A Railway Now Links Thailand and Cambodia
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Tourists, gamblers, traders and residents can now
travel by train between Bangkok and the Thai-Cambodian border for the
first time after tracks were cut 45 years ago, when U.S. and Cambodian
forces began losing their war against Pol Pot who later unleashed
Cambodia's "killing fields" regime.
rail link ends one of the last disruptions caused by
regional U.S.-Vietnam War and tightens the peacetime economies of
former enemies Thailand and Cambodia.
two countries recently extended an existing
railway line which crosses eastern Thailand. They repaired its final
3.5-mile (5.7-kilometer) link between Aranyaprathet and Ban Klong Luk
Border Station on the Thai side of the frontier.
July 1, the State Railway of Thailand's trains began
departures from each station twice a day -- two at dawn and two at
lunch time -- for a total of four trips.
Each journey takes about five hours to complete 134
kilometers). Tickets cost less than $2.
remember taking the train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet
years ago, and then having to get a taxi to go from there to the
border," one traveler said.
see that the train from Bangkok will still take five hours
get there. Cattle grazing along the tracks will probably be moving
faster than the train."
Southeast Asia's only trains to and from Cambodia which
only a skeletal railway.
Passengers crossing the
border have to disembark and walk through the
immigration and customs checkpoint. Public and private vehicles are
available on the Cambodian side to continue the journey.
Cambodia's railway from Phnom Penh reaches
Poipet, four miles (six
kilometers) from its side of the border, but it is unclear when it
could be extended to the frontier for an unbroken link to Ban Klong
four trains on the Bangkok-Ban Klong Luk route will
diesel-powered. In Thailand, that often means passengers are forced to
breathe the engine's foul fumes while the train idles in a station
polluting its surroundings before departure.
The route's original
railway service began in 1955 but a coup in
Thailand temporarily halted the crossing.
One year later, trains
rolled again but were cancelled in 1961 because
Thailand and Cambodia -- frequent enemies since medieval times --
argued about who owned the stone ruins of Preah Vihear in a border
zone still contested today. The 11th century Hindu temple was linked
to Cambodia's nearby slave-built Angkor Wat complex.
In 1970 the railway line opened again
but finally stopped on July 1,
1974, exactly 45 years ago.
During those years, Thailand hosted U.S. airbases for
Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam during America's Vietnam War.
Intense U.S. aerial bombardment and weak
Cambodian government troops
however failed to stop communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas advancing on
Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.
Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot achieved victory in mid-1975.
His xenophobic, ultra-Maoist "killing
fields" regime left nearly two
million people dead and destroyed most of the country before Vietnam
invaded in January 1979, ousted Pol Pot and occupied the country for
the next 10 years.
Thailand then became a conduit
for U.S., British and other aid to an
anti-Vietnamese Cambodian resistance which included the Khmer Rouge
and other guerrillas.
After Vietnam's withdrawal in 1989,
border clashes between Thailand
and Cambodia occasionally erupted from fortified positions until
agreements were reached several years ago.
Pol Pot died in 1998. Cambodia
became peaceful, enabling the two
former foes to begin repairing the railway link in 2014.
Today, inexpensive flights link both countries.
Road trips across the border
are also popular among Thais and other
gamblers who flock to glitzy casinos, constructed during the past
several years in Poipet. Gambling is illegal in Thailand.
the import-export traders who cross the border each day
infamous Cambodian smugglers who bring most of the high-quality,
made-in-China counterfeit goods sold in Thailand, according to Bangkok
vendors and counterfeiters.
The most dangerous and feared smugglers
are suspected of operating
safe houses for imported counterfeit items in and around Aranyaprathet
in Thailand's Sa Kaeo province close to a popular secondhand market
known as Rong Kluea or Salty Warehouse, investigators said.
Richard S. Ehrlich is a
Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia
University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three
non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!'
Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60
Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News
Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies
and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in
Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor
Mask & President Akimbo" portrays a 22-year-old American female mental
patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco
His online sites are: