How to take the train from Phnom Penh to Battambang

Cambodia might have a poor reputation when it comes to its railways, but in the last few years not only has it been greatly improved from a technical aide, but train journeys in Cambodia are now drawing in the tourists. Cambodia Lifestyle News went to check out the Phnom Penh to Battambang line. 

Whilst colonialism rightly so tends to get a bad rap, there are usually at least a few decent infrastructural projects left behind. Quite often these are train lines, such as in India by the British and Vietnam by the French, but in Cambodia not so much so.

As things stand there were just two lines on the Cambodian railway network, south to Sihanoukville and the coast, west to Battambang, Poipet and even Bangkok, as well the third most recent line which kind of offer s joyride around Phnom Penh.

And if you are looking for speed and value, all of them are inferior to a bus, but if you are looking for adventure, then it is the train all the way. 

Royal Cambodian Railways

Cambodia has 612 km (380 mi) of 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+3⁄8 in) metal gauge rail network that consist of the two aforementioned railway lines. Originally instituted in the 1930’s by the French, it was slowly updated with donations and acquisitions up until the late 1960’s, with grand plans for expansions.

Sadly this was not to occur as civil war ushered in Democratic Kampuchea and the murderous reign of the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979, with rail services again beginning in the early 80’s but due to the continued civil war, these were often interrupted by guerrilla activities, even going into the late 90’s until the death of Pol Pot and the fall of the last Khmer Rouge state

In the early 90’s there wee even reports of trains with tourists being stopped by the rebels and even robbed old school stagecoach style, before revives completely stopped.

Things though started to improve after investment, and by 2016 the Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville line was reopened, while the Pursat and Battambang lines were reopened in 2018. 

Which takes us to now, with the Phnom Penh Railway station being heavily renovated and Royal Cambodian Railways now directions their attention to tourists, rather than casual commuters. 

How to take the train from Phnom Penh to Battambang

So, to the crux of the matter, how do you get the train from Phnom Penh to Battambang? Well it turns out quite easily, with Royal Cambodian Railways offering ticket purchases online that do not have to be “changed”, but come directly through e-mail. 

Prices are just $8, with them offering payment through most major cards (not Amex), as well as Wing. Alternatively one can just rock up and buy a ticket from the retro cubicle beside the track. 

Technically there is assigned seats on the train, but in practice this is not the case, with Cambodian Railways seemingly adding enough carriages to meet the demand of the day.

What is it like to take the train from Phnom Penh to Battambang?

Trains are a funny beast in that you are either into them, or you are not. This journey involves over 6 years of traveling a train that is not only extremely loud, but rocks you like a baby in a crib.

To me personally this is truly my happy place, with the ability to walk around, enjoy the scenery, poke your head out of the window and even get off at stops making it far superior to a cramped air-conditioned bus. 

And what do you do about food you ask? Well you have two choices, bring you own, or wait until Pursat, where the ticket inspector will even come earn you that you have 10 minutes to stop for food. Here you are treated to all the street food Cambodia classics, such as meat on a stick, as well as pork filled frogs.

So, while it might not be quick, efficient, or all that cost efficient, taking the train from Phnom Penh to Battambang has not lost any of its romance. 

You can check out the Royal Cambodia Railways website here.

Gareth Johnson
Author: Gareth Johnson

Gareth Johnson is the founder of Young Pioneer Tours and has visited over 180+ countries. His passion is opening obscure destinations to tourism and sharing his experience of street food.