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.

The new rail link ends one of the last disruptions caused by the
regional U.S.-Vietnam War and tightens the peacetime economies of
former enemies Thailand and Cambodia.

The two countries recently extended an existing Bangkok-Aranyaprathet
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.

On July 1, the State Railway of Thailand's trains began scheduled
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 miles (216
kilometers). Tickets cost less than $2.

"I remember taking the train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet several
years ago, and then having to get a taxi to go from there to the
border," one traveler said.

"But I see that the train from Bangkok will still take five hours to
get there. Cattle grazing along the tracks will probably be moving
faster than the train."

These are Southeast Asia's only trains to and from Cambodia which has
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

The four trains on the Bangkok-Ban Klong Luk route will be
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 attacks on
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.

Among the import-export traders who cross the border each day are
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.