A bamboo train, also called a norry in Khmer, is a bamboo platform with two sets of detachable wheels and a lawn mower engine. Bamboo trains were used by the local people for bringing their goods to and from the market in Battambang, but these days it is mostly tourists who are taking an expensive joy ride through the jungle. There is only one track, so when two trains meet the one with the least passengers is offloaded, pulled apart and taken off the rails so the other train can pass. The procedure can sound like a lot of hassle but can be done in seconds, which is probably also necessary in the case of a real train coming, which was at some point running on the same line. We are not quite sure if the 20 odd minutes roller coaster ride classify as a "classic train journey" but train buffs should definitely try this unique Cambodian train experience.
Highest railway on Earth
Tanggul Pass, border between Tibet Province and Qinghai Province
Passing through the Tanggul Pass at 5072 m to become the highest railway on earth, the Qinghai-Tibet railway adds to an impressive list of Tibetan height superlatives. Running 1956 km from Xining to Lhasa, the railway is also hailed as just another world-class feat of engineering for the Chinese. Much of the line is built on permafrost and requires artificial cooling during the warmer months to ensure the rail stays in place. Consider also that oxygen is pumped through the cabins to help prevent altitude sickness and it all starts to feel a little extreme. Just don't forget to spend some time glued to the window as the landscape is completely captivating.
Train ride through the Pyrenees
Villefranche de Conflent (France) - La Tour da Carol (Spain)
If the journey is just as important to you as the destination then you will want to check out le Petit Train Jaune de la Cerdagne. This historical relic looks like something straight out of the children’s television show "Thomas the Tank Engine" and has been in operation through the Pyrenees since 1903. The "Yellow Canary" earnt it's nickname from it's bright yellow appearance and originally travelled from Villefranche de Conflent to Mont Louis and was then extended to La Tour da Carol in 1927. As you travel the 63 km line between Spain and France you will be treated to spectacular scenery on the open roof wooden cabooses which offer amazing 360 degree views and give you a great nostalgic feeling. Unfortunately wear and tear is slowly catching up with this Pyrenees Spectacle and there will come a time in the not too distant future when the train will have to be replaced by a modern substitute, so make sure you make the time to ride this slice of history.
Train journey Nampula - Cuamba
Nampula to/from Cuamba
The train journey between Nampula and Cuamba is a fascinating ride. First, the scenery is just spectacular with granite domes dotting the green landscape. Second, every time the train stops at some small village, the locals crowd around the train to sell their home grown products. Fruits, vegetables, eggs and grilled meat change hands through the windows at a frantic pace. Even when the train starts rolling again, the last deals are done with the committed sellers running next to the train. Each stop has a speciality, whether it's onions, garlic and carrots, and the passengers are power shopping like there is no tomorrow. The train journey is a cramped experience on 3rd class, but comfortable in 2nd class - there is no 1st class.
Great train ride
Pyin U Lwin to Hsipaw
The train ride from Pyin U Lwin to charming Hsipaw is considered one of the great train journeys by train buffs, not just in Myanmar but in the world. The line was constructed by the British in the beginning of nineteenth century and is cutting its way through jungle, crawling up steep hills and crossing the deep gorge of Gokteik on what was at that times an engineering masterpiece. It's an amazing journey and quite anxious experience to slowly crawl over the stick construction knowing that it's more than a hundred years old and probably have not received the best maintenance.
Train journey Bucharest - Brasov
The Transylvanian Alps (also called Southern Carpathians) is as majestic and daunting as any other mountain range. One great way to take in the enchanting scenery is by train from Bucharest to Brasov (or reverse). Outside Bucharest the flat farm land becomes hilly and slowly the alps are shaping up in the distance. As the rails wind its way through valleys, you will soon be fully embraced by real mountains. Small mountain villages and ski resorts will pass by, as you enter deeper into Transylvania.
BAM (Baikal Amur Mainline)
Siberia and the Far East
The BAM is Russia's other great train journey. It splits off from the Trans Siberian not long after Krasnoyarsk then runs parallel and 700 km to the north until it hits the Pacific coast. Completed in 1991 just as the Soviet Union collapsed, it fell almost into disuse shortly afterwards. Many of the boom towns that grew up to house railway workers have been abandoned. Outside the crumbling, grey concrete of the towns, however, the scenery is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Taiga forest, towering snow-capped mountains, the breathtaking, unspoilt northern section of Lake Baikal and even desert are just some examples of what the BAM has to offer. Taking local buses away from railway towns will also get you out to quaint hunting and fishing villages of log cabins, picket fences and traditional carved window frames. There is little tourist infrastructure, few actual sites or attractions and not many travellers visit this Russian Wild East. However, its friendly locals, great scenery and rough around the edges Soviet towns make for a fascinating trip.
Train to Arctic Siberia
Moscow - Labytnangi
While most travellers have heard of Russia's longest train ride east along the Trans-Siberian, not even many Russians have heard of this other epic journey heading 2.5 days northeast from Moscow to Western Siberia's Arctic Circle. Day one takes you directly north past historic towns such as Yaroslavl and Vologda. On day two you branch off northeast on a different line. The track is hemmed in with dense taiga forest and you pass small huddles of wooden huts in clearings. This stretch of track was built by gulag concentration camp victims and, according to the author Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, "beneath each tie two heads were left". On the third day you branch off east onto another gulag-built line heading towards the Polar Ural Mountains and, on their far side, Siberia. You are now well beyond any road network. There are no real stations any more - the train just stops and people get out and wander off into the snow. You may well see fur-clad nomadic reindeer herders or their encampments of conical reindeer-hide tents. The final stop is Labytnangi, gateway to the Yamal Peninsula.
Moscow – Vladivostok (9288 km)
The Trans-Siberian railway is a classic among train journeys and a must for any traveller. The "real" Trans-Siberian route is the one from Moscow to Vladivostok in the far east, while the Trans-Mongolian branch, that breaks off at Ulan-Ude and continues through Mongolia to Beijing in China, is the most popular one. Other branches are the BAM (deep Siberia), Trans-Manchurian or what about going into Central Asia? On board, you get the chance to rub shoulders with ordinary Russians and be lavished with their genius friendliness, once they warm up to you. Don't be surprised to be offered beer and smoked fish for breakfast and get invited to a game of durak and never-ending vodka drinking at any other time. Though the train journey itself is an attraction, getting off at some of the historic cities on the way will complete your Russian adventure.
Tip: With the use of a browser with built-in translator (like Google Chrome), you can fairly easily book train tickets online directly from the Russian Railways RZD, which is much cheaper than going through any agency.