With Christmas and New Year behind us, many will be returning to work with the scent of the sea still in their hair after a lazy coastal sojourn at Kep, Kampot or Sihanoukville. Some, though, will still be itching to kill after braving the busy, bumpy, perilous road down and back again. Which is a shame, because the Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville train is a genuine pleasure, and at seven hours, doesn’t take a great deal longer than driving. A small price to pay for arriving and returning in a general state of peace and goodwill to all men and all that.
This is the kind of languid journey that used to define travel and should bookend any trip away. No crowds or queues, hassle or hustle; no-one deliberately trying to make your experience more miserable so those paying more can feel better about themselves before bitterly eyeing-up those who’ve paid slightly more than they have.
And it’s an experience too. The trains are refurbished 1960s stock — which means they’re generally more pleasing, comfortable and human than modern trains — with the joyful addition of air conditioning, sparkling bathrooms, and even side rooms if you’re travelling as a group.
In principle, the journey takes 90 minutes to Takeo, just over four-and-a-half hours to Kampot, and seven hours to Sihanoukville. And as you roll along, there’s little to do but relax (a confusing proposition for some), mentally prepare for the good food and relaxation ahead, read a book ,and watch the fields and villages go by. Keep an eye out especially for the wetlands below Takeo, which seem to be home to thousands of birds.
But there’s no fear of going hungry. On a recent journey, a lovely lady with a giant smile plied the train plying a delicious-smelling selection of rice with chicken or pork, as well as drinks, while the stops feature food sellers with plenty of snacks, fruit, drinks and more.
For Phnom Penh, ticket prices are $5 to and from Takeo, $7 to and from Kampot and $8 to and from Sihanoukville. The following schedule is as published for December 2017:
From Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville
Friday at 3pm; Saturday, Sunday at 7am; Sunday at 4pm
From Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh
Saturday, Sunday, Monday at 7am; Sunday at 4pm