactly what you’d call luxury transport. But they are cheap – about 50 cents a ride. And that suits the locals just fine.

Norrys are made of bamboo, wood and sometimes even parts of old tanks. The first one was built in the 1980s by 73-year-old Pat Oun, or so he claims. The earlier versions didn’t have any engines. Drivers just stood in the train and used long bamboo poles to propel the vehicle down the tracks. “I did this for 20 to 30 kilometers in the past,” said Pat, as he demonstrated the motion.

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