A Tale of Two Cambodian Train Stations: Kampot and Sihanoukville

Coming into our trip to Southeast Asia, architecture peeping wasn’t in my plans.  Despite evidence to the contrary from our tour of New Khmer architecture in Phnom Penh, I didn’t actually plan any of our adventures in modernist architecture – they just happened to occur.  Sure, I may have screamed and waved my hands for tuk tuk drivers to pull over at random places on the streetside for me to take pictures, but that was about the extent of my planning.DSC_0963 (2) DSC_0978 DSC_0993 (2)

And such was how we happened upon the Sihanoukville Train Station.  Completed and inaugurated in 1969 in the New Khmer style, and largely abandoned today (I hear it sees one passenger train per day), it is a masterpiece of concrete arches and strategic window openings allowing for maximum ventilation before the advent of HVAC and air-conditioning.  From the outside, it appears as a series of full 180 degree, concrete semicircles, with latticed concrete and rebar forming the walls.DSC_0965 (2) DSC_0988 DSC_0990 DSC_0976 DSC_0999

I snooped around for a little bit, both inside and out, meeting squatters and small-scale entrepreneurs selling cigarettes and water bottles.  Not a tourist in sight, as the Cambodian architecture that is the real draw is at the Temples of Angkor, some 500 kilometers to the north.

When we stopped to look at the Sihanoukville train station, we had been on our way to Kampot, a town slowly gaining tourist notoriety, especially among expats seeking to retire in a place that’s both welcoming and not too financially demanding.  When we arrived in Kampot, we rented motor scooters to get around (as our guesthouse was a bit out of out of town), and got to scooting.

Kampot itself was wonderful, but we made a beeline for the train station – hoping that it would be as rad as Sihanoukville’s.  And we were not disappointed.
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Located down a dirt road on the road out of town toward Phnom Penh, the Kampot Train Station is even more deserted than Sihanoukville’s.  And in the place of arches, the station’s focal geometric element is that of triangles and pyramids – a fascinating, and very aesthetically pleasing complement to Sihanoukville.  

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There were still a few folks milling around the area, maybe tending to the cows roaming openly on the tracks.  Children smiled and waved at us as we tossed up dust riding down the dirt roads.  Old men yelled at me for taking pictures.  The former was a welcome surprise, and the latter, well, we’re used to that by now.DSC_0027 (3) DSC_0021 (3) DSC_0008 (3) DSC_0003 (3)

Upon our return, I did some googles to see what information was available on these stations (Were they designed by Vann Movyann?:  No, but the inspiration is there.  Are they still in use?: Kind of.  Not really.), and found this blog had posts on each.

If you’re as captivated by the New Khmer style as much as I am (or even really a tenth as much as I am), stops at these stations are worth it for the geometric composition opportunities.  If you could care less about the architecture, spending some time at either one allows for a glimpse into true-to-life Cambodia that can’t be seen in the central tourist areas of Phnom Penh and the Temples of Angkor.

Trainstations pinterest

Since you’re here, why not pin this post!

If you’re keen on visiting them yourself, they are both located outside of the normal tourist environs of both cities.  For Sihanoukville, the train station is on the road to the ferries going to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, and for Kampot, the train station is a bit harder to find – I recommend pinning it on Google Maps and using that way to navigate there.  Get there either by tuk tuk or moto.  Both may seem rather shady, but as is the rule in Cambodia – throw people a smile and a Khmer hello (suh-suh-rei), and you’ll be welcomed.

8 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cambodian Train Stations: Kampot and Sihanoukville

  • June 27, 2016, 11:16 pm

    Really a wonderful tale, loved it. Thanks for sharing with us 🙂

    • June 28, 2016, 6:41 am

      Thank you, Absar! 🙂 Have you been to Cambodia? It’s such a wonderful place.

  • June 28, 2016, 10:07 pm

    We didn’t make it to Sihanoukville, and I didn’t really like Cambodia overall, but I hate that you are making me want to go back with all this gorgeous architecture!

  • July 16, 2016, 11:47 pm

    Damn and blast, we spent quite a while in both Snooky and Kampot but didn’t think to find the railway stations so that’s another trip to Cambodia on the cards! I’m with you on Kampot, a lovely place where you could easily spend weeks but Sihanoukville is less appealing in my opinion. Did you know that recently the train from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville (via Kampot) has started running again (https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/jun/05/trains-phnom-penh-sihanoukville-kampot) – much more fun that taking the bus or a minivan!

    • July 18, 2016, 11:51 am

      We love train travel, but sadly don’t do it as much as we can – it seems always a little out of reach! The Mostar – Sarajevo route was under construction when we were there, the lines through the Baltics didn’t allow for the customization we wanted, and the routes were all too slow for fast travelers like us in the Caucasus. I’m hoping we can do at least a couple train journeys in Ukraine and Belarus next year!

      And like you need an excuse to get back to Kampot – what a dreamy little place! I agree re: Snooky, but to be fair, I didn’t spend any major amount of time there. Mostly just transiting between places. Hope you all are having a great time in the Stans, we’ll be there in September!

      • July 23, 2016, 2:17 am

        Train is definitely the way to go in Belarus, we travelled between all three of the destinations we visited by train (Minsk, Hrodna (Grodno) and Brest) and the fares were very cheap but the schedules never seemed to work out for us in Ukraine as we were only doing relatively short distances so we ended up taking buses and marshrutkas everywhere instead. I think if you cover a larger amount of ground in one hit then the trains are a very good option – for example we travelled from Kiev to Lviv by train last year and the timings were great. We are about to put up a post about our experience in Minsk but if you need any other help or hints for either country please let us know.

        The Stans are going well so far – the standard of accommodation and organisation is way better than it was a few years ago when we last visited!

        • July 25, 2016, 10:18 am

          Thanks for the useful info! I will anxiously await your piece on Minsk! We will likely only have a few days there, and will finish by taking a night train to Daugavpils. We’ll probably do two days in Minsk, then one somewhere else. Maybe Polotsk? Who knows! 🙂

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