Trains in Cambodia are running for passengers again after 14 years. Currently, the service is available from the capital, Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s beautiful southern coast with stops at Takeo and Kampot in between. There are also plans already in action to reopen the branches of the line north of the capital with links to Battambang, Siem Reap and Poipet on the Thai border.
The service currently runs from Friday to Sunday, with extra dates for national holidays. There are two delightfully restored French trains running holding approximately 200 passengers each. The 266-kilometre journey from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville takes 6½ hours which matches most bus journey times but at half the cost and with increased safety and comfort. Passengers’ motorbikes and cars can be transported on the train at an additional cost.
Buying a Train Ticket
Tickets for all trains regardless of where you are boarding need to be purchased at the station itself. The trip to the centrally located Phnom Penh train station was a pleasant experience in itself. The counter staff were friendly, informative and efficient, within 2 minutes I had the ticket in my hand! The terminal itself is well worth taking some time to look around being one of Phnom Penh’s biggest and best preserved colonial-era buildings.
It is best to book your ticket at least one day before you would like to travel but it is possible to book on the day if you don’t mind being flexible with your plans!
For up to date information on the ticket price and schedule please visit Royal Railways’ website.
Getting to the Train Station
My train departed Phnom Penh at 3 pm on Friday afternoon, although you will be advised to arrive 30 minutes earlier. There are several stalls selling food and refreshments and a friendly ticket guard ready to welcome you on the train. Amongst my fellow travellers were a group of Cambodian travellers who were excited to travel on a train for the first time and gaze on beautiful scenery rarely seen from road journeys down to Sihanoukville.
Boarding the Train
My ticket had a seat number dedicated to it, however, as I boarded the guard helpfully advised me that there was lots of seating available and to take my pick wherever I wanted!
The train itself was very clean and had several air conditioning units per cabin keeping it a pleasant temperature. The seats are excellently designed to face forwards or backwards depending on your direction. I had plenty of room in my seat although you always have the option of stretching your legs by taking a walk up and down the train and taking a look at some of the original French signage the train still displays.
There are clean western style toilets on each carriage in addition to a buffet cart in the front carriage offering snacks and food.
The train left Phnom Penh promptly at 3 pm as the train crawled through Phnom Penh’s city, and then suburbs giving you a striking image of how quickly the city is developing with new developments popping up everywhere. After around 30 minutes we were out in the countryside with views of lush green rice fields dotted with palm trees synonymous with the lower Mekong region.
At the time of writing, there is two stop-offs between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, Takeo (2 hours from Phnom Penh) and Kampot (4 hours from Phnom Penh).
Takeo is a recommended stop for those looking to visit lesser visited temples in the form of Phnom Da and Phnom Bayong. Here you will find a collection of temples dating from the 6th Century. These are important historical sites, however, only a tiny fraction of the visitors going to Angkor will find these hidden gems.
Even fewer tourists make the trip to Phnom Bayong which lies an hour away from Takeo by car. Here you will find unusual animist shrines on the way to the temple at the summit of the mountain completed in 635 CE. There are some beautiful carvings still on display here despite some of the important pieces already being taken to the national museum for safekeeping.
Continuing on my journey south, 2 hours further on is the peaceful coastal town of Kampot. Set on the edge of the Bokor national park, Kampot is emerging as a hip town complete with more and more independently run hotels and guesthouses offering the traveller many options during a stay.
There are many attractions in and around Kampot including nearby Kep, once the playground of Cambodia’s elite and now the more secluded beach resort on Cambodia’s Gulf of Siam coast. Relax on Kep beach, take a walk in Kep national park to build up an appetite for a meal at Kep’s famous crab market.
I continued my journey to Sihanoukville, a further 2 hours 30 minutes down the line from Kampot. Here you can enjoy the energetic port city or head off for tranquillity on Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem where you will find miles of near-deserted golden beaches complete with seaside bungalows for hire.
Future Train Services
Cambodia’s resumption of passenger services is destined to be popular given the fact that train travel features heavily on the itineraries of visitors to neighbouring Thailand or Vietnam.
The restoration of a second line, linking Phnom Penh with the northern border city of Poipet where trains run twice daily to Bangkok is due to be completed by the mid-2018. Prime minister Hun Sen is proposing a new line to Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat. The newfound enthusiasm for railways in the kingdom looks set to continue.
A one-way ticket from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville costs $7; Phnom Penh to Kampot $6. Buy tickets at Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville stations, or via Royal Railway at +855 078 888 582