The Bamboo Train in Battambang: The Good and the Ugly

Riding the bamboo train (nori) in Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang isn’t the most popular destination for travellers passing through Cambodia, but those who do make it to the northwestern part of the country know about the notorious bamboo train.

Located in the outskirts of town, the bamboo train, or nori, is essentially a bamboo flatbed on wheels, which is powered by a small motorcycle or tractor engine.

The rail line stretches all the way down to the capital of Phnom Penh, but the tracks lie in complete abandon and disrepair, meaning the bamboo ride only runs 7 kilometers in length to a nearby village and back.

White knuckles and smiles

The bamboo train was the first stop along our tuk-tuk tour of the Cambodian countryside. As we reached the start of the line our tuk-tuk driver Mr. Bay snapped a photo for us saying, “the train won’t be around much longer.” I smiled because I had read the same thing in my guidebook…which is three years out of date.

The government has plans to rebuild the rail lines all the way to the Thai border in the northeastern part of the country, and all the way south to the beach town of Sihanoukville. That being said, this project was aimed to be completed several years ago, and that is still in the works, so maybe there is no rush after all…

We we paid our $10, hopped on the makeshift train, and waved Mr. Bay goodbye as we pulled away.

Sitting on straw mats than has been laid over the bamboo platform, I held onto whatever I could and the contraption quickly began to pick up speed. (This thing can go up to 40 kilometers an hour!) I peeked down through the cracks at the rail tracks below, but it was all a blur of colour and sound. I had to yell to be heard, but even then the wind carried half of my words away.


With the wind blowing in my hair, and the speed plastering a smile on my face, we chugged past fields, across rickety bridges, and through stretches of bush. Locals walked on the tracks and only hopped off when the train was almost upon them.

When we finished the first stretch of the journey and reached the village, I couldn’t wait to do it all over again!

Lifting the bamboo train off the tracks so others can pass

But at the end of the line things turned sour…

When we reached the village that lies at the end of the tracks, the atmosphere changed. Our driver quickly disappeared before we even had a chance to look over our shoulders.

Village at the end of the bamboo train line, Battambang

A girl approached us and told us that the train would be making a mandatory 10 minute stop here. That’s fine, we thought. Maybe our driver wanted to grab a quick breakfast or have a restroom break…

We decided to have a wander through town, but that’s when the hassling started.

“You have to sit here. Wait here, buy drink. Drink is one dollar. You buy drink.”

Seeing as we had just eaten breakfast and were carrying around a 2L bottle of water with us, we didn’t feel the need to buy a warm can of coke or beer, but the pleading continued. I thought of maybe purchasing a souvenir so that I could contribute something, but the only thing that caught my eye were scarves, and I’ve already accumulated seven of those travelling through Cambodia. I came to the conclusion that certainly a $10 fee for a ride that lasts 15 minutes each way was a fair price and a good enough contribution to the local economy. (That’s way more than what it costs to travel from Battambang to Phnom Penh and that trip lasts 6-7 hours!)

After a brief stroll along the tracks, we returned back to our bamboo train to continue waiting for our driver who still hadn’t returned.

Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes…

No other trains had arrived yet, and we were the only ones there. I felt like we were being kept here until we purchased something, and I didn’t like the pressure they were putting on us as visitors.

Just as we were debating going in search of our driver, he reappeared.

Engine on a bamboo train in Battambang, Cambodia

He started turning the bamboo train around, and while he was doing so, another woman approached us. “Where are you from?” she asked, and as soon as we had replied, her next words were “you have to tip your driver.”

Our driver, who had already been paid $10. Our driver, who had not smiled at us or been friendly in any way. Our driver, who had wandered off for 20 minutes without explanation only to return with a sour look on his face.

We explained to her that we had already paid our driver at the start of the line, but the woman insisted that we needed to tip our driver and she would not go away. The demands were getting outright bold, and frustration was mounting on our side.

Why were we being made to feel guilty?

We hopped back on the bamboo train, and as elated as I had been on the way over, I couldn’t enjoy the ride back. All I could think of was the confrontation that might take place once we reached the other side.

When we finally arrived at start of the line, we hopped off the train, saw our tuk-tuk driver Mr. Bay, and went straight towards him.

Bamboo train tracks in Battambang, Cambodia

We didn’t look back.

I know how horrible that sounds. It’s not how I wanted to end things, and I hate that our bamboo train driver probably has the impression that we are spoiled foreigners who refused to tip him, but at the same time I don’t think it’s right to guilt visitors into giving you money, especially after you’ve been treated so poorly.

A tip is meant to be a reward for good services, and in this case it would have been rewarding bad behaviour.

Can I recommend the bamboo train?

Hopefully this story will help you decide.

Have you been on the bamboo train?

What would you have done in this situation?


  • Adam says:

    I had the same thoughts about the bamboo train and wasn’t much of a fan of the experience. I also thought it was over-hyped in the guidebooks. Interesting to read about your more recent experience, though!
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    • Audrey says:

      I hadn’t heard too much about the trains, so I didn’t have that many expectations going there. I did enjoy blasting through the fields, but the end of the line kind of spoiled it for me.

  • Vanessa says:

    What a bummer! I was getting so hyped at the beginning–wild, rickety bamboo ride… then BAM totally taken advantage of. What a shame to spoil the experience for you and a shame for Cambodian tourism, really. I’ve read a couple blog posts about others going on this train, but not heard anything negative… maybe they weren’t the kind to reveal everything though.
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  • Marilynn says:

    Yeap, been in your situation before. i was in Cambodia late October last year by myself – a girl from Brunei. the ride was fascinating though but at the other end of the line was not. i was immediately asked to sit down by an elderly man. he asked me where i was from because you dont see asian girls travel – especially not alone. he was a little surprised that i’m from Brunei. his son flew there once as a pilot. he showed me a photo that has been framed. true enough, the royal Brunei was in the background. i thought “wouldnt his son help his own family get out of poverty?” i did ask him where he is now – he didnt give me a straight answer but i know he hasnt been home for 7 years. his wife? i think that was his wife kept asking me to buy those t-shirts and scarves. 10 mins later my bamboo driver came back. the elderly man sternly told me to tip the driver because the boss only pays him $1 for every bamboo ride. i’m not sure if that is true or not. anyways, it was a little sour experience for me.

    • Audrey says:

      I’m sorry it wasn’t a great experience for you either. Like you said, sometimes it’s hard to know what to believe. The driver may well get a good chunk of the $10, or they may only get $1…

    • yahn says:

      how much did you pay for the ride? u went alone or with tour agency?

  • Jennifer says:

    Ive not been on the bamboo train, but looks like I sound avoid it in the future! I hate being put in situations like that when you feel so pressurised – your right, a tip sh0uld be for good service, not bad, and no amount of pressurising should make you tip. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • I haven’t tried the bamboo train yet, but i believe we have those here in the Philippines too.
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  • What a shame…sounds like such a cool experience, but that’s too bad it’s being wrecked like that. I would have done the same thing you did. Good job for not giving in, hopefully enough people will do what you did.
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  • Wow! Sounds like the worst case of tourist exploitation I’ve ever heard of. Sorry it didn’t turn out to be a very positive experience.
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  • Agness says:

    How come we didn’t do it? Ach!! What a pitty. The bamboo train experience seems to be so cool. When I’m back in Cambodia, I definitely wanna do it. Remember guys – Khmer people take things so slow and easy πŸ™‚ there is no rush for them πŸ˜›
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  • I have heard other mixed reviews about the bamboo train in Battambang, but none of them really mentioned the browbeating that occurs at the end of the line. I understand a little bit of what that is like as we have had similar experiences in Vietnam. As you know, tipping is not really very common in Asia, however, we try to be good travelers and give tips when we take tours or take part in activities where we have a guide. When we did a day trip from Hanoi, part of the day involved being paddled down a river by local people, and our tour guide warned us they would ask for tips at the end. He said that $1USD per person would be more than enough, and truly, to a local, that is a good deal of money if you are rowing a boat with 6 people in it. However, when we got out of the boat and offered our $2US, the woman scowled at us and demanded more! I was half tempted at that point to just walk off and give her nothing, because my feeling is that if you are going to be ungrateful about a tip when I have already purchased a ticket for your service, then you get nothing. I don’t want to reward bad behavior, as you say, and I was honestly quite disgusted with that kind of behavior. It’s crazy because in some places here, people demand tips that are equal to the price of the attraction in the first place.

    All to say, I know how frustrating/gross/uncomfortable these situations can be, and I can definitely understand how it would have tainted your experiences on the train. It’s only a matter of time before these kind of actions cause tourists to stop visiting these attractions and all the money dries up.
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    • Audrey says:

      Wow, that sounds like a sticky situation you guys experienced in Hanoi. It’s been strange for me going from living in Korea, where no one ever tips, to travelling around SE Asia, where it seems that people are demanding tips more and more. I’m in Vietnam now and I have also found that people are pushing for tips after I’ve already paid the ticket price. It just takes some getting used to…but I’m loving Vietname regardless!

  • Mary says:

    I went with my family on the bamboo train and had a very different experience. I think perhaps it was because we took the ride with out tuk tuk driver and he was an excellent guide. We did see the ladies trying to sell and we were thirsty so buying a drink was no big deal. We walked over to the brick factory and got a great tour for free, it was fabulous and we chatted with many locals there. They even showed the kids how to make the bricks and let them try.

    I can understand the feeling of being pressured and how frustrating that is but at the same time I try to keep my thoughts on compassion, knowing how much less they have. It is no excuse really to treat people badly or expect things from others but it helps me at least not feel so frustrated. Good luck with the rest of Cambodia. We stayed 2 months and by the end it was just soo bleak that we couldn’t wait to leave, although it remains one of our favorite countries!
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    • Audrey says:

      I’m glad to hear that you guys had a better experience on the bamboo train and at the village. I honestly didn’t get to walk very far when we reached the end of the tracks – I didn’t even realize there was a brick factory to visit. Overall, I really did enjoy my time in Cambodia. πŸ™‚ A month there just flew by!.

  • Sofie says:

    “A tip is meant to be a reward for good services, and in this case it would have been rewarding bad behaviour.”

    I totally agree with you. I understand you feel guilty because you know it wouldn’t have hurt you to buy something for $2, but you also know they’ve already asked way too high a price for the train ride. If the drive had been friendly and the people not so pushy, I might have bought something, but being pressured like that…
    I wouldn’t have enjoyed the ride back either.

    Did you say something about it to your tuk-tuk driver?
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  • Sherry says:

    Okay, that sounded like a horrible experience in what could’ve been a very romantic ride in the country. I think, however, it’s very typical in Asian countries (at least in my experience) to squeeze as much out of the tourist as possible. And it’s such a shame. I may skip this if I ever go to Cambodia.
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  • Angela says:

    I’ve been on the bamboo train as well and didn’t tip. I don’t like people asking me for money. I’ll tip if I think you deserved it.
    The ladies at the drink stall were kind of pushy and we just ignored them. But I guess it’s just their way of making a living. I’m still not sure how I feel about what happened at the end of the bamboo train but the overall experience for me was awesome.
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  • Oh that brought back so many memories of that bumpy ride, the most fun I have had on four wheels. Except, as you point out the tippy tippy tippy demands, downright annoying.
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  • Tamsin says:

    What a shame the experience was ruined! I think you handled it well, and I’d have done the same given the situation I think. I had an equally sour experience with a cyclo driver in Ho Chi Minh City.
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  • Nisha says:

    Oh I missed it! πŸ™ Just could not make it.

    Looks like you guys had loads of fun. πŸ™‚

  • Dean says:

    It is annoying when that happens. The problem is that a lot of people are too easily pressured into giving up that tip and buying that drink even if they don’t want to. It works for them so they keep doing it.
    The ride sounds like a unique experience at least!
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  • Jackie D says:

    I had that same feeling of being pressured/feeling guilty in a few places in Central America — I wanted to help people out and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but I knew that if I kept buying things from every single person who asked me, I would very quickly have nothing left to give.
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    • Audrey says:

      I completely agree with you. It can be really overwhelming to have so many people asking for help wherever you go. I’ve kind of struggled with that in Asia. We try to tip and give a little bit of money when we see people in need, but at the same time where do you draw the line before you’re also left with an empty wallet?

  • I hate it when you’re excited about something and it turns out like that. I’m sure you’ll laugh about it some day…”remember the time we were on the bamboo train…”
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  • Jim says:

    I took the bamboo train and have to agree… it just felt like a tourist trap… too bad.

  • Sam says:

    That sounds unpleasant. It’s a tricky situation, and I can understand both points of view here. Sad face.
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  • Maria says:

    Wow! On one hand they are poor and trying to make a buck but on the other hand, you get more from a bee with honey – had they been sweet and/or engaging you may have bought that extra bottle of water and tips… don’t get me started. I walked into a convenience store in the US the other day and there was tip jar on the counter! For what? Ringing me up? I get that you were conflicted but tips are extra, for having provided service above the basic/standard. Ugh!
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  • flip says:

    Terrible for hassling you to shell out money.
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  • Dani says:

    I remember that Jess and I felt the same about it when we were in Battambang last year. The guidebook had made it seem as if it was possible to just hop on with local workers who take the train, which might have been true a few years back, but when we got there, it was definitely just for tourists. We enjoyed the ride (even though it was kinda terrifying!!) but we hated the whole tipping guilt trip at the end – $10 for the ride was already A LOT of money by Cambodian standards.

    • Audrey says:

      Yeah, there was no hopping on with locals when I was there either. It sounds like we had really similar experiences there.

  • Thanks for this honest post Audrey πŸ™‚
    We’ve never been on that train, but have definitely felt like we were being pushed into tipping – for poor service. A tip (like you said) is meant to be for service with a smile, good service, or if someone goes above and beyond…I hate when it feels mandatory and especially when the person you are supposed to be tipping hasn’t done the best of jobs.

    I would have done exactly what you guys did – not tipped, and not looked back.

    Cheers & safe travels to you πŸ™‚
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  • Jade Johnston - says:

    You know, I have heard alot of people reccomending the bamboo train but this is the first time I heard a bad story about it. To be honest though, even the good stories didn’t really peak my interest, so I think after your story I would give it a miss. I hate situations like that where you feel utterly trapped by demands for money. I am glad you didn’t give in.
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  • 40kph on makeshift stilts! That’s kind of insane. 10 bucks for 15 minutes of work seems like a pretty good deal. Oh well, what can you do? Just try to forget the negative experience.
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  • Shane says:

    When people come up to me and say ‘money ‘ in a demanding or unpleasant manner, I usually respond by saying ‘no thanks, I have some.’ They tend to look momentarily confused before going away.
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  • Suzy says:

    There is nothing I hate more than just being looked at as a dollar sign. Sounds like that how you two were treated.
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  • Montecristo Travels (Sonja) says:

    I had a friend that did this and had read about this behaviour. So she nipped it in the bud. She told the driver straight up “I will NOT tip you if I don’t get excellent service… understood?”. Surprise surprise … it was a fantastic experience and she tipped him because he even told the pushy vendors to back off. πŸ™‚ If we go – I think we will try that approach!
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  • I am surprised about the tipping thing. Usually Cambodians are very honest and when you agree a price that is usually the price you have to pay at the end. I would have expected that in Vietnam (where I got ripped off 3 times in one day by moto and taxi drivers) but not in Cambodia. A real shame. I hope it is not getting like that in the rest of the country too.
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  • Emma says:

    Hey Audrey, my boyfriend and I are about to go to Battambang in a couple of days and I’m struggling to make my mind up whether to give the Bamboo Train experience a shot or not, on the one hand it sounds like great fun, on the other the whole being trapped at the other end and hassled for money does not! Out of interest was it $5 per person or $10 per person as it seems to vary depending on who you get? (I read somewhere else a review by someone recently who was told it was $10 unless they wanted to wait over an hour for a train!)

  • Ceri says:

    I still get so awkward about tipping because (as your probably know) it’s not a common thing here in the UK. I had to really get used to doing it a lot when I started travelling and if I’d have been in our position, I’d have probably felt awkward and guilty and ended up tipping reluctantly again.

  • abbot jackson says:

    I read your blog which has the most important information about train.this is a fantastic train.

  • Nicole @ Green Global Travel says:

    When you meet someone who says they have done it all, you will always be able to say you have been on a bamboo train πŸ˜‰
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  • melissa says:

    The fee for the train goes to the owner of the train. The driver is not the owner. I know it stinks to feel pressured to tip, but Cambodia is an extremely poor country and that’s why sellers are very aggressive.

    • Cheryl says:

      No, I disagree. Sellers are aggressive because they see how foreigners waste money and gladly hand it over without questioning how much something is, or permit themselves to be taken advantage of on a price because, for example, they can’t bother to bargain. The reason tips are expected isn’t because the locals tip themselves and thus expect outsiders to. It’s because outsiders are stupid and assume that the rest of the world conducts itself as they do in their own country. Thus, they leave tips after eating, getting a haircut, getting a taxi/moto ride, etc. and it becomes a belief in the poor countries that everyone is going to leave a tip and when you don’t, they’ll hound you. Of course, they don’t see it as being rude – It’s not even their own tradition! Quite frankly, if visitors and expats could bother to learn a dozen words in the country they’re visiting or living in, the harrassment wouldn’t occur. It doesn’t with me because I tell them ‘no’ in their language and they know I mean it.

  • Charis says:

    I have visited Cambodia and also I have heard about Bamboo Train but I don’t have any kind of experience.

  • Greg Goodman says:

    Well I’ll be honest, this is exactly what I would expect from the experience based on my time in Angkor.

    However, now that I have the heads up, I think it will help me from getting too frustrated when I’m there next month. The killer part is when you go into something with one expectation, enjoy a beautiful start and then get the hard sell when you are most relaxed and unprepared. Guess now I have to love the ride and mentally prepare myself for the rest.

  • Mike McRory-Wilson says:

    I was on this amazing Railway late in 2010 (and toured the brickworks).

    All I can say is that I had the most delightful ride both ways, had a marvelous afternoon and completely missed out on any problems. The people were delightful, the brickworks a vision of exhausting hard work in the most primitive of conditions and the ride an experience not to be missed while it is still there!

    Incidentally, when you meet a train coming the other way some sort of negotiation takes place between the drivers and one train, whichever one loses out I suppose, is dismantled and removed from the track. The other one then pulls through and continues on its journey after which the first train is reassembled to continue on its merry way. The patient stoicism of the crews really is a joy to behold. After an experience like that I tipped anyway – at the end of the two-way journey.

    For the sheer exhileration and joy of the experience a tip is surely a minimum must.

    Anyway, do not be put off by what you have read. Go, try to remain philosophical about any cash transactions, and then just grin your way through a truly and utterly uniqe and joyful experience!


  • Linda says:

    It’s a fun thing to do. Did the fact that it was ten dollars not tip you off that it was a tourist trap? If you didn’t want to buy anything you could have wandered off to the old brick works to have a look around. No biggie. I didn’t buy anything when I was there. After touring the brick works I had plenty of time to sit down and drink some of the water I’d brought and visit with the locals. I told them I was poor like them and that I didn’t have any money. They didn’t care. The drivers don’t have very good social skills, that much is true. And I don’t usually tip in Cambodia anyway. But, lighten up. It’s just for fun.

  • Kim says:

    I don’t think many affluent travelers (yes, you are one) appreciate how hard people are working in places like Cambodia to feed their families. When I say “feed their families,” I don’t mean buy another iphone or motorbike — I mean rice. I am guilty too. It’s hard for people like us to imagine such desperation and if you were that poor, you would do the same thing for your children. I don’t want this posted — just sharing my thoughts.

  • Faye Pincher says:

    After reading this blog, I was very skeptic to go on the bamboo train, we were staying in Siem Reap and had been previously advised by a lone traveller in Bangkok to make the effort to go as it will soon be no more and is a great experience. We decided to go with it, the bus journey was not particularly enjoyable! (Capitol Tours) I think they’re the best to go with but as you may know, none of the bus journeys are great. We finally got to Battambang early afternoon and when getting off the bus we were mobbed by tuk tuk drivers which was quite funny as you didn’t know who to choose! Our driver Som charged myself and partner $20 for a days trip to see the train and the bat caves/killing caves. We thought this was steep but we didn’t mind. Off we went to the bamboo train and upon arrival a police man greeted us, asked where we were from – the usual. Som went off and the police man said we need to pay $5 each for an 50 min trip. We gladly paid a local with a beer in his hand and then our driver came, a young boy. The effort that these young men put into carting the bamboo trains about is unreal. Off we set and we instantly loved it, locals waving and smiling as we pass. It’s quite uncomfortable as I suffer with a bad back but nothing to moan about. When we arrived at the other end, I knew about the hassling and decided to walk straight passed the children and mothers asking you to buy a drink or souvenir and visit the brick factory. This was free, it’s not a lot but the woman was lovely so we bought a $4 t-shirt from her. We then decided to head back to the bamboo train but our driver was resting so we decided to have a can of beer. This WAS NOT warm, neither did we feel pressured to buy anything. We had a talk about local life with the owner of the ‘shop’ and her mother, her daughter made me a grasshopper from a coconut leaf which was superb. The driver called us over for our return journey, on the way he had to stop for on coming trains and he shared his berries with me that he picked off a tree which I thought was lovely. The lady at the shop did ask us to tip our driver however I understand why. They don’t get the $5 pp charged for the trip. We did not mind one but paying $2 tip for such hard work in such a poor country. We don’t have a lot of money for our total travelling experience (2 months covering SEA) but I wouldn’t be so stingy as to deny a small tip, a cold drink or a $1 bracelet made by an 8 yr old child. I hope you go and experience this amazing trip πŸ™‚

  • John Gibbon says:

    I went on the bamboo train recently and everyone hops off to be met by pushy hawkers. I think it is quite normal for Cambodia though and I’ve come across more insistent hawkers in Phnom Penh. We decided to walk down the side road away from the stalls and vendors and ended up talking to the girls at the brick factory (not especially pushy, and didn’t rush out to meet us). The girls spoke very good English and gave us a tour of the factory. We chatted with them for our 10-15 minute stop and bought a can of soft drink ($1) and a bracelet (5o cents) for their time. This made our stop quite enjoyable and we didn’t have anyone hassle us on our way back to our train. Hopefully others enjoy a similar experience!

  • Wouter says:

    I did the bamboo train a couple of times in 2008 as being a tourleader and i recently did it again.
    Prices have increased rapidly! The locals found out there is some money to be made of wealthy western toourist i guess!

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  • Vicky says:

    I completely disagree. We visited in Dec 2015 the price was $5. Before boarding we were told the driver doesn’t get paid a lot for working and a small tip is advisory but not compulsory. We were also told that we would take a twenty minute break in a little village at the end of the line. Yes as always is aisa you are hassled but what do you expect these people have nothing. We chatted to a really old guy about hai Khmer Rouge experiences and then a lovely lady called Vo who taught us how to make braclets. Yes they want your business but they also just want to talk and be friendly. We bought two beers and say and chatted with our driver and the locals for half an hour. It was a great experience. I think this was completely over exaggerated. No one got hurt and no one forced anything upon you. Lighten up and be friendly and you will go further on your travels. πŸ™‚

  • Nadine says:


    I’ve been on the Bamboo Train a couple of days ago aswell. As we stopped in this village they also just left without saying a word but the people there weren’t that aggressive and left us alone as we didnt want to buy something. Some guys there told us we CAN tip the driver which we didnt do because she wasnt that friendly either and I’m the same opinion than you: they made a lot of money already with us. I personally liked the Bamboo Train and thought its a cool experience even though its overpriced.

  • Marco says:

    You did the right thing!.Cambodians need to learn to do tourism in a way that doesn’t leave people with a bad experience. The people who accept these aggressive tactics are not helping them develop a sustainable tourism industry. Good job for standing for your principles !

  • Matildaonthemove says:

    Price is $5, plus tip. Did get told three times to tip, but we walk away from the row and only the kids followed.Gave them an English lesson and charged them a $1!

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