Our off-the-beaten path trip to Pursat, which allowed us to visit a floating village and check out a bamboo train was a bit of a letdown. It was a decent enough place for a 24-hour stop, but we wouldn't go out of the way to get there, especially if the beaches in the south beckon.
Sights and Activities
Lonely Planet has created a monster. We had two goals when we decided to stop at Pursat: 1) visit a non-touristy floating village since we didn't get to any around Siem Reap and 2) experience the infamous bamboo train, which was now nothing more than a tourist attraction in the nearby town of Battambang.
Both experiences, to be frank, sort of sucked. Pursat itself was a three street town with locals that either followed us around in their tuk-tuks or ignored us when we tried to ask them questions (with a dictionary!). We got a bad feeling about it right away, but still had hope for the attractions.
The floating village, which was an hour away by tuk tuk, was a huge disappointment. While it was incredibly cool to see a whole village of raft houses, we couldn't get over the vile green foam through which our boat navigated.
If it wasn't for that and for the fact that the boat cost $9/hour, none of which went to the villagers, we may have enjoyed the floating school, church, boat making shop, pig pen, etc. But to be honest, even though the kids were incredibly cute and friendly, the entire place was filthy. The worst was when our boat driver tried to turn around after 35 minutes and bring us back to shore. After 10 minutes of arguing, we agreed to stay out longer, acting as if he was doing us a favor versus actually completing his job.
The other reason travelers come to Pursat is to check out the legendary bamboo train. Rob envisioned a feat of Khmer engineering, a beautiful train car built entirely of bamboo. (The locals are really skilled at woodwork, so he had something on which to base his vision.) Instead, we got a platform of wood planks.
It was still interesting to see how the locals used the abandoned train tracks, left over from the French, to move goods around, but it certainly wasn't as scenic as we'd hoped. We walked on the tracks for a while to actually find some "trains" in motion and though we probably could have talked our way onto one, we decided that seeing it was enough. The best part of the experience is supposed to be when two trains moving in opposite directions meet. The agreed upon maneuver is that the lighter train get off the track, taking all its goods with it. Once the heavier train passes, the train operator puts the engine and the platform back on the track, loads up the train, and continues on his way.
We stayed in a nice room at New Toun Sour Hotel for $15. In hindsight, it would have been easier to stay at Phnom Pech Hotel. They charged the same rate, but we ended up eating at their restaurant several times because it seemed cleaner.
Food and Drink
The best place to eat was the PPhnom Pech Hotel, which isn't saying much. The food was overpriced and you know how much I love one-restaurant towns.
The ticket seller at the bus station in Siem Reap looked at us funny when we asked for a ticket to Pursat. After confirming that Pursat was, in fact, the city we were trying to get to, he sold us two tickets for $8 a pop. It was a good deal compared to the price in town, though it was likely still incredibly inflated.
In Pursat, after failing to rent a motorbike because we didn't realize the restaurant we ate lunch at was the only place in town to rent them, we settled on a tuk tuk to the floating village. Don't pay more than $15.
Our bus from Pursat to Phnom Penh cost $4, took two hours longer than expected, and dropped us off at some sketchy corner. No shocker there.
Interested in seeing the floating village without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our Pursat photo tour.
Let us know your budget travel tips for Pursat in the comments!