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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.