All aboard the Cambodian cafe train to nowhere

Women posing for a selfie next to a train at a railway station in Phnom Penh. — ETX Studio pic
Women posing for a selfie next to a train at a railway station in Phnom Penh. — ETX Studio pic

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PHNOM PENH, June 13 — Train travel has largely ground to a halt in Cambodia due to the coronavirus but railway fans can still get their fix aboard a stationary carriage converted into a hipster cafe.

The country has more than 600 kilometres of track extending from its northern border with Thailand to the southern coast, but decades of war and neglect have left vast stretches damaged and coronavirus has shut many remaining services.

A new airport rail link was closed last year and passenger trains to the seaport of Sihanoukville have been suspended since March when Cambodia was hit with the worst of its Covid-19 outbreak.

But a new train cafe — located at Phnom Penh railway station — has become a hub for Instagrammers and Facebookers looking for a selfie location and cold drink.

As authorities relax virus restrictions following a three-week lockdown in the capital, patrons have flocked to the cafe for impromptu photoshoots and iced coffees.

Among them is Chan Thol, a 19-year-old student, who along with her friends has made the cafe a regular haunt. She said it was a delightful change of scenery after weeks of boredom staying home.

“I come for leisure and to take pictures with my friends and enjoy the coffee,” she said.

“It helps reduce my stress.”

Se Sokunaphors, 27, said the train cafe concept was unique.

“I never took a train before. And this is fun,” she said.

The carriage only required minor modifications including ripping out old sticky seats and replacing them with comfy chairs, said Sak Vanny, manager of passenger operations for Royal Railway Cambodia.

“We had the idea to turn a train carriage into a train cafe in order to generate some income for the company and help staff members with work during the pandemic,” she said.

“We did not make a lot of changes to it so that its original look wouldn't disappear... When guests come here they can have the same feeling like they are riding a train.” — ETX Studio

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